Pinnacles Hut to Whitianga

Pinnacles Hut, empty

We left the hut with a sense of unease. It seemed like we’d done something wrong and we felt a little unclean.

Writing a note to the hut warden

This feeling was compounded by leaving through the metaphorical servant’s entrance…the ‘back’ route to the tourist mecca that is The Pinnacles on a track called Rangihau. Again the track was listed as closed due to severe damage. Again signs advised us that we were in for a long difficult walk (totalling seven hours). Again we were doubtful of the “facts” the sign offered us.

We left under a cloud…in both senses of the word. It was a gloomy start to the day as we dropped down the slippery clay track. The signs had told us we’d take two hours to the first junction and we weren’t far off so thought we’d finally left the daywalker-safe sign regime. The next sign told us trampers would take another five hours to get to the track head.

As I said, the track had been slippery – it was also boggy on the flat and very rooty. The convoluted map we had seemed to be a good match for the sign-posted time.

Old root staircase

Half an hour later we came out of the bush and onto some very unexpected and unusual scrub that had a 4WD track slicing through it. Someone had scrawled ‘2 hours to roadend’ on an orange track marker.

Storm damage, Rangihau Stream

Leaving the Pinnacles

Rangihau stream damage

It seemed like we weren’t the only ones who doubted the signs. Eventually we made the whole trek out from the hut in four hours.

None of this really matters of course, but it was really good for our egos. ‘We caned it in almost half the time! We’re legends! Woo-hoo!’

Leaving Pinnacles Hut in the cloud

Without being that extravagant, all I’d say is that if you’re thinking of taking a day walk to The Pinnacles, consider taking the servant’s entrance – it’s a speedy option that isn’t without effort.

As for the severe, track-closing damage that the safety tape and warning signs at the roadend advertised…yes…the bridge was out at the bottom of the track…but the obviously flood prone river was perfectly crossable.

Rangihau track closed

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s all very well managing the expectations of unprepared daywalkers, but collateral management of experienced trampers is possibly unnecessary.

If the damage we witnessed was worthy of widespread track closures in the Pinnacles area, every Forest Park tramping track we’ve walked over on this trip should be fenced off.


Smiley face.

Once we left the track the real work began. We planned to walk 18 kilometres to the turnoff of a road called the 309 before hitching into Whitianga for the night. We had plenty of time until we got interrupted by a random act of kindness.

‘Come in for a cup of tea!’ Called the farmer as we walked past his gate.

We obliged without a second thought and were soon sitting down with David, Anne and their dog Bruno, enjoying a fair bit more than a simple cup of tea.

Orange juice and ice!
Vogels toast and cheese!
A huge bag of Feijoas!
Some really good conversation!

David, Anne, Bruno and traps

Anne, David and possibly even Bruno are involved in quite an extensive predator control project on nearby private land called the Kapowai Kiwi Group. David is also deeply involved in a Coromandel-wide (or should that be long) project, that’s starting to ramp up, called Coromandel Predator Free 2050. A project that is aiming to bring all of the Coromandel’s key predator control groups under one umbrella organisation because there’s strength in numbers and major efficiencies to be had.

You’d think that the larger community would be behind such an honourable goal as clearing a peninsula of kiwi killers but there are other agendas at work in the area. The proposal to install a predator proof fence received some serious community opposition. These fortress sanctuaries are particularly effective on peninsulas like the Coromandel.

The difficult geography and dense sub-tropical bush make trapping entire swathes of the area impossible but with the limitations of current trapping technology toxins like the always controversial 1080 are almost inevitable if complete predator eradication is going to be achieved.

The difficult conversation that will need to be had about cats makes my head spin just contemplating it.

The organisation has its work cut out for it, but someone has got to do it. We’ve been shocked by the poor state of bird populations as we’ve walked the Island’s Forest Parks. We have more concentrated activity in our suburban Palmerston North garden than most of the places we’ve walked.

Fortunately people like David and Anne are out there trying to make a difference. After loading up the Feijoas we got back on the road. It was going to be touch and go as to whether we could make our destination by nightfall, but we gave it a good go.

The main road from Whangamata to Whitianga is pretty laid back in the late afternoon. There was a slight rush hour pulse after four then we almost had the road to ourselves until nightfall. Fine if you’re walking, but as the last rays of sun dropped behind the hills and we arrived at the turn-off to the 309, we realised that hitching was going to be a problem.

Except that Tas pulled up in his car almost as soon as we put our thumbs out. Yusss!

We were soon in Whitianga sorting out a backpackers and buying a delicious but over-the-top feed of greasy fish and chips.



Postscript: we took the next day off and soaked up the beachside atmosphere. Whitianga is a bit of a tourist/holiday home town, but we arrived just after the school holidays. The weather was perfect; we explored and swam in its golden bays.

We really liked the geography and were surprised at our ignorance of the place’s history. Kupe landed there and Captain Cook came to record the Transit of Mercury. It seemed amazing that two of the world’s greatest navigators had coincided at the same place and we’d never known of the link.

It’s also where Cook effectively declared that Kupe’s ancestors no longer had sovereignty over Aotearoa, a name for New Zealand that originated in the same area. On November 15, 1769 The Captain and his cobbers hoisted a flag and claimed the place for some guy called George 3.

Aren’t flags amazing?

It was a great place for a couple of walkers to hang out. If low tide hadn’t been at dusk we would’ve hired bikes and ridden to nearby Hahei and its hot water beach for a dig and a soak.

We will definitely be back.