Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway, Mangawhai- Northland

We all know that the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. A fact of life it seems. So after meticulously planning a weekend of hiking on the foot-hills of the Southern Alps, it shouldn’t have come as surprise to me to see the departure board at Auckland airport display the word cancelled next to my flight to Christchurch. Not that I’m complaining, I’ve caught endless amounts of flights and this is the first time I’ve had a cancellation. A good ratio, really. I was due a cancellation. It doesn’t stop the urge to get outside though, and with my heart set on getting into the hills, I had to come up with an alternative as to not waste that most precious of things, two days off.

So, I would be looking for a walk to do nearer to home. Something that meant I wouldn’t waste my weekend driving, but wouldn’t be a disappointing alternative to the drama of the South Island. In the end, I decided on a walk that I’d wanted to do for a little while. Not a mountain ascent with snow dusted peaks, but a completely different type of walk altogether.

Elishea and I would head to Mangawhai Heads. I knew of a popular walking track there that would head along cliffs and back along the beach. Nothing like what I thought my weekend’s walking would be like, but not necessarily a bad thing. Coastal walks, just like tramps in the hills, provide the platform to observe nature on a grand scale.

We parked at the Surf Club near the foot of the walk. Straight after getting out of the car, it was clearly a good decision to have come. The ocean and beaches along this coast are stunning. Soft and golden sand with a more tropical feel than the rugged wild coast to Auckland’s west.

The walk is only a 6 mile or so ramble and if you time it correctly (which we had) it means a walk along the cliff tops and a return along the shore. Soon after leaving the car park we headed for a short section along the beach before climbing a path the led up the cliff.

Ascending the cliff gave great views of the ocean to our right. The scattering of islands out to sea looking like wild out-posts and storybook treasure islands. To our left is a typical Northland scene; the terraced hillsides of luminous-green grass being munched by herds of cows.

In between these two landscapes was the habitat in which our track took us through. We walked along the cliffs in a narrow strip of bush that seems sandwiched between sea and farm. Gnarly pohutakawa trees cling to the side of the rock- some of a great size that must be ancient. Nikau palms line the sides of the track that leads along the edge of the cliffs. Every now and then, we were treated with a beautiful view of a cove way-down below. Each one empty of people and a reminder of New Zealand’s fantastic emptiness of people.

Eventually, the path began to wind steeply down to the water. Brought down to the water’s edge, we now had the pleasure of a gentle walk back along the shore. With the tide on it’s way out, this was easy enough. If you are planning to do this walk, you will need to check the tide times and make sure that you have enough time to walk along the shore without getting caught out by the incoming tide.

Luckily for us, the tide had retreated and left behind a series of rockpools and their inhabitants. Crabs scuttled under rocks as our shadows loomed over the pools. Star fish of various sizes lay at the bottom patiently waiting for the return of the tide. All of this life attracted lots of seabirds. Shags sat on the rocks looking as though they were admiring the views out to sea. White-faced herons and kingfishers stood over pools waiting for a unlucky creature to scurry within reach.

With the light gradually fading, we began the last stretch of beach at the end of our walk. As dusk developed and the shadows lengthened, the nocturnal animals began to stir. Just as I had started to day dream about seeing a kiwi plodding along the beach, there was a rustle in the bushes. Where the bushline met the sand. A brown lump. Perfectly kiwi-sized. Could it be? Of course not! If anything, it was the very enemy of the kiwi. A plump possum stood staring right at us. Mouth wide open, mid-chew, a petrified possum sculpture.

Possums are a real pest here in NZ and their introduction to Aotearoa in 1837 has been catastrophic for native wildlife. First introduced to NZ to establish a fur trade, they rapidly got out of control and are now trying to be managed with the hope of one day eradicating them. With no natural predator and an appetite for bird eggs, leaves and even native insects and invertebrates such as weta and land snails, it’s meant that possums have had little control. An alcoholic left behind the bar, if you will. Hopefully, with DoC setting the goal of being predator free by 2050, NZ will one day be free of these cuddly-looking (if not damaging) balls of very soft fur.

With the sun below the horizon, we ended our walk. A fantastic stretch of coast. Completely unique and as diverse as it gets. From the disappointment of missing out on peak-bagging in the mountains came a walk in quintessential New Zealand. I missed the chance to see rock and snow and instead got sand and water. Two different states of the same thing. This weekend reminded me of the everlong feud between North Islanders and South Islanders. Both so sure that their island is the best. The south championing it’s mountains and fiords, while the North shout of it’s volcanoes and beaches. I must say, that I completely agree with them both.

