Taranaki is a region of the North Island of New Zealand that is dominated by its volcanic mountain, (Mount) Taranaki, also known as Mount Egmont. The volcano has formed a gently sloping semi-circular coastal plain on its western side and a wide plain of rich farm land in the east to connect it to the rest of the North Island.
The mountain is properly known as Taranaki, without the honorific prefix Mount. This is in keeping with the Maori tradition of considering the great mountains to be personalities in their own right. To also call him a mountain is unnecessary as when you refer to Taranaki it is the mountain and his surrounding lands that are referred to.
According to Maori legend, Taranaki was fought with Ruapehu in the center of the North Island. Defeated, he fled west to the sea.
Captain Cook named the mountain Mount Egmont, and a scene depicting his ship sighting of the mountain is shown on the New Zealand 50 cent coin.
Following the New Zealand Land Wars of the 1860s, the colonial government confiscated large tracts of land owned by the Taranaki Maori A hundred years later, as part of the land grievance settlement process, the government agreed that the mountain be known by its Maori name, Taranaki in addition to the European name of Mount Egmont.
Significant petroleum deposits were known in the region for over a hundred years, with oil being drilled for in New Plymouth. In recent years, the discovery of natural gas at Kapuni and later offshore in the Maui gasfield has meant Taranaki has become New Zealand's think big energy province.
For many, Taranaki is strikingly similar to Mount Fujiama in Japan. The scenery and the countryside look very similar. Because of this similarity, The Last Samurai was filmed in Taranaki instead of Japan.
InterCity has daily services to Taranaki from Auckland and Wellington. Tickets can be purchased online or throughout the country at agents inlcuding the i-site network.
New Plymouth has an airport, but no international flights.
Follow State Highway 3.
From the north (Auckland and Hamilton) the only route (other than some unsealed back-country roads) is State Highway 3. The journey from Hamilton is 250km - about 3.5 hours by car. The main rest-stops and service centres for the trip are Te Kuiti (70km from Hamilton) , Piopio (90km) and Mokau (70km from New Plymouth). The 15km of the Awakino Gorge between Piopio and Mokau - is narrow, winding, and prone to closure by slips in bad weather. it includes a very short single-lane tunnel at the north end. There is a steep hill climb (cyclists beware) over Mt Messenger between Tongaporotu and New Plymouth.
To the south there are two highways linking New Plymouth and Hawera: State Highway 3 is the inland route, travelling east of the mountain and passing through the towns of Inglewood, Stratford (which always has petrol 2c a litre cheaper than the standard price) and Eltham. This route is 70km.
The scenic alternative is the 95km State Highway 45, "The Surf Highway" which follows the coast (though seldom in sight of it) around the west of the mountain via Opunake. This road has many ups and downs as it crosses the gullies of the numerous rivers flowing off the mountain. From Hawera it is a further 90km via SH3 to Wanganui. New Plymouth to Wellington is 350km and take 4.5 - 5.5 hours depending on traffic near Wellington.
An interesting alternative trip is The Forgotten World Highway - SH43, which winds and climbs 160km from Stratford to Taumarunui - including about 30km unsealed though a spectacularly beautiful gorge. The section north of of the tiny town of Whangamomona has the honour of being the least busy part of the NZ state highway network. Other points of interest are Whangamomona itself (which has an annual republic day in protest at being treated poorly due to its isolation), the timber-shored Moki tunnel and the grave of the road's surveyor. Note that there is no petrol available between Stratford and Taumarunui, and that this highway is not well maintained. It's worth stopping at the numerous historical information boards along the way.
Taranaki has a higher proportion of its rural roads sealed than any other part of New Zealand, due to the intensive dairy farming. However, this does not extend to the back-country routes. Roads which appear on the map to be short-cuts, such as Ohura - Tongaporotu are very marginal and it is usually faster to travel the extra 80km via the main highways.
A trip round the mountain allows the different aspects of Taranaki to be seen in all their glory.
Visit the smaller towns of Opunake, Hawera, Stratford, Eltham, Inglewood and Waitara.