New Zealand's greatest gifts: Mount Taranaki

STUFF.CO.NZ

Taranaki has just been declared the second best place in the world to visit.

New Zealand's most distinctive mountain is also one of the most deadly.

More than 80 climbers have lost their lives on the slopes of Mount Taranaki since records began in 1891. The picture-perfect peak is a natural born killer for the inexperienced, and the ill-prepared.

Some end up falling to their doom. Others are hoodwinked by the mountain's rapidly changing weather conditions, and freeze to death. 

Mt Taranaki often draws comparisons to Japan's Mt Fuji.
CHARLOTTE CURD/Fairfax NZ

Mt Taranaki often draws comparisons to Japan's Mt Fuji.

But just like a cold-blooded homme fatale, Taranaki is as handsome as he is dangerous. The 2518-metre-high mountain is considered one of the most symmetrical volcano cones in the world.

It often draws comparisons with Japan's national treasure, the venerated Mount Fuji - and even stood in for its Japanese counterpart in the 2003 Tom Cruise blockbuster, The Last Samurai

READ MORE:
Lonely Planet names Taranaki one of the world's best regions to visit in 2017
Pouakai Crossing could be game changer for tourism in Taranaki 
Scenic route: Sunset on Mt Taranaki

Egmont National Park with Mt. Taranaki at its centre, captured in a NASA satellite image.
NASA

Egmont National Park with Mt. Taranaki at its centre, captured in a NASA satellite image.

According to Maori legend, Taranaki once lived with the other volcanoes of the North Island's Central Plateau - Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. When he made romantic advances towards a beautiful mountain named Pihanga, Tongariro erupted in jealousy.

Banished to the west, Taranaki was maddened with grief. When his peak is shrouded in mist and rain, he is said to be weeping for his lost love.

While many have attempted to bestow monikers upon the mountain, only two have ever stuck. In 1986, the New Zealand Geographic Board officially recorded Taranaki and Mt Egmont as interchangeable names for the mountain after years of controversy about what the mountain should be called.  

The Pouakai Circuit, with Mt Taranaki reflected in a mountain lake.
JACQUI DICK

The Pouakai Circuit, with Mt Taranaki reflected in a mountain lake.

The name Egmont was chosen by British navigator James Cook in 1770, after John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont. Until recently, it was the most common name for the peak, which to this day remains a point of contention in the province - though it is now considered culturally insensitive to refer to Taranaki as Mt Egmont. 

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The area surrounding Mt Taranaki is still known as Egmont National Park. With as many as 13 entrances, it's one of the most accessible wilderness areas in the country - making Taranaki the "most-climbed mountain".

If you would rather admire it from a slightly safer distance, try the Pouakai Crossing walk - an "unmissable experience" highlighted by Lonely Planet when they named Taranaki the second-best region in the world to visit in 2017.

The one-day, 19-kilometre trail winds around the lower slopes of the mountain, before rewarding walkers with Instagram-worthy views of Taranaki's perfect cone, reflected in glassy mountain lakes.

NEED TO KNOW

Climbing to the summit of Mt Taranaki is not for the faint-hearted. The Department of Conservation says the track should only be attempted in good weather.

The best time of year to attempt the summit without alpine equipment is February to mid-April, but always check with the Egmont National Park Visitor Centre for up to date information as conditions can change suddenly.

Carry enough clothing and equipment to ensure you are equipped for any type of weather. Carrying a torch, fully charged cellphone and personal locator beacon is also recommended. There is no drinking water on the track, so be sure to take plenty with you.

 - Stuff

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