Christmas in the Coromandel

image011After spending Christmas Day with the family, and Boxing Day with thousands of intoxicated young people at the Pirongia races, Sandra and I set off for 8 days in the Coromandel. In general, the weather was glorious, and we lay around at beaches working on our tans, but we did pack our tramping boots, and put them to good use on a day walk, and a 2 day tramp.

By the 28th we had ended up at Stony Bay, at the end of the road on the eastern side of the peninsula. There is an excellent DOC campsite, one of many such places in the Coromandel. For your $9, you get (generally) a lovely setting, toilets and cold showers. As suggested by the name, the beach is covered with rocks, but the swimming was pretty good. We woke on the 29th to a grey and drizzly day, but warm. We were off to Fletcher Bay, which is the end of the road on the western side of the peninsula. We were promised a 7 hour return walk via a loop track. The first half was easy walking along a flat, well benched track though bush with occasional views of the Hauraki Gulf. After a couple of hours we emerged from the bush to clearing skies, and great views north towards Great Barrier Island. At the halfway point, we headed up the hill to 540m ASL following a fenceline, it was a bit of a slog, but well worth it for the views. It seems most people take the bush track both ways, as we didn’t see a soul on this half of the walk. Was a bit breezy at the top, but that just made me feel at home! The walk back down to Stony Bay was an easy hour down a 4WD track. We were relieved that it had not been a hotter day as there was no water at all on the upper section, and not much on the lower section either.

After a day recovering at Waikawau Bay… we had planned to go to the Kauaeranga Valley, and walk to Pinnacles Hut via Moss Creek campsite, but the DOC officer advised us against this due to the 5 hours of walking including 2 hours of swamp from Moss Creek to Pinnacles Hut. He suggested that we go against the normal flow of walkers to Pinnacles Hut, and camp at Billy Goat Basin on New Years Eve, then walk to Pinnacles Hut and the Pinnacles the next day. It was a warm afternoon as we climbed up through the bush, but we were at our campsite in a couple of hours. The landscape is spectacular, steep bush clad hills, with dramatic rock outcrops. We were delighted to have the campsite to ourselves, it was a simple affair, just a flat cleared patch with an ancient long drop. DOC had provided toilet paper though, so we did get something for our $5. After a delicious meal of porterhouse steak, quinone and courgettes, we settled down to a quiet New Years Eve watching the clouds scud across in front of the nearly full moon. As Darryl Kerrigan would say ‘How’s the serenity?’.

We woke (well to be correct Sandra woke me up) at about 5.40 to listen to the dawn chorus. Even though it was bloody early, it was a great way to start 2010. Due to our early rising, we were on the trail by 9 am, and soon began passing some of the people who had spent NYE at 80 bunk Pinnacles Hut. The track undulated to Hydro Camp, where we hid our packs and took our lunch and some water for the walk to the Pinnacles. By now the day had cleared to a glorious blue sky, but with a cooling breeze. After about an hour we arrived at Pinnacles Hut, where we had a quick snack before setting off for the Pinnacles themselves. After about 10 minutes walk you arrive at a series of hundreds of steps to take you up to the start of the real climbing. The top of the Pinnacles is at 759m ASL, about 150m above the hut. After the steps, there are a couple of steel ladders built into the rock, then a series of rungs drilled into the rock. It is pretty straight-forward, but if you were acrophobic, it would be daunting. A viewing platform has been built at the top, giving great views north towards Whitianga, but you can easily clamber up another few metres to get 360 degrees views, south towards Whangamata, and west to the Hauraki Plains. It would be great to have seen this area with the old growth kauris still in it, but they were chopped down and taken away over a century ago. Progress?
We descend back to the hut, and ate our lunch with only one other person in the hut. Pinnacles Hut is impressive, the bunk rooms seems quite spacious, and they have cold showers and solar lighting. But it is hardly a back-country experience…

By now, we were ready to return to civilisation, and we made our way quickly to Hydro Camp, grabbed our packs, then sped off down the hill. Very hot now, and we are relieved to find a cool clear stream at the bottom of the hill. On the way up the hill are tonight’s Pinnacles Hut residents, and they are battling the heat and large packs. Soon we are on the valley floor, and in no time we are back at the car, which I have very cleverly left in the shade. We make our way back to Thames and find a motel to stay at. Hot showers, fish and chips, beer, and a real bed. There is lots of good walking and camping in the Kauaeranga Valley, definitely worth a look if you are up this way.

Barry Brickell’s Driving Creek Railway, neat Coromandel town is also a must see, but make sure you ring ahead and book!

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