By Josh Girvan, 23 January 2014
Thirty hours after arriving in Wellington from the US the rowdy VUW Tramping Club welcomed me to New Zealand in true kiwi fashion by taking me on an adventure I will never forget; up to the Mighty Naks and the summit of Mt Taranaki.
Josh, our leader and local expert, set up the logistics. I was to meet Keith at the main Kelburn campus bus stop at 9:30am. Not having been to campus before I had no idea where on campus to go. Luckily, I wasn’t hard to spot with my large backpack and the dumbfounded look on my face. Mark found me and lead the way to the usual Tramping Club meet up spot where we met Keith and got on our way.
While stopped for fuel I asked how long the drive to New Plymouth was. The boys estimated that the trip would take four to five hours. Seven hours later, after a false dead battery, a brewery tour, speaker shopping, a fast food stop, and a few wrong turns, we arrived in New Plymouth to pick up Josh and Adam. Buried under our packs we drove up towards the Pouakai Range. We started from Mangorei Road, hiking 1.5 hours uphill to the hut. The wind was roaring when we got to the top and I was glad I had packed 4 liters of beer to keep me anchored to the ground. We cooked a delicious dinner and waited for the rest of our group (Matt, Natasha, Elliot and Natalie) who arrived at 9pm, hiking by headlamp light most of the way up. We played some cards, shared some drinks and stories and hit the bunks to prepare for the long day ahead of us.
When we woke up Saturday the clouds were starting to clear and we got our first view of Taranaki. We took some photos of the beautiful mountain from the top of the Pouakai Range and Josh pointed out our summit route. We then packed back down to the cars, did some restocking in town and drove to Dawson falls. From there we hiked straight uphill for four hours; up stairs and skree fields. Straight up… I learned that kiwis don’t believe in switchbacks. But with every vertical step we were encouraged by even more stunning views of the mountain and the landscape below.
When we arrived at the Syme hut around 6pm we found that there was already a group of six in the hut which is intended for ten. Fortunately, the group welcomed us to stay anyway making a cozy sixteen of us in a ten person hut. But with good weather and incredible views of the coast line and snow capped peaks we spent very little time indoors. During the evening, we ate a delicious homemade chickpea and chorizo stew by our chef Natasha, watched the sunset and a rising red moon before cozying up in our overcrowded bunks.
Sunday we woke up at 5:30am for a morning ascent of Mt Taranaki. But getting ten people packed, fed and geared up takes patience. We hit the trail at 7:30am to endure a long, hot, frustrating trudge through more skree. We made it to the summit of Mt Taranaki by 11am. The 360 degree view from the top made every step worth it. We stayed on the summit for a while taking it all in and exploring the terrain. After taking hundreds of photos, screaming triumphantly, playing in the snow, and some indecent exposure, we hiked back down to the hut. From there we packed our bags and headed down to Dawson Falls for a much deserved cool down.
After the falls, five of us (Josh, Mark, Keith, Natasha and I) continued on to Tahurangi Lodge for the night. We arrived at our luxury accommodation after dark, at 10pm. The lodge had heating, electricity, showers, a full kitchen, stereo and board games. We cooked another gourmet dinner, sipped on whisky and played Jenga until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
On Monday morning the tired bunch tramped back out to the car, exhausted but exhilarated by the weekend’s adventure. I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome to New Zealand. Thanks to my new friends on the VUW Tramping Club!