Tag Archives: Mount Taranaki

A tribute to the mountain – despite its lack of bears

Photographed from the path down to our park – the mountain and the magnolia

It was perhaps the desire to post more photos of our Magnolia campbellii and the mountain that motivated me to write about te mounga.

It remains an active volcano and most of the province is urged to have evacuation plans at the ready. At least we can head north or inland to get away. I am not sure how those around the coast are meant to evacuate should a major eruption occur because either way, their escape routes take them around the base of the mountain – unless they evacuate by sea. In reality, it is more likely to be lahars or ash clouds that are the problem. As you head around the coastal side of the mountain, the remains of lahars are a dominant feature in the landscape.

Photo credit: u/apexcutter on Reddit

Flying in to New Plymouth from the south takes one over the mountain and on a clear day, the sight is breathtaking. It is a near-perfect cone sitting alone, very close to the sea and surrounded by what is called the ring plain – land that is rolling to flat farmland. Lacking my own image, I found this photo on Reddit. That is the Tasman Sea in the upper section. The dark circle around the lower mountain is where the native bush ends – the boundary of the National Park giving way to farm land.

As seen from an Inglewood garden in late spring

It is an extremely accessible mountain which makes it one of the most dangerous in the country because inexperienced people underestimate it and fail to factor in that it has alpine conditions at higher altitudes. The fatality rate is high. In icy conditions, people can slip a long way. Neither Mark nor I have ever climbed it. As Mark says, he loses interest really quickly once above the bush line. Plants, not rocks are his thing. And I am wary of mountains. My brother remains buried in the ice of the Himalayas on the slopes of Mount Makalu.

Whereas Mount Fuji in Japan is widely accepted as being of sacred status, going well beyond just those of the Shinto faith, we are such a secular and residual colonial society that many people struggle with the thought that of course our Mount Taranaki has deep spiritual significance for the original people of the land. When Maori politely requested that people stop standing right on the top point of the pinnacle and, if my memory serves me right, refrain from carrying any bodily functions at the summit, the howls of outrage were loud. For what is the purpose of climbing a mountain if you can not place your footprints on the very highest point? The same people who are appalled at the thought that anybody might vandalise a graveyard and who would never dream of urinating on an altar regard it as a civil liberty that they can do what they wish on the highest point of te mounga.

Mind you, that outrage pales into insignificance compared to the outpouring of anger when the name of the mountain was addressed in 1983. Captain Cook named it Mount Egmont in 1770, after the Earl of Egmont who never came to New Zealand and died before he got to hear of the honour. But of course the mountain had names before that and a long campaign led to the decision that it could be called either Taranaki (the most common of its pre-European names) or Egmont. This might be called hedging bets but to some, this outrage was tantamount to the end of western civilisation. There are even a few older people who insist on continuing to make a stand by calling it Mount Egmont but they are a dying breed. Literally. The name ‘Mount Taranaki’ has taken precedence in official usage and to people beyond the region. To locals, it is simply ‘the mountain’, or ‘te maunga’ (in standardised Maori) or ‘te mounga’ with an o in the local dialect.

While sacred is rarely used as a descriptor and spiritual connection makes some people scoff, there is no doubt in my mind that our mounga is embedded into the very souls of people who are born here or spend time living here. Long before I ever came to Taranaki, I noticed that most people identify where they come from by the nearest town or city. Not Taranaki folks. They commonly declare themselves as coming from Taranaki and that, I think, has more to do with the mountain than the province. It is widely visible throughout the region. In summer, we make small talk about when the very last vestiges of white ice will melt. In autumn, we chart the first snowfalls. Through winter, we note how low the snow is lying and in spring we observe the retreating snow line. If it is blocked from view by cloud (as mountains often are), we can make that the marker of small talk about weather. Every rescue or dramatic event, including avalanches, makes headlines as do the relatively few days that the club skifield is open.

Te mounga just is. It was there before any humans populated this area. It will be there long after we have shuffled off the mortal coils. If that is not a shared spiritual connection that transcends all other social constructs, I am not sure what is.

An image search on line will yield many astounding photographs of our mountain. Some are even untouched by filters and other enhanced editing techniques. There are countless references giving more information but these give a brief, and probably accurate oversight.

The legends: https://taranakimounga.nz/the-project/about-taranaki-mounga/history/

The official history: https://www.linz.govt.nz/regulatory/place-names/tuia-%E2%80%93-encounters-250/mount-taranaki-or-mount-egmont

Climbing advice: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/taranaki/places/egmont-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/mount-taranaki-summit-track/

Amusingly, I found an article from Wilderness Magazine comparing NZ mountain peaks to more famous international peaks. Of course the comparator for Mount Taranaki is Mount Fuji in Japan.

“Why they’re similar: Are you kidding? Look at them!

Why they’re not: Taranaki seriously lacking bears and a summit post office

This comparison is a no-brainer. The two mountains look almost identical – so much so, that Mt Taranaki was famously used to represent Mt Fuji in the Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai.

They look like cartoon summits – ask a five-year-old to draw a mountain and they will quickly pencil something that looks very much like Fuji or Egmont.

Both have erupted within the last 350 years, both take about four or five hours to climb from where the road ends and both involve steep rocky ascents.

But the fact that they’re relatively straight forward to climb means both are commonly underestimated. The changeable weather makes Taranaki statistically one of the most dangerous mountains in New Zealand. And regular deaths on Mt Fuji have resulted in Japanese authorities urging wannabe peak-baggers to climb only in July and August, when conditions are mildest.”

