In December my good friend, Meghan Maloney, and I met up in Taranaki for a weekend of photography. Meghan is from Cambridge and so we don’t get a lot of weekends to hang out. But I love it when we do – we are very in sync in terms of how we like to “do” photography, and how much we are willing to pack into a short amount of time!
I’d attempted a couple of trips to Taranaki over 2017 but each time I had been scuppered by the weather. So I was really hoping not to have to see out 2017 without a single picture of my favourite mountain.
I left Wellington after work on the Friday and drove straight to New Plymouth. Meghan and I met at Lake Mangamahoe hoping to get some nice skies for sunset. Unfortunately the weather was super hazy, and the cloud was pretty thick. We took a couple of photos before deciding we would try somewhere else.
We went to a road close to Lake Mangamaohe, a spot I had shot before, but Meghan hadn’t. This is a cool place to shoot as you can stand at the crest of the road and take wide shots down to the mountain, or you can stand back before the wee hill and use a telephoto lens to bring the mountain up and make it look imposing in the photo. This technique is called perspective distortion and is the effect of using a lens with a long zoom – basically the distance between the foreground and the background is compressed, making things at the back of the photo appear larger than would be seen with a wide-angle lens. We got a little bit of colour at sunset, which gave us some nice orange tones to work with.
Once we decided the colour was gone, we packed up and headed up Mangorei Road, to the start of the track up to Pouakai Hut. We donned our hiking boots and packs and started the hike up the hill, leaving the road end a little after 9pm on the last of the fading light. The track up to Pouakai Hut is relentlessly uphill, but not difficult tramping. It’s pretty much board walk and lots of steps for the first 80%, and a little bit rougher once you get out of the treeline near the top. Because of the easy navigating, it doesn’t feel too scary to do in the dark. We passed by Pouakai Hut, shrouded in darkness, around 11:30pm, remembering our night here a year earlier, when it was a howling gale and we had a short, restless, uncomfortable sleep on the hard wood floor of the overflowing hut. This time we decided not to risk not having a bed (turns out we would have been fine) and we had brought a tent fly to camp at Pouakai Tarn.
We arrived at Pouakai Tarn just before midnight. There was another tent already set up, which we knew contained fellow photographer and Instagram friend Tim Bond. If you love Taranaki, check out his page, he has some of the most beautiful photos of the region, including conditions at Pouakai Tarn I’d be tempted to sell a child for! Despite our best attempt to be quiet, Tim popped out to say hello and see what the clouds were doing for some possible astrophotography. After our fly was set up, we settled under the basic shelter and caught a few hours’ sleep.
We were up a little more than an hour before sunrise (I think Tim was unimpressed!) and set up to catch the light. There was thick cloud above us, but luckily it was high enough to not be covering the top of Mt Taranaki. Again, we didn’t get the epic skies we had come for, but we got some really nice golden light and some interesting cloud formations around the mountain. And, critically, no wind, so we got some beautiful reflections.
We also bumped into another Instagrammer, Jeremiah and his friend. Jeremiah had slept in the hut and told us that there were plenty of beds. Still, we were kind of glad not to have to get up even earlier to make the 30-minute trek to the tarn.
We hung a little while at the tarn, before hunger really got the better of us. We packed up and headed down the hill (the hike down is a little quicker, but it always destroys my legs with all the steps) and headed off to a café for some breakfast.
Afterwards we drove round to another area of the mountain, to visit Dawson Falls. The short, steep track down to the falls was pretty rough on the old legs that were already starting to seize up! We had hoped to also visit Wilkies Pools but by the time we had finished at the Falls, the weather had really set in and the rain had started. Very typical Taranaki weather!
We went for a curry dinner and had the amusement of watching the New Plymouth Christmas Parade pass by as we ate.
After dinner it was off to Back Beach for sunset. This was somewhere I had never been, but Meghan says it’s her favourite beach in the area. I have to say, it was awesome, particularly the fun of running down the giant sand dune to get to the beach.
At the beach, we were delighted to find amazing texture in the sand, and the golden hour light was really beautiful. Sunset was just ok, but I didn’t mind, just enjoyed being somewhere new and different.
We slept that night in a campground, in a real-life proper tent with a floor and everything, which was luxury after the fly the night before. Sunrise didn’t look promising, so we chose to go to a nearby jetty, still in our pyjamas, in the early hours.
After deciding there was zero potential, we turned around and went back to our tent for a few extra hours' sleep! After a delicious breakfast we parted ways, very happy with how the weekend had gone. Taranaki, you know I will be back!