The Pouakai Tarns walk is a 12.5 km out-and-back day hike to the beautiful reflective tarn with Mount Taranaki in the background. This famous photo spot on the North Island of New Zealand is absolutely breathtaking, but only with the right conditions. You will have to be lucky to get the perfect conditions. No (mid-high) clouds, almost no wind and beautiful sunrise or sunset colors can add that extra bit of magic.
The Pouakai Tarns walk itself is pretty easy with only 800 meters of elevation gain over 6 kilometers. The well-maintained boardwalk will keep your shoes dry and protect the fragile environment. So the hardest part is predicting the weather and getting the best circumstances at Pouakai Tarns. That’s why we will share with you what to look for to predict the weather circumstances and a detailed trail description of the Pouakai Tarns walk.
How to get to Pouakai Tarns
The Pouakai Tarns are located in Egmont National Park, the Taranaki region of New Zealand. The reflection tarn can be reached via either the Pouakai Circuit Crossing which is a multi-day track, or the relatively short walk that goes directly to Pouakai Tarns. This is the best option if you only have a small time frame to visit this area.
The Pouakai Tarns day hike starts from Mangorei Road car park which can be found at the end of the Mangorei Road. This is also the Mangorei Track trailhead which is part of the Pouakai Crossing. There are toilet facilities available so before you start hiking, make sure to have a sanitary stop.
From the parking lot you’ll first have to walk a few hundred meters over the tarmac before the trail takes you over boardwalk steps deeper into the Montane forest. Via Mangorei track you will only have to hike up 6 kilometers to get to Pouakai Tarns along a very well-maintained boardwalk. For us, this felt a bit less adventurous. But on the other hand, it makes it a very easy walk that you can complete in less than 3 hours.
Best time to visit the Pouakai Tarns for Mount Taranaki reflections
The weather conditions are extremely important to make the most out of your visit to the Pouakai Tarns. Mt Taranaki is often in the clouds, and this area is known for quick cloud cover and heavy rain. So the most important thing you need is a calm day and a sunny day.
To enjoy the incredible views of Mount Taranaki and the reflective tarn you need to check the cloud coverage and wind speed at Pouakai Hut. This is the closest area to Pouakai Tarns you can get information of via the webcams of MeteoBlue.
Low wind speed and no cloud coverage would be the ideal situation for a clear view on Mount Taranaki. However, these conditions are very rare. Especially in alpine area! A bit of low or middle cloud coverage actually brings that extra magic to the Pouakai Tarn picture if the cloud sits at the bottom of the volcano, but this is never guaranteed and would be the photo jackpot.
To monitor the weather forecast and check the wind speed and cloud coverage you can use the YR app. We personally love to use this app as it gives very detailed forecasts that are most of the time very accurate. Make sure to open the ‘Graph’ which gives you a detailed breakdown per hour with wind speed, precipitation and temperature.
Pouakai Tarns walk key facts
Now that we have covered the most important things you need to know before visiting the Pouakai Tarns, we’ll share some track details below.
Pouakai Tarns walk distance and duration: The out and back track is 12.5 kilometers long with 800 meters of elevation gain. It will take you about 3 – 4 hours to complete the trail, excluding the time waiting and shooting at the tarn.
Pouakai Tarns walk difficulty and incline: Because the Pouakai Tarns walk is on boardwalk there won’t be any scrambling involved. We found it an easy hike, however there are a lot of stairs involved. But because the incline is gradual, you won’t feel it too much.
Tip! One important recommendation for people who usually hike with hiking poles is to leave them in the car! Bringing hiking poles along the Pouakai Tarns day walk is of no use at all because the boardwalk has gaps in between the wooden planks. This will only make it a hassle to bring them with you and there are not many moments where it’s necessary to use them.
Pouakai Tarns hike trail description
From the Mangorei Road car park which is at the end of Mangorei Road, you’ll find the start of the trail. It feels like a bit of a weird start because you will walk along a gravel driveway for the first 500 meters. The track then continues into the forest and changes into boardwalk steps for the rest of the trail.
The first kilometers of the trail are through thick forest, so you are mostly covered by trees which give protection from rain, sun or wind. But as soon as you break the bush line, you’ll be more exposed to wind. Especially on the last part towards the Pouakai Tarns.
What we’ve found a bit annoying at some moments is that the boardwalk has small gaps in between which means that the tip of your hiking boots can get caught in a little. So you will kind of have to watch your step to make sure you wont trip over the wooden slats. The boardwalk at the last part towards the tarns is completely closed and feels a lot more comfortable to walk on.
While the trail is uphill all the way, it is a gradual incline and will never feel too steep. The forest is absolutely beautiful with mossy trees, twisted branches and some Goblin-looking trees. If you’re going for sunrise like we did, you will absolutely need a head torch. On the way back down you’ll be surprised by the beautiful trees you’ve missed on your way up!
There are some parts where you cross a small bridge. We personally loved this one with the mossy overhanging tree, it really gives an otherworldly feeling. And the way that the light was touching the tree was something magical.
The path to Pouakai Hut
Once you break through the bushline the views will start to get a bit more open. If it’s a clear day you will see all the green layers. However, if it’s too cloudy in the valley here, it doesn’t directly mean that Mount Taranaki won’t be visible as well.
This part of the trail is on a dirt path until you pass Pouakai Hut where the wooden stairs and boardwalk continue. From here it’s only another 15 minutes of walking in between tussock grass on the sloping boardwalk. This is a beautiful alpine meadow with vast views of the surrounding area.
The reflective Pouakai Tarns with Mount Tanaraki
Once you get to the Pouakai Tarn, which is called Ruahumoko in the native language, you will see that the boardwalk surrounds the tarn. At the end is a little seating area where you can wait if the clouds are still obstructing the view. Don’t be too impatient as the weather in the mountains can change quickly. But be prepared though, it can get really cold here with harsh wind, especially in the months outside of the summer season. So make sure to wear warm layers, bring a pair of extra pants (rain pants eventually which are windproof), a waterproof jacket and gloves and a hat. You will thank me later…
Photospots at the Pouakai Tarns
There is basically one best angle to capture the reflection of Mount Taranaki in the Pouakai Tarn. To get the reflection you want to go as low as possible to get the mountain reflection in the tarn. Eventually you can stand at the opposite of the tarn to frame yourself or your buddy in the shot. But make sure to not disturb other people who are also taking pictures.
For the best shot with still water, you’ll need to take a long exposure photo. This will smooth out the water and make it look silky. You will need a tripod for this though. Or if you only do photography with your phone then the newer iPhones can do a long exposure photo on live modus.
Heading back to Mangorei Road car park
The walk back down to the car park is the same as you came up. It’s a point-to-point trail and therefore doesn’t have much variety. From Pouakai tarns, it’s just a tiny bit uphill until you get to the Pouakai Hut again. From there it’s only downhill over the well-maintained boardwalk. Be careful if you go fast, because the wood in combination with wet leaves can be slippery. Nevertheless, it is a super easy descent and one of the easiest hikes we’ve done with a similar elevation gain.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads.
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pickup date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a road trip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will give you a true feeling of freedom and fully connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, a 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Pouakai Tarns walk on the North Island of New Zealand. Make sure to put this awesome walk to the famous Mount Taranaki reflection lake on your New Zealand North Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the North Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides!
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