Before I went to Hogwarts, I spent my childhood exploring Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood. A few weeks ago, on the slopes of Taranaki, I felt like I’d returned.
Taranaki is a dormant volcano on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. When the clouds clear, it’s truly spectacular to behold. I went there with my family this summer – my mum, my dad and my grandpa, who’s visiting us from England. We didn’t want to actually climb the volcano, also known as Mount Egmont, but we drove up to the visitor centre to look around.
Though we were standing right below the peak, it was completely invisible, shrouded by stubborn clouds. Disappointed, we entered the building to see if there were any short, easy walks we could do. There were plenty to choose from, of course, and there were many mentions of a ‘goblin forest’ – apparently the bush surrounding Taranaki was not your typical New Zealand bush.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but as soon as the forest swallowed us I knew it was different. Amazingly so. I’d never seen a forest like it – not in real life. You really could imagine goblins scampering beneath the gnarled roots, swinging on the frayed vines and bouncing upon the verdant moss.
The trees looked like towering hags, decaying robes hanging in tatters from their twisted, emaciated frames. Yet they weren’t ugly. The golden sunlight filtering through their branches cast a glamour upon them.
The narrow, winding path was bordered by plush carpets of moss so luminously green they seemed almost artificial. I was careful to stay on it. I had the funny feeling that if I left it the forest would play all sorts of tricks on me. That I’d wander for days through a fairy world, led astray by false visions, taunted by sights of sumptuous feasts laid out in clearings ahead, only to have each one vanish just as I reached it.
The path was not always properly formed. It was often left to the tree roots to act as staircases. Some of them were courteous about it.
The walk we were on was called the Ngatoro Loop Track, which takes an hour to complete, starting and ending at the visitor centre. It got quite steep in places – I had to use to my hands and occasionally my bum. Luckily my grandpa’s very fit for his age! All the up and down might have been unpleasant were it not for the cool mountain air and our magical surroundings.
There are shorter, easier tracks on the slopes of Taranaki than the one we did. We also went up to the Ambury Monument, which has a beautiful view of the summit. At least it does on clear days. We got there and the peak was still shrouded, but we decided to wait, just in case. We sat there for about twenty minutes and were on the verge of giving up when the veil began to part. This is what we saw…
I’ll be writing more about my adventures in the Taranaki Region soon. The main reason we went was to attend the Festival of Lights in New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park, (which I’ve written about here,) but we found so many other wonderful places as well. I’d definitely recommend Taranaki to anyone planning a New Zealand road trip.