Learning in the outdoors on Mt Taranaki

Alex Smart making his way to Wilkies Pools.
Alex Smart making his way to Wilkies Pools.

Alex came racing in the door “Mum we’re going to camp at Konini Lodge up the mountain.  Can you come?”  The mountain Alex is referring to is Mt Egmont and one I had never tramped even though I live in New Plymouth!

Visions of the last camp I attended flooded back; sleeping in a hall with 60 children and 10 parents, exhausted from spending the day in the sun doing activities on the beach, and children still talking at 2am in the morning.  One thing I remember was being woken at 5am by voices, only to see two girls playing cards with the dimmest of lighting from the kitchen.

“Not if I don’t have to” was my hasty reply.

But as I put the necessary paperwork in saying Alex was allowed to go, I thought about it and I decided to go too.  Perhaps it was the write coming out in me, time to think outside the square and push previous thoughts to the back of my mind.

For those not familiar with Mt Egmont here is a bit of a history lesson.  Captain Cook named the mountain Mt Egmont after John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, the First Lord of the Admiralty.  In the 1980’s it was ruled that its official name is Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont – there is still controversy about which is its rightful name.  For me it was a mountain, which meant I was going to have to do a bit of tramping, great!

Do you remember the list of gear your school gives you for your childn’s camp?  Our gear list seemed small, but times it by two and we had heaps.  However, when climbing the mountain it is best to be prepared.  The weather can change rapidly and has caught many inexperienced trampers unaware – some with fatal consequences.

As we approached the mountain it stood out in all its glory.  It was amazing to think we were 902 metres above sea level.  Arriving at the visitor’s centre we were greeted by a magnificent eight metre carved Pou Whenua.  I found out from Dave Rogers from DOC in Stratford, that Albert Tamati carved the statue in 2005.

Nightmares of the previous trip began to re-emerge as everybody pitched in unpacking and beds were allocated.  There were thirty excited children shouting and exploring, and 10 parents cringing from the noise. There were four rooms with each containing eight beds and two rooms containing three beds.  I was relieved when I found out I was in one of the smaller rooms.

Over the duration of the school camp we did a lot of tramping.  The first tramp, from the lodge to Waingongoro Hut, was approximately five hours long and included a swing bridge.  The hut was built in 1986 and sits 30m above the river at an altitude of 800m.  It can sleep 16 people and is registered as 2 – Serviced Hut.  The swing bridge was built in 1983 by the NZ Forest Service.  It is 27.4m across, the walking platform is 21.7cm wide and it is 23.8m above the river.  If you’re afraid of heights, just do it – is my advice!

Another worthwhile tramp is to the Wilkies Pools from Dawson Falls.  The first European to see the falls was Thomas Dawson.  He nearly fell over the 18m high falls when he was exploring the Kapuni stream leading to these falls; the falls were named after him.  There is, of course, local Maori legend which tells how it was given its Maori name, Te Rere ‘O’ Noke.  A warrior running from his would-be killers hid behind the falls.  They ran past and he escaped to the coast.  When others heard of the escape, they named the falls after him “The Falls of Noke”.

Spotswood Primary School teacher Mr Hoskins.
Spotswood Primary School teacher Mr Hoskins.

There is one thing about tramping with children that I feel I should remark on.  Getting children to use long-drops is a challenge.  Our group of children quickly lost the desire to go the toilet when they realised there was only a long drop and not a flushing toilet.  There were many memorable times; one was Mr Hoskins playing his guitar while the children sang and did action songs.  It was really beautiful to see.  And, of course, 9:30pm night walk.  The children were all told to find warm clothes and a torch, then we were off, an hour-and-a-half of children outside their comfort zone – priceless!

If you are thinking of doing this trip either with your school or family here are some facts you should know:-

You can book for Konini Lodge at the North Egmont Visitors Centre.  It costs $10 per school age child, $20 per night adults and preschoolers are free.

You can purchase a Hut Pass.  This is an annual pass allowing you to stay in all DOC huts within New Zealand with the exception in the great walks season.  It costs $45 per child and $90 per adult.  Discounts are available for registered outdoor groups.

The Hut Ticket System is based on categories.  1=Fully serviced=3 tickets, 2= Serviced (firewood cut, etc) = 2 tickets, 3=Standard (bare minimum) = 1 ticket.  Tickets cost $2.50 per ticket per child and $5.00 per ticket per adult.

This article was published in Kids Friendly NZ May 2007 on-line edition 


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