Taranaki

Nine months in Taupo.

Restless. I suppose we are all inclined to self-criticism; I should have done this or seen that, should have saved more money, should have spoken to that person but in the end I guess that we do what we do.

The spring came through the winter and we were stir crazy. So we went south.  Traversing the ‘Forgotten Highway’ out of Taumarunui.

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Mount Ruapehu

North Island countryside follows a certain pattern, one largely laid down by its hugely explosive volcanic past; sharp, angular grassy hills in jagged rows.

This was a journey between two volcanos. Mount Ruapehu, the irregular giant at the end of Lake Taupo taking up the heart of the North to the uniform, neater cone of Mount Taranaki, guarding the southwest coastline and looking out to the brutal Tasman sea.

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Typical countryside of the North Island. Farmland, steep-sided hills, little wooden farmsteads. The native bush razed to make way a century ago.

 

The Forgotten highway cuts through the central plateau linking Stratford and New Plymouth to Taumarunui. It is a long, old road carving through precipitous gorges and the ubiquitous farmlands and then, suddenly, it ends and the landscape becomes flat as  the fertile plains emanating out from the nearly symmetrical Mount Taranaki are reached.

And so New Plymouth, a coastal city with a definitive beachy vibe, interspersed with some colonial architecture and modern glass shopping centres. A small shiny, bright city. Like the air here.

New Plymouth is so named due to it being here that the first landfalls of the West Country settlers were made. Mount Taranaki would have been the first thing that met their eyes as they neared this part of Land of the Long White Cloud.  An alien sight to the people used to the relatively gentle hills of home, although the battered coastline around the south-western cape called to mind immediately areas of North Cornwall around Treyarnon, Trevose and Harlyn so perhaps it also did to the first Cornishmen on the William Bryan.

The ‘settlement’, incidentally, did not go well. Heavily affected by famine, disease, mutual distrust and eventual war with the local Maori Iwi. Taranaki is sacred in Maori lore and the surrounding plains were relatively densely populated by the Maori during European colonisation so conflict was inevitable

MountainMount Taranaki is a startling sight, magnetic, I had to force myself to keep my eyes on the road as the clouds lifted from the summit.

The Surf Highway follows the hemispherical coast and the coast circles the mountain. From the air the peculiar landscape is made obvious.

03 Mt Taranaki, from air, New Zealand
Not my picture unfortunately.

The odd green circle is the National Park boundary, where the native bush starts and the fertile, artificial farmland – mainly dairy – ends.

These mountains have a certain mystique about them I find, being so singular and dominant. I can perfectly understand why Maori legend personifies them into separate quarrelling entities, ancient god-like beings, a conceptualisation brought all the more sharply into focus when their latent geophysical power is taken into account.

Taranaki then was once standing with other Volcanoes in the central plateau but was sent retreating to his lonely position after viciously losing to the powerful Tongariro in a battle for the affections of the diminuative but beautiful Pihanga, where it is said that when he remembers his lost love he calls the clouds in to hide his tears.

And that was how we left him, returning to Taupo after a clear night under a Supermoon and inverted constellations.

 

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