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


Map Used: BB35- Hikuai

Kauaeranga Valley DoC

101 Must-Do’s For Kiwis

Rangitoto Island, Auckland- Summit and Coastal Track

Late one evening, a couple begin to argue. No ordinary couple, they are children of the Fire Gods and ‘Tapua’ (supernatural of sorts). In their frustration they curse Mahuika, the Fire Goddess. Once Mahuika gets wind of this, she goes to Mataoho, the God of Earthquakes and Volcanoes. She asks him to punish the couple for their cursing by destroying their mainland home in Auckland- a bit harsh if you ask me. So, Mataoho gets to work and swallows up the couples home and creates what is now Lake Pupuke on Auckland’s North Shore. In turn, from all the eruptions, Rangitoto Island is born. An island worthy of the dramatic myths that surround it.

I remember seeing the island for the first time and thinking that it looked like the lair of a super villain in a hollywood film. Unique and instantly recognizable by it’s perfectly conical shape, it’s a landscape that stirs the imagination. Rangitoto’s history is rich, and in geological terms, it’s recent.

View of Auckland City from Rangitoto

It was with childish excitement that Elishea (my partner) and I stepped off the ferry from downtown Auckland and headed out for a day of walking, bird-watching and exploring on Rangitoto Island. The plan for the day was to head directly from the wharf and up to the summit of the island. Then, we’d descend the eastern side of Rangitoto, eventually following the coastal path around the island’s perimeter and back to the wharf for the ferry home. This meant as soon as we got off the ferry, a reasonably steep track for a few kilometres.

Rangitoto is a volcano. A new arrival in geological terms too. It came into being only 600 years ago through a series of eruptions, making it the youngest island in the Hauraki Gulf. A landscape of lava fields and strange vegetation make for an otherworldly island escape only 25 mins ferry from Auckland City. It’s this lava rock that made for a hot ramble to the summit. The sharp black volcanic rock makes a home for an interesting array of specially adapted plants- that expertly cope with the hot, heat absorbing rock. Our ability to deal with the heat was somewhat less expertly and the climb to the summit was particularly warm as the heat radiated from the ground.

Fields of lava close to the base of Rangitoto

After passing through the sparsely vegetated and rugged lava fields at the base of the island, more and more tree cover appeared as we climbed higher towards the summit. Eventually, the tree cover got so thick you could call it bush. With the denser tree cover came birdsong. A lot of it too.

Angry-looking Fantail

Rangitoto is a pest free island. It means that rare and endangered birds like the saddleback and the curious kaka can live without fear of predation. It also means that people like myself can step on a ferry and within half an hour have the chance to see some beautiful and rare birdlife. That’s exactly what happened. We stopped in a cool and shady spot to enjoy lunch when a cacophony of birdsong began. Some recognizable, like Tui and Fantails, and other not so much. One of the voices that I didn’t recognize was that of the saddleback. A beautiful song by a beautiful bird. I wish I could have gotten a photo, but just to have seen three of them through binoculars made the trip worthwhile alone.


With lunch gone and sore necks from staring at the canopy, we made our way along the last section of track to the summit. Its an impressive sight. A huge bowl carpeted with all manner of trees. Another interesting fact about Rangitoto (of which there are many!) is that it has the largest Pohutukawa forest in the world! The bright-red flowered tree seems to love the coastal and arid environment of the island and their numbers are huge and cover much of Rangitoto.

Summit crater

The crater has a walking track going right around the rim. After taking in views across the crater, we walked around the rim to follow our route that would eventually lead us down the eastern side of Rangitoto.

As we descended from the summit, the landscape changed. Gone was the dense bush from nearer the top, replaced with the rocky, dry lava fields like the beginning of the walk. The track at this point was a wide unsealed road. Like much of the infrastructure on Rangitoto, this road was built by prisoner labour during the 1930’s.

In front of us, as we walked, was the view of Motutapu Island. Motutapu couldn’t be more different to Rangitoto. While Rangitoto is the newest island in the Hauraki Gulf, Motutapu its neighbour, is the oldest. They sit so close to each other that there is a small causeway between the two islands. It’s believed by archeologists that there were Maori living on Motutapu during Rangitoto’s eruptions 600 years ago. We neared our turning point at Islington bay, just before the track heading over to Motutapu.

