Blog Tuesday 3/11
Pinnacles and Billygoat walk.
We woke bright and early to birdsong in our stream-side camp.
Another excellent 3 course breakfast and then we drove the 100 yds to the Kauaeranga visitor centre and met Mr Kiwi. This lovely man was one of the two rangers running the information centre. He had a long pointy nose, bright enthusiastic eyes behind thick glasses and dark mousy hair combed back off his face to his collar.
He was full of helpful advice and clearly knew the whole area like the back of his hand. He could see no reason why we shouldn't walk the 2 day 'Pinnacles and Billy Goat Basin' tramp in one day and estimated about 8 hours for the circuit. He pointed out which bridge was closed and where to ford (!) the rivers. All set, picnic packed, we set off. First of all we had to drive another 14 km up the gravel road to the road head car park. Although there were a few cars, we saw very few people.
The walk was very pretty, close to the river, through the trees and the air was full of squeaks, whistles, whoops, warbles and squawks. All invisible.
After walking in perfect solitude for about half an hour we heard voices and caught up duty a swarm of 32 primary school children clambering up the hill accompanied by their friendly teachers. We chatted for a while as the children became more and more red faced and breathless and paused to rest. The teachers yelled at them to let 'the hikers pass by' and so despite also being red faced and breathless we said our farewells and strode energetically past (before stopping behind the next tree to draw breath!)
The path was steep and rocky but easy walking and we made good progress, putting the world to rights as we went.
We arrived at our halfway up point - Hydro camp - ahead of schedule, girded the river and headed in up to the Pinnacles Hut.
This is an amazing place. Built about 20 years ago, it is NZ's largest and most used mountain hut, frequently accommodating up to 100 people on a Saturday night in two 40 bed dormitories and a few tents. All this information was from the resident warden, Pete (and his dog, Maddie) who run the place. We ate our savoury muffins in the sunny balcony admiring the view, the kauri and remu trees and the lovely little black and white North Island Tomtit that was flirting about the garden.
The sign board said that it would take 50 minutes to reach Pinnacles from here. Mr Kiwi had said 30 minutes, and he was right.
We set off up a steep slope that became a flight of wooden steps, which then became much steeper. Then there were a couple of ladders and finally a series of steel rungs drilled into the rocks to facilitate the last scramble to the top. From the viewing platform at 759 metres, we could look out over the forest and over other volcanic plugs. Just in case that you, like me, did not know what a volcanic plug is.... When a volcano ceases to be active, the lave inside cools and becomes solid. Over time the volcano itself s rice away and only the central plug remains. Some table top mountains are formed in a similar way, when a lava lake in the middle of a volcanic crater soldifies.
From the viewing platform we scrambled up a bit further, under some tree roots and over some rocks, to a higher spot from where we could see distant views in the other direction. We perched on the rocky ledge and ate the rest of our lunch before commencing our descent.
We scrambled back down the rocks, ladders, steps to the hut and then down to hydro camp. From here the signs indicated a 2 hour route to retrace our steps home or 3 hours via the Billygoat Track. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon so we continued with our plan to take the longer route.
It was slightly disconcerting that our chosen path for descent started out by going steadily uphill for nearly an hour... We checked our leaflet... Soon there would be a knoll and a view.... Nope! Just trees and ferns! We pressed on and eventually the path flattened out and passed along the side of the mountain before turning into a slippery orange clay slide. We slithered down clutching at branches for support and eventually came to a section of old logging tramline where the gradient was 1:2.7 - pretty steep! Eventually we passed Billy goat falls, forded the river as instructed, and made our way back to the van. The route took almost exactly 8 hours walking, as predicted. A good days tramping.
We were pretty worn out, but were soon reinvigorated by a mug of tea in the sunshine, surrounded by birdsong. It was just before 7pm, so we decided to make a move to our next camp site, in preparation for our next journey north to Coromandel.
We headed just north of Thames to one of the Freedom campsites, provided by the council.
This was a spectacular choice - essentially an area of grass under some Pohutukawa trees on a headland directly overlooking a sand and pebble beach and with a great sunset view. It was really windy outside so despite an initial plan for a beach walk, in the end we simply lay on our tummies in the back of the bus, with a glass of wine, looking out to sea. We watched towering shags and listened to the oystercatchers as the the sun slowly dropped below the horizon.
Finally it was time for Nicoise salad, hot showers and bed.