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

Mount Te Aroha, Kaimai-Mamaku Range, Waikato

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.

Mokena Geyser

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.

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.

Trig point

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.

Tui Domain Track

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.

Kereru

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

Route

Map used: NZtopo50- BC35- Paeroa

Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park

Te Aroha Domain Walks