Kauaeranga, NZ

Hiking: 12.6 mi / 3657 ft. climbing
Home: Totara Flat DOC Campsite

We have a big hike today, so we were up at 6am, to a relatively-dry but chilly (40F) dawn. The last couple nights my bike has been under tree cover, while Rett’s has been more out in the open, and it’s been crazy to see how hers gets soaked in condensation at nightfall, while mine stays basically dry. This is camping knowledge I feel like I should have mastered long before now, but better late then never?

I moved the bikes deep into the bush behind our tent and locked them to each other (the same bush where I stepped in presumably-human shit last night, which took forever to clean up and still left my sandal smelling like shit), and we were walking to the trailhead by 8:10am. I also had noticed one of my water bottles had gone missing; there surely aren’t water bottle thieves sneaking around while we sleep, so my only guess was that it had somehow fallen out on a short scouting ride I did after arriving in camp yesterday afternoon. No luck spotting it in the quarter-mile walk up the road to the trailhead though.

We decided to immediately bite off the maximum amount for us to chew, taking the longer, rougher Billy Goat Track on the way up, saving the “standard” Webb Creek Track for our more-exhausted return. When a hike begins by making you take off your socks and shoes so you can ford a river, and then takes you up a muddy, root-tangled cliff to escape the riverbank, it’s immediately letting you know that it means business.

Standing in the middle of the Kauaeranga River at 8:20 in the morning.
Cold enough to be wearing my down jacket, but not cold enough to be keeping me out of a river? (©Rett)

From there it was up, up, up, and then down a bit, up some more, down again, and back up. Some parts had rough stone steps (literally hundreds of them) from the kauri-logging days, but many sections had us finding our own rocks to lever ourselves up from the slick clay-mud, or out of the deep channels gouged into the middle of the trail. The slippery clay is why we didn’t want to do the Billy Goat Track in the downward direction.

The stairs to Cirith Ungol?
I knew the hike ended at a viewing platform high on one of the Pinnacles, and I initially thought this was our first view of it, but no, that’s just a rock cantilevered out there somehow.
More steps of the Billy Goat Hauler Incline.
The climbing has brought us to some views.

Five miles in the Webb Creek and Billy Goat tracks merged into the Pinnacles Track, and at six-and-a-half miles we made it to the Pinnacles Hut, and lunch. Like the “hut” we stopped in when we hiked the Routeburn Track, it was an impressive building built here far from any roads, and we used its toilets, sinks, and sheltered picnic tables while surrounded by young-adult kauri trees.

To that point, the hike had been good, but probably not a reasonable return for the difficultly. But that changed instantly after the hut, and not just because the trail quality changed from expert-level to nearly-wheelchair-accessible (how/why it becomes more-accessible at the top of the hike was confusing, and the opposite of every other hike I’ve done). Finally the “pinnacles” came into spectacular view, and as we ascended, the seemingly-drier, shorter forest presented those views continuously.

A Pac-Man ghost, some giant’s big toe, or the world’s largest plant?
A young kauri in front of the pinnacles we’ll soon be at the top of.
It’s hard to believe that it’s only ~600 feet from here to the top, which is nothing compared to the 2000+ feet we’ve already climbed.
Even though they have about the same overall steepness as the rock steps we ascended on the Billy Goat Track, the regularity of these modern stairs mean they require only half the effort to ascend the same elevation.

We started this adventure on the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, rode about 8 miles inland (as the crow flies), and hiked ourselves 3 miles further eastward. Thus at the top we’re now closer to the east side of the 20-mile wide peninsula than the west side, and can now see the ocean to the east better than we can see the bay to the west. Specifically cool is spotting a double-peaked distant hill, Paku which we hiked to the top of a week ago as we rode up the east coast! Even better, I already took the reverse of the below photo from atop Paku Hill, showing the very pinnacles we’re standing atop right now, even though I had no idea we’d be hiking them (or that they were even hikeable) when I took the first photo.

