We have had a few questions on our pictures here – which walk it was, how long it took, if it was busy etc. so we thought we would do up a quick blog explaining it all!
But before we get into it, let us just say that that of all the walks we did in the North Island (including Tongariro), this was hands down our favourite. And even though we had seen endless photos of the beautifully symmetrical Mount Taranaki reflecting in the water, when we got to the tarns and saw the view for ourselves, we were just blown away. It truly is something to experience. Ok, so let’s get into it – here are the details!
THE WALK AND THE VIEW POINT
The famous reflection shot is on the Pouakai Tarns Circuit a 2-3 day 25Km long walk. However, if you don’t have two or three days spare (like us) it’s no stress as you can get to this beautiful viewpoint in less than two hours!
So here’s what we did:
We parked at Mangorei Road Carpark, and started the walk nice and early, aiming to be at the tarn for sunrise. The walk is mostly uphill (approximately 700m of elevation) and about 6km long. The track is very well defined, with most of it being wooden steps and boardwalks so definitely one you can do in the dark and not have to worry about getting lost! I will also add that the path is pretty muddy/wet in sections so make sure you wear shoes that will look good with a bit of mud on them!
The Department of Conservation (DOC) suggests allowing 2 hours to get to Pouakai Hut and from there, another 30 minutes to reach the tarns. We would suggest allowing about two hours all up (one way) if you’re of moderate fitness, noting that if you do the walk for sunrise, you won’t want to be at the tarns too early (as it can be pretty chilly waiting for the sun to pop up!).
WHERE TO SLEEP/CAMP BEFORE THE WALK
We found three options here:
1. We believe you can freedom camp in the Mangorei carpark after talking to the Visitor Centre staff. The carpark looked like it was re-done when we went in April 2019 and there are hundreds of carparks so you won’t need to worry about getting a spot. It also has pretty fancy new toilets! Please note, if you are staying overnight here - most of the parks do seem to be on a slight angle.
2. You can stay in the Pouakai Hut which is about 20 minutes away from the tarns. The hut costs $15 per person and you need to purchase your hut pass before you rock up! The hut (like many others) operates on a first come first serve basis and has 16 bunks. It also has a kitchen, water tank, toilet, and lo and behold – a glorious fire! Note - it has been full both times we have done the walk!
3. You can pack a hiking tent and camp in the clearing which is just past the hut. This is what we did in May 2020 and absolutely loved it. This would be our pick. Not only does it mean you’re only about 15 minutes away from the tarn, you also get to camp with the most beautiful view of Mount Taranaki right in front of your tent. Camping here is also free (which is crazy!).
WHAT TO PACK
While we did the walk early April in 2019 and it was a clear sunny day, it was pretty chilly at sunrise and the boardwalk had iced over in some sections. When we did the walk again in February 2020 it was much warmer, but we still found it cool overnight.
We suggest packing:
Jacket and warm clothing
Head torch (if you are going for sunrise or sunset)
Shoes that you’re happy to get dirty/muddy – when we did the walk, we noticed every other person had hiking shoes on but I was fine in my running/exercise shoes.
Food + water
Camera + equipment
WHEN IS BEST TO DO THE WALK AND OUR PERSONAL TIPS
The biggest piece of advice we can give you is to check the weather forecast before you set off on this walk!! We have a friend who did the walk 40 times before he got the conditions he was after! I thought we had misheard him, but it was 40!! 40!!
Ideally you want a forecast that is clear and with minimal/no wind (so you can get the clear reflection!). We suggest using two forecasts - 1. MetService - and pay attention to the wind forecast (noting wind is usually lower in the morning!) and 2. Yr.No - and pay attention to the cloud and fog cover.
Typically 100+ people do this walk each day, so we suggest getting to the tarn for either sunrise or sunset as you will a) have nicer light and b) find it much less crowded. A couple of points on sunrise and sunset:
At sunrise, the sun hits Mount Taranaki from the left;
At sunset, the sun hits Mount Taranaki from the right; and
It never lines up perfectly with the sun unfortunately.
In terms of seasons, Summer will provide much more pleasant hiking conditions but Winter will provide an incredible snow capped Mount Taranaki. Tough choices right!? We definitely hope to do the walk again in Winter!
HOW BUSY WILL IT BE?
All together there would have been 8-10 people at the tarns for sunrise when we did the walk in April 2019. If I’m honest, usually James and I really dislike crowded ‘hot spots’ but this was actually quite different. It was the loveliest bunch of people – some had hiked up from the carpark, some had tented over night and others had walked from the hut. I think because everyone had made the effort to be there for sunrise, everyone was really considerate and kind. In the end, we actually all took each others photos and it was great – I said to James it was one of very few spots where the ‘crowd’ actually added to the place and experience!
When we did the walk again in February 2020, there was probably about 10 people at the tarn for sunset and 12 or so at sunrise. Interestingly, sunrise seems to be busier here.
You will want to set your camera up nice and low by the tarns so you can get that lovely reflection shot. For our shots we typically set the aperture between F9 and F11, and kept the ISO as low as possible (64 on our camera). To get the shots of us in the frame we had to increase the ISO slightly so that the shutter speed was around 1 second (we're not very good at staying still for long haha). As the sun came up (the day time picture in this blog) we were able to lower the shutter speed even more while keeping the ISO at 64.
We do all our post processing in Lightroom and for these pictures, it mostly involved bringing down the highlights and boosting the colours to bring the RAW file to life.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND IT?
YES x 1000!
ANY OTHER TIPS?
You can actually use Google Maps when you’re doing the walk so you can roughly see how you’re tracking for time. It’s listed as the “Pouakai Circuit Reflective Tarn”.
If you're looking to get more epic views of the incredible Mount Taranaki, we have just uploaded a blog with our five favourite viewpoints. You can read this here
We hope this helps with your planning and if there’s anything we have missed let us know! :)