In the southwestern corner of New Zealand’s North Island lies a lonely mountain by the name of Taranaki (aka Egmont). Rising some 2,518 m (8,261 ft) above sea level, it is recognized as one of the world’s most symmetric volcanoes, and its Fujiesque profile exercises a magnet-like pull over those that are fortunate enough to behold it. For wayfaring types that are interested in experiencing the mountain’s wonders on foot, the area boasts more than 300 km (186 mi) of maintained pathways, the longest and most challenging of which is the Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC).
I hiked the AMC in the summer of 2010. All details have been updated as of April 2020.
At a Glance
Distance: 52 km (32 mi)
Average Time: 4 days
Start / Finish:
The upper car park at the end of North Egmont road near the Visitor’s Centre (Egmont National Park).
Getting There & Away:
There is no public transport available to the Visitor’s Centre. The trailhead is located approximately 30 minutes drive from the town of New Plymouth.
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
October to May. January to April is the best time to climb to the summit of Taranaki.
Rainfall: In addition to dominating the region’s skyline, Mount Taranaki’s impressive bulk also plays a significant role in the area’s meteorological patterns. In short, it is one of the wettest places in the country, with the summit receiving an average of 8,000 mm (315 inches) of rain per annum. It’s worth noting that the higher you go up the mountain the more likely you are to encounter significant precipitation and strong winds; a fact that all hikers should keep in mind when deciding on whether to take the high or low-level alternates along the route.
Two names, one mountain: Taranaki is the Maori name for the mountain. Egmont was the name bestowed upon it by Captain James Cook in 1770. After many years of debate and controversy, in 1986 the New Zealand Geographic Board decided to officially recognize both monikers under the alternative names policy.
Maps & Information
Online Information: See the excellent DOC website for a basic map, trekking notes, downloadable brochure, and up-to-date information on the AMC. Once you arrive in person, check with the helpful staff at the North Egmont Visitor’s centre in regard to any recent changes in track conditions.
Guidebook: In 2010 I used the trekking notes and map contained in Lonely Planet’s Tramping in New Zealand (available in Kindle format). In fine weather, this sufficed for navigation purposes.
Maps: If you are looking for more detail, try the1:50,000 Topo50 BJ29 Mt. Taranaki. Maps in the Topo50 series are widely available in outdoor stores or DOC offices throughout NZ. Alternatively, you can download them for free from Linz.govt.nz (Land Information New Zealand)
Fun Fact – The Last Samurai: Due to its uncanny resemblance to Mount Fuji, Taranaki doubled as Japan’s most iconic peak in the 2003 Tom Cruise blockbuster, “The Last Samurai.” In addition to their similarly shaped symmetrical cones, it was thought that the farmland and forests that surrounded Taranaki, resembled the Japanese landscape around Fuji in 1877 (i.e. when the movie was set).
Route / Conditions
Overview: As the name suggests, the Around the Mountain Circuit is a complete loop of the Taranaki volcano. Located in Egmont National Park (New Zealand’s second oldest National Park after Tongariro), it is a challenging track that is best suited to fit and experienced backpackers. Undulating from start to finish, the trail passes through a combination of lush forests and spectacular alpine landscapes, as it traverses the flanks of the North Island’s second-highest peak. During its course hikers are presented with multiple high and low-level route options; the former being more scenic and difficult, and the latter representing a safer option in foul weather.
Side Trip to the summit: The 12.6 km out-and-back trip takes folks an average of six to eight hours to complete and should only be attempted in fine conditions. Outside of the main hiking season, alpine equipment (ice axe and traction devices) will likely be needed. Though steep and challenging, the trail – which also begins at the North Egmont Rd. upper car park – is very well marked, and upon reaching the summit hikers will be rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view.
Flora & Fauna: Due to a combination of its volcanic activity, high altitude, and maritime climate, Mount Taranaki possesses a unique vegetation pattern. One of its most notable features is the Kamahi, or Goblin Forests, that can be found on its flanks around 900 m (2,953 ft). These gnarled, twisted and highly resilient species grow around the trunks of other trees that have died in past volcanic eruptions. They are often covered in thick green hanging moss, ferns and lichen, and resemble something out of JRR Tolkien’s Fangorn forest from “The Lord of the Rings.”
Leave your tent at home for this one. New Zealand’s backcountry hut system is second to none, and outside of holiday times, huts on the Around the Mountain Circuit are rarely crowded. No bookings are required: first come, first serve.
Sunset is gorgeous from Lake Dive hut. Well worth the added descent/ascent from the High Route to get there and away.
Looking for something extra?
The 17 km (10.6 mi) Pouakai Crossing is a shorter, easier, but equally scenic alternative (or addition) to the Around the Mountain Circuit. Also beginning at North Egmont, this popular day walk traverses swamps, rainforests and a tarn-laden plateau, while affording spectacular views of Taranaki volcano.
