Is a Mount Taranaki Hike on your North Island itinerary? No? It most certainly should be. If you’ve heard of this near-perfect volcano before, the chances are you’ve seen the famous shot of Mt Taranaki’s reflection in a mirror lake. If you haven’t, it’s New Zealand’s ‘Mount Fuji’ doppleganger, and getting that reflection shot is probably the only reason a lot of tourists go there when in fact, there are so many hike around Mount Taranaki, you really are spoilt for choice! So here’s our favourite Mount Taranaki hike, along with a few other must do activites in the area!
Mount Taranaki at sunrise
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While we really wanted to summit Mount Taranaki, during winter the track simply isn’t accessible to those without proper mountaineering training/equipment. However, the walks we chose to do gave good views of the volcano (on a clear day). Don’t be surprised if you can’t actually see Mount Taranaki when you first arrive though!! It wasn’t until our last day that we finally got a completely clear view of it from the bottom, and even then it was by chance that we were up at sunrise as it only lasted about half hour and then it was cloud covered again!! So our top tip is to get up early, just in case.
Our britz campervan in front of Mount Taranaki
Explore the Goblin Forest
The Goblin Forest is the name given to the area on the Stratford side of Mount Taranaki and it encompasses several different walks. We tied together three of the shorter tracks to create a half day walk that really gave you a feel for exactly how this forest got its name; spoiler… we didn’t see any goblins. These three walks turned into our favourite Mount Taranaki hike and here’s why!
Starting at the Dawson Falls information centre we followed the signs towards ‘Wilkies Pools’. The path started off nice and steady, it was mainly board walk which meant we were able to avoid most of the mud after the recent heavy rain.
The further we crept into the Goblin Forest, the reason behind the name became more apparent; each side of the track was lined with huge, figure-like trees covered in vivid green moss. When we passed an area that had a small stream running down the rocks, we half expected fairies and mythical creatures to start hopping around the tree roots or for the rocks themselves to turn into creatures, it really was like something out of a fairytale.
There were times when there didn’t seem to be ‘much happening’, so we would stop to listen and just appreciate where we were. In these moments we would realise that in fact, there was plenty going on around us. There are so many birds in the Taranaki Region, I could have spent forever up there trying to pick out each call and song! There truly is nothing I love more than being fully submerged in nature, even if the weather isn’t on our side!
After about 30minutes of steady incline we reached the mystical Wilkies Pools but not before crossing a small suspension bridge! From the bridge we could look up towards the pools and on a clear day, I imagine the views on the opposite side would spread out down the valley and towards the town.
In summer the Wilkies Pools look like an ideal spot for a swim but we weren’t tempted. Not only because it was bitterly cold but also because the recent rain had made them look more like a waterfall than a relaxing place for a paddle. If you decide to brave a swim, you’ll have to let us know!!
The views of Mount Taranaki from the walk to Wilkies Pools
Waingongoro Hut track
From here we had two options, continue on the Wilkies Pools track to loop back towards the information centre, creating a 1.5 hour return walk or follow the signs for Waingongoro Hut. This is where the track gets interesting with a lot more stream crossings, rock scrambling and a steeper incline, at one point we even had to rock hop across a mini waterfall. I felt like Little Red Riding Hood on her way to grandma’s!
On the way to the Waingongoro Hut we passed a sign for ‘swing bridge’, we decided to follow it to see where it lead and sure enough, 5 minutes later we were stood at the edge of Egmont National Park’s tallest swing bridge. At 24m high, this swing bridge gives you a good birds eye view down on the tree canopy and is worth the mini detour. Once we were back on the Waingongoro Hut track it wasn’t long before the trees opened up and there we found the hut itself. I was a little disappointed by the views at the hut, or more accurately the fact that there wasn’t any but even so, the walk so far had been great and Waingongoro Hut was a nice spot to stop for some lunch.
We stopped at the hut for a while hoping the rain would stop but when it showed no signs of doing so, we headed back down the track, past the swing bridge sign until we came to the next fork in the road. Here we could either return back past Wilkies Pools or continue back to the road via the ridge track and end up at Dawson Falls.
Getting lost in goblin forest
Not wanting to repeat the same route, we opted to head for Dawson Falls. We had planned on going there anyway so why not take the scenic route, right? The ridge track wasn’t as nice as the Wilkies Pools track but that was purely because there were a lot of flooded steps and muddy puddles to hop – not surprising given it hadn’t stopped raining all day.
The track eventually lead back to the main road to the information centre but the green DOC signs made it easy to pic up the track again. It wasn’t long before we could hear the roar of Dawson calling us down into the depths of the valley. If there’s one thing rain is good for, it’s making sure the waterfalls are looking their best!
