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Getting rained out is really a thing for New Zealand hikes. When we got rained out on the Around the Mountain (Taranaki) Circuit in November, I figured that the only chance in the near future would be just before returning to Canada. So I booked a trip for January 2–6; that would allow for one slip day and a flight back to Wellington the day before flying back to Canada on January 7.
We’d climbed the Taranaki summit in March 2020 (pics) and did the Pouakai Circuit (one-para description of Pouakai Circuit, pics) in June 2020.
We arranged transport from New Plymouth Airport to the trailhead (North Egmont Visitor Centre) by the taxi company, Scott’s Airport Shuttles. I think that was optimal. And we picked up a gas cylinder at the Visitor Centre (I called ahead to make sure they were in stock!) On the way out from the hike, we got Brett at Ducks and Drakes to pick us up, and the next day, Scott’s back to the airport. We again stayed at the Carrington Motel, but it was less impressive this time (or maybe the neighbours more annoying in high season).
Day 1 to the Holly Hut is also part of the Pouakai Circuit, so extremely busy in January. Of the 32 bunks, there were only 4 of us doing the AMC; the others (and some campers) were doing Pouakai. We went right past the Holly Hut when we had done the Pouakai Circuit. There was visibly a lot of track upgrading going on and lots of lumber dropped off to the side of the track. Super easy day, gives you some time to get there in the morning. (7.8km, +440m, -400m)
The real AMC starts on day 2 from Holly Hut to Waiaia Hut. It was still pretty easy, though already much rougher than day 1 right out of the hut, even to Bells Falls (a recommended side trip for Pouakai Circuit but almost entirely part of the AMC). The trail is then a bit hard to find out of Kahui hut, but there is a huge deadfall on the Ihaia at the turn off to the deviated Waiaia hut trail. The river bed was easy for us, but the last 500m (still on the deviation) was really swampy, steep, and kind of bonkers overall. At Waiaia Hut there were the two other AMC hikers, plus a dad with his two kids who were there for the night. (16.3km, +610m -970m)
We heard morepork the first two nights but did not see whio. Others reported seeing them.
Day 3 was definitely the crux due to weather and also the terrain. The first part was pretty tough terrain; there’s a ladder taking walkers down a cliff. Then we climbed for a bit on Brames Falls Track, which was pretty easy, though steep and exposed on the side. I dropped my point-and-shoot camera down the cliff but it got stopped by brush and I managed to recover it before it went too far. Upper Lake Dive was almost-blown-off-feet windy in our conditions; looks like it should have good scenery in good weather. There are lots of stairs down from Kapuni Lodge, but it’s easy from Kapuni. There’s a shelter on the track from Kapuni to Konini Lodge, but it is not that far up. Lunch spot maybe? At the lodge: our two friends on the track, plus two other people who were just out at Konini Lodge for a couple of days (and gave us ice cream cones). (12.9km, +1040m, -730m)
Let’s see if I can embed a video. 20 megs in webm, but worth it.
Day 4 was really easy. We took a snack stop at Tahaurangi Lodge (52 minutes from Visitor Centre) where we were invited inside. Not too exposed to wind for the most part: about 15 minutes on the ridge and 2 minutes in the parking lot for the ski field. Wet, but not as bad as day 3, especially with the wind being much calmer. Track was in excellent condition; stairs newly installed? (12km, +650m, -600m)
This hike is harder than a Great Walk, i.e. after the first Pouakai-Circuit-overlapping day, it is not a sidewalk. It’s easier than the Gillespie Circuit, though all is not equal: we had way worse weather on the AMC. The views with the rocks, the rivers, and the mountains are worthy. It’s not that alpine, but it is definitely above treeline (see comment about weather!) I might try it again to see if we get better mountain views. We had some views, but we’ve definitely had more when we did the Pouakai Circuit.