If ever I am called to go to another town or city for pleasure of for business I try to get out for an early morning walk. For me, it’s the best time of the day. It’s the time before most people begin to move, and the time when the light is clear, the sun is still low, and the air is fresh.
It was on such a morning that I took my morning walk along the coastal walkway at New Plymouth in the Taranaki region of New Zealand. Taranaki occupies that area of the large western cape of the North Island of New Zealand. Its central feature is Mt Taranaki, a Fuji look-alike that dominates the landscape throughout the region. The coastal walkway stretches 11 km from the Port Taranaki, past the New Plymouth CBD, then on around the cliffs and beaches in a northerly direction. It’s popular with walkers, runners and cyclists.
On this particular morning there was a lovely piebald sky that added to the enjoyment of the walk.
The dominant feature of the Taranaki landscape in the western part of the North Island of New Zealand is this conical dormant volcano which last erupted in the mid nineteenth century. Prior to European discovery by Captain Cook in the late 18th century the mountain was known to the Maori as Taranaki, thought to be derived from two words Tara (mountain) and ngaki (shining). When Captain Cook discovered New Zealand he named the mountain after John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, the First Lord of the Admiralty who promoted Cook’s first voyage. In 1986 the Government ruled that there would be two alternative and equal official names, “Mount Taranaki” or “Mount Egmont”.
The flat land that surrounds Taranaki is very fertile and ideal for dairy farming and the region is one of the three major milk producing areas in the country. The other key economic driver in Taranaki is oil and natural gas which was discovered in 1865 but only exploited on a large commercial scale after 1959.
On the day this image was taken the weather was changeable, but clearing. We were hoping for a clear view of the mountain but the lingering clouds from a westerly front that had passed over the region in the previous day still hung about. Taranaki is the first place on the North Island to cop incoming south-westerly fronts which ensure that the grass is always lush to produce the “white gold” of the dairy industry. On a clear winter day the mountain is magnificent with its crown of snow glistening in the sunlight.
Dotted around the country roads of the Taranaki region on the western cape of New Zealand’s North Island are relics of farmer co-operation in the form of old dairy factories. In the early dairy farming history of New Zealand farmers banded together to start co-operative dairy companies to process their milk into butter and cheese to supply the more populated towns and cities, and export customers in the United Kingdom. At that time colonial New Zealand was seen as a food basket for the growing UK population, and was still under a heavy British influence.
The first dairy co-operative was established in Otago in 1871. By 1920 there were 600 dairy processing factories, of which about 85% were owned by co-operatives. In the 1930s there were around 500 co-operatives, but after World War II improved transportation, processing technologies and energy systems led to a trend of consolidation where the co-operatives merged and became larger and fewer in number. By the late 1990s, there were only four co-operatives left. Today, Fonterra is the largest processor of milk in New Zealand. It processes 94.8 percent of all milk solids from dairy farms throughout the country. (Wikipedia).
The small dairy factory shown above is at Puniho on State Highway 45 in the hinterland of Mt Taranaki, the dominant feature of the surrounding landscape. State Highway 45 forms part of the “Round Mt Taranaki Bike Ride” circuit. Like others of its type it now sits looking forlorn and unloved, although many others have been turned to different uses.
Bad things don’t stay bad forever. After twelve days in hospital, that included surgery to “repair” her leg that was fractured in a skiing accident, my wife was transferred to another hospital in Auckland for continued monitoring and treatment. As she was “well enough” to fly on a commercial flight she was sent on her way with an escort (me). The ninety minute flight from Dunedin travels north along the eastern side of the Southern Alps, giving views of Aoraki (Mt Cook – 3,754 m) and other significant peaks, before crossing Cook Strait to the North Island and passing east of Taranaki (Mt Egmont) to Auckland. The above image of snow-capped Taranaki (2,518 m) through a hole in the clouds was a real bonus. Had we returned to Auckland as originally planned this view would have been obscured by bad weather.