Taranaki, N. Z. 2012

In November of 2012, Becky (my wife) and I visited her relatives in Stratford, New Zealand. Stratford resides in the shadow of Mount Taranaki.

Geographx image of the North Island, New Zealand.

    We approached Stratford from our Tongariro Alpine Trek on the Whangamomona Road, (pictured below).

The Whangamomona Road, (Rd. # 43) from the Tongariro National Park
One of the tunnels found on the Whangamomona Road, ( # 43) from the Tongariro National Park.

     The elegant volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki, (formerly Mount Egmont), stands alone amid the near-circular remnant of native forest in Egmont National Park.

A painting of an unknown artist from our relative’s living room.

     Taranaki is dormant for now, but it’s 120,000 year life has been violent and changeful.  Built from frequent eruptions of lava and tephra, Taranaki once stood more than 2.700 m high, but the mountain has a habit of blowing itself apart.

I’m standing just east of Mount Taranaki, in front of Becky’s relatives house.

     Mount Taranaki has erupted eight times in the past 500 years, (the last occurred 250 years ago), and volcano experts say it will certainly do so again.  These self destructive episodes, coupled with the erosive, drenching west coast rains, have lowered Taranaki to 2518 m.

Mount Taranaki on the west coast of the North Island in New Zealand. 

     Maori tales say Taranaki once stood among the other volcanoes in the heart of the North Island.  All the volcanoes were gods and warriors and lusted for Pihanga, who stood just beyond their reach.  So the mountains fought for her, searing the land in their battles.  Tongariro triumphed, and the vanquished volcanoes left  the lovers to their solitude.  In the night they departed, Taranaki, after grouping the chasm that is now the Whangui River (to the east and pictured below), stopped at the sea, to gaze back upon Pihanga from afar.

The Whangui River and it’s chasm, east of Mount Taranaki

          Mount Taranaki, together with its parasitic cone of Fanthams Peak, dominates the topography of the Taranaki Peninsula.  The lava flows that formed the upper cone have been dated as no older than 7,000 years. Fanthams Peak has lava flows dated as 3,200 years old, (pictured below).

The Coles’ house near Stratford, New Zealand with an amazing view of  Mount Taranaki. (Jeanne & Richie Coles are Becky’s Aunt and Uncle).

          The Taranaki Region of New Zealand is built upon the Median Batholith in the West, and Greywacke Rocks in the East. However, no rocks older than Miocene times are visible at the surface.  The dissected hill country to the East of the Taranaki Peninsula, and West of the Central Volcanic Plateau (Tongariro National Park) is composed of soft Miocene to Pleistocene sandstone and mudstone.  Becky and I had just drove through this sedimentary region. In early Miocene times (24 Million Years Ago), plate convergence caused regional compression. Since then, sedimentation has occurred throughout the Taranaki Region, generating the sandstones, soft mudstones, and some limestone.

Jeanne and Richie Coles of Stratford, New Zealand, (Becky’s Aunt and Uncle).  [Rickie passed away shortly after our visit there].
Jeanne and Richie’s garden near their house. (Shows the local trees and vegetation). Looking northwest
Jeanne and Richie’s garden near their house. (Shows the local trees and vegetation). Looking north.
Jeanne and Richie’s garden near their house. (Shows the local trees and vegetation). Looking southeast.
Artist depiction of Mount Taranaki near the Coles’ residence. (Ruth Costello)
Wild Hedgehog found in the Coles’ Garden.

          Hedgehogs are easily recognized by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Their spines are not poisonous or barbed and, unlike the quills of a porcupine, do not easily detach from their bodies.  Hedgehogs are usually brown, with pale tips to the spines. All species of hedgehogs can roll into a tight ball in self-defense, causing all of the spines to point outwards.  The one I was in the garden was a European hedgehog.  European hedgehogs were brought to New Zealand by European colonists in the 1870s to remind them of their homeland. They have now spread throughout the country.  The general public has a benign attitude to them but conservationists and regional councils regard these animals as pests as they prey on native animals and compete with them for food.

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