13.03.2011 - 20.03.2011 24 °C
From the quiet Ohinepane campsite, we follow “The Forgotten World Highway” along winding shingle roads. The historic road takes us over six saddles with robust views of some insanely rugged farmland. I spot a sweet fishing hole near Morgan's Grave, the burial site of a road surveyor, within the Waitaanga Conservation Area. The area is lush with steep, narrow river valleys. I grab the gear and we slid down to the river's edge via a slippery tributary. Within five casts I land a healthy brown trout getting soaked in the process. While walking back to show Julie, who is snapping photos around the bend, the spunky brown flops and I loose my grip. It slaps down onto the wet clay bank, and I do too onto my knees, trying to get my hands on him. The trout out manoeuvres me and I end up with muddy legs, wet feet, and no evidence.
After about 4 hours of driving along winding roads with beautiful surroundings, even if it consists of mostly paddocks, we stop on the south side of Mt. Taranaki to explore Wilkies Pools. The short hike take us through the Goblin Forest containing twisted kamahi trees draped in lush ferns and moss. At the end of the track is Kapuni Stream which has scoured a series of pools in the bedrock. The rock is so smooth it used as a waterslide in warmer weather! Small waterfalls cascade from each pool as we sit and take in its beauty. Mt. Taranaki supposedly dominates the skyline but there is heavy cloud blocking the view and threatening us with a downpour.
From the pools we finish the drive to Bruce and Nelle's in New Plymouth. They have a huge property in the city with a fruit orchard, plenty of gardens, and an amazing view of Mt. Taranaki (if it would clear off). We have an awesome feast, before Julie and Nelle rush off to see Te Radar. He is an environmental comedian who has his own reality tv show called 'Off the Radar'. Nelle received two free tickets and her friend cancelled on her, so Julie is the lucky one who gets to tag along. I stick around and get acquainted with Bruce while the sun sets and Mt. Taranaki slowly emerges. Bruce and I watch an amazing display of colour in the sky behind a silhouette of the dormant volcano.
When Julie and Nelle return they give us some one-liners from the show and it sounds like it was pretty funny. Before bed, we discuss with Nelle the possibility of tramping the Pouakai Circuit and when the best time would be during the week. The forecast is saying that tomorrow is looking sweet as, so we plan to start our two day hike in the morning.
The alarm sounds at 5am, and we bounce up and start to pack our gear for the hike. By 8:30am we are at the North Egmont Visitor's Centre located at the base of Mt. Taranaki. The skies are clear, the air is brisk, and we are pumped for the six hour hike to the Pouakai hut. The track starts out with hundreds of stairs and we climb steadily through montane forest and subalpine scrub. We are instantly rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding landscape as the track emerges above the treeline. Our clear day doesn't last though, as the weather slowly changes on the mountain until we are blanketed in clouds. During the morning hike we pass the shear Dieffenbach Cliffs, the iron and manganese oxide stained Kokowai Stream, the active Boomerang Slip, and the vast Ahukawakawa Swamp. This track is packed with an array of different ecosystems and Julie is snapping pictures like crazy. The active Slip is a bit dicey and reminds us of the Kalalau Trail in Kaui. Before entering the slip there a sign reading “Danger Active Slip. One person at a time, no loitering”. Here, no loitering is for the safety of the loiterer – as at any time rocks could come crashing down.
After a nourishing stop at Holly Hut for lunch, we stash our packs, and decide to take the side trail to Bells Falls. The boardwalk trial descends down and around the Dome, a curved lava vent, to where the Ahukawakawa Swamp empties forming Bells Falls. The falls are about 31m and slide down between two steep cliffs. From the falls we return to Holly Hut, grab our bags, and start across the mammoth swamp. It is a sensitive area, a single footprint can remain for years. The boardwalks winds through the thick sphagnum moss and scrub-grass to a small bridge crossing a quiet stream. From the swamp the trail heads up one of the ridges that protrudes into the swamp like a huge finger. Dead mountain cedars killed by possums over the last 50 years stand like thousands of gnarly skeletons, amongst the re-emerging forest. The Taranaki area has the longest running vertebrate control program in NZ, in hopes to stop the mass destruction of their forests. Along the top of the ridge the winds and clouds whip through the tussocks as we finally reach the Pouakai Hut.
We hope for the skies to clear but the stubborn clouds stick around until mid-morning when we reach the tarns. I am desperate for a reflection of Mt. Taranaki in an alpine tarn, so we hang around for about an hour watching and waiting for a clearing. Luckily Mt. Taranaki peaks out between heavy clouds as they quickly roll past. From the tarns the track, which mostly consists of boardwalk, ladders, and stairs, wears away on our legs as we climb steady to the summit of Mt. Henry. Here we are greeted with more dense grey nothingness. We descend to below the treeline and the trail quickly becomes very rugged and the pace slows. We climb up and down, and in and out of steeply eroded river valleys crossing countless waterways. With hopes that each tree root we grasp is secure we lower ourselves down vertical inclines. After roughly six hours of some of roughest track we have travelled in New Zealand, we reach the road and walk the final stretch back to the car.
Back at Bruce and Nelle's we have to work overtime to make up our time spent tramping. I spend most of the week helping Bruce construct a drying cabinet behind his wood stove. This will be used for hanging herbs, dehydrating veggies, or drying wet gear, as the stove pipe gives off usable heat. Julie works at the Hive Taranaki Environment Centre for the week, helping put together the Water Module for the Sustainable Living Program. Speaking of sustainability, she rides an e-bike to work everyday and raves about the beautiful ride along the ocean.
We spend our time off work either at the beach or hiking as New Plymouth is surrounded by miles of primo surf beaches and great hiking trails. One evening we climb to the summit of Mt. Puritutu, a small lump on the coastline to take in a sunset. The quick and steep hike provides awesome views of Mt. Taranaki behind the sprawling city.
Saturday morning, prior to heading to WOMAD, we stop downtown to wander through Puke Ariki, New Plymouth's new museum displaying the area's rich Maori history. We quickly race through the museum as we are stoked to head to the concert. Jeremy and Ruth, previous wwoofing hosts in Westport, informed us of WOMAD and we have been eagerly waiting for the festival for months.
After parking we make our way into the venue, Brookland Bowl, and it really reminds us of Hillside, our hometown festival. The main stage is a huge natural amphitheatre with great sound and heaps of places to lounge around in the sun. We take in some great tunes, I eat a crazy amount of worldly fare, and Julie has a hay-day strolling through the artsy market. Trinity Roots, a favourite NZ band of ours, plays a great set as the sun is setting and the audience mellows out. We come across some unique music like Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer, and some awesome music such as Lawrence Arabia which we add to our playlist.
What a great time in New Plymouth and the Taranaki area! We both love the area and wish we could have more time to explore the surf coast further. Julie really wanted to take surfing lessons here but we ran out of time. Hopefully we can find another beach along our journey with gentle surf for a couple of shark biscuits (inexperienced surfer) like us.