Paku Hill, the distant double-peak at the top-center of the photo, as seen from a higher summit 9 miles away.
NotRett, because we didn’t have the energy-budget to spare for such extras!
From the top, the trail and stairs that brought us here are visible snaking their way down to the Pinnacles Hut. The Green Thumb/Toe’s oddness (in the upper-left) is even more-notable in this wide-angle shot.
Rett atop the Pinnacles.
Another pinnacle, not so easy to climb atop.
Ok, now she’s truly atop the Pinnacles! (or at last at maximum not-risking-death height).

Maybe the wide flat trail, and the nicely-constructed stairs starting from the Hut were just to let us gain some recovery before the final assault nearly straight-up. Even with the iron ladder-steps installed into the rocks in places, it was a higher degree-of-difficulty than most hikes we’ve ever done. But we made it to the top! And Rett even followed me up to the top-top, a boulder-scramble higher than the official viewing platform, that opens the window to the south, giving the true 360-degree summit view.

Iron ladder steps, definitely make an impossible climb possible, but still not easy!
Rett hands-and-butting it down a nearly-vertical channel of boulders.
One of the two proper ladders that obviously helped a whole lot.
The Pinnacles, sawing at the sky.
Working our way back down from the Pinnacles.

Now fully feeling like the destination was worth the effort, we began the even-more-challenging descent. We were lucky to make it through the vertical section without any major slips or falls, and then started flying down the constructed stairs back to the hut. We completed our backtrack and then began with new territory at the Webb Track. It was definitely easier than the Billy Goat, but the still-super-steep descent down rough, tall steps and rocks made it overall perhaps the most technically-challenging hike we’ve ever done. We began encountering a lot of kids with their parents going up (clearly overnighting at the hut), so it’s doable by all ages, but putting a night of rest in the middle surely helps (we saw only a handful of people on our ascent of the Billy Goat Track).

Nearing the end, an easier river-crossing than our initial one.
Some huge possibly-kauri stumps in this logged area.

As we descended further into the canyon, the late-season lighting was getting seriously dim, even though sunset was technically still a couple hours away. We finished at the main car park, different from where we started, and were so tired that we considered asking other finishing hikers if they’d give us a half-mile ride back down the road to our tent.

But then I remembered, I also came to this car park yesterday on my bike and I’m supposed to look for my missing water bottle along the road as we walked back. And just as I thought that, there it was, standing on a post! (where another hiker had clearly put it for visibility.) Thank you actively-helpful hiker, and all the passively-helpful ones too, who refrained from making off with a super-dirty bottle filled with who-knows-what. Even better, I knew it was still full of good clean water, something really useful to us since we’d drained the four bottles we were carrying! It’s almost as if I planned it that way… Thus we ended just walking the rest of the way, allowing us to claim a fully-unassisted circuit. At 7 hours 42 minutes from start to finish, we barely beat DOC’s 7-8 hour estimate, so it was definitely an all-day effort!

We had been wise enough to bring the simplest-possible dinner (short of dehydrated backpacker meals): heat-up Indian packets + rice. Another guy at the campground who we’d seen along the trail asked if we’d seen his girlfriend, who was ahead of him. When she didn’t turn up, he took the bike off the camper to look for her, but then somehow when he was gone, she appeared (having actually been behind him the whole time), so she had to take another bike and find him now! I guess I should be glad that for the time when I didn’t know whether Rett was ahead-of or behind me (and similarly had no cellular reception), it wasn’t at the end of an exhausting hike! I bet they figured it was all worth it too though.

The moon seems equally full and bright tonight as it did last night.
A silver fern, lit only by moonlight (which is sort of the traditional/mythical way for them to be lit). I intentionally set up this photo, and as I was out near the campsite driveway, I kept thinking the campervan behind me was turning on their headlights, and no, dumbass, that’s just the super-bright moon!


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2 responses to “Kauaeranga, NZ”

  1. Moritz Avatar

    Amazing pictures!! You had even better weather than we had 😃👍🏽

    Anna & Moritz

    1. neil Avatar

      On the ride in the day before, I told Rett that you guys had done the hike, and so we should look for your “mark” at the top like we saw at Haast. But then we forgot to look. 🙁 I just looked back at your photos, and it’s funny how many of them I duplicated! (e.g., we both showed the same set of iron ladder rungs) Just another example of us following your lead, I suppose!

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