The mountain known as both Taranaki and Egmont is the symmetrical centrepiece of this province, and its influence spreads far and wide. Scientists believe the mountain may once have had a crater lake from which, during numerous eruptions, mudflows spread across the plains, nourishing the lush rainforests that covered the region. The earliest European settlers were largely engaged in the timber industry, and then when the forests were felled, the rich volcanic soils supported the dairy farms that have grown into Taranaki’s main industry today. Alpine streams feed icy-cold water across the fertile plains that surround the mountain, and snow-cooled temperatures enable the rhododendron, a gorgeously flowered Himalayan shrub, to flourish in Taranaki’s gardens.
New Plymouth is the main centre in the region and today you can take a journey into the past by visiting many of the cities preserved historic buildings on the heritage walkway. New Zealand’s first stone church, St Mary’s, was built in 1842 and features a display of regimental flags from the Taranaki Wars. Frederick Thatcher designed this architectural gem along with the Gables Cottage hospital in Brooklands Park. There is also Richmond Cottage, which was also built from stone in 1853 and is now a colonial museum. Hurworth Cottage is just out of the town on the road to the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust. Hurworth was built by Harry Atkinson using hand sawed timber in 1856, the young pioneer, later going on to serve four terms as New Zealand’s premier
The world-famous Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust gardens are set in forest between the Pouakai and Kaitake Ranges and were formed in 1951 to promote interest in rhododendrons and azaleas and the protection of native forests and birds, Pukeiti is particularly spectacular and colourful in the spring flowering season from late September to November. Heading southeast around the mountain the road leads to the early mill and timber towns of Inglewood and Stratford. There are good access roads up onto the mountain at North Egmont and East Egmont as well as at Dawson Falls, so it is worth taking a drive through the luxuriant rainforests on the lower slope, up into the subalpine zone where you will find moss clad kamaki forests eventually giving way to alpine species at higher altitudes. Further south around the mountain, Eltham features a charming collection of Victorian and Edwardian buildings and is famous for its range of locally made award-winning gourmet cheeses. Another attraction is the Tawhiti Museum just out of Hawera. Perhaps the most entertaining private museum in the country, the Tawhiti Museum is the brainchild of Nigel Ogle, a model-maker who has created an incredible array of lifelike figures by taking moulds from local people. These figures bring to life a range of fascinating displays, which are housed in an old dairy factory.