Have you seen the iconic photos or videos where you have the perfect reflection of Mount Taranaki in the water? Well, that is from the Pouakai Tarns viewpoint!

If you’re planning to visit Mount Taranaki and are looking for the best place to see it, then the stunning view by the reflective pond on the Pouakai Tarns trail is the spot!

On a clear and sunny morning, this spot is one of the most picturesque and coolest photo opportunities in all of New Zealand.

The key to getting this stunning view and getting that perfect reflection photo is to go on a clear day with little to no clouds and very minimal wind. If you see a window with those perfect weather conditions, you gotta jump on it!

In this post, we’ll share what to look for as well as what you can expect on this trail so you’re all set for your hike to this iconic viewpoint of Mt Taranaki.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means if you decide to use the links and make a valid purchase, we will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you <3

Everything you need to know about the Pouakai Tarns hike

There are quite a few ways you can get to the reflective tarns overlooking Mount Taranaki but the best and easiest option is the Pouakai Tarns via Mangorei Track.

The Mangorei Trailhead is the perfect starting point if you’re on the northwest side of Egmont National Park and staying in New Plymouth or the surrounding area.

From our homestay in New Plymouth, it took us 20 minutes to get to the trailhead. Even on a crystal clear morning during peak season (we went in January) it wasn’t too busy which was awesome.

There’s a huge parking lot at the Mangorei Trailhead with toilets you can use before the start of the trek! The only thing it was missing was a coffee stand. 😉

The hike itself is pretty straightforward since the trail is super well-maintained due to its popularity. The first stretch of the hike (Mangorei Track) leads up to the Pouakai Hut as well as multiple other trails including the one leading to Pouakai Tarns.

If you plan ahead and go on a clear day, hopefully, you will be met by the most beautiful view of Mt Taranaki and an epic reflection in the mountain lake. It can be a challenge to get the views as you need the right weather conditions so patience (and a flexible travel schedule) is key here!

We definitely feel like we got super lucky and are so happy we got to see it when it was crystal clear. The only thing missing was a snow-capped peak which you’ll be able to see during the colder months (May-November/December).

We’ll share more information on how to find the perfect weather window below!

How to get the perfect reflection of Mount Taranaki at Pouakai Tarns

As we mentioned before, the weather conditions have to be pretty much perfect to get that incredible reflection of Mount Taranaki in the tarns.

First of all, you want to make sure you go on a clear day. If it is too cloudy, chances are you won’t even be able to see Taranaki.

Second of all, you want there to be little to no wind. Anything from 0-2 m/s is ideal. Even at 4 m/s the reflection of the lake might start to disappear.

This is both so that you can actually see the reflection in the mountain lake and also to ensure that there won’t suddenly be clouds at the top when you start the hike with a clear sky – that would seriously be a bummer!

So how do you check this?

We recommend checking on the Windy App’s website. Search for ‘Pouakai Reflective Tarn, water‘ and you should be able to see a pretty accurate forecast.

Look for the following:

  • Wind: 4 m/s or less
  • Precipitation: 0 (ideally)
  • Cloud coverage: As few as possible – but if clouds are forecasted, check that they are low
Screenshot from Windy

In the image example above, Wednesday, January 31st has ideal conditions around 12 pm!

The estimated wind speed is 1.7 m/s with wind gusts up to 3.9 m/s (which is still below the ‘ideal’ 4 m/s). There is 0 precipitation for rain or snow and there is very little cloud coverage which is hanging low.

Practical information about trekking from Mangorei trailhead to Pouakai Tarns

Distance: 12.4 km return / 7.7 miles return
Elevation: 777 m / 2550 ft. elevation gain
Type: In-and-out trail 
Length: 3-4 hours return (time for photos + snack breaks) 
Difficulty: Hard (easy surface but lots of ascent)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Dog friendly? No, no dogs are allowed as this is in a national park

Click here to see a trail map for the Pouakai Tarns trek

Here’s a picture of the beginning of the Pouakai Tarns trek

The Māori legend of Taranaki

According to Māori legends, Taranaki once stood next to the mountains in Tongariro close to his love, Pihanga.

