On our third and final day in Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula, we decided to undertake the hike that everyone was talking about — the 12 kilometer, vertically-focused walk to the Pinnacles. Located in the Kauaeranga River Valley, which is home to many, many other walks, the Pinnacles hike is one of New Zealand’s most popular overnight tramping trips. We, however, decided to attempt the entire thing in one day. While not an uncommon decision, the pressure was somewhat intense as it was still early spring, and the light faded earlier in the evening. Since the last part of the walk involved navigating a stone staircase, we were warned not to attempt to complete it in the dark.
Somehow, we managed to start walking around 11 AM, which meant we had just enough time to finish the estimated 7-8 hour tramp before night fell. The walk is divided into 3 distinct sections: the car park to Hydro Camp (1.5-2 hours), Hydro Camp to the Pinnacles Hut (1 hour), and Pinnacles Hut to the Pinnacles (40 minutes one way). Unfortunately for my hiking ego, the most difficult part of the walk for me was, unquestionably, the first part. A large chunk of the trail from the car park to Hydro Camp is comprised of a massive stone staircase with large, steep steps. I’m definitely on the shorter side, I was still getting used to my boots, and, furthermore, several of the rocks were slippery because of recent rains and the proximity of the Kauaeranga River, which you actually cross a handful of times. I’m genuinely surprised that the first section of the walk isn’t considered the most difficult.
Suffice it to say that we were very happy when we finally saw the sign for Hydro Camp. It wasn’t until after we passed through Hydro Camp and started up the ridge toward the Pinnacles Hut that the really spectacular views started.
Luckily, the track from Hydro Camp to the Pinnacles Hut was much flatter. Along the way, we passed a helicopter bringing supplies to the ranger living at the Hut — I think the rangers live there for a minimum of a week at a time. The Pinnacles Hut is where trampers who are on the 2-day schedule stay overnight before completing the final section of the walk in the early morning. The Pinnacles are supposedly at their best during the sunrise, and while I don’t doubt it, we weren’t keen on “double paying” for an Airbnb room plus two bunks in the Hut. So, onward to the Pinnacles we went!
Although the final 40-minute walk from the Pinnacles Hut to the Pinnacles themselves is steep, it is comprehensively lined with a wooden staircase that is easy to navigate, as you can see in the pictures above. Looking upwards, you can see impressive stone formations soaring into the sky. In the image below, you can just make out one of the long metal ladders you have to climb to reach the top of the rocks.
Looking to the left, you can see all the way across the Kauaeranga valley to the South Pacific Ocean. That oceanside town is either Pauanui or Tairua, I’m not sure which.
Right at the top of the wooden staircase, just before you start climbing up the metal ladders, you see the Pinnacles themselves in all their glory.
The “official” top, though, is a few more metal ladders, individual hand grips, and large boulders ahead. After sweating like crazy on the first two parts of the walk, it was impossible to imagine we’d eventually need windbreakers, but we did! After all, you gain 759 meters walking from the Hut to the summit of the Pinnacles alone.
The apex of the trail is marked by a small wooden viewing platform. You can’t actually see directly behind you because of the rocks, but the views to the north, south, and west are spectacular.
Once on the platform, we turned around and looked down at the valley we had just passed through. Despite having hiked it not an hour before, we couldn’t tell how the trail wound its way through the peaks and valleys. It’s always like that, though!
The Pinnacles Hut looked tiny from the platform! You can also see the track winding its way down the side of the hill.
We spent about 10 minutes there taking photos from every conceivable angle until the storage space in my phone was exhausted. Despite the breaktaking views, it was soon time to turn around. After all, we were nervous about having enough time to comple the return journey before it got dark.
And so, back down the wooden staircase we went.
We passed through the Pinnacles Hut again, where we drank from buckets filled with rainwater using our invaluable Life Straw (disclaimer: Amazon affiliate link). We stopped again to refuel with dried mango and granola bars at the Hydro Camp. And then, finally, we made it, not without a few stumbles, back down the stone staircase, catching glimpses of the early sunset through the trees.
Our official walk time was 6 hours, 30 minutes, of which we were very proud. Drenched in sweat, with aching feet, smelly boots, and a few more freckles to mark the occasion, we tumbled back into our car and drove back to Thames, where, miraculously, we managed to arrive just before nightfall.
The next day, gutted that we had missed low tide at Hot Water Beach while staying in Whitianga, we turned around and drove back up the Coromandel Peninsula to Tairua. There, we stayed in a little bach (a.k.a., beach house) for two nights. It was really lovely to have the place all to ourselves for a couple of days!
Hot Water Beach is as awesome as it sounds — geysers beneath the sand bubble to the surface, expelling boiling hot water. People flock to the beach during low tide and dig pools in the sand to create natural hot tubs. We stayed there for a solid 3 hours, basking in the sun, soaking in the hot water, and enjoying the cool early spring breeze that blew across the beach. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures — I was enjoying myself too much! But I’ve borrowed this photo from Auckland Adventures to show you what it looked like:
Needless to say, the hot water was a welcome relief for our sore muscles. After another night in the little bach (pronounced “batch”) house, we drove 2 hours to the small city of Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty. But that’s another day, and another blog post.
Photo credits: 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16 by G. Hot Water Beach by Auckland Adventures. Remainder by me.