Lake Wainamu, Waitakere Ranges- Auckland

I’m not a New Zealander. I’ve spent enough time here to grasp some of it’s quirks though, and having a Kiwi partner for many years has meant that I’m lucky enough to now live here and have visited multiple times in the past. I’ve seen a lot of the country and walked through spectacular scenery. One thing that never gets old for me, though, is the sheer quantity and diversity of the landscapes within this cluster of islands in the South Pacific. Nature seems to be on steroids in this part of the world. You don’t have to travel for long before you’re confronted with some sort of mountain, gorge, volcano, beach, lake, cove, glacier, fiord, hot spring or waterfall. My recent trip to a popular and relatively local walk recently reminded me of this.

Although much of the walking tracks west of Auckland are closed due to Kauri Dieback, I thought that I’d still make the most of the tracks that are still open. One such track that has remained open is Lake Wainamu. Less than 40 mins from Auckland CBD, it was an obvious choice for a relaxed day walk.

A real contrasting landscape of different textures and colours. It would be the second time I’d visited the Lake- the first time nearly 5 years ago. I remembered the expanse of black sand dunes and impressive lake, but at the time I didn’t know about the track that skirts the edge of the water. So, Elishea and I would do the route that would take us over sand dunes and around the lake’s edge.

Piwakawaka (Fantail) introducing us to the area

Parking at the car park on Bethells Road, we were pleased to see spaces and that the walk would be relatively quiet. From the car park, we followed the stream for a short while before beginning the section across the dunes.

These dunes are seriously big. Created over the last 4500 years, they have gradually hemmed in a series of lakes, of which Wainamu is one. It’s an interesting landscape that you don’t come across everyday. In the centre of these dunes you’d be excused for thinking you were in a desert. They have the rolling wave-like look of the arabian deserts in films. Although, once we made our way over the crest of a large dune, the lake came into view. The stark black sand is in complete contrast with the other sides of the water. All around the lake is a vivid green, made up of nikau palm, kanuka and manuka bushes, while the direction from which we came is void of colour.

Once we’d walked to the lake’s shore, we began the track that leads around it’s edge. It’s a nice and easy amble along a fairly well maintained path. Every now and then, glimpses of the lake are framed by foliage.

I was expecting the rest of the walk to be similar until we reached the sand dunes again. But, because this is New Zealand, the walk would have another trick up it’s sleeve. Once we arrived at the opposite end of the lake, we were greeted to a waterfall that I hadn’t clocked on the map. Waitohi falls is a series of cascades, that after much rain I can imagine are quite impressive. Our visit, being after a particularly dry spell, meant the falls were modest, yet still relaxing and a lovely quiet spot to stop for a while.

Overlooking the falls is a Maori pou- a beautifully carved post that portrays the ancestor Kowhatukiteuru. Kowhatukiteuru was a skilled pa (fort) builder, who belonged to the Te Kawerau a Maki, the iwi of this area. He built some of the last remaining examples stone pa that sit above Lake Wainamu.

We ate our lunch in the good company of Kowhatukiteuru overlooking the falls. With lighter backpacks we said farewell and continued our circumnavigation of Wainamu. More manuka and fragrant kanuka trees were lining the sides of the path back to the dunes.

Once we approached the dunes we could see them from a different angle. No longer on top of them, from this perspective, walking towards them was like heading towards a giant tsunami of sand. A wave frozen in time just before it breaks.

Back at the dunes edge, with the wall of sand towering over us, we decided to follow the river back to the car instead of heading up and over. What a good decision it was. Following the river really accentuates the contrasting colours and textures that sit side by side. The river creates the border where sand stops, and grass and trees begin. On our left, a formidable wall of sand. On our right, a small farm surrounded by bush. To the left sand. To the right green. The only thing separating them, the small river bed we walked along.

It’s not long before the river led us back to where we began our walk. A walk of contrasts, colours, history and natural beauty. A walk where elements meet and make vivid distinctions. A walk that surely could only be done in Aotearoa.

On Foot

Route

Map Used: NZTopo50-BA30 Helensville

History of the Te Kawerau a Maki Iwi

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The Pinnacles, Kauaeranga Valley- Coromandel

Driving up the gravel road, along valley bottom to the beginning of our walk, you could see that there is a wildness to this place. A clear river flows and thick bush covers the valley sides. We drove for a long time on the unsealed road, past the DoC (Department of Conservation) visitor centre and past many DoC Campsites. Tramping tracks lead off in different directions from the road but we were heading to the road end to begin our walk from there, like many others.

