Updated November 22, 2020
If you want a challenge, the Mount Taranaki summit track is certainly that! Located on the west coast of New Zealand’s north island, this volcano is 2,518m high and is an almost perfect cone.
This means that there are no easy parts and the whole trek is a steep climb!
When we set out to conquer the summit, we were not the fittest we’ve ever been as we hadn’t been doing a lot of hiking in the previous months. It. Was. Hard!
When to go
It is best to hike this mountain in the summer months (January to April) if you are not an experienced mountaineer and are not comfortable with using an ice-axe and crampons, as it will be covered in ice and snow in the colder months and can become very dangerous. Even in the summer months, only attempt to climb on a good weather day as the temperatures at the summit are usually below zero Celsius.
We had to wait a number of days for the winds to drop from 60km/h to around 30km/h at the summit.
Visit the MetService website and check the weather for Egmont National Park to see a detailed forecast for the summit of the mountain.
We hiked in January, New Zealand’s summer, and there was still snow on the upper slopes, although we didn’t actually encounter it on the track until we reached the crater, which is full of snow all year round.
Make sure you’re well equipped and plan your day to ensure you finish in daylight hours. The descent is almost as difficult as the ascent, so allow plenty of time to get back down.
I recommend bringing warm and wet weather gear, even on a hot summer’s day, plus at least 3L of water, enough food for the whole day, a good pair of hiking boots and a head torch.
At each new stage of the hike, there is a sign reminding you to assess the conditions of the mountain, and of yourself. Do not continue if you’re in doubt at all.
There are a number of different tracks around Taranaki that you can walk if you’re not feeling up to the summit climb but, as the name suggests, the Mt Taranaki Summit Track is the only one that goes right to the top.
8 – 12 hours return
Mount Taranaki Summit Track Stage 1: North Egmont Visitor Centre to Tahurangi Lodge
Before you start, speak with the staff at the Visitor Centre about the conditions on the mountain; if you get there before the centre opens, as we did, make sure you read all the signs in the lobby and sign the book with your emergency contact information and your expected date of return. Don’t forget to mark yourself as ‘returned’ at the end of the day so someone doesn’t go out looking for you!
From the Visitor Centre, there are signs directing you to the start of the Summit Track, which is next to the camphouse building. This stage of the hike follows a gravel road, which later becomes concrete as you get closer to the lodge.
Giving you a taste of what’s to come, a lot of this section is very steep, which is why it is often called ‘The Puffer’.
Once you gain some elevation (which doesn’t take long), you can see across to the mountains in Tongariro National Park, roughly 150km away.
We started the hike just after sunrise, which made the views particularly beautiful.
There is a public toilet just below Tahurangi Lodge, which is the only one on the whole trek, so make sure you use it!
Mount Taranaki Summit Track Stage 2: Hongi’s Valley
Once you’ve passed in front of the privately owned Tahurangi Lodge, you will ascend into a valley of boulders. Make sure you follow the markers as the track disappears here and you will need to climb up and over the boulders as you ascend. Be very careful as the gully is in shadow for a lot of the day and the boulders could be slippery or icy.
Make sure you stop and look behind you for an awesome view out through the valley!
As we neared the top of the gully, we met some people who were already coming down the summit track after hiking up in the dark to watch the sunrise. It must have been absolutely amazing, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been brave enough to start at 2am and complete the whole gruelling ascent in pitch darkness!
The climb out of the top of the valley is a long, steep staircase, which brings you out onto the scoria slopes of the ridge. The hardest parts are still to come, so check how you’re feeling, as well as the weather conditions further up the mountain, to decide whether you want to continue.
Mount Taranaki Summit Track Stage 3: Scoria Slopes
You’ll have done a lot of steep climbing already and will likely be tired, but there is still a long, hard way to go.
The scoria slopes are probably the most gruelling part of the Mount Taranaki summit track climb and take more than an hour to complete. The scree is very loose and the going is tough: for every two steps you take forward, you’ll slide one back.
