Hiking the Pouakai Hut/Tarn – Not what I expected!

Let me start off by saying that this blog is not going to feature the beautiful views of the Pouakai Tarn. As my experience hiking to the Pouakai Hut was well…and experience to say the least. 

Like most hikes to the huts in New Zealand, you will enter alpine areas which means you will be dealing with alpine conditions. This however was not the case of why this hike went so horribly for me. It has to do with my own stupidity and blind optimism. We will get to my experience a little later, for now I want to give some information about the hike and hut. 

Where is the hike?

The Pouakai Tarn hike is located in the Mount Egmont National Park, just outside of New Plymouth. The track starts at the Mangorei Road Carpark. 

This is about a 6km hike to the hut, so this hike could very easily be completed in a day. 

The Pouakai Tarn Hike

The Pouakai Tarn is a popular reflective tarn, which on a calm day, reflects Mt Taranaki in all its glory. The hike itself is quite enjoyable and not that difficult. 

From the carpark you will walk for about 5 mins up the road till you reach a gravel driveway. You will walk along this for 5-10mins before seeing the sign for the trail head to the Pouakai Tarn and Hut. This path leads both to the hut and the Tarn.

The whole pathway leading up to the tarn is boardwalks, with some gravel paths. The hike is an incline all the way up, but it isn’t a steep incline where you will be suffering from jelly legs the next day. In fact, because its all-boardwalk steps, it makes the hike that much easier. 

This hike should take you around 2-3hrs to get to the Pouakai tarn, depending on your fitness levels. It should take half the time to get back down. Along the path to the tarn you will pass the Pouakai Hut, with is a popular spot to stay for both hikers and photographers. I spent the night here and will give a walkthrough of the hut below. 

Once you reach the hut, continue ascending up the steps for about 10mins. You will then reach a flattish dirt section, before boardwalks start again. It should take you about 15-20 mins to get to the tarn from the hut. 

You will see the tarn to your left of the trail. I hate to disappoint everyone, but the tarn is a very small puddle. It’s not a massive lake like you see in photos! Just something to keep in mind, if you are looking for a big lake. 

The Pouakai Hut

The Pouakai Hut can fit up to 16 people. It is a very basic hut with mattresses, bunks, water (will need to be treated), drop toilets and a fireplace. 

There are two bunk rooms, one in the front and one connected to the communal area. If you are someone who gets cold, I would recommend staying in the bunks connected to the main area. 

The communal area and kitchen are combined. There are two tables to sit at inside, a washing line to dry your clothing by the fireplaces and a large bench for cooking. There are sinks, however they don’t have any running water. 

Behind the hut there is a woodshed and some drop loos. There is also a warden’s hut, which is occupied during the peak season. 

This hut will cost you $15NZD per person a night, and it does book out quickly. So, I recommend booking far in advance. You can also pitch a tent in the designed spots. The carpark is also available for freedom camping to self-contained campervans. 

My Experience

Now for the good stuff. I want to say. Now that I look back on it, I really should of just decided to not hike to the hut and stay in my beautiful accommodation for another night instead. 

The morning I left for this hike it was pouring down with rain. Not a drizzle, or a light sprinkle, pouring. Apparently I was very eager to do this hike, as despite this, I still decided to hike to the hut. I waited in my car at the trail head for about an hour, hoping that the rain would stop so I could get a few km’s in without getting drenched. 

Safe to say it didn’t. So I set off regardless, and in 5mins I was drenched. I had left my rain pants back in Australia too, but I was thankful my rain jacket was long. I didn’t really focus on much going up to the hut, I was just trying to get up as quickly as possible. It ended up taking me 1.5hrs to get to the hut. I was gunning it up those ascends. 

On the way up, I actually passed a couple coming down from the hut and their comment was “you’re keen”. Apparently yes I was and I don’t really know why! When I arrived at the hut, I tried to dry my clothes, before I quickly realise I didn’t have any matches to start a fire. Ripping off my wet clothes and putting on my warm ones as quickly as possible, I climbed into my sleeping bag seeking warmth.

I wasn’t sure anyone else was going to come to hut, so I was a little worried I was going to freeze overnight. I sat there shivering in my sleeping bag, when I heard a group arrive to the hut and start a fire immediately. Finally warmth! I didn’t do much else for the rest of the day, as I was hoping that maybe just MAYBE there would be some sunshine in the morning for the tarn. 

Was I wrong. It didn’t stop raining all night or morning. It was actually a massive storm, which had set in for a few days.  I walked to the tarn simply out of pure curiosity, getting my nice dry clothes drenched again. 

I then ran back to my car and got out of the rain and into some dry clothes. Why did I decided to do this hike despite the forecast? Apparently, I like hiking that much, but also, I decided early on that I wasn’t going to let bad weather affect my hiking plans. I didn’t get any views of Mt Taranaki during the 24hrs I was in that hut, just wet socks, and shoes. Nevertheless, I would still do this hike again and would love to get to experience the beauty of the Pouakai Tarn. 

I definitely recommend giving yourself a few days to play with, In case there is bad weather. And most importantly, check the weather forecast.

Click here for a detailed two week North Island itinerary!

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