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Everything you need to know about hiking the Pouakai circuit

A stunning photo of Mount Taranaki taken from the Pouakai Circuit walk

Exploring the iconic Mount Taranaki region is a must-do experience while travelling through New Zealand’s North Island. Many people opt for the Mount Taranaki hike but there are other options if you do not have the experience or fitness level. My favourite was hiking the Pouakai Circuit over 2 days.

If you are looking for New Plymouth walks you have come to the right place. The Pouakai circuit is easy to do for most fitness levels and one of the best walks in the Egmont National Park you need to try! 

Where is Mount Taranaki?

Mount Taranaki is located on the West side of New Zealand’s North Island. The mountain is situated in the stunning Egmont National Park which is about a 30-minute drive from the closest city, New Plymouth.

Mount Taranaki is also called Mount Egmont. 

How to get to Egmont National Park 

To access the Egmont National Park you will need to travel to East Egmont Visitor centre which is down Egmont Road. About a 15-minute drive from the highway turnoff.
The most popular way to get to the park is self-driving. However, there are shuttle buses that leave from New Plymouth and the surrounding area.
Check out Ducks and Drakes or Taranaki Mountain Shuttle for more details!
For more in-depth information on buses and transport options check out New Plymouth I-Site website here. 
If you are self-driving you may need to catch a shuttle to get into Egmont National Park visitor centre due to overcrowding at the car park.
While we were there (Jan 2019) they were trialling a new shuttle service down the road at Volca No View restaurant. The shuttle was for day visitors and left every 30 minutes from the restaurant and from the Egmont Village car park. So unless you’re just visiting for the day perhaps to get your hut passes sorted, grab a coffee and a wander like we did the day before our hike I would AVOID going there.
parking pouakai circuit

Day parking via shuttle service

They have to let you through the park if you’re staying for more than 1 night. So just beware if you’re thinking of going in for the day.

Please let me know if this has been updated. 

a photo of my partner hiking the pouakai circuit

The best Taranaki walk: What is the Pouakai Circuit?

With many Mt Taranaki walks to choose from it may be hard to decide exactly what to do. The Pouakai Circuit is one of the best Mount Taranaki walks to see a good chunk of the park.

The walk is a 2-3 day (25km) backcountry loop track that can be walked in either direction, below and beside Mount Taranaki. I recommend walking it in 2 days and 1 night!

You access the hike from a few locations (described below) and have the option of staying at either or both Holly Hut (32 beds) and Pouakai Hut (16 beds) depending on how long you want to walk.

We stayed at Holly Hut and walked in from the Kaiauai car park. It took us just over 5 hours to get there and we had minimal breaks. On the second day it took us just over 3 hours to walk out from Holly Hut- Kaiauai car park.

Details of the Pouakai Circuit walk 

Okay apart from the iconic Mount Taranaki you will be greeted with a cheeky north island robin, fantail and many other beautiful birds, epic swamps, tussocks, surrounding mountains, some incredible old volcanic activity and great views of the plains below you right through to New Plymouth. Oh and not to mention a swing bridge or 2…

a photo looking down a path of some of the pouakai circuit on the way to holly hut

Sound okay?

The only downside regarding the scenery was the uneven surface and tree roots we had to walk over. I wanted to look up and enjoy the trees and view but I was constantly looking at my feet. So, beware of your footing!

You can start the Pouakai circuit from any of the below-circled points. (Pouakai, Kaiauai and East Egmont Village car park).
parking pouakai circuit

Credit: Department of Conservation

Tip: Try your best to park at Kaiauai car park as it makes the track slightly shorter! But there are only 6 car parks and they usually fill up fast. Your next bet would be Pouakai car park and last option Egmont Village especially because it’s overcrowded there.

Working out the dynamics of the Pouakai circuit

You can do the Pouakai track in either direction.

If you’re keen for a long day the first day of over 5 hours and worried Pouakai Hut might fill up (being only 16 bunks) then I recommend doing the loop the way we did, skipping Pouakai and walking straight through to Holly Hut.

The reason I’m so anti-Pouakai Hut is that it can be accessed from other tracks in the park meaning it’s a heck of a lot busier. A Doc warden told me they had 32 people in there not that long ago!! 
When I stayed at Holly Hut there were less than 20 people in there and the hut can fit 32 so it was pretty roomy. Holly Hut is only accessible from people climbing the mountain, doing the round the mountain circuit or, you guessed it the Pouakai circuit! Meaning less foot traffic. 
 a photo of a river along the pouakai circuit
How long will the trip take?
As long or as short as you want it to. As I mentioned earlier the hike to Holly Hut isn’t as long as you might think (it’s 5-7 hours and less than 17km) from Kaiauai car park going anti-clockwise.
pouakai circuit preferred route

Credit: Department of Conservation

However, some people do the whole Pouakai Circuit in one day!

But, you can take up to 3 days to complete the circuit staying at both huts and walking in either direction.

I recommend hiking all the way to Holly Hut because the walk between Pouakai and Holly Hut really isn’t that long (well under 17km if looking at the DOC brochure as they start the distance from East Egmont Village) and can be walked in under 2 hours. Unless you’re keen on a super short day and getting to the hut early and having absolutely nothing to do! Then 1 night is the way to go.

But, you’re more than welcome to walk it over 3 days as many people we passed did! They had wine and did a couple of side walking tracks while at the huts so were sorted.

What to bring:

  • If you have them… Gaiters!!!
  • Serviced hut pass (can be brought from any I-Site or the Egmont village information centre. While you are there it is a good idea to grab a Pouakai Circuit brochure). 
Download my free hiking checklist below for more details on what to bring!

Things to watch out for

  • Egmont national park weather. The park has a high amount of rainfall. There is a Maori legend associated with Mount Taranaki and the reason for the continual rain. Check out the story here. (Spoiler… he lost the love of his life!). 
  • Tree roots
  • Mud 
  • Puddles 
  • Uneven surface 
  • Weather changing
  • Sandflies 
  • Steep hills 
  • No toilet paper! 
  • Scary swing bridge! (But also super fun).
The Pouakai circuit was a great taster of the Egmont National Park and left me with some epic views of Mt Taranaki, a couple of blisters and some good memories. I would have loved to hold my head up a little higher and taken in more of the flora but that’s what you get for a backcountry hike.
I hope you guys enjoy it and now have a little peace of mind about the dynamics of the best Taranaki walk. Let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns in the box below as I would love to hear from you!
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  1. Katie says

    We just did the circuit a couple of weeks ago and loved it! The section of the track isn’t closed anymore, and if hiking mid week in the shoulder season, the North Egmont Visitor Centre isn’t crowded and is a safer place to leave your vehicle as there have been a lot of break ins recently and the Visitor Centre has cameras. The best bit of the hike for me was the views, and hearing a kiwi right near me in the middle of the day!

    • Lee says

      Hey Katie! Thanks so much for stopping by. Awesome to read your feedback too. Glad the track is not closed! What a shame about the break ins… I would definitely be leaving my car where there are cameras.

      I am very envious of you hearing a kiwi!!!! In the middle of the day?! You are very lucky to hear that! Congrats! So glad you enjoyed the trail. Here’s to many more adventures 🙂

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