We then followed the coastal track around Rangitoto, all the way back to the wharf. The coastal track led us past the beautiful Yankee wharf, where several boats bobbed in the shelter of Islington Bay. It provided great views across to Motutapu as we walked along the edge of the island. Then, the coastal route began to be… well… not very coastal.

View over Islington Bay towards Motutapu

The track cuts slightly inland and you begin to follow a winding and more demanding track than the rest of the walk. It’s nothing too crazy, but at the end of a long walk in the heat, it was more work than we expected. I’d definitely say that it requires decent footwear and good concentration to watch where you are putting your feet. The track continued to wind its way through some patches of trees and then spots of more arid open ground before arriving at the small bay where the wharf is.

It’s not a good sign when you see the ferry at the end of the wharf loading the last few passengers and you’re still at the other side of the bay. It was the penultimate ferry that we were trying to catch, but as we got to the wharf, the ferry pulled away. Feeling slightly disheartened at missing the ferry we sat down to decide on what to do for the last hour before the next one.

It turned out that missing that ferry was the best thing that could have happened. The island’s very kind DoC (Department of Conservation) ranger, seeing that we missed the ferry by seconds, took pity on us and offered us a cup of tea and gave us a list of things to do while we waited! This included going for a swim and having a look at the historic ‘baches’ just around the corner from the wharf.

Bach 38 Museum

If we hadn’t have missed that ferry I wouldn’t have got the chance to look around the Bach 38 Museum. This is a small and beautifully kept bach that’s laid out just as it would have been after its completion in 1927. The interior gave a real feel for what these 1920’s and 30’s recreational escapes would have been like. People from the city would make their way over on weekends to escape the hussle and bussle. They may not be the oldest buildings in the world, but the museum paints a very vivid picture about domestic life at that time. I’d recommend spending a few minutes to have a look around the museum if you’re over on the island.

Oystercatcher on the wharf

After a quick swim, it was soon time to get the last ferry. Be aware that if you miss the last ferry back (5 o’clock), it’s a lonely night or a long swim back to the city.

Rangitoto is a real treasure trove. It has an odd but relatively recent history and boasts an array of wildlife and strange landscapes. At $36 each from Auckland City, it’s a day walk for great value if you consider everything you can see in just a day. Remember, there aren’t any shops on the island so you need to bring food and water for the day. Also, do keep a track of the time, as the ferry will leave without you if you’re running late!

Lastly, Rangitoto stays a pest-free island from the hard work by DoC and volunteers. Such a fragile and special place can be severely damaged by any introduction of pests. Please do as the ferry staff say and check your bags and footwear thoroughly. There are also no bins on the island either, so take your litter home too.

On Foot Note


Map used: NZtopo50- BA32- Auckland

Ferry timetables and fares

Bach 38 Museum

Rangitoto DoC

Upper Mangatawhiri Reservoir- Hunua Ranges Regional Park

It was hard to believe, as I drove along the Southern Motorway out of the hustle and bustle of Auckland City, that my Sat Nav thought I’d be at my destination in 25 mins. At that moment, I was surrounded by trucks and cars, but I’d soon be surrounded by ponga and nikau trees. It was the Hunua Ranges that I’d decided to spend my day walking in. Its somewhere I’d been about five years previous and had been struck by its lush, steep valleys and vast reservoirs.

Sure enough, I pulled off the busy motorway and began driving through a familiar NZ scene of dairy farms and small villages towards the dark-green band of hills in the distance. Soon I was on an unsealed road heading to the edge of the Hunua Ranges. Driving down into the Wairoa Dam Otau Road Car Park, I was surprised to see only one car there. It was to be quiet walk.

My plan for the day was to walk to the Mangatawhiri Reservoir via a few different tracks. After parking the car in an eerily quiet spot, I sun-screened up and threw my backpack over my shoulders. But, before beginning my walk, there was a Kauri Dieback cleaning station that needed some use.

Just one of many Kauri Dieback cleaning stations

Kauri Dieback. A disease that threatens one of the most (if not the most) magnificent living things I’ve ever seen, the Kauri tree. A true giant. Mature Kauri can have a diameter of over 4m and be up to 50m tall! Kauri can live for 2000 years and the largest Kauri (Tane Mahuta in Waipoua Forest, Northland) is thought to be anywhere from 1250-2500 years old! Kauri Dieback is something that you’ll be very aware of if you live in the northern part of the country, but those from overseas may not be. The cause is from a pathogen that hangs around in the soil and attaches itself to Kauri tree roots. Eventually, it starves the Kauri of the nutrients and water it needs to survive. Unfortunately, this nasty pathogen is mostly spread by humans and animals such as pigs. To help fight the spread of Kauri Dieback, its imperative that people use the Kauri Dieback cleaning stations that are now set up at the start of most trails that head through areas with Kauri. I started my day walk at one such station and made sure all my gear was free from any dirt before heading onto the trail.

