Hidden behind Thames it’s around 16km to the start of it, up an ever narrowing road which follows the Kauaeranga river, up the Kauaeranga valley. The Kauaeranga Valley itself has numerous short walks and at least 4 camping spots for those who wish to tent in the bush for a night or two. The Department of Conservation office is a well built structure situated several kilometers before the end of the road (and start of the track). You should pick up your hut pass here before carrying on (and you can get the weather report from the hut near the top). Also, check if any school groups are up there. Driving to the end of the road, there are several parking areas to leave the car. Whilst security is pretty good (DOC close the road at night) there have been instances of break ins of vehicles – not a lot, but try not to leave anything valuable behind.
Pinnacles Track follows the old pack horse trails from the car-park, over the river and up the valley to the Pinnacles hut. A fit person can get to the hut in over 2 hours. If you aren’t in a hurry, 3½ to 4 hours is plenty of time. The track was used in the good old days to bring supplies up to the millers and tree fellers, who cleared out hundreds of acres of kauri trees in the valleys. In the late 1990’s, the track (which had become a bit scungy) was upgraded, and rebuilt, close to what it looked like at the start of the century. The result is spectacular . . . stone steps, wide enough for packhorses, dominate most of the track, crossing the river three times as it rises steeply to logging / power camp at the ‘near’ top. I warn you now – the stone stairs are great to look at but hard on the legs – and they take an hour to do. Here are some loose timeframes anyway.
From the car park to the first junction takes around 20 – 30 min. From here the track undulates a little, then rises steeply to the first swing-bridge. If the water level is low, you can just cross over the rocks…use common sense naturally. From the first swing-bridge, the stone stairs come into play – it will take 1–1½ hrs to leave them and get to the logging camp. It's not all stairs, but they are what you’ll remember most. You’ll cross two other swing-bridges (from the last swing-bridge, it's about 20 min to logging camp)
The logging camp was also used as a base for the power company to helicopter huge power lines in that feed from Thames to Tairua etc. It’s a good place to stop and rest, have some food and appreciate how high up you’ve come. There’s a long-drop hidden in the trees at the Northern end, if needed.
From the logging camp, it’s an undulating walk of between 30 min to an hour to the Pinnacles hut. Good views.
The Pinnacles themselves
Once at the hut, you can leave your pack and climb the Pinnacles proper.
Whilst not dangerous, it isn’t for the faint hearted. It’ll only take 45 minutes to get to the top, but you go up some steep rock faces, and several ladders before negotiating a large boulder, to get to the narrow ledge at the top. From the top, you can see both sides of the Coromandel – Tairua / Pauanui on one side, The firth of Thames and Hauraki Plains on the other. The view is breathtaking.
If you are doing a daytrip, from the Pinnacles to the hut to the carpark would be about 3 – 4 hours.
I’d recommend you do an overnighter and stay in the hut. The following day you could either go back down the stairs, or go down via the Billy Goat Trail. More on that in a minute.
The Pinnacles Hut
This has to be the most AWESOME hut I have ever seen. The old hut (which was damp and yuk), is now the warden's house. The new hut, which cost several hundred thousand dollars, is immaculate (for huts anyway). It has:
- 80 bunks (split into two bunkrooms)
- 3 chemical long-drops (no smell, no spiders)
- A cold shower (note the word cold)
- A gas Kitchen (and a BBQ but you should ask DOC at Kauaeranga Valley if it's still there before taking rackloads of steak up)
- And – wait for it – it has a solar powered lighting system. Yep…when it gets dark, you can press a button and the lights stay on for twenty minutes (then you press the button again of course)…saves on torches in the bunkroom, though you’ll still need them for midnight trips to the toilet.
It’s all decked, so once you're there, no muddy boots needed to get to kitchen, toilet wherever.
If you are lucky, the warden (on weekends usually) can get the generator out at night and give a 1 hour slide presentation in the kitchen, showing photos of the history of Thames and the Kauaeranga valley.
Price: $15 – $17 per night (call DOC to find out), but well worth it, even without the slide show.
Billy Goat Trail
So you stayed the night, admired the views, used the gas kitchen and relieved yourself in mighty comfort. Time to go, and there are two ways back to the carpark.
- Follow the stairs back down again (2 hrs).
- Follow the Billy Goat Trail (3 hrs).
The Billy Goat Trail starts at the logging camp – instead of going right and heading for the stairs, you go sharp left after the stream (north-west), walk past the power company hut and follow the trail. This trail undulates again as it winds around the sides of the hills and there are some steep climbs but eventually it peaks and you can stop by an almost hidden information post and have a breather and admire the view.
The Billy Goat Trail used to have an old wooden bridged railway running from the top of the valley to the bottom. At about the ¾ mark (1½ hrs), there is a small marked diversion (trail) which can show you the remains of the main rail logging bridge. Alas, the bridge was blown up by army engineers thirty years ago when it was deemed unsafe, so there’s not much to see, but since your there you may as well look.
The trail becomes a gentle walk around the side of some more valleys (with remnants of train tracks and piles sitting about)…then the last half an hour will test the calf muscles…a step descent down to the valley floor. There are actually 2 ways down…Unless you know bushcraft, just follow the trail. It's wide and easy to follow (and steep). 30 minutes later you’ll cross the river and it’s a couple of hundred metres walk back up the road to the road-end (go right if you have just crossed the bridge / river), to the carpark.
The Stairs / Billy Goat trail can be used as a circular tramp. Some of the running clubs use it for training so don’t be surprised to see scantily clad anorexics charging around the place in their Nikes. They’re well behaved and will generally fall off a track rather than run you over.