The casual visitor to Taranaki may be forgiven for thinking that there is only one volcano here. Strictly speaking, that’s true. Historically, Taranaki has four volcanoes. Mt Taranaki is just the current flavour of the millennia.
The Pouakai Range (1400-metres) reached about 2000-metres 250-millennia ago before erosion began its slow process. While the Kaitake Range reached about the same height as Mt Taranaki (2518-metres), 500,000 years of erosion has reduced it to 684-metres. The Sugar Loaves, off the coast of New Plymouth, are the eroded stumps of a 2000-millennia old volcano crater. With deep canyons, numerous lava-rock caves, and the convergence of warm northern currents and cold southern currents attracting diverse marine life, the Sugar Loaves are also a marine park.
The vast mudflows, or lahars, from Pouakai, some leaving deposits nine-kilometres thick, were superceded by those of Mt Taranaki. Maori used some of the mound-like lahars as little fortresses. These remarkable land formations are best seen on the western ring plain.
Highlights of Taranaki’s 300-kilometre coastline are the many 25-metre tall pinnacles long since separated from the 100-metre distant cliffs. Standing like silent sentinels, they are oblivious but will ultimately succumb to the eroding sea. These spectacles are best seen on the White Cliffs walkway between Pukearuhe and Tongaporutu. Look for White Cliff Walkway signs. If you’ve only got 30-minutes, visit the outstanding Three Sisters at Tongaporutu.
Out east, 11 rivers drain the steep beef and sheep hill country. The Tangarakau River winds its way through the 500-metre high hills, smothered in impenetrable rainforest. The Tangarakau Gorge, part of The Forgotten World Highway (SH 43) follows the river. Just pull over, turn off the engine, and listen.
And look over thefertile plain ring where over 2700 dairy farms produce almost 20 percent of New Zealand’s total milk solids. To a cow – it’s heaven. To a visitor – it’s green. Lush green.