Taranaki wasn’t the only mountain in love with Pihanga, though, and he ended up in a fight with the other mountains which resulted in him fleeing to the coast. There’s still a waterfall named after him in Tongariro to this day where it’s believed he used to stand: Taranaki Falls.

You can read more about the story here.

Starting the hike at the Mangorei trailhead to Pouakai Tarns

There are a few ways to get to the Pouakai Tarns and there are a bunch of other awesome trails in the Egmont National Park that cross past the tarns and this epic view – but the best way to see them is via the Mangorei Track.

Starting at the Mangorei car park there is quite a big car park, toilets, and easy access to the trailhead where you’ll be able to make your way up to Pouakai Hut and the reflective pool where you’ll hopefully get the most epic view.

One thing we want to mention before you start the hike is: Don’t bring your hiking poles on this trail (shoutout to our friends Candace and Dylan from Tracks Less Travelled for this recommendation).

We use hiking poles on pretty much all the hikes we do – but this specific hike is mainly on a boardwalk for 90% of the hike and your poles will continuously get stuck between the boards as there is a bit of space between each board.

Once you’re all set, head from the car park up past the toilets until you get on the paved road that you were just driving on.

You’ll walk for a few minutes on the paved road (in the same direction as you drove) before reaching the trailhead where the road ends and the uphill will be waiting for you 🙂

Hiking Tip: Look up the trail on AllTrails before starting your hike 🗺️. You can find important trail information such as recent wildlife sights and trail closures. Check out the free version here or get a 7-day free trial of AllTrails Pro here.

Starting the Pouakai Tarns trek in the bush

If you’re up for it, we highly recommend going early in the morning. We started the hike at 6 am which definitely felt early but it was so worth it.

What was really nice about getting an early start was that it wasn’t too hot. The majority of this hike is through the lush forest with a good incline so we definitely got our sweat on but the cooler weather made it a lot more pleasant.

There’s also a good chance there won’t be too many people starting from the Mangorei Trailhead this early in the morning so you should have the stretch up to the hut mostly to yourself. 

Despite the huffing and puffing we did, we really enjoyed the peaceful walk between the trees and the ferns and listening to birds chirping early in the morning.

We’ll be honest and say we were pretty exhausted this morning – especially Dom. Hiking up this stretch was just continuous uphill and while it was beautiful it felt super tedious and repetitive after a while.

The boardwalk is nice because you’ve got a solid grip when you walk but it’s also odd because you’re in this lush forest surrounded by beautiful trees and plants and then there’s this man-made boardwalk you’re walking on.

But then you come to sections where you can see it’s very muddy below it and you can just imagine what the trail would look like if it was pouring rain.

So, in hindsight, the boardwalk is very nice to have even though your hiking poles will continuously get stuck (so don’t bring them). We also managed to kick our toes into the boards at least 10 times because of the way they’ve left a bit of space between each board!

Making your way out of the trees towards Pouakai Hut

If you start the hike early in the morning from the Mangorei Trailhead you might time it perfectly and get out of the dense trees just as the sun is making its way into our day.

This is also when you’ll know for sure if the conditions are actually as good as predicted.

If you turn that last corner out of the trees and can already see the Pouakai Hut in the distance then you’re hopefully set to have an awesome view up at the tarns!

There are plenty of awesome viewpoints along the way to the hut as well as Pouakai Hut itself where you can take in the views.

We decided to make these stops on the way down and prioritized going up to the tarns to ensure we got there while the conditions were good.

From some of these viewpoints, you can see all the way to New Plymouth and you can even see Paritutu Rock (an awesome sunset spot) down by the water.

Once you’re at the hut it truly is only about 10-15 more minutes to the iconic spot where you’ll hopefully get an awesome reflection of Mount Taranaki! 

From Pouakai Hut to Pouakai Tarns

The track goes from the right toward Pouakai Hut and then on the path above it

This is where the magic starts to happen and where all those uphill steps that felt like a never-ending stairmaster make it worth it!

