The main peak of Mount Taranaki (2,518 m) is considered one of the most symmetrical mountains in the world and forms the nucleus of the national park.
On the south side of the mounga is a secondary cone called Fantham’s Peak – formed when magma found a weak point in the volcano and created a secondary vent on the side of the mountain.
Taranaki began erupting about 130,000 years ago, with large eruptions occurring on average every 500 years and smaller eruptions about 90 years apart. Its’ last volcanic activity was in the 1850’s, at present GNS Science classifies it as a “sleeping” active volcano.
The oldest lava flows on Mount Taranaki are preserved in the west, but erosion has removed a number of older flows, resulting in the picturesque forms of Humphries Castle, Lion Rock and Warwick Castle (Tahuna a Tutawa).
More than 300 waterways radiate from the volcanic cone and adjacent ranges providing pure water. Successive generations of iwi obtained a wide range of food from the rivers such as piharau (lamprey eel), tuna (eel), kōkopu (native trout), inanga (whitebait), kōaro (freshwater spotted fish) and kōura (freshwater crayfish). The natural resources on the bush covered slopes also provided an abundance of large trees, which were milled for waka, housing and construction. Smaller trees and plant life were harvested for medicine, food and clothing. Large deposits of kōkōwai (red ochre) were also abundant and fiercely guarded by Taranaki Iwi.
The water courses were also ceremonial sites for baptism and other forms of consecration including tohi (child dedication ceremony), pure (tapu removal ceremony) and hahunga (exhumation ceremony).
The national park contains a diverse vegetation ranging from semi-coastal and montane forest to tussock lands, alpine and scree communities. The area’s high rainfall and mild coastal climate has allowed a lush rainforest to develop. However its nature changes the higher you go on the mountain – from tall rimu and kamahi trees at lower altitudes through dense subalpine shrubs to an alpine herb field with some plants unique to the park.