The province of Taranaki (nicknamed “The ’naki”) juts out west from the rest of the North Island forming a thumbprint peninsula centred on Maunga Taranaki (a.k.a. Mount Egmont), an elegant conical volcano rising 2500m from the subtropical coast to its icy summit. Taranaki means “peak clear of vegetation”, an appropriate description of the upper half of “the mountain”, as locals simply refer to it.
The mountain remains a constant presence as you tour the region, though much of the time it is obscured by cloud. The summit is usually visible in the early morning and just before sunset, with cloud forming through the middle of the day – the bane of summit aspirants who slog for no view.
Taranaki’s vibrant provincial capital and largest city, New Plymouth, makes a good base for day-trips into the Egmont National Park, surrounding the mountain. It is also very convenient for short forays to the surfing and windsurfing hotspot of Oakura.
Rural Taranaki’s attractions, including the Surf Highway, are best sampled on a one- or two-day loop around the mountain.
According to Maori, the mountain-demigod Taranaki fled here from the company of the other mountains in the central North Island. He was firmly in place when spotted by the first European in the area, Cook, who named the peak Egmont after the first Lord of the Admiralty. In the early nineteenth century few Maori were living in the area as annual raids by northern tribes had forced many to migrate with Te Rauparaha to Kapiti Island. This played into the hands of John Lowe and Richard Barrett who, in 1828, established a trading and whaling station on the Ngamotu Beach on the northern shores of the peninsula.
In 1841, the Plymouth Company dispatched six ships of English colonists to New Zealand, settling at Lowe and Barrett’s outpost. Mostly from the West Country, the new settlers named their community New Plymouth.