The Lonely Mountain
Long before the dormant Taranaki – it’s last major eruption was in 1854 – became a renowned hiking destination, the mountain held a special place in the heart of New Zealand’s original inhabitants, the Maori. According to legend, Taranaki once resided in the central part of the North Island along with fellow volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. Being hot-tempered and more than a little explosive by nature, Taranaki had a falling out with Tongariro over a woman, the lovely forest-clad Pihanga. A fierce battle ensued, which was eventually won by Tongariro. As a consequence, Taranaki fled west towards the setting sun, leaving a trail of tears in his wake that formed the Whanganui River. Years later he remains in splendid isolation, forever brooding over his lost love. Indeed, it is said that when the mountain is shrouded in cloud, the nebulous veil is hiding Taranaki’s tears.
Around the Mountain Circuit Gear List (2020)
If I was to hike the Around the Mountain Circuit again (COVID-19 permitting) later this year, here is what I would carry:
MLD Hell 27LT DCF w. shoulder pockets
UL, frameless, slim profile / The Hell is a lot like the original Burn I had in the late 2000s and early 2010s / I’d opt for DCF over DX210 ripstop due to the high probability of torrential rain.
Trash compactor bag (pack liner)
Staying in huts / No shelter required
Pad – Thermarest NeoAir XLite (Small)
Very comfy / Doubles as makeshift framesheet for pack / Put feet on backpack when sleeping.
Quilt – Katabatic Palisade 30°F
I’ve had this quilt since the beginning of 2012 and it’s still going strong after more than 15,000 km (9,321 mi).
LokSak 20×12 (Food Bag)
Food storage bag of choice for hundreds of nights / Seals usually start to go after about six weeks of regular use.
Reconstituted Gatorade Powder Container
Toaks Titanium Spork
Top-end wrapped in orange tape so I won’t lose it.
Reconstituted sports drink bottles (2)
FIRST AID / HYGIENE
Sunscreen (repackaged in tiny bottle)
Hand Sanitizer (repackaged in dropper bottle)
I haven’t had a case of the backcountry trots since 1999…….I think a big reason is the diligent use of hand sanitizer.
Aquamira (repackaged in dropper bottles)
Toothpaste (mini tube)
Doubles as sewing thread
Antiseptic Wipes (2)
Clean cuts and wounds
Triple Antibiotic Cream (tiny tube)
3M Micropore Medical Tape
Breathable, paper tape / Adheres well.
One armed blind folks can sew better than me.
Tenacious Tape, Mini Tube Super Glue (repairs)
To compensate for lack of sewing skills
Lip Balm SPF 30
Kept with sunscreen & hand sanitizer in shoulder pocket.
Rain Pants – Montbell Versalites
Lightweight, quick-drying, and a surprising amount of warmth for something that weighs less than 4oz / Not super durable, but fine for on-trail hiking.
Rain Jacket – Montbell Versalite
Insulation – Patagonia R1 Hoodie
I’ve owned the same model R1 Hoody since 2009. In fact, it’s the only piece of gear on this list that I actually carried during my 2010 hike of the AMC // Super-versatile – Insulation layer for cold/wet weather and base layer for deep winter conditions.
Wind Shirt – Montbell Tachyon Anorak (older model)
After more than a decade of using Montbell wind shirts, the warmth to weight ratio of these items never ceases to amaze me.
Extra Socks – Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Helps keep the mud out of my trail runners.
MLD eVent Rain Mitts
Outer Layer for hands.
Montbell Chameece Gloves
By far my all-time favourite liner gloves. Very durable – I’ve had the same pair since 2016.
Phone – iPhone 11
Recent upgrade over my old Samsung Galaxy S7.
Otter Symmetry case for iPhone 11 (orange)
Recent pickup. I’d been hearing great things about it for the previous year or two, and decided to give it a try. Double thumbs up
Montbell Trail Wallet (Orange)
Love this little wallet. Use it on trail and off.
Swiss Army Classic
Suunto M-3G Global
Adjustable declination and globally balanced needle.
Small LokSaks for Valuables (2)
Protection for phone, wallet, passport, etc.
Shorts – Patagonia Baggies 7″
Hiking shorts of choice since 2015/16.
Base layer – Montbell Merino Long Sleeve Zip Neck
I’ve used this merino wool base layer since 2016 for all my hikes in cold/wet conditions (e.g. Tasmania, Scotland, New Zealand) / Not too thick/not too thin, warmer than synthetic equivalents when damp.
REI Merino Wool Liner socks
Still my favourite Merino liners after more than a decade / Cheaper and more durable than the big sock companies (Note: Though not as durable as the pre-2013 models)
Hat – Adapt-a-cap
I’ve been wearing this cap since 2003. Repaired and sewed up more times than I can remember / Haven’t switched to the newer model, which is both tighter and heavier than the original.
Shoes – Brooks Cascadia 14
I’ve worn every model of the Cascadias since the 3’s, which came out more than a decade ago. Since that time I’ve tried Altras, La Sportiva’s and a couple of other different brands, but I always come back to the Cascadias.
Timex Ironman Watch
Light, cheap, durable, reliable.
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