Disappointments in New Plymouth

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I leave Waitomo to reach New Plymouth this time on the West Coast. The journey on bus among hills and grasslands is beautiful but turns a little too mush for my stomach. The Maori settled in the Taranaki region where New Plymouth is from the 13th century followed by the British in the early 19th century. Of course this will not happen smoothly and many wars will break out throughout the second half of the 19th century. A few km from New Plymouth appears majestically in the distance, Taranaki. Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont (yep, it has two names), is a solitary volcano with an almost perfect cone and potentially dangerous. He is nicknamed the Mount Fuji of New Zealand and I can say that having seen both, the resemblance is striking (except that Fuji-san is higher). A Maori legend explains in a very poetic way why Taranaki is a solitary volcano:

According to Māori mythology, Taranaki once resided in the middle of the North Island, with all the other New Zealand volcanoes. The beautiful Pihanga was coveted by all the mountains, and a great battle broke out between them. Tongariro eventually won the day, inflicted great wounds on the side of Taranaki, and causing him to flee. Taranaki headed westwards, following Te Toka a Rahotu (the Rock of Rahotu) and forming the deep gorges of the Whanganui River, paused for a while, creating the depression that formed the Te Ngaere swamp, then heading north. Further progress was blocked by the Pouakai ranges, and as the sun came up Taranaki became petrified in his current location. When Taranaki conceals himself with rainclouds, he is said to be crying for his lost love, and during spectacular sunsets, he is said to be displaying himself to her. In turn, Tongariro’s eruptions are said to be a warning to Taranaki not to return. – Wikipedia

I landed with beautiful weather and almost too hot for the season. I join my hostel located at a forty minutes walk on foot from downtown. Not easy, especially with my backpack. Luckily I came across the inn’s owner stopped at a gas station on the road who propose to drop me! With great pleasure ! Stripped of my luggages, I go out to tour the city. I see the beautiful Taranaki in the background and like an idiot I tell myself that there is no hurry for photos. I might take better pictures tomorrow when I will have a better perspective (fatal error! You’ll discover later in the article why).

Visit the Pukekura Park, very nice with pretty little Asian-influenced bridges and stop at Brooklands Zoo. Located at the end of the park, the little zoo is free and has a very nice selection of colorful birds, farmyard animals and monkeys including a small family of Tamarin white crest. These are small and cute but seem to be very cold. My favorite part is the walk inside the aviary. Superb parrots and parakeets welcome me with an avalanche of screams sound including a superb Eclectus Parrot in its green dress and orange beak making cat meowing!

Sounds of New Zealand – Brooklands zoo :


But the highlight of the show suddenly attracts my eye while I photographed the parrots: a superb Amherst’s ‪Pheasant‬ quietly walk a few feet away from me! The color of its feathers is extraordinary and I’m not talking about the patterns and its colorette absolutely fascinating! Enough to say that I take its portrait immediately. I’ve seen pheasants in France but this is the first time I see one as beautiful.

Amherst's ‪Pheasant‬ - Brooklands zoo - New Plymouth - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldI then returned to the center of New Plymouth to go for a ride on the coast but it’s already getting dark. Passage by the i-Site but this one just closed. Alright. I remain a moment outside to enjoy the free wifi, the inn’s one being limited. As I begin to getting cold,  night falling, I hear someone interpellate me. Is Pauline! The French I met in Rotorua! What a surprise ! We exchange our respective news (visiting Taupo with an extraordinary skydiving for her and awesome visits of the Waitomo Caves for me). Because she has a car, we organize for the next day, a hike on Mount Taranaki.

Mangorei Track in the mist

I join Pauline the next morning under overcast weather. No Taranaki on the horizon, not good. It is even a downpour that struck us as we drive to reach the start of our walk. The weather is really not reliable in the area… Start in the rain for an ascent of about two hours in the bush to join the Pouakai Hut. From there it takes about ten minutes to reach the Pouakai plateau and supposedly have superb views across the Ahukawakaw swamp of the Taranaki volcano. Seeing the weather, I have the impression that the pictures will probably be a flop.