There are numbered poles counting down to the first one at the top of the Lizard, so you’ll have some idea of how much further you’ve got to go before you reach the crater’s edge.
We found this stage both mentally and physically draining, making the next stage feel a lot tougher than we normally would have found it, but we were determined to reach the top, having got this far.
All the same, if you feel you are too tired to continue after this section, please do turn back. It is almost as hard getting back down so you will still need a lot of energy in reserve for the descent, whether it is from here or from the summit.
Mount Taranaki Summit Track Stage 4: The Lizard
The Lizard is a rocky ridge, which requires the use of hands as well as feet to climb the very steep rocks to the edge of the crater.
By this point I was very tired and slow-going, with most people overtaking me with what seemed like amazing ease! I’m pretty sure Theo would have ascended this section a lot quicker than we did, but he stayed behind me and encouraged me all the way up, letting me set the pace.
Finally, we reached the top of the ridge. A narrow ledge leads around and down into the crater, and the rocks give way to snow and ice.
Mount Taranaki Summit Track Stage 5: The Crater and the Summit
It’s a great feeling to have reached the crater. A large expanse of snow stretches out in front of you, the drop in temperature feels lovely on your sweating skin, and your mood lifts. At least, that’s how it was for me. I even threw a snowball at Theo!
Be very careful when crossing the crater. Depending on how early you get there, there may still be a layer of ice on top of the snow. Check whether you can kick your shoe into the snow; if not and there’s only ice, it may be too dangerous to cross.
This is the second part where proper hiking boots, rather than flexible running shoes, come in really handy (the scoria slopes being the first). Kick your feet into the snow as you walk.
The final ascent to the summit is up to your right when you enter the crater, which is another short scramble of scree and rocks. Theo sped off to reach the summit first while I trudged up slowly, and then we were there!
As you would expect, the 360 degree panoramic view is just incredible. You will likely be above the clouds, if there are any, and on a clear day you’ll be able to see the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park in one direction and the Southern Alps in the other, plus everything in between!
Note: Mount Taranaki is very significant to the local Māori as it is considered an ancestor and is sacred. Please do not stand directly on the summit stone. Respect the mountain and take all your rubbish away with you.
Mount Taranaki Summit Track Stage 6: The Descent
Now you need to do it all in reverse! If you have something waterproof to sit on, you can slide down the snow into the crater, which a lot of people were doing when we were there.
Before you go, if you’re not feeling too tired, turn right once you hit the snow on your way back and take a look out from that side. There was nobody in this part when we went and the snow looked perfect and untouched; it was so beautiful.
When you’re ready to leave, head back to the top of the Lizard and start your descent.
Be aware of others who are still climbing and give way to them if you can. Be careful of letting rocks fall onto people below you, both here and on the scree slopes.
I found the scree slopes almost as hard to navigate on the way down, and spent a lot more time on my bum as the scree gave way underneath me more times than I could count! We were also in the clouds at this point so it was difficult to see where we were going or how far we’d come, and it seemed to take forever for us to reach the top of the staircase into the valley.
From the staircase, the rest of the descent is much easier; although if you’re like me your legs will resemble jelly by this point!
Stage 7: Relax!
Once you finally reach the Visitor Centre, don’t forget to mark the book again to show that you’ve returned safely.
And… collapse. Oops, I mean relax!
The advisory times for the whole return trip on the Mount Taranaki summit track is 8-10 hours; however, we took over 12 hours to return to the car park due to my level of exhaustion while ascending the Lizard, so keep this in mind while planning your start time.
Despite the struggle and the extreme tiredness we both felt after returning to our car, the sense of accomplishment is amazing. I still look at the photos and can’t believe I did it!
So, before you go, plan ahead, check the weather conditions, make sure you’re well equipped and are attempting it at the right time of year, and enjoy your hike on the Mt Taranaki summit track!
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