Egmont National Park is situated in the west of the North Island, about halfway between Wellington and Auckland. Unlike other national parks in New Zealand, it is surrounded by a well-developed and densely settled agricultural landscape.
The park is a mountainous area that encompasses three volcanic cones. The main peak of Mount Taranaki (2,518 metres above sea level) forms the nucleus of the park. It is the most recent and only active volcanic peak in the park, although it is now considered dormant. Because it is considered one of the most symmetrical mountains in the world, it is a very distinctive landmark. The other two volcanic cones, which are now extinct, form the basis of the Pouakai and Kaitake Ranges in the north-western part of the park.
Lava flows, ash showers and lahars (debris flows) have transported volcanic material away from the peaks. 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). Fanthams Peak was formed when magma found a weak point in the volcano and created a secondary vent on the side of the mountain.
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 herbfield with some plants unique to the park. The forest on Mt Taranaki’s middle slopes is sometimes known as ‘Goblin Forest’ because of the gnarled shape of the trees and the thick swathes of trailing moss. Ahukawakawa Swamp (20 minutes’ walk from Holly Hut) is of particular botanical interest with its wide range of plants adapted to survive in acidic soils and very low temperatures.
Taranaki is linked by legend to the mountains of the central North Island. It is said that Taranaki carved out the bed of the Whanganui River on a tragic flight from its ancestral home to the east. Today Taranaki is still venerated and its summit is sacred to the tangata whenua of the area.
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. Development of huts, tracks and roads followed. Gradually more land was added to the reserve and in 1900 it was made a national park, the second in New Zealand after its not too distant neighbour, Tongariro. It has been a popular tourist destination ever since.
Ambury Monument /Ambury Bluffs west of Humphries Castle were named after Arthur Hamilton Ambury. He gave his life in a heroic attempt to save W E Gourlay who slipped on the ice on 3 June 1918. Both men died in the fall over the bluff. Ambury Monument is on the Holly Hut Track closest to the Camphouse.