At least the climb is pretty, in a beautiful forest with lush vegetation and full of fabulous green moss. Two hours later, we arrive completely soaked in the fog at the Pouakai Hut. Let’s not lose hope, the weather can still clear up. Lunch inside, rapidly cooled (cold and rain is not the best possible combination) and discussion with a German guy also disappointed by the weather.

Pouakai Hut - Mangorei Track - New Plymouth - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldAfter one hour, we leave again, the cold making too difficult to stay in the hut. At least it stopped raining. By a very thick fog surrounds us. We can’t see anything after 5 meters. Pauline and I still climb above the hut to try to distinguish something but it is a waste. You can’t see anything. We guess the Ahukawakaw swamp before us as the floor tilts to form a cavity but of the Mount Taranaki, no trace! It has disappeared! We look in the right direction but it is completely invisible. Huge disappointment. I put a picture of what we should have seen and you will understand my pain:

Greatly disappointed and cursing against the weather, we go down, telling us stories about our personal lives. At least we have well discussed during this ride. Back down, the sun welcomes us! What a pleasure to feel the warmth of the rays. But Mount Taranaki is still in the fog. Apparently it decided to go hide itself for a moment.

Nautilus and Kokako

We return to the i-site located within the Puke Ariki center also houses a library and a museum. Emails treatment, reading news and editing some photos of the day and then we go see the museum. A temporary exhibition is devoted to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the Jules Verne novel, that I am currently reading! The coincidence is quite amazing! A reconstruction of the Nautilus allows people to immerse themselves in the universe and I take great pleasure at wandering around the book descriptions in my mind.

Par By J. G. Keulemans, in W.L. Buller's A History of the Birds of New Zealand. 2nd edition. Published 1888. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Par By J. G. Keulemans, in W.L. Buller’s A History of the Birds of New Zealand. 2nd edition. Published 1888. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
The first floor of the museum is devoted to the history of the region, very interesting and full of information and the second floor to the fauna, flora and geology. As usual, my favorite part is the one about birds. The more I learn about them, the more I find them fascinating. There is even a small movie telling the story of the magnificent bird Kokako, critically endangered. The bird has an amazing singing like organ notes and blue color jowls. Decimated by animals called in NZ “pest animals” such as rats, possums, stoats, the Kokako population was reduced, ten years ago,  to a single bird! Called Tamanui , it was integrated in a conservation program to save the species from extinction. Today there are hundreds of free birds distributed in sanctuaries protected of predators.

The Coastal Walkway

Pauline and I meet again the next day to go walk along the Coastal Walkway. A path of 12.7 km along the seafront. We begin with the Paritutu Rock, a cone of a hundred meters high, remains of the first volcanoes appeared in the region. The wind is very strong and the weather is gray. Two grandpas warn us that the climb is hard but without dangers. My god, they are crazy these Kiwis! This is probably the most dangerous climb I have ever done !! 100m of extremely steep ascent with the second half with chains !! Pauline and I didn’t went to the top. Too dangerous! The size of the trail is ridiculous,  It’s steep slope on both sides and the wind might tip us at any time. A young German woman who made the climb at the same time that we, also abandoned the climb. Completely hallucinated by the dangerousness of the free access ride (impossible that someone didn’t died during the ascent) and laughing about the experience, Pauline and I then set course on the coast.

Climbing Paritutu Rock with Pauline - New Plymouth - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld
Pauline on the Paritutu Rock

Nothing special to say about this Coastal Walkway, except that it is much less impressive than what the brochures say. And again with a gray weather, it’s not going to be better. I despair of seeing again Taranaki in the distance but the mountain is completely invisible in the mist and clouds. Really, I made a huge mistake by not taking its picture while the weather was fantastic on the day I arrived. Hopefully with luck, I could maybe see him tomorrow morning before leaving New Plymouth.

Coastal Walkway - New Plymouth - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

The next day I left New Plymouth under a gray and rainy weather without having managed to take a single photo of Taranaki. Certainly this visit to New Plymouth was full of disappointments. Fortunately Pauline was there. She spent three more days in New Plymouth and told me later that the Taranaki remained completely invisible.

Note: all pictures published in this article are my creations (with the exception of photos of the Black Abyss Adventure). They are not royalty free. Thank you not to use them without permission.