The track is super easy to follow but a few minutes past the hut you’ll come to this incredible plateau which is also a beautiful photo spot.

Mount Taranaki will stand tall and proud right in front of you, the Pouakai Mountain Range starts to show, and the whole landscape just opens up! 

This portion of the trail also starts to get a little busier because it’s part of the Pouakai Circuit (3-day trek) and the Pouakai Crossing (1-day trek). It’s not crazy busy but you will likely start to see more people here.

Follow the directions to the left toward Pouakai Track & Tarn

From the plateau, you’re now on the Pouakai Track where you’ll have the choice to go left or right. To the right, you can hike to the Pouakai Summit (wrong way in this situation) and to the left, you’ll go towards the Pouakai Tarns. 

Within a minute of the left turn at the plateau, you’ll be back on the boardwalk. This stretch will lead you to the iconic spot overlooking Mount Taranaki.

Hopefully, you’ll get as good of a day as we did and see the beautiful volcano in front of you and in the reflective pool as well.

The walk down to Pouakai Tarns

Taking in the views of Mount Taranaki from the Pouakai Tarns

The most exciting part of this whole hike is to see Mount Taranaki!

Depending on the time of year you come and hike up to Pouakai Tarns you’re going to have totally different experiences…

In the winter months, you’ll see the snow-capped volcano that looks epic in photos. In the summer, like the day we hiked up, we got this crystal clear blue sky day with absolutely zero clouds.

The iconic mountain lake/tarn was actually a lot smaller than we had imagined it to be. It’s still very beautiful and the fact that it’s smaller means it’s easier to get that good reflection photo as it’s less sensitive to the wind.

There’s a boardwalk that goes around the little tarn as well which is how you get a photo with you in it in front of the mountain. No need to step off the trail (please don’t do this as the nature there is very sensitive).

Depending on when you go, it may or may not be busy. We got to the tarns shortly after 8 and there were 6 other people there which meant we could all get a cool shot and some videos without other people in it.

This post is also a great place to have a little drink and a snack if you brought some goodies on the trek!

It’s one of the most iconic spots in New Zealand so spend as much time as you can up there admiring Mount Taranaki. 

In case you are wondering, yes Mount Taranaki is a dormant volcano so you’re in a safe spot! 

Fun fact: Taranaki last erupted around 1755 and the volcano is now considered dormant 🌋

Making your way back down to the Mangorei parking lot

The way we did this trail – and the way we recommend you do it as well – is as an in-and-out trail.

Once you’ve taken in the view of Mount Taranaki and the reflective pool, you can make your way back the same way you came from down to Pouakai Hut and through the forest.

There are a few side trails you can do like hiking to Pouakai Peak but we had a pretty full week of hiking the Tongariro Circuit before this so we took the “easy” way out.

The way back is going to be a lot quicker than coming up since it’s downhill the whole way. Since it’s mostly on boardwalk you can get into a pretty consistent rhythm and cruise on your way back down if that’s what you want. 

We found that the way back down was a lot more busy since we headed down after breakfast when lots of people were just starting their hike for the day.

It depends if you’re an early riser or not but if you don’t mind getting up at the crack of dawn it’s worth it for this specific hike.

Getting up past Pouakai Hut before most other people while the sun is still coming up was awesome!

What to bring on the Pouakai Tarns hike

Let’s talk about the weather in the Egmont National Park because it can be very unpredictable and it can change very quickly since it is an alpine area. It can also get very cloudy and foggy and sometimes Taranaki won’t show for days at a time.

This is one of the hikes in New Zealand where it is worth waiting for excellent weather because when the weather is good, that’s when you get that incredible view and reflection of Taranaki.

We understand that hiking isn’t all about taking pictures but we would argue that it is a big reason why people do this hike. And when the conditions aren’t good for pictures, it also means you can’t see the mountain and enjoy the view even if you aren’t there just for the photo.

