I'd been looking forward to getting back to the North Island, because I had a plan: to explore the amazing volcanoes of Taranaki and Tongariro. I thought I'd start with the Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC) at Taranaki, with a trip up to the top of Mt Taranaki itself if possible, because there was an Acorn dealer nearby whom I'd arranged to meet for some post-walk work; so I didn't waste any time in driving straight from the Catchpool Valley to Egmont National Park on the western coast of the North Island.
Mt Taranaki was named Mt Egmont by Captain Cook after the Earl of Egmont, who sponsored his first voyage, but the Maori went to court to try to get the name changed to Taranaki, their original name for the mountain, and in an astounding case of trying to please everyone, the court ruled in 1986 that both names were valid. As a result, on all the maps you see 'Mt Egmont or Mt Taranaki' printed by the peak, but whatever you call it – and I prefer Taranaki, because it seems more appropriate – it's a stunner.
Egmont National Park – at least that name hasn't changed – is almost circular and encloses Mt Taranaki at its centre, and it's fair to say that the mountain dominates the entire area. Taranaki is an almost perfect volcanic cone, with a beautiful snowy peak and, from a distance, only one blemish on its slopes, that of Fanthams Peak, another little cone. I didn't appreciate just how immense the mountain is, because when I drove towards the peak, the weather was totally overcast and I couldn't seen a thing; but when I woke up on the morning of my trek, having slept in the back of Zed at the National Park's headquarters, there it was, looming above me. The day started off as clear as a bell, and it wasn't long before I was stomping off on the track, with my borrowed backpack filled to the brim, and my backup pair of faithful old walking boots on my feet.
The AMC is a swine, no doubt about it. It might look all innocent on the map, but it goes up and down more times than the New Zealand dollar's exchange rate; volcanoes have huge lava flows down their slopes, so the mountain is a bit like your hand if you put your fingertips on the table with your palm facing down. This means that walking round the peak means climbing and descending throughout the day, but despite the physical challenges, it's a beautiful track, and when the weather is clear, you can see for miles from the volcanic slopes. That's when the weather is clear, though...