Looming over the Hauraki Plains, the mass of Mount Te Aroha came into view. I was driving from my home in Auckland City for a day hike up the bush covered bulk of the highest mountain on the Kaimai-Mamaku Range, Mount Te Aroha.
Standing a 952m, I saw the mountain long before I arrived where I’d be starting my walk. An impressive sight as I drove across the flat, arable farmland of the plains with the steep sided mountain gradually getting bigger as I approached.
My hike started at the town of the same name, Te Aroha. I drove through the pleasant small settlement and went to park my car at Te Aroha Domain where I’d start my climb. Not wanting to crowd the car park for other recreationalists I chose to park the car just outside the domain. Not content with a whopper of a mountain behind the town, Te Aroha town also has a network of natural hot springs in the domain. It developed as a spa town and people still visit for a soak in hot water to this day.
The real marker for the start of my days tramp was the Mokena Geyser. A small hole in the ground with wisps of steam coming from it. I guess this is the geyser. All was quiet, but I was told by a very enthusiastic local that it goes off quite regularly. I waited for maybe 10 mins but the excitement of climbing a mountain was too much. Besides, I’d end my walk here too and I’d wait around then for it to blow.
From the Geyser, I took the path just behind which would lead me straight into bush and begin my climb. Te Aroha Domain has a great network of footpaths and walks, all of which are well signposted. So if you didn’t fancy a climb up to the summit, there are some great shorter walks throughout the domain. It was with ease that I found the path that I was looking for. I was heading up the mountain via Bald Spur and the Whakapipi lookout.
Right away, from the geyser, the bush and climb began. The track clings to the side of the mountain and winds its way up the spur to Whakapipi lookout. After climbing up to 349m, I arrived at the lookout. It’s a small wooden platform with fantastic views out over Te Aroha town, Hauraki Plains and Waikato. This is a great decision making point. If you get to the platform and find the terrain or the incline a bit much, you want to rethink your plans for the summit as the track will only get more uneven and steeper after this point. With the sun shining and still feeling fresh, I pushed on from the platform and started the next section of the ascent.
Steep steps and small scrambles up tree roots are the theme for the next stage. Although the track is well defined and you shouldn’t get lost, it is more challenging and after heavy rain I can imagine it gets pretty muddy too. With each step, the air got cooler and damper. Eventually, it became apparent that I must be in the clouds. It was odd walking through dense bush in the mist. It gave it an eerie feel. The vegetation was saturated and water droplets formed on the ferns and mosses that seemed to cover everything.
A couple of false peaks and then I emerged from the bush. Unexpectedly, I came to a road. Not what you would expect at 900m up. The road is there to service the television relay transmitter station. A huge transmitter tower stands at the summit, the top of which was obscured by cloud. Next to the transmitter however was a small mound with trig point to mark the summit. I took a few minutes to sit at the summit and put on a few layers as the temperature was markedly colder than when I left the car earlier in the day.
From the summit I headed north towards the Tui Saddle with the intention of heading off the higher ground past Tui mine. I took the small steps down from the summit road that leads to Dog Kennel Flat. This small track hugs the mountain as it slowly descends. After losing just a small amount of elevation, I was out of the cloud and treated to amazing views north and east across the Kaimai-Mamaku Range.
Bush-clad, steep sided hills as far as I could see. In the very distance, the ocean was peaking through the mist. I did wander what I’d be able to see on a clear day, but the view was still very impressive.
Once again, the track meets up with the road. This is another good decision point. You could, if you were tired, take the easy (less interesting) road back down the mountain that would lead you right back to Te Aroha town. I, however, would continue north towards Tui Saddle for a more challenging way down.
The whole area that I walked was once mined extensively for gold. That’s right, there is gold in them there hills! Old pack tracks criss cross the whole region that once would have seen prospectors and other hopefuls who rushed to the area after gold was first discovered here in the 1880’s. The tracks are much quieter nowadays though as I didn’t see a soul between the summit and the end of my walk.
Eventually the track splits off west and descends down past Tui mine. Unfortunately, Tui mine is not an old relic from the wild west days of the 1800’s with seesaw-like handcars and old stone pump houses. It’s an abandoned mineral mine from the 1970’s which is mostly concrete. Nevertheless, it was still pleasant to walk down the gravel road in a valley coated with huge ponga.
From the gravel road, the last section of my walk appeared on the left. I would follow the Tui Domain Track back to the Mokena Geyser. I was really impressed with the track from here. It crossed small streams and passed alongside gentle cascades. It was great to hear a real abundance of bird life too. Grey-warbler and Tui seemed to be in great numbers and also one of my favourite NZ birds seemed to like it here too, Kereru. Kereru, or New Zealand Woodpigeon, aren’t exactly the quietest flyers. A characteristically clumsy landing from one Kereru grabbed my attention straight away and was luckily in a great spot for me to observe him and get some photos.
Eventually, the track led back out to Te Aroha Domain and the Mokena Geyser. Yet again I waited for hot water to shoot out the ground while making small talk with another friendly local -the friendliness of small towns in New Zealand never seizes to amaze me! But, I had to call it quits and accept that climbing Mount Te Aroha was more than enough to keep me satisfied. Besides, I was starting to wonder whether the whole geyser thing might be a ruse by canny locals to draw in tourists.
I think I’ll be back to Te Aroha in the future. I can see myself wanting to get a clear view from the summit at some point. That said, the view of the Kaimai-Mamaku Range stretching out in front of me reminded me of how much there is to explore- and so little time!
On Foot Note
Map used: NZtopo50- BC35- Paeroa