History of the National Park

The back story

According to Maori myth Taranaki was originally part of the central range of the North Island. Taranaki and Tongariro eventually came into conflict over the lovely maiden, Pihanga, and a battle ensued. Taranaki lost and was exiled from the range, gliding west, carving out the Whanganui River. As he rested in the ocean he spotted Pouakai range and moved north, finally settling where he sits today.

When Maori saw the summit surrounded by mist they felt the volcano was weeping.

Misty Mountain - Mount Taranaki Guided ToursSacred Taranaki

The legendary Tahurangi was said to be first to climb the summit, lighting a fire to claim the surrounding land for his tribe. Taranaki Maori lived around the base until Waikato invaders massacred them with muskets, despite their secret caves, in the 1820s and 1830s.

European sighting

The first European to see Mount Taranaki was Cook in 1770. One of his ship's company later wrote it was 'the noblest hill I have ever seen'.

Cook renamed the mountain in honour of Earl Egmont, First Lord of the Admiralty. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman had actually been the first European to sail past the mountain in 1642 but the cone had been shrouded in clouds and was passed by unnoticed.

Two years after Cook's visit, Mt Egmont was the first thing French explorer Marion du Fresne saw of New Zealand. He thought it was an islet until he noticed snow on the summit.

European contact

Both Cook and du Fresne recorded seeing fires of Maori settlers but never made contact with them. Naturalist  Ernest Dieffenbach did, however, in 1839.Working for the New Zealand Company, he told local Maori of his plans to climb the summit. The native tribes tried passionately to dissuade him but Dieffenbach set off in early December.

His first attempt was unsuccessful, but on December 23 after bashing through thick bush the naturalist finally reached the peak. His Maori guides did not go beyond the snowline as the upper slopes were 'tapu' to them.

How high is that mountain?

By boiling water and using thermometers, Dieffenbach calculated the height of the mountain to be 8839 feet (2694m).

In 1850, a trigonometrical survey of the peak was performed by the crew aboard HMS Acheron, anchored in New Plymouth. They measured the height as 8268 feet (2520m) and it wasn't until 110 years later in 1960 when a theodolite was carried to the summit that the present height' was determined at 2517 metres.

Magnetic MountainCloudy summit - Mount Taranaki Guided Tours

The volcano early became a popular spot for trampers and adventurers.The second European ascent of the mountain took place in 1848 and the first European woman, Jane Maria Richmond, reached the peak seven years later. By the 1870s a track and bridle path had been cut over the Pouakai Range to the final slopes at Holly Flats and organised climbs to the summit became a popular summer activity.

In 1885 Thomas Dawson discovered the falls that now bear his name and pushed for the development of a track and campground in the area of Dawson Falls Tourist Lodge.

First Female Fanny Fanthom

Fanny Fantham became the first woman to climb the parasite cone on the south side of Mt Egmont in 1887 and Panitahi was renamed Fanthams Peak in her honour by local Europeans.


A year later the summit route from Stratford Plateau was developed, while in 1901 Harry Skeet completed the monumental task of surveying the area for the first topographical map. Development progressed at a feverish pace with the construction of huts, access roads and additional tracks around the mountain.

Contact Mount Taranaki Guided tours to become part of the on-going Taranaki story.



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