After a day walk in the Karanagahake Gorge, I headed to Thames, a 115km from Auckland, to prepare for an overnight hike to the Pinnacles in the Coromandel Forest Park. While a large portion of it is in the forest, there is a good portion in the tussocks above it too, so I will let it go. The mid-March weather also continues to hold up.
The Pinnacles Loop is a 17.2km trail amalgamating three trails, The Kauaeranga Kauri Trail to the Pinnacles hut, the side trail to the top of the Pinnacles themselves and the return walk on day two along the Billygoat Walk. While 17.2km is around my average walking distance on a typical day on my multi-day hikes, I’m stretching it out over two days as I want to stay at the Pinnacles Hut.
Day 1 – Kauaeranga Valley Road End to Pinnacles Hut – 6km – 3 hours + side trail to Pinnacles Summit (2km – 1.5 hours)
I headed out from the carpark at the end of Kauaeranga Valley Road, through the boot clearing station and onto the rocky trail. There is an epidemic of Kauri Dieback disease in New Zealand, and one of the defences is to clean boots before and after walking in Kauri forests, and thus there are boot cleaning stations everywhere. A few minutes in, I followed a short side trail to view the Billygoat Falls. They are distant and small, but caused loggers in the early 1900s much trouble.
I continued along Webb Creek as the trail began to climb steady on a rock and dirt trail with steps cut into it in many locations. These steps were often build with branches or chiselled out of the stone. This was to help the the pack animals climbing the trail and hauling logs back down again.
Much of the 400m total ascent occurs during the first 3km with the trail, crossing the creek several times either by rock hopping or on small bridges. On several occasions there were flood trails for those days when the creek is unsafe to cross due to high water levels, but today it was very low. After two hours in the forest, I came out at the Hydro Camp, a flattened areas which is the junction on the trails. I paused for a break and took my boots off in the sun.
From here the tall tussock begins giving more access to the sun and the views. This entire region was created by volcanic activity over the past 20 million years, with the bluffs and pinnacles acting as rocky plugs of the long extinct volcanoes.
The path grew drier and wider and after another hour, I came over a knoll to see the hut. I proceeded to it and dropped my pack. It was only 2pm and the sign left by the warden said he’d be back at 3.30.
I took a break, had a look around, filled my water bottle, then with only my lighter daypack, headed towards the Pinnacles themselves on a manicured path. The sign says it’s a 50 minute climb to the top.
To make the climbing easier, there are a large number of stairways climbing up to the first of the pinnacles.
But the views from this lower one was still good.
After this pinnacle, permanently installed ladders replaced the stairs. And in several locations, bars of metal have been pounded into the rock to be used as steps in areas where the rock scrambling grew more difficult.
While I didn’t find the climb particularly difficult, the views in all directions were well worth it.
And from this height, the towns of Pauanui and Taurui come into view on the Bay of Plenty coast.
I spent some time alone at the top enjoying both the sunshine and the views, before I made my descent. Coming down was quicker, and when I arrived back at the hut, went straight past to the nearby Dancing Creek Dam, which has been rebuilt to show what the original dam once looked like.
The Pinnacles hut can accommodate a total of 80 people, but there were only 13 booked for the night I stayed. The kitchen area is large and has gas burners and electric lighting. Many of the people in the hut came later than me, arriving close to sunset. As it is only an overnight walk, the wine bottles appeared from packs after dinner. This also meant that people were coming to bed later and making more noise.
Day 2 – Pinnacle Hut to Kauaeranga Valley Road End via Billy Goat Walk – 7km – 2.5 hours
All of the late comers from the evening before also decided to get up early to meet the sunrise at the top of the pinnacles, so the noise began again. And once I’m awake, I find it difficult to get back to sleep again, so I got up. I moved all my stuff into the dining area in the dark, as I watched the light begin to brighten the sky. I made breakfast and began packing waiting to see the fresh pink sunlight on the Pinnacles.
Once I was ready, I made a quick march from the hut back across the trail to the the Hydro Camp where the trail split and I barrelled on down the the Billygoat Walk trail. For a handful of kilometres, the trail undulated with several dips and climbs but always seeming to come back to a similar height, until it didn’t anymore, and the main descent began. In the trees, there was little to see as I came down, with similar steps in many places cut from stone, branches or packed dirt. Eventually I came out at the Billygoat Campsite where I had a brief chat with an American girl who was packing up her tent. I continued on and the main steep descent began. I got a good view down the valley as I went, some mist still hanging on the hills in the distance.
I came past an old tramline a couple of times, the higher end once held the engine which moved very little, but using tow cables, it lowered and raised cars laden with logs and equipment.
The slope continued its steepness, and I pushed on down it for nearly a kilometre until it finally came out at the Kauaeranga River, which thankfully was not running strong at this point. I rock hopped across and came out on Kauaeranga Valley Road 300m from the carpark. Not long after, I arrived and dropped my pack.
While a good portion of the walk was in the forest, it was short enough to not set off my annoyance and the views above the forest line were excellent. It was a short walk, and I could have easily done it in a single day, I enjoyed getting away from civilisation for the night.
With the weather packing up for the next couple of weeks, I’m back to the gym hoping to get a clear week at the beginning of April for an early autumn walk at the end of my walking season before I begin my winter hibernation.
Until next time,
The Lone Trail Wanderer.