Taranaki, in the southwest of the North Island of New Zealand, has been relatively isolated from the rest of the country, a knob that juts out into the Tasman Sea. In the centre of the knob, rises the majestic volcano of Taranaki Maunga. I think of the area as a more benign, version, both in terms of climate and soil fertility, of the South Island’s West Coast.
The high rainfall characteristic of both areas promotes lush natural forest, while its clearance has made way for a profitable dairying industry. A large, circular area around Taranaki Maunga stretching some ten kilometers from the peak in every direction, was preserved by the Forest Service in the last years of the nineteenth century. The abrupt transition to dairy pasture is visible from the air as an almost perfect circle.
Although when I first visited Taranaki it was relatively unknown, the area now receives a smattering of tourists, most of whom zero in on the mountain itself. In spite of dire warnings from the Department of Conservation deterring would be hikers with insufficient experience and equipment from attempting the climb, it is extremely popular. Social media posts on successful climbs in perfect weather attract hoards of aspirant climbers. In addition to the summit routes, there are many walks through the forest along tracks that make their way tortuously across the deep indentations running down the flanks of the volcano.
In addition to agriculture, Taranaki hosts a number of specialist nurseries growing exotic plants for gardens throughout New Zealand. There are also some beautiful gardens, such as Pukeiti at the base of the mountain where many rare and interesting plants can be found. It is famous for its collection of rhododendrons, many of them grown old and seeding naturally into the lightly managed forest of natives and exotics. My visit was too late in the season to see many flowers. However, in sheltered areas near the main building, a collection of vireyas flowers all year round. Hydrangeas were still flowering too, providing another subject for my camera.