The foothills of Mt Taranaki are formed by the Pouakai and Kaitake ranges, remnants of a large volcano. They lie to the north of the symmetrically shaped volcano that is Mt Taranaki. Both ranges were the source of kai (food) for local Māori a factor reflected in their names. Pouakai means the pillar or source of food and Kaitake, the source or abundance of food that is grown on its slopes. Usually Mt Taranaki steals the limelight, appearing mysteriously out of the cloud in the early morning or evening, wowing visitors with its perfect shape, but now the lower Pouakai ranges are having their time in the limelight.
Local and international attention is focused on two aspects of the Pouakais: the development of Pukeiti’s new Rainforest Centre in the world-renowned rhododendron gardens, and the 19-kilometre Pouakai Crossing being called the country’s newest ‘great walk’.
The Rainforest Centre is at the base of the Pouakais and features multi-media interpretation areas, a new function space, and direct access to covered areas housing the largest public display of vireya rhododendrons in the world. It also offers panoramic views of the rainforest garden and coast, and easy access to a treetop lookout over Pukeiti’s famed waterwheel.
Not far around the ranges from Pukeiti as a tui flies, is the trail leading up to the Pouakai Hut and the last leg of the Pouakai Crossing. The usual route for the crossing is from North Egmont to Holly Hut, then across the Ahukawakawa wetlands to Pouakai Tarns, down to Pouakai Hut and finishing at the road end at Mangorei Road. The challenging one-day walk is not for the fainthearted.
The Rainforest Centre
I was invited to the opening of the new Rainforest Centre at Pukeiti which was to be opened by the Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy. As I wound around the tight narrow road on the Okato side of Pukeiti, the mist swirled down from the mountain. The road is so narrow in places you can barely pass another car. Overhanging trees towered over the road and I carefully negotiated the last few tight corners to arrive at Pukeiti. The drive in from the northern New Plymouth end is easier as the road is wider.
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