Mt. Egmont, in western Taranaki, is often claimed to be one of the most symmetrical volcanoes in the world, but, like Fujijama, its symmetrical cone is characteristic of andesite volcanoes all over the world. Its height of 8,260 ft, with its base at sea level, is the average height of similar volcanoes. The peak of Egmont was tapu to the Maori, and the home of a legendary ancestor. There is no reason to believe that the peak was seen by Tasman, but it later impressed Cook and Banks by its symmetry, altitude, and snow cover. The first European to climb it was Dieffenbach at the end of December 1839. Captain Cook sighted the peak in January 1770 and named it after the Earl of Egmont.
The area around Mts. Egmont, Pouakai, and Kaitake is reserved as the Egmont National Park. Areas, on the north slope of Pouakai and in the west and south of Egmont are popular ski grounds. Ski tows are established on the north side of the Manganui River and the west flank of Fantham Peak. Puketi, a small volcano between Kaitake and Pouakai, is being established as a rhododendron garden by the New Zealand Rhododendron Trust. A small tributary of the Waiwakaiho River in the north-east of Egmont was a very important source of kokowai or red ochre used as a paint by the Maori.
Mt. Egmont is the latest of a series of three large volcanoes on a single volcanic line. The three in order of age and from the north to the south are Kaitake, Pouakai, and Egmont. The first two are much eroded remnants now only 2,240 and 4,590 ft. The upper 4,500 ft of Egmont is composed of lava flows and, although a few flows do descend to 2,500 ft, the lower part out to the coast in the north-west and south and to the base of the East Taranaki highlands was built of vast mudflows during the Pleistocene glaciation. A prominent feature of Egmont is a small subsidiary cone, Fantham Peak (6,438 ft), on the flank of the main cone and one mile south of the main crater.
A series of eruptions of Mt. Egmont about 350 years ago gave rise to the Burrell vesicular lapilli and the Puniho ash. A tholoid of porphorytic andesite occupied the centre of the crater and was partly destroyed in an eruption which gave rise to the Puniho ash and breached the crater in its north-west quadrant. Because of this history of recent activity Egmont is regarded as dormant and not extinct.
by Thomas Ludovic Grant-Taylor, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.