On Foot Note

  • Map Used: TopoNZ50- AY1 Mangawhai
  • This is a good opportunity to pick up a few bits of plastic you might see along the shore. We managed to grab a handful while walking along the beach. It’s easy to do and that little piece of plastic you stop and pick up might just save a seabird’s life.

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

Goldie Bush Walkway and Mokoroa Stream Track- Waitakere Ranges, Auckland

A waterfall is a bit of a staple for a walk in NZ. With over 280 named waterfalls and rapids, it’s hard to pick a walk that doesn’t come across some form of tumbling H2O. Luckily, living in Auckland, there are quite a few just within an hours drive- some even in the city! It may rain a wee bit in NZ, but it has it’s up sides.

A waterfall that I’d yet to visit was Mokoroa Falls. At the Northern edge of the Waitakere Ranges, this waterfall and track (unlike many of its neighbours), was open after a closure period due to Kauri Dieback. DoC (Department of Conservation), who manage the Goldie Bush Scenic Reserve in which the falls sits, have reopened it after they improved the tracks to stop the spread of the disease.

Beautiful Koru

The plan was, for myself and my partner (Elishea), to head to the Goldie Bush Car Park, then take the Goldie Bush Walkway and the Mokoroa Stream Track to the waterfall. Then, just a short ramble along the Mokoroa Falls Track back to the car. It looked to be a fairly short, but varied route. 6 km in total. It turned out to be constantly interesting, engaging and beautiful.

From the car park, the work that DoC have done in the area is evident. An extensive Kauri Dieback cleaning station and lots of information for visitors to learn about their role in preventing the spread. After cleaning our boots, Elishea and I began walking down a shaded and well laid track. On such a hot day, we were grateful for the cover of the bush from the sun. A real diverse and interesting mix of plant life passed by as we walked.

Rimu and kauri trees gave way to nikau and ponga, and then back again. Every now and then, there were stick insects making their way across the track in their awkward and comical way. It was just great to see and hear a place so alive. Tuis called above in the canopy, but barely audible over the deafening cicadas.

Before long, we’d come to the end of our section on the Goldie Bush Walkway and were ready to switch to the Mokoroa Stream Track instead. To signal this change, there was another NZ staple. The swingbridge. Suspended high over the Mokoroa Stream, we made our way across and down to the stream and began heading almost back on ourselves. The swingbridge is always a great addition to any walk. It gives you an excuse to stop for a while and a platform to take it all in from. Also, being above the canopy, a different and higher perspective too.

So, after the swingbridge we dropped down to the stream, where we would follow it upstream to Mokoroa Falls. The track is easily followed, but you do need to keep an eye out for the orange markers that point where to go next. As with any walking track, there are places where people have either taken a wrong turn, or tried a short-cut. These all leave their trace and it’s important to not make the same mistake as others and look ahead to where the orange markers are.

There are a couple of things to mention about this track. One, you are most definitely going to get your feet wet! The track crosses the stream many times on the way to the waterfall and try as you might, you’re not going to make it all the way without getting soggy toes. That being said, it’s advised not to do the track after periods of heavy rain as the stream may be too fast flowing. The final thing is that the track does require a good level of fitness. There are small scrambles up and slippery rocks to manoeuvre. DoC describe it as an ‘Experienced tramper’s track’, so just be sensible.

After many crossings of the stream, seeing a kingfisher or two and some stunningly serene pools, we arrived at Mokoroa Falls. Not just a dribble, this is beautiful cascade measures nearly 11m high. Although we’d had some very dry weather just recently, it was still quite a sight.

A great place to stop, have some lunch and empty some of the stream out of our boots. Ahead of us was still a short walk back to the car which involved climbing a set of steps up to a viewing platform.

A lone shag that was feeding in the pool below the falls

Fueled up and ready for the last leg, we ascended the steps to the platform. From the edge of the viewing platform the view was even more impressive. It showed the lush valley in which the stream sits and the full extent of the falls. Eventually though, we had to tear ourselves from this watery scene and make our way along the Mokoroa Falls Track, back to the car.

It was a short amble back to the car from the falls. I can honestly say, I didn’t want it to end. It was one of the most diverse, engaging and exciting walks I’d been on in a long time. A real feast for the senses. For a hot day, I can’t think of a better walk than the one we did. Shaded by bush while cooling off in the stream. Also, with a waterfall, swingbridge, a few scrambles and a bundle of wildlife- all in under 7 km!

All of this, only 38 mins from our front door in Auckland City. The Waitakere Ranges have done it again. Auckland’s wild west proving that you don’t have to go too far to get in touch with nature or have a little adventure.

On Foot Note

Map Used: NZtopo50- BA30- Helensville

Route

DoC Track Update
Goldie Bush Walkway
Mokoroa Stream Track

Kauri Dieback Information