The Pinnacles walk at the foot of the Coromandel Peninsula is a popular walk with tourists and Kiwis alike. It was voted as one of the 101 must-dos for Kiwis and the tracks that lead to the Pinnacles hut and neighbouring summit are never void of visitors. Luckily for us, we arrived so early at the beginning of the walk that we could park with ease. The starting point for this walk is at the very end of the road, next to the Trestle View Campsite. A lot of people that do the walk up the Pinnacles do it over two days. They do the first leg up to the Pinnacles Hut run by DoC, and then climb to the summit and back down again the following day. We, however, would be walking up and down in the same day- leaving early to have plenty of daylight.

After a quick check that we had everything, we were off. The track is very well maintained by DoC as it is such a popular walk. It begins with a very gradual climb as the track hugs the side of the valley. In the early hours, the track was quiet except for the occasional Tui and the river flowing in the background. A peaceful place. However, this area was once a hive of activity. If I’d have been walking up this track over a hundred years ago, the sounds of the Kauaeranga Valley would have been of chopping, sawing and the calls of ‘TIMBER!’. See, the Kauaerange Valley was the site of a huge logging industry. Huge in it’s scale of industry and in the trees themselves. The majestic Kauri tree was highly prized by Maori for it’s straight and voluminous trunk that would be used to make Waka (traditional canoes). However, once the Europeans saw how truly magnificent these trees were, they quickly begun clearing huge swathes of bush and making the most of the colossal amounts of timber available. This led to a network of tracks and dams along the valley all designed to shift wood from the places up the valley where it was felled, down to the valley bottom, ready to be shipped of to nearby Auckland to make villas or ships.

The bush that can be seen on the walk is not the original forest that the early settlers would have encountered, but a regeneration that has occured since the last of the axes and saws left the valley. Remnants of the original giants still occur on the walk however, and not long after the start of the walk we pass by a giant Totara tree. It gives a glimpse at what the first humans in these parts would have encountered.

The path continued to climb along the true left of the stream until we reached an impressive suspension bridge. A long stretch of steel and wood took us over the river below. Gradually, we began to get glimpses of how much height we had gained.

The track continued to climb until we reached our first rest stop at Hyrdo Camp Junction. It’s a small track junction with a few logs to sit on next to a stream. As good a place as any to stop for a rest. It was nice to see a tomtit darting around the clearing as we sat and munched on our snacks. The sound of bellbird and wax eye had been the soundtrack to the walk so far, and it was good to see a real diversity of birdlife along the way.

There was still more climbing to be done. We left our snacking spot and immediately began to ascend again. This time, however, we weren’t climbing too long before the track levelled out. We walked over a plateaued area that gave us our first real taste of the views we could expect from the top.

It’s straight out of Jurassic Park. Dense forest on a canvas of gnarly rock formations. It’s as close to the set of the Spielberg sagas as I’ve ever seen. Obviously, there were no dinosaurs in sight as we headed to the Pinnacles Hut for another rest and to polish off our lunches, but, looking out at the expanse of green I felt like I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen one.

The Pinnacles Hut isn’t what most people have in mind when they think of a New Zealand backcountry hut. Created and maintained by DoC, it’s a lot more fancy than the small historic hunting bivvies that crop up across the NZ wilderness. Large dorms, kitchens, toilets, communal areas and even a barbeque! We weren’t staying here the night, but I feel it would have been quite comfortable if we had. After a nosey around and something else to eat, we were ready to tackle the last section of the climb.

From the Pinnacles Hut to the top of the Pinnacles isn’t very far, but it does involve a lot of stairs, a couple of ladders and the last section up to the summit is somewhat of a scramble. With each step though, the pain in the thighs is rewarded in the form of spectacular views.

I thought that I might find the ladders that lead you to the summit a bit of an eye sore. Although, I actually found then quite fun and a real different feature for a day walk. Scrambling up rock and holding onto branches we eventually emerged at the summit.

Some places aren’t done justice by photo or description and the summit of the Pinnacles is one of them. I could barely take in the 360 degree views and the scale of the landscape. All I can say is that we were very grateful to have had a clear day to have seen this panoramic scene.

With the summit beginning to get a little crowded, we decided to start making our way down. It was easier going down and this time we descended the stairs facing out at the view.

It was a long tramp back to the car. Well worth every second though. There is an alternate route that you can take back where you fork off at the Hydro Camp Junction via the Billygoat Track. We, though, decided that we’d go back the way we’d gone up as we just didn’t feel up to the extra couple of miles that the alternate route adds on.

This celebrity of a New Zealand tramping track turns out to be worthy of it’s fame and popularity. I often feel cynical about ‘must dos’, but the pinnacles walk is just that. There are endless amounts of tracks and routes through the Coromandel Range. Many will provide equal opportunity for spectacular views with less people and more isolation. I think though, being around a whole host of different people all partaking in the right-of-passage hike to the same spot in the landscape is quite special. I think for anyone wanting to get a quick taste of what the Coromandel has to offer, this walk would be perfect.

On Foot Note

Route

Map Used: BB35- Hikuai

Kauaeranga Valley DoC

101 Must-Do’s For Kiwis