POUAKAI TARNS WALK – Epic Mount Taranaki Reflection Lake

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 with spectacular views is absolutely breathtaking, but only with the right conditions. You will have to be lucky to get the perfect conditions though. No (mid-high) clouds, almost no wind and some beautiful sunrise or sunset colours can add that extra bit of magic. 

The Pouakai Tarns walk itself is pretty easy and straightforward with only 800 meters elevation gain over 6 kilometers. The well maintained boardwalk will keep your shoes dry and protects the fragile environment. So the hardest part is to predict the weather and get the very best circumstances. That’s why we will share with you what to look for to predict the weather circumstances and our experience along the Pouakai Tarns walk. 

How to get to Pouakai Tarns 

The Pouakai Tarns are located in Egmont National Park, New Plymouth. The reflection tarn can be reached via either the Pouakai Circuit Crossing which is a multi day track. But if you only have a small time frame to visit this area like we had, then the day hike starting from Mangorei road is the very best option. There is a large car park at the start of the trail, and from there you’ll first have to walk a few hundred meters over tarmac before the trail takes you into the forest. 

Via Mangorei track you will only have to hike up 6 kilometres to get to the tarn along a very well maintained boardwalk. This felt for us a bit less adventurous as you don’t have to scramble over rocks and tree roots. 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 most important question you should ask yourself before departing to the Pouakai Tarns is what is the cloud coverage and what is the wind speed at Pouakai Hut to have the clearest views on the mountain. You can check the webcams here on the website of MeteoBlue to see the current weather status. The Pouakai Hut is the closest webcam to the tarns which gives the best idea of the conditions. 

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 landscapes! And 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.

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 break down 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 Tarn, we’ll share some track details below.  

Pouakai Tarns walk distance and duration: The out and back track is 12.5 kilometres long with 800 meters 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 personally 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.  


What to expect along the Pouakai Tarns walk 

From the car park at the end of Mangorei road you’ll find the trailhead. It felt as a bit of a weird start for us you will walk along a tarmac and then gravel road for the first 500 meters. The track then continues into the forest and changes into boardwalk for the rest of the trail. 


The first kilometres of the trail are through thick forest, so you are mostly covered by the trees which give protection from rain, sun or wind. But as soon as you break the bushline, you’ll be more exposed to wind. Especially on the last part towards the 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’ll not 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 basically 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 headlamp and on the way back down you’ll be surprised by the beautiful trees you’re 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 clear you will see green layers of the mountain. 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 to go in between tussock grass on the sloping boardwalk. 


The reflective Pouakai Tarn

Once you get to the Pouakai Tarn, which is called Ruahumoko, 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 hard wind. So bring a pair of extra pants (rain pants eventually which are wind proof), and gloves and a hat. You will thank me later…

Photospots at the Pouakai Tarn

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 that are also taking pictures.

For the best smooth shot 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 Iphone 11 and above can do a long exposure photo on live modus.


Heading back to the 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 has much variety. From the 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 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 carcampervan 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 pick up date.


Campervan rental in New Zealand

Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip 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 you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.

We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 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, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!

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!

North Island 

Best things to do in Whangarei – The Ultimate Guide

7 best KeriKeri waterfalls – The Complete Guide

Ruakuri bushwalk in Waitomo – The Complete Guide

Whangarei Falls walk – The Complete Guide

Tama Lakes track – The Complete Guide

Te Toto Gorge Lookout – The Complete Guide

Marokopa Falls walk – The Complete Guide

South Island

30 best things to do in Queenstown – The Ultimate Guide

16 best hikes in Queenstown – The Ultimate Guide

20 best things to do in Lake Tekapo – The Ultimate Guide

20 best things to do in Milford Sound – The Complete Guide

Milford Sound Cruise – The Complete Guide

20 best things to do in Glenorchy – The Ultimate Guide

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