I was following a section of the Wairoa Loop Track to begin with. Tramping alongside streams and climbing gradually through dense bush. This first section of the walk was everything I wanted and expected from a walk around this area. Winding through the humid and lush forest, I was constantly stalked by fantails and tomtits.

After a pleasant section in which I kept crossing the small stream over little bridges, the track steadily started to climb as it stopped hugging the flowing water. Soon I emerged from the Wairoa Loop Track and onto a wide grassy road. Due to Kauri Dieback, the rest of the Wairoa Loop Track had been closed. So, I turned right and followed Repeater Road until I saw the next track I would take on my left. The Challenge Track.

So, this was where I made a few rookie errors. Turns out, that this track is really for mountain bikers. Not that I saw any mountain bikers on it, and I can kind of see why.

When I started down the Challenge Track, passing the nicely placed Repeater Campsite, I thought ‘This is a bit overgrown… Oh well, I’m sure it’ll get better!’. It didn’t. If anything it got worse. I pressed on far enough to make it pointless to turn back and spent the next 2 and a half miles being bushwhacked and beaten by various plants. I love to see native NZ plants on a walk, but it was a bit much being hit in the face by them for over an hour.

It was a relief to get to the end of the Challenge Track. Lesson learnt and knees bleeding, I continued down the antithesis of the previous track. Now, I walked down a wide unsealed road that no doubt is used by logging trucks and forestry cars. After a short spell on the Wairoa Hill Road, I turned onto the Waterline Road, leading me on a winding and steady descent all the way to the Upper Mangatawhiri Dam.

Following the edge of the reservoir, I would get glimpses now and then of the water framed by huge ponga trees. Ready for a sit down and something to eat, I arrived at the Dam and sat to eat my lunch.

A impressive structure. Finished in the 1960’s, it’s the second largest in the Auckland region. Along with a further five reservoirs in the Hunuas and five in the Waitakere Ranges, it supplies water to the people of Greater Auckland.

The walk back to the car from the dam would be on gravel roads like the one I had been walking on. It involved a couple of climbs, and apart from the views nearer the higher point of the road, was fairly uneventful.

Arriving back at the car park I had a lot to reflect on. On the entire 12 mile route that I had walked, I’d not seen a single person. It was great to be able to head out somewhere so close to a major city like Auckland and still find solitude. I also realized from the day’s walk that I have a lot to learn. Maybe reading a few reviews of tracks such as the Challenge track might stop me from walking down an overgrown mountain bike trail and getting whacked by toetoe and ferns.

It’s frustrating not being able to use certain tracks that have been closed due to Kauri Dieback and having to use some of the slightly less exciting roads on the route. But, to put it into perspective. It would only take a pinhead size amount of a pathogen on a tramper’s boots to bring down an entire area of Kauri. Once the tracks have been updated with better drainage and surfaces, they’ll reopen in the future. This is a very small sacrifice to save a tree whose antecedents have been in NZ some 135 million years. Kauri are one of the most ancient trees in the world, so to close tracks for a year or so to ensure their survival is sensible if you ask me.

The Hunua Ranges are a little slice of the wild within a 1 hour drive of Auckland City. I’ve only touched the surface of what the Hunuas have to offer, and I’m sure I’ll have more than a few tramps in this neck of the woods over the years.

On Foot Notes

Map Used: NZtopo50- BB33- Hunua


Hunua Ranges Regional Park Information

Hunua Ranges Track Closure Map

Kauri Dieback Information

Rapaki Track- Port Hills, Christchurch

My first walk back in N.Z. Something I’d been dreaming about for a while. Its strange when you’ve been thinking about a forthcoming event for such a long time, that when it finally happens you’re in a bit of a daze. It was in such a daze that I left my girlfriend’s mum’s house and headed out for my walk. Full of jet-lag and anticipation. I’d planned this walk even before I’d landed after the 24 hour flight.

I started from the Christchurch suburb of Beckenham and would head for the hills! The Port Hills to be precise. A range of hills that separate Christchurch City from the port of Lyttelton, popular with locals and tourists alike. My plan would be to head to the top of Mt Vernon via the Rapaki Track and back in time for lunch.

