Sunday, 17 January 2010

Egmont National Park: Pouakai Circuit “closed”?

My original intentions were to climb to the summit of Mt Taranaki today. I chickened on the forecast for high winds and periods of rain. Having cycled Round the Mountain the previous day in gale-force southerlies and seeing the dark clouds dumping rain on the Tararuas to the south I decided to believe the forecast with a leisurely non-alpine start of 10am.
Trip Data:
Distance: 25.37 km 6,029 Calories
Time: 8:03 19 min/km
Elevation: Ascent: 1697m Descent: 1711m
Trail Data: Garmin Connect Player
Location: North Egmont, NZ 17 January 2010


The Pouakai Range lies to the North of Mt Taranaki and as such generally offers much better weather during a southerly weather pattern. I last did this circuit as a two-day tramp way back in 2001. Today I intended to use just a day before the “convenient” five-hour drive home to Wellington.


I began the walk passing signs that said something similar to:

Pouakai Circuit:

Track closed between Pouakai and Egmont Road closed.  The swingbridge over the Waiwhakaiho River gorge has been washed out.

I consulted my map for alternatives should I not be able to get across the river. There seemed to be a few alternatives to avoid the gorge, or a worst case three-hour diversion around it. This was enough for me to proceed and figure out what to do when I got there.


On the way to Holly Hut I passed two other parties that were returning to North Egmont having not proceeded beyond Holly Hut after seeing similar signs posted inside Holly Hut. Since leaving Holly Hut the second party had spoken to someone checking stoat traps whom was adamant that the swingbridge had been replaced and that they now had regretted not continuing around the circuit. Cool! I may not need to make use of the three hour diversion later in the day :). With all the track closed signs posted I never saw anyone else until after I had returned to the carpark at North Egmont.


The route from North Egmont to Holly Hut is well marked and very easy to follow. The

travel is easy apart from a few sections crossing land-slips where a little more care is required. The route starts off climbing from North Egmont before becoming gently undulating as you traverse the North-East side of Mt Taranaki. The expanse of the Ahukawakawa Swamp comes into view with “The Dome” as you head towards to Holly Hut.


Holly Hut is large and sophisticated with a solar system charging electric lighting! Now theres something you never see in the Tararuas.


Heading off to Pouakai from Holly Hut you walk around The Dome which is essentially a large lava bubble from past volcanic activty and follow the boardwalk system over the Ahukawakawa Swamp. Whilst walking over the boardwalk and swamp views ahead of the climbs up to Pouakai, Maude and Henry Peak are in prominent view. There is a nice picnic and viewing area part way across the swamp.


Once across the swamp, a staircase (Stairway to Heaven No1) has you rapidly rising towards Pouakai. After passing a side track up to the Pouakai Summit (no time for this for me today) the track down to Pouakai is soon reached – 1h30m from Holly Hut.


Pouakai Hut is sun filled with a huge deck overlooking New Plymouth and the Taranaki coastline. Of course, inside the hut there were the obligatory “Track closed to Egmont Road…..”. Best I get moving in case I need to make that diversion.


Soon after re-joining the track after leaving Pouakai the “Henry Peak staircase” (Stairway to Heaven No2) is prominently visible. The track leads around Maude Peak rather than over it before dropping into a saddle before what is surely the most extensive staircase I have seen in the backcountry. Last time I was here I was walking a waist deep trench from the erosion of trampers walking over it and then the water flowing down it. Now, wow what a massive staircase. Thankyou to all those who have put so much effort into building it.


Once at the top of the “Henry Peak Staircase”, about an hour from Pouakai Hut, a large viewing platform offers views over Holly Hut, The Dome and Ahukawakawa Swamp. An excellent overview of the past five hours of walking.


The descent from Henry Peak begins on boardwalk before descending into the beech forest that leads to Kaiaua Shelter which is about a further hour down the track. It is a bit of leap from Kaiaua Shelter into the Kai Auahi Stream before the stepped and laddered theme of this route resumes. Once reaching the Waiwhakaiho River the brand new swingbridge recently installed my the Department of Conservation was a welcome site.


As I passed a sign saying: “North Egmont Visitors Centre via Road 45 min; Visitors Centre via track 1hr 30min” I made what I consider a mistake of following the shorter route via the road. It was a 27 minute walk among the smell of the possum roadkill. While for the New Zealand forests, possums are better dead than alive, I was ready to dive back into the forest edge if an oncoming vehicle came speeding around the next corner. Becoming the next item of roadkill was certainly not on my agenda! I would certainly choose the track if I did this again!


Walking times: Signposted: Me:
North Egmont to Holly Hut: 4hrs 2hrs 30min
Holly Hut to Pouakai Hut: 2 to 3 hrs 1hr 29min
Pouakai Hut to North Egmont Visitors Centre: 5 to 7 hrs 4hrs 3min
Times shown in this table and inline blog text above are indicative only. Travel times in the backcountry are variable depending on fitness, terrain, the size of your party, weather conditions and stopping times for snacks, photography, your interest in botany and such like.
You can find more information on the Pouakai Circuit at DOC's website.


  1. Blue Range Hut (Tararuas) had solar powered lighting for a while. Someone nicked off with it between May and June last year, unless it's been replaced. It might not compare though, since it was really just a couple of small portable lights with solar chargers near the windows.

    Perhaps some day we'll get solar powered reality TV, Microwaves and Playstations in huts. Ugh... somehow that is sooo wrong.

  2. But would there there have been enough sun in the Tararuas to charge the batteries?

  3. Great post - thanks. Good to know there's a new swing bridge, as far as we were to know there wasn't going to be a new one for another year going by what the notices were and what the lady at the visitors centre said.
    As far as what direction is easier, clockwise or anti-clockwise from the visitor's centre?

  4. I would recommend driving up to the visitors centre, signing into the intentions book and then walking clockwise. It would be a long slog up to Henry Peak mostly under the bushline without views if you traveled in the anti-clockwise direction. See the elevation profile at

    I do not know if the swing-bridge ever had engineering sign-off or not. But it was there 12 months ago and had no problem with my significant mass. Unfortunately those that work in visitors centres have seldom traversed the adjacent terrain. If you are looking for accurate information try calling the nearest DOC "field centre" - not the "visitors centre" or get hold of a local tramping club.

    If you have concerns about the presence or not of the bridge and are not confident about finding a way around it if for some reason it has been removed again then go anti-clockwise.

    Up in the 'naki again this weekend to test my raincoat with the Taranaki Cycle Challenge on Saturday. Hoping the weather clears for the summit on Sunday. We'll see.

    Happy tramping.
    Craig :D

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