Between the Mountain and the Sea

The
Taranaki region, halfway up the North Island on the west coast, is famed for
two things: its many interesting gardens, and the presence of Mt Taranaki which
rises up from the centre of the region as a perfect snow-capped volcanic cone.
We were warned that it could be hard to see, being often covered in cloud, but
last Saturday our luck was in, and as we landed in our little plane from
Wellington we could see that the sky was clear and the white cone was sharply
etched against the blue sky.

We
spent most of Saturday exploring the slopes of the mountain. Clouds came over,
and often the peak was obscured, but we were still able to catch glimpses of it
now and then. We walked up to Manganui Gorge, which cuts into the mountainside
and still had snow in the bottom. It is reminiscent to Tolkien fans of the
Lonely Mountain Erebor and the valley leading up to Smaug’s lair in ‘The
Hobbit’. We almost expected a fiery dragon to come bursting out.

The
Around the Mountain Circuit takes about three days to complete, so we only
managed to do a short stretch, along the mountainside to Dawson Falls. This was
still fairly challenging, as on the way back the path we were on forced us to
ford a small waterfall, getting our jeans and boots totally soaked. Despite this,
we enjoyed our 5-6 hour hike on the mountain, with some good views and interesting
scenery. We were quite ready, though, to drive back to New Plymouth (the main town
of the region) to shower and change at our motel before going out for drinks and
a meal.

Unlike
some other New Zealand towns, New Plymouth seemed fairly ‘happening’ on a Saturday
night. We had a nice leisurely meal in an Indian restaurant, and later on found
a cocktail bar that was open and fairly lively (admittedly everyone else in there
was less than half our age).

Sunday
stayed cloudy all day, so we left the mountain brooding in the clouds and focused
on gardens and other things. First we did the Coastal Walkway which runs for about
4 miles along the coast from New Plymouth port to the mouth of a nearby river. It
has to be said the beaches and seashore are not too inspiring along there, but it
was nice to be able to stride along on the level for a change. Later we visited
Pukeiti Gardens, on the north side of the mountain, which specialises in rhododendrons
and other spring blossoms. This was quite pleasant, but not a patch on the (free)
Pukekura Park in New Plymouth which we visited just before flying back. This is
very extensive, and well worth seeing – almost rivalling Kew Gardens. We
visited the Fernery and other glasshouses, which were very good and full of orchids
and other blooms. The grounds are very well landscaped, with lakes, a waterfall
and a very fancy fountain which is lit up with colours in the summer.

Flying
out we got great views of Mt Taranaki in the evening light. Coming into Wellington
the plane was buffeted about a lot, and when we emerged we discovered there was
a howling gale blowing. Welcome back to Windy Wellington!

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