The Japanese can keep their summit post office but I am now worrying about the distinct lack of bears to spice up a summit attempt on our mounga.

A celebration of bright light and the start of a new year of gardening

Our maunga – Mount Taranaki – on the day before the winter equinox

I have said before that the first flowers on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new gardening year for us. But I had not thought before of the bigger picture. On the day before the winter equinox last week, I went out on a clear day to catch the image of our maunga, our mountain, from the path down to our park. It wasn’t until I saw it on my big computer screen that I spotted the bird in the branches. I assumed it was a kereru judging by the size and shape and so did Mark when I showed him. When I zoomed close in on my screen, it is just a thrush.

The first blooms on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new garden year – for us, at least.

This week, the first flowers opened. And I made a connection between the first flowers, the winter solstice and Matariki. The last is a traditional Maori celebration now gaining popularity in the wider population. Sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year, its timing is determined by the rise of a cluster of small stars known to Maori as Matariki but commonly called the Pleiades in astronomical circles. The exact date of the appearance of this star cluster varies from year to year, but it is usually soon after the winter solstice. And it occurred to me that the calendar which we all follow where New Year is accepted to be January 1 is, of course, a northern hemisphere creation so everything seasonal is reversed. It makes perfect sense that the first flowers on M. campbellii signal the start of our new year in the garden.

Reaching high into the mid-winter sky, Dahlia imperialis Alba and a bougainvillea shoot

And what a week it has been. Cool nights (which means between about 3° and 8° Celsius where we are), followed by sunny, calm days with a temperature of 14° to 15°. We cannot complain about that in mid-winter, even though we know winter storms will return over the next six weeks before temperatures start rising in August.

The shaggy spires of Jacobinia chrysostephana syn. Justicia aurea in the early morning light

As usual, in this part of the world, we keep that clarity of bright light all year round. Not for us a watery winter sun held low in the sky and lowered light levels of winter gloom. No, we have bright sunshine and clear blue skies on good days where the only difference is the air temperature. And it is not so bad to winter-over in conditions where, even as I type with warm gloves (blood circulation to the arthritic fingers is not what it once was) in my office with the heater on, I know that after my 10am coffee, it will be warm enough outside to head outside and start on today’s project. And still we have a garden full of flowers.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud in full bloom

Luculia Fragrant Cloud with its sweet almond fragrance

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess – we have rather a lot of these scattered through the garden

Vireya rhododendrons planted in sheltered positions throughout the top garden flower intermittently through the year but are perhaps most appreciated in mid winter

 

A day in the life of the magnolia and te maunga

I rushed out at 7.40am on Monday because the day had dawned sunny, clear and calm and I thought the mountain should be in view. We only have one really good view from the garden and at this time of the year, Magnolia campbellii is in bloom in our park. It being just past mid winter here and the subject being a mountain, it is more often shrouded in cloud. We are inclined to get apologetic about this in Taranaki but I remember driving round the South Island with our son some years ago. We never once saw the Southern Alps and that was down the east coast and up the west coast in January. Mountains attract cloud which is all the more reason to celebrate the winter view when it is revealed.

This is 15 minutes later at 7.55am when the sun has risen. It is Mount Taranaki, more commonly referred to by locals simply as the mountain, or te maunga in Maori (or indeed, te mounga in the local dialect). Or maybe the brother of the more famous Fuji. (I still have Barbara Trapido’s ‘Brother of the More Famous Jack’ in my bookcase). It is an active volcanic cone standing in splendid isolation surrounded by a ring plain and bounded by the coast for maybe 200°  of its circumference.

Thirty five minutes later at 8.30am and this is as clear as we can ever see it. With bonus bird. Te maunga is somewhere between 35 and 40 km away from us, the magnolia is in our park so these shots are right at the limit of my camera zoom and my ability to get both the tree and the peak in relatively equal focus.

By 10 am, the cloud is starting to roll in on the lower slopes.

At 10.45 am I expected to lose the sight within the next few minutes.

But it was still visible at 11.50 am and looking as beautiful as I have ever seen it. I have not used any filters or enhancements on these photos.

But gone from view by mid afternoon. I liked the Facebook comment that the mountain is always shining; it is just the rain (and cloud) that gets in the way of us seeing it. The magnolia is the unusual pink form of M. campbellii known as the Quaker Mason form. Because this was put into circulation so early in this country, we tend to regard pink as the dominant colour in the campbelliis but white is far more common in the wild and therefore in cultivation internationally. I have written about this M. campbellii in earlier posts. It is always the first magnolia to bloom for us each season and is really only suited to milder climates where those early blooms will not get taken out by frosts.

While we struggle here at times with the unacceptably high impact of the fossil fuel industry (Tikorangi Gaslands, anyone?), it is scenes like the magnolia and te maunga that keep us anchored to this piece of land both physically and spiritually.

Our pink Magnolia campbellii

The Magnolia and the Maunga (or Mountain)

August 9, 5.07August 9 at 5.00pm as the sun is going down.
August 10, 12.38August 10, just after midday.
August 12, 9.45amAugust 12, at 9.45am.

Magnolia campbellii and Mount Taranaki, photographed from our garden.

IMG_3678At the risk of destroying the perception, this is the reality. In the bottom right hand corner, you can see the mountain which is at least 35km away from us. We do not have an alpine climate here – far from it, given that we grow oranges and avocados – but a zoom on my new camera is very good.