That being said, even if the weather forecast is looking good, you should still come prepared to hike in the alpine with the right footwear and clothes as well as enough food and water.

To make sure you’re all set to hike up to Pouakai Tarns, here’s a suggested packing list!

Packing list for the Pouakai Tarns hike:

  • Water! We always fill up our LifeStraw bottles before hikes or day trips and even during them when we can. You can potentially fill your Lifestraw up at the Pouakai Hut if you have to but since this hut is for overnight guests, try to bring at least 1.5-2 litres for this trek so you have enough.
  • Sunscreen!! There have been multiple occasions while we’ve been hiking in New Zealand and the UV index has shown between 8 and 10!! Even on cloudy days, you can get seriously sunburned. The sun in NZ is unlike anywhere else.
  • A power bank is good to bring – especially if you plan to take lots of pictures and videos or if you want to go on some of the side trails. It rarely happens that we finish a hike and our phones are dead but there are times when the power bank comes in handy!
  • Some snacks or even breakfast to enjoy at the Pouakai Tarns.
  • Extra layers in case it gets a little chilly up at a higher elevation or starts to rain. We suggest bringing at least a fleece sweater and a rain jacket.

To get some more inspiration, you can also check out this great list of hiking gear!

We usually recommend hiking poles for the hikes we do but for this specific hike, there is a boardwalk that you walk on for most of the trek which is a bit of a pain in the butt if you use hiking poles because they will continuously get stuck.

So do NOT bring hiking poles on this trek. You won’t really be able to use them.

The best affordable camera for beginners

The Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera

If you’re looking for the best and most affordable camera for beginners, check out the Sony Alpha a6000 Camera.

This is the camera we’ve been using for years and still use to this day.

It’s perfect for travelling and super easy to use – even if you’re a beginner.

Before you make your way up to the Pouakai Tarns

Check the weather in the Egmont National Park

We said it before and we’ll say it again! Weather plays a huge factor on this hike if your goal is to see Taranaki’s reflection in the famous pool.

Also for your safety and just to know how to prepare for the hike, you should always check the weather before you go hiking.

You can see the weather for Pouakai Hut here and check the weather conditions at Pouakai Tarns here.

Fun fact: Mount Taranaki is roughly 125.000 years old and is the most recent volcanic peak in Egmont National Park / Te Papakura o Taranaki.

Wear hiking shoes

We wear hiking shoes or hiking boots on almost every outdoor adventure we do – this one included.

Even though it’s mostly on boardwalk there are sections (especially when it rains) that can get covered in mud – and there are a few sections that can get slippery. Waterproof and good hiking shoes are definitely recommended.

Honestly, you might be fine wearing trail runners or the like on this hike, but if you have hiking shoes, it’s best to wear them. That’s what we wore and what we recommend you do too.

If you don’t have any hiking boots, we highly recommend the Newton Ridge waterproof hiking boots from Columbia. Jo got these recently and she loves them!

Leave no trace

When you go hiking (and do other outdoor adventure activities), always remember to follow the 7 principles of leaving no trace.

This means:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of others.

Renting a car in New Zealand 

For this specific hike, a car is required since you have to make your way to the Mangorei Parking Lot.

If you’re already in New Plymouth it’s a short drive (roughly 20 minutes) to the trailhead and going by car or van is pretty much your only option.

We’ve had a car hire here in New Zealand for our whole trip and it’s been really nice and convenient – especially when getting to some of the different trailheads.

The car we booked was through DiscoverCars and we picked it up at Auckland Airport. DiscoverCars works like a search engine that compares all the different cars from different rental companies and shows you the best price.

It’s so convenient and we managed to snag a really good deal for ours ($50 NZD per day including insurance during peak season).

The longer ahead you book your car, the more likely you are to find a good deal. You can find and hire your rental car for New Zealand here

Another option is also to rent a big enough SUV that you can sleep in some nights (this is what we did on the south island) if you want and save some money on accommodation this way or sleep in some more remote places! 😉

Auckland airport car hire in New Zealand photo.

