I admit, it was a little hard at first, knowing to be out of phone reach for two days. And not just any day, it would be the days over New Years, where everyone is texting and wishing each other a happy new year! I only had just sent the message to my friends chat that I will be off the grid for about 48 hours as we drove deeper into the Kauaeranga Valley and my reception died.
In the Kauareanga Valley
It’s not like we were somewhere where there weren’t any tourists or people. Said valley lies on the Coromandel Peninsula, which is probably most famous for its Hot Water Beach. There’s an unimposing right turn at the entrance of Thames (coming from Auckland) and when you follow the road it turns into a gravel road and lead to the Kauaeranga Visitor Centre, where you can get all sorts or information about the campgrounds and the walks and hikes (called tramps in New Zealand). There are eight DOC campsites in the valley, all for slightly different purposes. Some are directly on the Kauaeranga river, perfect for swimming, while others have mountain bike trails or tramping and walking routes starting from theirs. They all have a stream nearby, however, since the streams are the only source of running water. Visitors best bring their own water according to the amount of nights, if they don’t want to boil the water for drinking. Should you run out of water, you can always go to the visitor center, as they have the only filtered water in the valley. Depending where your campground is located, however, it can be up to 8km per way.
The DOC camping must be pre-booked online, but you don’t need to decide on a campground before arriving. You just drive past the sites and decide on the one you like the most. For us, this was Wainora, deep into the valley but not quite at the road’s end (where the Pinnacle walk starts). We were lucky and found a nice spot in a corner with our own picnic table.
"Happy motherf... New Year!!!"
Since this was the last day of the year, we wanted our dinner to be a little bit fancier than normal and so I suggested the typical Swiss New Year’s dinner: Fondue Chinoise. Little meat strips (beef, chicken and/or pork) and small veggie pieces, dipped in broth and eaten with delicious sauces and rice on the side. Very fancy but at the same time easy to cook on a gas stove. It’s a popular meal for Christmas or New Years in Switzerland because it’s a very social meal (you have to wait for your meat to cook and meanwhile chat and drink a lot of wine) and the little bits that need preparation can be done before the guests arrive. It was SO! VERY! GOOD!
After dinner, we chatted a little and already opened our bottle of bubbly hours before midnight, since we wanted to be fit and get up early on New Years day. We went to bed a little before twelve and managed to stay awake for the New Years’ kiss at midnight. Somewhere from the other tents we heard a “happy motherf… new year!!!” but apart from that it was quiet and about 5 minutes later we were sleeping soundly.
hiking the pinnacles walk
Having the alarm going off at 6am on the first day of the year is definitely something I’ve never done so far. But I was looking forward to our giant 8-hour hike/tramp, the longest I have ever walked so far. And just before 8am, we were off!
The first few kilometers on the Pinnacles hike seem to be just a regular walking path you find everywhere in New Zealand. Wide path, gravel, some ups, some downs. Not much later, though, we got confused, because the path seemed to be closed and we weren’t sure if crossing the (dry) river really is what they want us to do. But there were so many orange markers everywhere we decided it must be the right way. So we crossed the river and went on over a landslide that seems to have happened a while ago already as the Department of Conservation even built some stairs in it. From here on, it was almost all uphills. The stairs are made of stone that have been built about 100 years ago, when the people logged the area of its giant Kauri trees. The humidity was high and even thought it was cool I sweated like I’ve just been taking a shower. I only realised later, on the way down, how high and steep those steps are and that I shouldn’t have been surprised at the amount of sweat that came out of my body. But going up, I haven’t really noticed the height of the stairs. Up was up and I had two walking poles helping me climb. I even quite enjoyed the unusual stairs. Usually the DOC puts wooden stairs everywhere. Which is nice of them but sometimes makes it feel a bit like climbing floors in a building.
We made our first little food stop a few meters above Hydro Camp, which is about 2 hours after the start and around ¾ of the way to the Pinnacles Hut. It was then I first realised that my legs are getting a little tired. But we made it up to the hut alright and took another short rest there to summon our strength for the last bit, up to the Pinnacles lookout.
A challenging, but very cool climb to the top
The lookout sits on 750 meters above sea level and from the hut it’s maybe 150, 200 meters in height we have to get up. But, on a path that was only 850 meters long. Which means that most of the way up would be close to vertical! At first it’s the usual wooden stairs, but lots of them. Then, after those are done, the actual adventure starts. First you have to climb two metal ladders and later on it’s climbing metal hooks that are attached to the stones and you have to hold on to roots along the way and pull yourself up. The path can be found very easily. There’s no chance of going the wrong way and falling and it’s not exposed, so it felt a lot safer than if the same path didn’t have bush around us. Chris and I are both afraid of heights (as long as we’re not attached to something safe) and we made it up and down the Pinnacles track easily. The legs were a bit wobbly, but no problem in the end.
The view at the top and also all along the way up is breathtaking! We felt like the king of the castle with the whole Kauaeranga Valley, forest and even the ocean in the distance to our feet. The Pinnacles hut was the only house we could see and Thames and the rest of Coromandel far down at the water’s edge. Amazing and difficult to capture in a picture.
We actually wanted to eat our lunch on the platform at the top, but luck had it that we were surrounded by rain clouds, probably the first rain in weeks. The stones for the way back down were already slippery when dry, so we decided to climb down and eat lunch later. We did get a little rained on in the end, but the rain literally only lasted for the short time we were on the Pinnacles themselves and stopped again for the rest of the day. But at least we got to see the view.
Downhill walking is killing the calves
Back at the hut we ate our lunch, rested for a little longer and made our way back down. We first thought about taking the Billygoat Track as a loop, but it would’ve been quite steep and an hour longer and my legs were very tired by now, so we decided to go down the same way we came up. By the time we reached the bottom my legs were dead. As soon as we stopped for something it felt like my feet were going to explode and I was very happy when we were at the car park and I could take my shoes off.
The rest of the evening I felt quite good, surprisingly. I thought I’d knock out and sleep straight away, but my body seems to be more used to hiking in New Zealand now and actually woke up a little. We had a really nice and relaxing evening and went to bed early. I t felt so well earned!
Back into reality, back to phone reception
The next day, I struggled a little to go back to reality. Even thought it was difficult for me at first to not have phone reception, especially over New Years, I got used to it really quickly and didn’t really feel like switching my phone back on. But once I did it, it was lovely to read and answer all the messages.
Coromandel Pinnacles are definitely a walk that’s worth all the hours of going uphill. If the stairs weren’t so special, it could feel a little bit like just the average forest walk. But the adventure from the Pinnacles hut to the very top was awesome, a hike that shouldn’t be missed! And the Kauaeranga valley has a lot to offer, too. Many more walks, swimming holes and swing bridges make it a bit of an adventure playground off the beaten track.
Have you hiked the Coromandel Pinnacles walk before? How did you like it? Which other tramps in New Zealand would you suggest everyone should do?