Lush rainforest grows on the lower slopes of 2,518-metre Taranaki Maunga (Mt Taranaki, formerly Mt Egmont), with subalpine shrublands and alpine herbfields at higher altitudes. The kāmahi forest on the middle slopes is known as goblin forest because of its trailing moss and gnarled trees.
The North Egmont Visitor Centre, accessed from Egmont Village via Egmont Road, is at an altitude of 978 m.
German immigrant and farmer Harry Peters pioneered the current route to North Egmont via Kaimiro in the late 1880s. Before then, most climbs were made after crossing the Pouākai Range.
The new route became popular, and visitor accommodation was needed. Peters was responsible for moving part of the former New Plymouth military barracks to North Egmont in 1891. The 1855 building had been used as barracks on Marsland Hill, New Plymouth, during the Taranaki wars. It is one of the world’s oldest corrugated-iron structures. Known as The Camphouse since 1977, it continues to provide accommodation for visitors in the 2020s.
Nearby on the Holly Hut Track is a memorial to Arthur Ambury, who lost his life in 1918 trying to save his companion W. E. Gourlay, who had slipped on ice. Both men fell over a bluff and died.
The Pouākai Circuit is a two-day walk through a range of vegetation. It passes the Ahukawakawa Swamp, which is home to plants adapted to acidic conditions and very low temperatures.
The first known skier on Mt Taranaki was R. Tyrer, in 1917. In 1929 Frank Addis made his own ski contraptions, more than a metre long, which he lashed to his boots like crampons. He tried them out in the crater but found that they were highly unstable.
The Manganui Ski Area, in Egmont National Park on the eastern side of Mt Taranaki, is run on a volunteer basis by the Stratford Mountain Club. The club was established in 1928, and its first skiing championships were held in 1932. The club’s base, Manganui Hut, was erected in 1931. Destroyed by fire in 2002, it was replaced in 2004.
Māori named the falls on the Kapuni Stream Te Rere-o-Noke (Noke’s falls) after the fugitive Noke, who hid from his pursuers under them. In 1883 they were named after Thomas Dawson, the first Pākehā to discover them.
The first Dawson Falls lodge opened in 1896, and was managed for many years by local mountaineer Jim Murphy. Electricity is supplied to the hostel by one of New Zealand’s oldest surviving hydroelectric plants, which was brought to Dawson Falls in 1935.
A chequered career
The hydroelectric generator at Dawson Falls – powered by water from the Kapuni Stream – was built by the General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York, around 1901. Details of its life before its installation in Egmont National Park in 1935 are unclear – but it is thought to have been used in Tasmania, in military camps in Wellington, and to light the Wellington cable car.
Opened in 1952, Kapuni Lodge is 1,400 m above sea level on the eastern slope of Fanthams Peak. It is the headquarters of the Hāwera-based Mt Egmont Alpine Club.
Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust
Set between the Kaitake and Pouākai ranges of Egmont National Park, the land for the Pukeiti rhododendron garden was purchased in 1950 and a trust was formed in 1951 to oversee its development.
More than 20 kilometres of tracks lead through the 360-hectare property. The rhododendron collection is the largest in the southern hemisphere, with hundreds of varieties. The garden is named after nearby Pukeiti (little hill), which is a rounded hill of lava (a cumulodome).