After travelling through the Central Plateau, we had a choice to continue our road trip through the North Island along either the east or west coast.
We decided to go west and after driving to the regional hub of Taumarunui, we began our journey along State Highway 43, also known as the Forgotten World Highway.
The 148km road is built along old bridle paths and passes through remote and rugged countryside, before ending in the town of Stratford.
It was one of the biggest challenges the van has faced so far, with steep climbs and narrow winding roads, however it was well worth it for the stunning views. It was fascinating to see some of the working farms along the route, and the challenging landscapes that the farmers must deal with.
The road is also the only state Highway in New Zealand to include an unsealed section, and we had to carefully negotiate this 12km of the road, with the entire van and its contents loudly shaking the entire way.
Arriving into Stratford, we were immediately greeted by the sight of Mount Taranaki, the 2,518m active volcano that dominates the surroundings and gives its name to the entire region.
The top of the mountain is often shrouded in cloud however we were incredibly lucky during our time in Taranaki, with clear blue sky and great visibility. Despite it nearing the end of summer here, we could even see the last few remaining areas of snow on the summit.
We continued north, stopping briefly for some delicious pies from Nelson Bakery in Inglewood, before spending the afternoon in the busy port city of New Plymouth.
After a relaxing few hours we took the scenic Surf Highway 45 out of the city and along the coast. We stopped at a number of cool surfing beaches including the busy Oakura Beach.
The Highway continued inland through large dairy farms, before returning to the coast at Cape Egmont lighthouse. It was a stunning location, with remote coastline on one side, and the vast Mount Taranaki looming large on the other.
We stopped for some fish and chips at Opunake Beach, just as the sun began to set, before arriving at our nearby campsite shortly before darkness.
The next day we decided to take a closer look at Mount Taranaki, and attempt one of the many walking tracks in the surrounding National Park.
Starting early, we walked along the Mangorei track to Pouakai Hut. This involved a steep and seemingly endless climb, and we had to take regular breaks to catch our breath. It was a very warm day, and we were thankful for the shade from the thick forest around us. When we finally reached a clearing in the forest, we were amazed by how far we had climbed, with New Plymouth far in the distance.
Finally after several hours of solid climbing we reached the 16 bed Pouakai Hut, which is one of three huts on the 52km circuit that loops around the summit of Mount Taranaki. Continuing along the walking track, we climbed above the hut and for the first time on the walk, the mountain finally appeared on the horizon.
We continued along the track for a further ten minutes, until we reached the Pouakai Tarns, a small lake that provides the signature view of Mount Taranaki. Unfortunately, the wind was too strong for a perfect reflection, however it was still a sight to behold. We found a secluded spot for some lunch, and sat mesmerised by the perfectly formed volcano in front of us.
The downhill return journey was far quicker, although equally tiring and we finally arrived back at the van after 15km and nearly five hours of walking.
With our time in Taranaki having come to an end, we continued down the coast to Whanganui, where we were staying for the night.