The Taranaki region is a highlight of the North Island, dominated by the nearly symmetrical volcano that names it and is the protagonist of important folklore in Maori legend. There is no shortage of tracks and hikes around the area that lead to incredible vistas, with the Pouakai Tarns Walk being one of the most famous among them.
This track had been in our radar for quite a while, so given this week my fiancé and I celebrated 5 years living in New Zealand, it felt like a good opportunity to knock that one off the list. And to top it off, Škoda New Zealand lent us their new face-lifted crossover, the Karoq, for the trip, so it’s time to hit the road!
In Style trim and Phoenix Orange Metallic paint, the 1.4T compact offers an interesting blend that I was curious to try out in as many scenarios as I could. On the Friday, I got to go to work with it, and that was where it got to shine as an urban crawler. I’ve owned multiple DSG cars over the years, so I am no strange to their quirkiness – that characteristic hesitancy in stop and go traffic has been greatly minimized over the past generations, all the while maintaining that engaging gearbox performance over a regular automatic or CVT.
After 6PM, it was time to start the long drive and Auckland faced us with the usual weekender traffic going South. The radar cruise control worked wonders here and felt smoother than those of cars that cost way more than the Karoq.
Around 200km later, we decided to break the drive and use the daylight to snap some pictures along the way, so we spent the night in Piopio. It was a pretty eventful evening that involved a quick stop at a hospital at the neighbouring town Te Kuiti, but that’s a story for a different day. What matters is that we still managed to wake up early to tackle the second part of the drive, arriving in New Plymouth just in time for lunch. We were very hungry and went to Google to find a well-reviewed café, and that led us to the Stumble Inn and Café.
In an effort to keep the stop short, we got cabinet food and that was a great choice. Their smoked salmon quiche was so good we ended up coming back there the next day to try other things. Greatly recommended.
Not too long after that, we got to the start of the track, almost at the foot of the volcano. Sleeping bags, camping stove, layers, check. The sign alluded to a 2h30 hike and that was accurate, we had maybe 10 minutes to spare once we got to our initial destination. The track is made of walking boards and full of stairs, and at the top you’ll find a DOC hut that can only be booked online and good views looking back at the climb you just conquered. There is no electric power, no potable water and the toilets are outside, so it’s a rustic experience for sure, and meant we went to sleep at 8PM.
Just before the sunrise on the next day, our destination was the high point (quite literally) of the hike, the Pouakai Tarns themselves. These beautiful bodies of water are placed to create a perfect reflection of the volcano, which are only made better by the calm winds and soft light of the early hours. The view is breathtaking and makes the whole endeavor worth it.
Some 2 hours and 200 pictures later, it was time to start our journey back. We stopped by the hut to pick up our gear and after 1h45 climbing down the stairs, our legs were resting inside the Karoq.
The car is built over the VW’s corporate platform MQB, and it could never hide its origins. It is a great platform that meant the car always felt solid and surefooted, but the fact it is shared across almost every brand in the group also means the flavour you get is always familiar regardless of what’s covering the chassis.
On our drive home, I alternated between using Sport mode to sharpen up some of the inputs on the twisty part of the trip and using Eco/Individual when the road got packed and boring. Wireless Apple CarPlay was a great addition here – having the familiar interface without having to seek and plug the phone every time is something you get used to quite fast.
Another thing that didn’t need to be set up every time was the heated steering wheel. I have constantly cold hands so even at times when I had the climate control on cold, I had the heater on – I reckon the car was probably scratching its head thinking it didn’t make a lot of sense, but I loved it.
After that second visit to the same café, we were ready for the long drive home. All the other stops were for photo reasons – it’s not always you can have a snowcapped mountain as a backdrop. Fast-forward some 3.5 hours of driving with some interesting memories of our time here and we’re then parking at home.
Reflections seem to have been the motto of this trip. We went all this distance to chase one of the most stunning mirror lakes in the country, and it delivered everything and then some. Then, on the morning of the Monday, I returned the car to Škoda and while scooting my way to work, I caught myself thinking on how much you had to pay, not too long ago, to have these levels of tech, comfort and perceived refinement in a car, all things considered.
We’ve definitely come a long way. The super competitive crossover/SUV segment means automakers are throwing all their money and effort into making these cars appealing, so they keep getting better. And while I know tramping isn’t for everyone, if you are into it you must try this track, you will not be disappointed. So, here’s to the next 5 years and plenty of car-powered reflection trips. Until next time!