Mount Tauhara: The ‘Summiteer’s Skinny’ On Lake Taupō’s “Odd Man Out”

There’s a well-known, spectacularly revered story telling of an historically significant, downright messy (lava – *hello*), disturbingly violent, suitably terrifying “war” between mountains here in our North Island’s ‘Central Plateau’.

This ‘pūrākau’ (“ancient Māori myth”) describes an early mountain landscape characterised by a cluster of peaks, crests, and apexes…

Not simply or exclusively the three ‘stayers’ that are there now.

In those days, Mounga Taranaki, our friend Mount Tauhara, and Putauaki (colloquially: “Mount Edgecumbe”) joined their lofty counterpart Tongariro in vying rather shamelessly for the affections of the one solitary female mountain on the then lava-laden terrain, “Lady Pihanga”.

So, there these boys were – thoroughly male, in all their terrifying ‘tipua’-ness (*think: gods, warriors, and supernatural beings, combined), and each one agonising and aching at the sight of our girl Pihanga, suitably ‘fair game’ and thus-far “unclaimed”.

What’s a red-lava’d ‘maunga’ (“mountain”) to do?

Needless to say, a mighty, calamitous, positively Papatūānuku-shaking battle ensued, with volcanic rocks hurled in every direction, and molten lava literally setting the sky on fire.

Disappointingly for Tauhara, ’twas Tongariro who won both the day and the damsel, and our ‘underdog hero’ was immediately banished elsewhere – anywhere, except there.

Mourning, and looking ever-longingly and lovingly back at his beloved, he made his way as far as the shores of Lake Taupō before being stopped in his tracks by the morning glare of our Māori sun deity, ‘Tamanuiterā’.

The kupu “tauhara” translates to a few key phrases that are representative of this journey, the sense of loss he would have carried with him at having to leave his love, and his status thereafter.  As ‘Tauhara’ he’s now forever known as “the rejected one”, “the odd man out”, and/or “The Lone Lover” (*auē(!)).

And, the whenua you traverse en-route to the top o’ Tauhara is representative of this whole lament, in my view.

The earliest portion of the summit track, from the car parking area through the stock paddocks, is characterised by deep, daunting gouges, clearly indicative of some type of trauma.

Tauhara looks and feels like a maunga that’s been forced to ‘neke’ (“move”), and quite tumultuously, too.

Early on, the fact that there’s a fucking steep grade to the place makes for a bloody challenging climb – through said paddocks, past some typically ‘rural-esque’ water tanks (well, sans the vandalism – put those permanent markers away, whānau), and up into the bush-line to (*approximately) the wooden seat-cum-unofficial ‘halfway’ mark.

After that fair tussle, things start to plateau slightly.

There’s welcome space a few moments from the wooden seat to pause, inhale some rad-asf views, and fuel-up for the next leg (*don’t be fooled into thinking the massive tree stump ‘stop’ is in fact “The Seat” – nope, this is not that).

[*aside: you know, there’s now really no escape from the shameful reality of some of our country’s outdoor community deeming vandalism acceptable, and normalising the defacing of our natural environment at every turn.  And no, this isn’t exclusively the work of our nation’s tourists, fucking “Manaia”, “Tanemahuta” and Co., this is us.  S’fair to say, your name’s Māori, you’re a true-blue ‘native’ of this land.  Well, here’s an idea: how ’bout you fucking act like one?  What, is the desire to deface everything some kind of ‘FOMO’ moment??  This upsets me tremendously, and I don’t understand the inclination, here.  Mount Tauhara was actually closed for a year due to these constant, needless acts of vandalism, and with Ngāti Tūwharetoa ‘kaitiaki’ (“caretakers”) carrying out six buckets of human waste in a single day’s wander around nearby Tongariro National Park a few months ago, this is a problem that’s happening on all levels, in multiple ways, everywhere (even on Mount Taranaki’s summit, and let’s not forget the tonne of graffiti on his summit rock).]

More of Tauhara’s vandalism – seriously(?), really??

Anyway – said ‘next leg’ (and many of “The Seat’s” preceding moments) will give you a welcome appreciation of the variable types of ‘bling’ that comprise Tauhara’s ‘korowai’ (“cloak”).  Despite the trench-like appearance to the trail, you’ll still notice the native berries and bush/es sitting subtly alongside…

Pause, and be nosy.

Coprosma grandifolia – or, ‘kanono’ (whose bark is used for dyeing muka yellow – who knew(?)).

Those who dehydrate easily (I do(!)) will feel some relief at there being a small stream (a trickle really, especially at this time of year, but a definite waterway) about two-thirds up.

Mossy alpine trees and deep, human-sized grooves in the surrounding pumice (be sure to *squeeze*, inhale – whatever) are all sure-fire signs that the top is tantalisingly close.

Literally, see the trig, ’round the bend, continue up, and you’re there

We climb mountains just to pull ridiculous faces, sometimes (*rolls eyes* and *grins*).

Arriving on-summit will most likely lead you to discover how ready you were for the ascent to be over – don’t allow the tedium of that final hundred or-so metres to overwhelm, underwhelm, or turn you back.

Allow for some well-earned ‘woohoo time’ after all that bush-whacking and gut-busting, yo.

A narrow track leaves the trig and weaves a way through the bush-line for those wanting to be near the summit’s rocks (*the highest peak on the RHS in the very first shot of this piece).  We didn’t partake – but you’ll likely know, tikanga totally dictates my behaviour, choice-wise, on-high (the ‘head’ or highest peak of any mountain being a total ‘no-go zone’, particularly if you’re Māori (the whole ‘mountains embody specific ancestors’ thing)).

One last thing: please note, this is not a hīkoi for very little tamariki, although there are plenty of families who head up here.  I reckon I know a fair few friends aged 7+ years who could bag this peak tho, with adequate footwear, fuelfitness, and tempo (allow ’em a solid couple of hours up).

Let those four things be ‘essentials’ for us all, for this one.

‘Haere pai atu, hoki ora mai nei’ – or: “Go well, and return safely”, always;

Dedicated to “lonely”, majestic Tauhara,

IM.

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