Crossing Guard: Hiking New Zealand's Egmont National Park

Score the North Island’s best scenery per mile on the Pouakai Crossing.
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After days of rain, Mt. Taranaki reveals itself. 

After days of rain, Mt. Taranaki reveals itself. 

It’s been raining hard for 24 hours, but I can’t stop looking up. Far above our heads, the runoff takes a series of leaps down the mountain’s craggy slopes, hanging flumes from every outcropping and creating a wonderland of waterfalls. Cascades thunder down all around as we step across steep gullies and precipitous rock slides. It’s worth every drop that splashes into my collar.

This is why we came to Egmont National Park on New Zealand’s North Island—to be surprised. And despite being a look-alike for Mt. Fuji, Taranaki, the park’s volcanic centerpiece, is still a locals’ mountain. We came to the Pouakai Crossing to see the place in solitude—and if soaking in a bit of a rain is the price, so be it.

 Runoff turned gullies into games of hopscotch.

 Runoff turned gullies into games of hopscotch.

The 12-mile Pouakai Crossing contours well below Taranaki’s snow-mantled summit, passing through rainforest, subalpine scrub, and muddy marshes as it takes in the view of the mountain. Or, is supposed to, anyway.

Yesterday, we set out from the Dawson Falls Visitor Center to join the Pouakai proper. After a break at Wilkies Pools, a cascading series of falls and swimming holes joined by natural water slides, we descended into the Goblin Forest. So named for its gnarled, moss-bandaged trees that loom over the path, and combined with the day’s mist, it felt like stepping into a storybook. That was right around when the rain started.

By the time we reached Manganui Lodge on our first night, clouds had snuffed out the earlier break-through sunshine, dumping inch after inch of wind-revved rain.

But when dawn grayed the horizon, we stepped over the small pond that formed at the hut’s doorstep and into a world that seemed more water than air. We weren’t on the trail long when we saw the first sheets of water crashing onto the footpath. For the next six hours we went in, out, over, and under the waterfalls, while clouds ripped past, revealing and swallowing the cliffy terrain. By the time we arrive at Holly Hut, a wooden shelter with bunks and a fireplace, we’re as dazzled as we are drenched.

Botany runs amok in the Goblin Forest.

Botany runs amok in the Goblin Forest.

The final day brings a short side trip to 102-foot-high Bells Falls, the tallest in the park, and a crossing of the Ahukawakawa Swamp, where we fight through deep mud. This section of the hike should offer that glory shot of Mt. Taranaki, but the clouds still keep it hidden. With only one morning left, we head to bed at Pouakai Hut hoping the weather might relent in the morning.

Of course, it doesn’t, but we’re willing to trade a little sweat for the chance to see the view that’s eluded us. We aren’t at Pouakai Tarn long before the gloom finally lifts, revealing Taranaki from forested base to ice-covered summit, bathing the tussock around the pool in golden light. All we can do is cheer.

Associate Gear Editor Eli Bernstein was the only one to finish the trek with dry feet.

Do It

Getting there From Auckland, fly to New Plymouth and hire a car to Egmont National Park. Route Egmont National Park Visitor Center to Holly Hut. Huts are first-come, first-serve, but you need Backcountry Hut Tickets to use them. Manganui Lodge is $30/person per night (skitaranki.co.nz) or stay in the public shelter next door (free). Season October to April Guide Top Guides ($195/person, four-person minimum)

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