The most challenging day walk of my life, summiting Mount Taranaki. But the adventure began way before the gruelling 2,518 metre climb to the summit. I was keen for a big adventure packed into a short space of time, 4 days to be precise. An adventure that would test both my mental and physical boundaries. With this aim in mind, I planned a trip encompassing the Overlander train, cycling over 200 km, exploring caves in Waitomo, freedom camping, body surfing in Mokau and finally climbing Mount Taranaki.
Aboard the Overlander train, my bike and camping gear stowed safely in the luggage carriage, I stand outside between two passenger carriages, taking deep breathes of crisp, cool air whilst the train progresses slowly but surely across extreme landscapes including the volcanic mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Once I have my fill I move inside to retire to a comfy seat, sit back and relax for the remainder of the journey. It's a stunning trip and I recommend that everyone does it at least once as an alternative to flying or driving. (The Overlander is now called The Northern Explorer).
My destination is Te Kuiti, the self proclaimed ‘shearing capital of the world’. I would not be shearing any sheep on this occasion, instead I opt to sample a delicious thick chocolate milkshake, just the kick start I need for a 40km cycle to Mangapohue Natural Bridge. The natural bridge is a 17 metre high limestone arch, spanning the Mangapohue stream of which a boardwalk takes you on a passage around and under to fully appreciate the remains of this cave system.
I set up camp nearby and settle down for the night. Tomorrow, I would explore, armed with my torch, the nearby Piripiri Cave before covering 100km to Mokau, a small town on the coast. Steep steps lead down into the main cavern of Piripiri Cave. You have a feeling that things are scurrying away from you, as you enter. The main cavern is large and quite impressive. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t be here for hours, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Whilst cycling on-route to Mokau I am greeted with a very welcome distraction, Marokopa Falls. A short hop by car or two and a half hours by bicycle from Waitomo Caves, the falls are a must see. A brief walk through the Tawarau Forest to the raging Marokopa Falls, towering an impressive 35 metres, makes for a nice break from cycling. The viewing platform allows you to appreciate this almighty falls from a very good vantage point.
Back on the bike and 80km of incredible coastal views later, I roll into Mokua and find the Mokua Motel. Tired yet satisfied with today's effort, I chat with the local goat, not literally of course, that would be insane, before heading to the sea for a refreshing dip and some body surfing in the rough waves. It certainly is refreshing and helps to revive the aching body and more importantly is great fun.
The sky turns a deep pink and red colour with Mount Taranaki in the background, making for a wonderfully atmospheric photo whilst providing a little inspiration to continue onward tomorrow. I sleep easy…
I'm up early, suitably rested and feeling energised for the trip onto New Plymouth, 85km away. 50km down and another welcome distraction, Mike's Organic Brewery. Fate has it, it's lunchtime, it's meant to be. I find a table outside, order a massive lunch of fish and chips with a beer whilst accompanied by the local dog. Perfection. I struggle to get back on the bike, wondering how I will peddle, being so full. It doesn't take long to get back into the stride, with my determination going and a renewed energy once the signpost start to show New Plymouth, 30km, 25km, 20km…. Sticking to the coast, I cruise into town just over 2 hours later and rest up for the 13km (return) Mount Taranaki climb tomorrow. Did you know that Mount Taranaki actually has two official names? Mount Taranaki and Mount Egmont, as named by Captain Cook. Anyway, I will stick to Mount Taranaki to save confusion.
I must admit that I was having some reservations about climbing Mount Taranaki immediately after cycling over 160km but with my aim of making this an epic mini adventure, my doubts soon disappeared once I was at the foot of the mountain. Here I was, attempt 2. Please be with me weather gods. Suitably loaded up with food, water and wearing layered, warm and waterproof clothing I set off. The terrain changes frequently and dramatically making for an interesting climb, always being presented with new views and new terrains. I felt strong. It actually felt really good to be using different muscles than those used whilst cycling, I felt fresh and fit.
I reached Tahurangi Lodge perched at 1,492 metre in under 2 hours. This is the point I reached on attempt one and couldn't go any further due to the amount of snow and ice. However, after a couple of conversations with fellow trampers in the lodge, today was sounding much more promising, even though the weather was changing non-stop from blue skies to thick mist and back. Re-hydrated and refuelled, I set off into Hongi Valley, eventually coming out onto the steep scoria slopes. The slopes of loose scree are incredibly energy sapping. With each step i sink and slide. I take it slow, stopping frequently to regain my energy, appreciate the views when the mist clears, showing blue skies and to regain my bearings.
The lizard slowly appears into sight. No, not a real lizard but a steep, rocking trail which leads up to the crater. Climbing from rock to rock, I slowly but surely weave my way up the craggy mountain side. Occasionally stopping to look back and down to see just how far and how high I had come. It's frightening! It's steep, so steep. I push on.
Onwards and upwards, I eventually arrive at the ice and snow filled crater. It's breathtaking, absolutely incredible. It's like a different world. I make my way across the crater before completing the final climb to the summit.
I made it. Standing above the clouds at 2,518 metres I take in the panoramic 360 views, getting an occasional glimpse of Taranaki through the thick, white clouds. I enjoy lunch at the summit, whilst sheltering from the bitterly cold wind, take some photos and begin the slow walk down. For me, this is actually more difficult than ascending. You suddenly lose the motivation that was driving you onward and those aches and pains become more and more apparent. You are forced to look the sheer drops in the face, they can’t be ignored, denting the confidence and slowing progress.
The lizard trail is slow to navigate. It's tough on the hands and knees. I take leaps of faith to descend through the scree, with my feet sinking and stones chipping away at my ankles. The pain really kicks in once I reach the well trodden track, I notice the feet and toes are in pain, I notice my thighs are burning, I notice my knees are aching. Each step is painful. With each step I try to find a new muscle that isn't fatigued. After a couple of steps, that new found muscle screams out in pain.
Hours later and I am in New Plymouth, sipping on a coke and tucking into a plate of pasta, feeling exhausted, yet exhilarated and contempt. Just like James Heberly and Ernst Diffenbach in 1839, I had summited Mount Taranaki, tick, done. I had also satisfied my need for a mini adventure involving the Overlander train, cycling over 200km, exploring Mangapohue Natural Bridge and Piripiri cave, freedom camping, body surfing in Mokau and finally climbing Mount Taranaki.