I didn't make it to the top of Taranaki. I didn't even make it to the sub-summit that several members of the group made it to. But I got to the cloudline and above the treeline and had incredible views. Early on the trail, there were two women, both "nearly 68," friends since they were 62. They made it to the top--but the chattier of the two said she'd been climbing the mountain since she was 8. They showed us a rare New Zealand native orchid: the tutukiwi (also known as the greenhood) along the way.
The first two thirds of the hike were great, though it was all stairs. In New Zealand it is apparently gauche to climb mountains via switchbacks (or "traversing" according to the two lovely angels). So the you go almost straight up the mounting via stairs cut into the mud and braced with wooden walls. ALL STAIRS for about 500 vertical meters, and maybe 4 or 5k distance. For those keeping track at home, that is 131 stories, if the mountain were a building.
ONE HUNDRED STORIES, YOU GUYS. And then there was a super scary staircase for the last couple of stories. If you know me, you know how hard it was for me to climb a totally exposed, open, wooden staircase up a mountain. In the wind. I got vertigo flashes twice. I had to look toward the mountain the whole time. I was so shaky by the time I got to the loose scoria. This is big, dry crumbly, fall out from under your shoes as you walk, gravel. Straight up, in the wind.
I said no thank you to that. My nerves were not having it, and it was environmentally insensitive to walk on the vegetation (which had much better traction). So I sat down at about cloud level and ate my sandwich, knit on my sock, and soaked up the sound of the wind through the grass.
The climb down was somehow also tough. Once down, another member of the group and I took a short trail to a beautiful series of pools fed by a stream/waterfall. There was much sliding down the slide by other, more nimble members of our group.
Some thoughts unrelated to the hike, directly: every one comes to the table with what they have. It may not be much (which frustrates me for a number of reasons, some good some bad, but all a waste of energy) but it is generally all they've got to give. It costs little to be kind or to be grateful.
In the morning, we drive to the airport. This time tomorrow (though it'll be nearly two days worth of hours from now), I'll be home. Where ever that is.