The legend of Taranaki

Taranaki is linked by legend to the mountains of the central North Island and his journey from the central plateau has been recounted by iwi for centuries.

It is said Taranaki Mounga was formerly known as Pukeonaki and stood near Tūrangi, with Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Pihanga. Pukeonaki and Tongariro both loved Pihanga and fought over her. But Tongariro was stronger and Pukeonaki (Taranaki), bearing the scars of battle, withdrew underground, carving out the bed of the Whanganui River on his journey to the sea. When he surfaced he saw the beautiful Pouākai range standing inland and he was drawn towards her. Pouākai and Taranaki’s offspring became the trees, plants, birds, rocks and rivers flowing from their slopes.

The Naming of Taranaki

No sooner had the mountain become a permanent part of the geography, the first ancestor of the Taranaki tribe, Ruataranaki travelled high up to the source of the Hangatahua River where he ceremonially anchored the mountain to have his name placed on its slopes.

The rua (cave) that Ruataranaki excavated became a famous burial cave named ‘Te Ana-a-Tahatiti’ which was used up until the end of the 19th century for the interment of bones. This is near the source of the Hangatahua River where it flows from the Ahukawakawa swamp and over Te Rere-a-Tahurangi (Bells Falls) into the Hangatahua River course.

Ruataranaki’s father-in-law, Tahurangi ascended to the peak of Taranaki and lit a ceremonial fire to fix the name Ruataranaki to the Mounga. Even today, the iwi of Taranaki refer to the smoke from the fire of Tahurangi, when cloud forms near the peak in the mornings and evenings.

From Taranaki to Egmont

On January 10 1770 Captain James Cook renamed Taranaki Mounga, Mount Egmont after the first Lord of the Admiralty. It is said the Earl died without ever knowing of the honour.

The journey to national park status

In 1865 Taranaki Mounga including the surrounding ranges were seized by the New Zealand Government under the powers of the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863, as a means of establishing and maintaining peace amid the second Taranaki War.

The land was first formally protected in 1881 when its slopes (within a 9.6 kilometre radius of the summit) were made a forest reserve. An area encompassing the older volcanic remnants of Pouākai and Kaitake were later added to the reserve and in 1900 gazetted as Egmont National Park, the second national park in New Zealand.

For generations Taranaki Māori battled for official restoration of the mountain’s Māori name. In 1985 the New Zealand Geographic Board approved the name change, and the next year it was announced both Taranaki and Egmont would be the official names for the mountain. The national park continues to be officially called Egmont National Park.