After walking through the quietness of suburbia, my walk would really start at the Mount Vernon Valley Track Car Park- at the end of Hillsborough Road. This would then lead me on the gradual northern slopes of the Port Hills. The accessibility of the track is superb, which is why it’s such a popular walking, cycling and running track in Christchurch. Within 15 mins from the front door, I was walking through the car park and at the trailhead.

Bell Bird singing away

Straight away I was immersed in native bush. The sounds that had once become so familiar when I’d lived in New Zealand were filling my ears again. Bell bird, Fantail and Tui all producing their strange calls over the hum of cicadas.

Quickly after starting, I realised I wasn’t quite on the right track and needed to head to the other side of the steep valley. This was easily rectified by taking a track called ‘Roger’s Seat’ that I saw would connect up with the Rapaki Track. Passing a beautifully positioned bench that faced the city (Roger’s Seat), I was soon on the main track.

The Rapaki Track isn’t a hidden gem or Christchurch’s best kept secret. Its well known to the locals. But, it’s still a fantastic route by any stretch. Bikes and fellow pedestrians use this track for recreation now, but the current track follows the route Maori once used to get to the small settlement of Rapaki from Otautahi (Christchurch).

View of Christchurch from the track

The well maintained track and the gradual ascent made for a leisurely walk, giving me time to take in the fantastic views of Christchurch. The Southern Alps providing a beautiful backdrop to the city.

The Rapaki Track stretches out in front as you climb. Bush quickly gives way to the parched grassy slopes and gnarled, weathered tips of the hills. The slopes on which I was walking are part of a volcano that would have been very active some 6 million years ago, but now (thankfully) extinct and showing its age through wind blown scars and tors.

With one last, slightly steeper section, the path hits the crest of the hill. Now, I don’t know what I was expecting, but, I had a pretty big shock when I reached the road at the top of the track. The view towards Banks Peninsula was incredible. Maybe for the people that live around there and have grown up with it, it’s not so impressive. But for me, someone who hasn’t, it was spectacular. In fact, I’m sure any Cantabrian would still find it one hell of a view.

I sat on a rock to take in the view for a while. Lyttelton Harbour looked so serene in the early morning sun, with the water as calm as a mill pond. Sat on this little perch overlooking the harbour, I was introduced to more of New Zealand’s residents. Swallows flew just above the grass looking for insects and sitting on barbed wire just asking me to take photos of them.

Then, perhaps New Zealand’s most famous resident (after the Kiwi and Frodo of course) made itself known. Yes, the sheep! I think for my first walk back in N.Z it was appropriate to see some wooly jumpers.

After a short rest, it was time to do the last climb up to the summit of Mount Vernon. This just meant following the road slightly west and then heading up the ‘Crater Rim Walkway’ signposted to the summit. At only 462m, it’s not exactly the tallest lump. However, the views from the top were panoramic. From here you could see a huge swathe of the Southern Alps and the beautiful Banks Peninsula. A few snaps and a swig of water later, I was heading back down Mt Vernon and towards the direction I had come.

View of Banks Peninsula from the Summit

Back onto the Rapaki Track, but with a slight variation. On the return journey, I decided to vere off the Rapaki Track and take the Valley Track which runs parallel to the Rapaki- but on the other side of the Valley. I actually somewhat preferred the return journey. It was quieter on the Valley Track, just a small single path hugging the bottom of the Valley.

Wax Eye/Silver Eye

Once again, the track went back into the bush. This gave me the chance to stop for a while and take some photos of the array of birds that were present. Fantails whizzed around my head almost constantly. Saying ‘Haha, you can’t get a photo of me!’. Well, eventually one stayed still long enough for me to get a quick snap.

Curious Fantail

The path then led me back to the car park where I started the trail. I sat for a while to contemplate about the last few hours and think about how to blog about it.

After having looked forward to this walk for such a long time, it didn’t disappoint. Not that it ever could. This walk was just a reminder of what N.Z has to offer the walker. From a quiet suburb to a breathtaking view and back again, all in one morning. I’m just itching to get out and explore as much as I can of this country. I know there is so much out there to see, and a whole lot to learn!

On Foot Notes

Map Needed: Topo50 map BX24

Rapaki Track/Mount Vernon Tracks- Christchurch City Council

More info on the history and also for volunteering opportunities in the Port Hills- Summit Road Society