Last week, I finally made the effort to climb the iconic Mt Tauhara, a dormant stratovolcano that looks over Taupo township. It is one of those walks I frequently hear others rave about, but I always got swayed by the stunning Lake Taupo and all you can do there on a beautiful day. This time it was not the height of summer, and another another amazing clear sunny day on the Lake, I figured it was a perfect day to go bush.
Mt Tauhara, is less than a 10 minute drive from Taupo town center, so a cheap taxi fare for those with no transport or ask your accommodation provider about options to get there. There is a carpark at the end of Mountain Rd, which comes off State Highway 5, and from there you follow the signs up the hill. It must be noted at this point, the entire track is across private land so respect the privilege as the sign states.
The first part of the walk is up a fairly steep ridge and already you start to appreciate the views this walk is going to give you. Carrying on past some water tanks you finally get to some bush cover and the real trek begins. I must admit the first part of this walk is steep and at times slippery underfoot. The temperature also changes once you get to the bushline, dropping a few degrees from the carpark temperature. But if you make it to the seat then again you will see some fantastic views from the mountain.
The seat marks the halfway point, and from here the walk did get a wee bit easier, but still was uphill. What I loved most about this part of the track was the bush cover, typical New Zealand native trees and undergrowth made the walk feel uniquely Kiwi – something my ex-pat Kiwi friend commented on too.
Once we reached the stream the surroundings became even more spectacular. Finally we got to hear the amazing birdlife in all their glory, tuis, wood pigeon, piwakawaka, wax eyes etc, all singing their hearts out above the bushline. This was about two thirds up the mountain and so worth the effort. The scenery changed here too, with moss covered trees reaching over us like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. We were feeling pretty exhausted at this point, but the birds cave us that little boost we needed to head to the top, and from here it actually was not too hard a climb.
And wow, what a sight greeted us at the top. At 1008 meters above sea level, we had the most magnificent views of the Central North Island. Mt Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe had their first dusting of snow and looked spectral behind Lake Taupo which itself was a sight to be seen with no cloud and no wind on this day. Turning around we could see White Island as clear as anything, and to the left Rotorua appeared to be buried under a layer of soft white cloud. It is hard not to use all the cliches for this view, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, it really was really awesome. We spent a long time just turning slowly taking it all in.
As we were warned, the temperature was chilly on the top of the mountain, and I could see why it often gets snow up there in winter. We walked to the rocky outcrop which was about 5 minutes along a narrow path, and here we got some fantastic shots hanging off the rocks. We were also treated to a special flyover by a keen helicopter pilot who was doing some kind of stunts around the mountain.
After nearly 45 minutes we finally headed down the track, this time the pace was double the speed given the steep gradient. We passed a few weary looking tourists heading up, andave them encouragement to keep going. You really do require a good level of fitness to conquer this Mountain and wear appropriate clothes and shoes for damp bush, muddy tracks and a cold blast on top. After the clear day there were noticeable changes of temperature on the walk, and the track would be very slippery after long wet periods.
Half way down we really started to notice our knee joints working hard, and we were reminded again again how steep the track really is. By the time we go to the ridge my legs were feeling like jelly and I was pleased we were near at the carpark. But boy was I glad that I had finally made the effort. This is a fantastic alternative to the Tongariro Crossing, and another stunning New Zealand day walk. I definitely will not be leaving it long till my next climb, and I will bring more friends and family too!