PS: DiscoverCars doesn’t just work from Auckland Airport. It can be used at pretty much any airport or city in the World. We’ve also used them in Italy, Portugal, and the Czech Republic.

When is the best time to explore Egmonton National Park?

This is probably one of the most important questions to ask when planning on coming to the national park and hiking this trail. Especially since different times of year produce totally different environments and totally different pictures of Mount Taranaki.

The easiest and best time in our opinion is probably during the summer months and early in the day (January-March). 

Spring and fall can be great times to hike to the Pouakai Tarns as well because it’s going to be less busy and not as hot. The only downside is the weather is going to be more unpredictable. 

Lastly, winter can be great! The snow-capped Taranaki Peak is something magical. But then safety comes into question and depends on how much snow is on the trail etc. 

We’ve already talked about the weather conditions to look for previously in this post but in terms of time of day, there’s generally a better chance to get good conditions in the morning or around sunset.

Mount Taranaki is usually more out during the mornings and evenings and then gets a little shy during the day (at least that’s the case in the summer months from what locals told us). So if you start early in the morning with the right weather predictions, that’s your best bet of seeing Taranaki.

Personally, we got up at 5.30 am for a 6.00 am start.

So if the forecast is looking good and you get a chance, try to get up early before sunrise and smash out the hike so you’re up right at the tarns super early before everyone else. On a clear morning, the reflection is awesome up there!

Alternatively, if you aren’t that much of a morning person, you can also try to spend the night at Poukaki Hut!

Booking the Pouakai Hut

If you want to stay at the Pouakai Hut you need to book it in advance – especially during the summer months when it’s almost always fully booked.

Since the hut is part of the Taranaki Crossing and close to the Pouakai Tarns it does tend to book up if you don’t book it in advance.

It’s best to just look at which days are available and then plan your trip from there.

The hut is maintained by DOC and is truly one of the nicer huts we’ve seen. The view from the hut is just stunning just like the rest of Egmont National Park!

You can easily hike up to Pouakai Hut, stay the night, check out the tarns the next morning and then hike back down. It makes for the perfect overnight trip.

The cost is $25 NZD per night for a bunk bed and there are 16 bunks available. A campsite costs $10 NZD per night.

You can find all the information you need and make your booking for Pouakai Hut here

How to get to Mangorei Trailhead

There is a big parking lot at the Mangorei Trailhead. The parking lot is about 400 meters from where you enter the forest and officially start the trek. 

If you’re coming from the New Plymouth side of Egmont National Park then it’s quick and easy to get to the car park. It takes roughly 20 minutes without traffic.

If you’re coming from Stratford or somewhere else, it may take a bit longer to get to this side of the national park.

From New Plymouth to Mangorei trailhead:

Stratford to Mangorei trailhead:

  • It’s roughly a 40-minute drive from Stratford to the start of the Pouakai Tarns trek.
  • You can find the directions here

The road that leads to the trailhead is great. It’s paved and at the end of the road, you’ll see a big parking lot with toilet facilities and likely a bunch of other cars.

Fun fact: In 1900 Egmont National Park became New Zealand’s second national park (the first one is Tongariro). It was the famous Captain Cook who gave this name to the park but these days, it is more known by its traditional Māori name: Mount Taranaki.

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Recap of hiking to the Pouakai Tarns via Mangorei Track

We’ve done a few hikes in the Egmont National Park but this hike up to the tarns to see the famous reflection is pretty magical.

This hike is a great way to experience everything Egmont National Park has to offer…

You start in the trees surrounded by ferns and covered in the shadows while listening to the birds chipping. As you emerge from the forest, you slowly start to see the peaks, Pouakai Hut, Mount Taranaki and the reflective tarns! It doesn’t get much better than that!

We hope you have the best time exploring Egmont National Park/Te Papakura o Taranaki and get some awesome views of Mount Taranaki.

If you have any questions about hiking to Pouakai Tarns, how to get there, what else to do in the New Plymouth area, or anything else related to New Zealand, feel free to DM us on Instagram or leave a comment below!

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