The lookout point at the top isn’t that great, if we’re honest. It’s quite overgrown (as nature intended) and sits at a funny angle from the falls. So to get a better view we highly recommend taking the steep steps down to the plunge pools. Again, probably a great place to swim in summer, but while we were there even the mist coming off the falls was too cold for me!
The walk through Goblin Forest was roughly a 3 hour return walk, not including all the times we stopped to get photos or just admire the surroundings. Another thing we really liked about this part of Mount Taranaki was the fact they allow you to free camp in the information centre car park. This means you can park up over night and get a head start before the other tourists arrive!
The information centre is where the summit track starts too. Remember to pop in and speak to a member of staff beforehand, just to check for any weather warnings or track conditions you might need to know about!
Find the mirror lake near Poukai Hut
As I mentioned earlier, Mount Taranaki’s perfect reflection is the most iconic image of this famous volcano. And we know exactly where to find it.
You’ll need to be prepared for a bit of a hike though! While it isn’t the longest we’ve ever done, it is without a doubt the hardest. Why? Because it’s made up entirely of stairs. It can also get pretty monotonous as you don’t get any views until you’re almost at the top. We broke the boredom with bird watching – there’s plenty of Tuí nesting in the area – and reliving our childhood with games of I-Spy.
To find the Mount Taranaki Mirror Lakes, you’ll need to start at The Mangorei track that leads to Poukai Hut. It’s approx. 3 hours return if you don’t account to photo + rest stops. That’s 1.5hours and almost 1188m of stairs both ways! It’s a leg burner that’s for sure but the views at the top are worth it. Once you reach the hut all you need to do is continue for another 15 minutes and you’ll reach the mirror lake – I wish I could say they were a flat 15 minutes but unfortunately, there’s still a little bit of uphill to go.
If you want to turn the Mangorei track into an overnighter, or maybe even extend it into one of Mount Taranaki’s loner walks, camping at the Poukai Hut is a great option. No booking is required as it’s first come first served and you buy your tickets at the infomation centre, they’re $15per adult per night. There are toilets and a wood fire but no cooking fascilites or bedding so you’ll need to bring them with you. More information on Poukai Hut can be found here.
Dec thawing out at Pouakai Hut
And these were the ‘views’ from Pouakai hut…
We weren’t fortunate enough to get the famous views on our hike but we already knew that would be the case when we set off. We did manage to get a teeny tiny sliver of the town below us, but it didn’t last long enough to get a photo.
With the weather being so dismal though, it meant we got to see the mountain scape in a whole new light. You don’t see many moody photos from this walk, just those of the famous reflection, but when we looked around there’s actually a lot going on up there. So many different shades of grass against the backdrop of thick fog, it felt like a whole new world, I’m not disappointed that we couldn’t see beyond a few metres.
The walk down was perhaps even harder than the walk up. The first part as you leave the hut wasn’t very sheltered so we were open to the elements… which decided to hammer us with hail. Yay.
Don’t think about the time. As soon as I started counting down the time before we got to the top, the steps got harder. It isn’t the most enjoyable walk of our entire trip but it does have some of the best views, so stick with it!
… it’s behind all that fog, somewhere.
See the Elephant and it’s 3 sisters on the beach!
Okay so small confession, this little attraction actually requires you to leave Mount Taranaki but its only 1 hour away and well worth a visit.
Elephant Rock and the 3 sisters are rock formations that sit on the beach near Tongaporutu and they look exactly how you’ve imagined them; one like and elephant, and one like the famous 3 sisters in Australia. At low tide you can walk right up to them and through the archways formed in some of the other formations. At high tide there is a brilliant high vantage point here, accessible by a short drive and 2 minute walk down a public footpath through some fields.
The original Elephant Rock recently lost its trunk but Dec spotted another formation that looks very close to the original so who knows, in a few more years it might have been naturally sculpted and the beach will have its nelly back.
These rocks formations are only accessible at low tide, which is different on a daily bases. You can check the tide times here but luckily the car park here is also a free campsite so if the tide is low early in the morning you can camp and get there before anyone else!
Elephant Rock. For more of our landscape photography visit Declan’s Instagram!
Camping near Mount Taranaki
There are quite a few free camps around the base of Mount Taranaki, including the Pukeiti Garden car park which is just a short drive away from the start of Mangorei Track and the information centre car park I mentioned previously.
However, if you’re looking for a powered site, the closest to Taranaki is in Stratford. We found this site to have amazing facilities (hot showers!) and while it isn’t close enough to park up and do some walks from here, it’s close enough to feel in the middle of it all still and the staff were great at answering some of my Q’s about the area too!
There are quite a few other walks to do in the area, including the Mount Taranaki Summit Walk but if you’re short on time or there in winter like we were, this is an amazing way to spend 3 days at Mount Taranaki and get a taste for the area. We can’t wait to go back and see what it’s like in summer without its snow cap!
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