It looks like something out of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings. A path leads through a dense-green, shadowy forest of gnarled, twisted trees. The trunks and branches of the trees intertwine and are covered in thick mosses and ferns. In places, only a glimmer of sky is visible through the dense overgrowth. If elves, dwarves or goblins existed, this is where they would live.
This is the appropriately named Goblin Forest on the flanks of Mount Taranaki on the southwest coast of the North Island.
Mount Taranaki (Maori name) is a 2518-meter high peak with the dual name of Mount Egmont, the English name given to the peak by Captain Cook in 1770. The mountain is actually a quiescent volcano, exhibiting one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world. Its last major eruption was around 1655; minor eruptions occur every 90 years or so and major eruptions every 500 years. Because of its similarity to Mount Fuji in Japan, it was actually used in the movie The Last Samurai.
However, when my wife, son and I visited the area, it was cloudy, rainy and cold. We briefly saw the summit when we were some 60 miles away, a magnificent snow-covered peak emerging out of the clouds. The top of the mountain then disappeared a few minutes later and remained invisible and shrouded in dense clouds for the rest of the three days we were in the area.
“She’s shy,” a local told us when we asked if we’d ever see the summit again.
In 1900 the entire circular area surrounding the peak was designated as Egmont National Park. There are three main access points to the park with roads leading partway up the mountain. Numerous trails surround the peak with several DOC huts providing overnight accommodations for backpackers.
On our visit to the Dawson Falls Visitor Center, there were no other cars in the parking lot. It was somewhat late in the day, raining hard and bitterly cold. The ranger inside looked a bit surprised when we announced our intentions to hike in the cold, wet conditions. She advised us that the river on the route might be up and difficult to cross and that the rain might turn to snow—being from Colorado, at least the latter didn’t seem like a problem.
Directly after leaving the visitor center, shrouded in our rain gear, we entered the Goblin Forest, truly a magical environment even with the steady downpour of rain.
After passing through the forest, we reached Wilkies Pools, a series of pools scoured out of the rock by erosive forces.
Crossing the river (it wasn’t bad), we continued on through dense forest passing numerous small cascades, sloshing through the deep puddles and mud on the trail. After about an hour, at the bottom of a long downhill, the trail forked. A single-person swing bridge over a deep ravine led off in another direction—New Zealand at its best.
We continued on to Waingongoro Hut, one of the DOC overnight huts, where we stopped for lunch and to dry off.
Finally, at the end of our three-hour, loop hike we reached Dawson Falls, which is actually close to the visitor’s center where we started.
Wet, cold but exhilarated, we huddled back into the car, hoping to come back another time when the weather was more accommodating. Here’s a short video of Dawson Falls in the rain.