Hiking The Pinnacles Coromandel On New Years Day
“3… 2… 1...HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Tucked deep into my sleeping bag, I looked at my phone, half expecting it to go crazy with new years messages. But it stayed silent. I put the phone back into the little pocket on the tent wall, kissed Chris and wished each other a wonderful new year, and off we went to sleep. We had a big day ahead of us: We were going to climb the Pinnacles Coromandel!
Deep In The Kauareanga Valley
I admit I felt a little uncomfortable at first, knowing I’d be out of phone reach for two days. And not just any days, it would be the ones over New Years! I had just sent my friends a message that I’ll be off the grid for about 48 hours as we drove deeper into the Kauaeranga Valley and my reception died.
It’s not like we were somewhere without any tourists or people. Said valley lies on the Coromandel Peninsula, which is most famous for its Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, but has so much more to offer.
An unimposing right turn at the entrance to Thames (coming from Auckland) leads you onto a gravel road and straight to the Kauaeranga Visitor Centre, where you can get all sorts of information about the campgrounds, walks and hikes in the valley.
Kauaeranga Valley Camping
Kauaeranga Valley camping has are eight DOC campsites, all for slightly different purposes. Some are directly on the Kauaeranga River, which makes them perfect for swimming, while other campsites have mountain bike trails or tramping and walking routes starting from theirs. They all have a stream nearby, however, since the streams are the only source of running water. Visitors to the Kauaeranga Valley Camp have to bring their own drinking water, depending on the number of nights. if they don’t want to boil the water for drinking. Should you run out of water, you can either boil the water from the streams or you can always go to the visitor centre, as they have the only filtered water in the valley. Depending on where your campground is located, it can be up to 8km per way.
The DOC camping must be pre-booked online, but you won’t need to decide on a campground before arriving. You just drive past the sites and decide on the one you like the most. For us, this was Wainora, deep in the valley but not quite at the road’s end (which is where the Pinnacles walk starts). We were lucky and found a nice spot in a corner and even had a picnic table for ourselves.
Fancy Dinner For New Year’s Eve
Since this was the last day of the year, we wanted our dinner to be a tad fancier than our usual pasta and sauce or steak and salad. So I suggested a Swiss version of the Asian hot pot dish. This yummy meal’s ingredients are small cut meat strips (beef, chicken and/or pork) and small veggie pieces, dipped in boiling broth and eaten with delicious sauces and rice on the side. It sounds very fancy but at the same time, it’s easy to cook on a gas stove. Fondue Chinoise is a popular meal for Christmas or New Years in Switzerland because it’s a very social meal (you have to wait for your meat to cook and meanwhile chat and drink a lot of wine). Plus it hardly needs any preparation and the cooking happens on the table.
It was SO! VERY! GOOD!
After dinner, we chatted for a while and decided to open our bottle of bubbly hours before midnight, since we wanted to be fit and get up early for the big hike on New Years Day.
Having the alarm going off at 6 am on the first day of the year is definitely something I’ve never done so far. Back in the day, this might have been the time I arrived home from a big New Years party. But I was looking forward to our giant 8-hour tramp, the longest I have ever walked so far. And just before 8 am, we were off!
Hiking The Pinnacles Coromandel
The first few kilometres on the Pinnacles hike seem to be just a regular walking path you find everywhere in New Zealand. A wide path, gravel, some ups, some downs and a pretty cool hanging bridge, one many along the way.
Not much later, though, we got confused because the path seemed to be closed and we weren’t sure if crossing the (dry) river really is what they wanted us to do. But there were so many orange markers hanging on the trees we decided it must be the right way. So we crossed the river and a landslide that seems to have come down a while ago as the Department of Conservation even built some stairs in it.
From here on, it was almost all uphills.
Some History Of The Pinnacles Walk
It’s an easy way in terms of finding your path as it mostly consists of stone stairs. The stairs were built about 100 years ago when people logged the area of its giant Kauri trees. The trees were extremely popular for building ships and houses. So popular the loggers build stone steps for their pack horses to get to the logging camps with supplies.
Signs along the way tell us the story of the loggers and how the Pinnacles’ unusual plug shapes came to be. Very long ago, this area was a volcano. The pinnacle rocks solidified and stood upright as the volcano around them slowly eroded.
Keep Going Up
The humidity was high that day and even though it was cool under the leafy canopy of the Coromandel Forest Park I sweated as if I’ve just been taking a shower. I only realised later, on the way down, how high and steep those steps are and that I shouldn’t have been surprised at the amount of sweat that came out of my body. But going up, I haven’t really noticed the height of the stairs. Up was up and I had two walking poles helping me climb. I even quite enjoyed the unusual stairs. Usually, the DOC puts wooden stairs everywhere. Which is great for both walkers and nature but often makes the walk feel less natural.
We came to our first short food stop a few meters above Hydro Camp, which is about 2 hours after the start and around ¾ of the way to the Pinnacles Hut. It was then I first realised that my legs are getting a little tired. But we made it up to the hut alright and took another quick rest on the Pinnacle Hut’s big deck to summon our strength for the last bit, up to the Pinnacles lookout at the summit.
A Challenging, But Very Cool Climb To The Top
The lookout sits on 750 meters above sea level and from the hut, it’s approximately 150 to 200 meters in height we have to climb. On a path that was only 850 meters long.
Which means that most of the way up would be close to vertical!
At first, it’s the usual wooden stairs, but lots of them. Then, after those were behind us, the actual adventure started. Next, we had to climb two metal ladders and later on metal hooks that are attached in the rocks and we had to hold on to roots along the way to pull ourselves up. It all sounds very adventurous. There’s no chance of going the wrong way and fall, though. And it isn’t exposed, so it felt a lot safer than if the same path didn’t have bush around us. Chris and I are both afraid of heights (as long as we’re not attached to something safe) and we made it up and down the Pinnacles track easily. The legs were a bit wobbly at times, but no problem in the end.
On Top Of Coromandel Peninsula
The view at the top and also all along the way up is breathtaking! We felt like the king of the castle with the whole Kauaeranga Valley beneath us, Coromandel Forest Park and even the ocean in the distance to our feet. The Pinnacles hut was the only house we could see and Thames and the rest of Coromandel far down at the water’s edge. It felt amazing and was incredibly hard to get the feeling on a picture.
We had planned to eat our lunch on the platform at the top, but luck had it that we were surrounded by rain clouds closing in on us, probably the first rain in weeks. What a timing. The rocks on the way back down to the hut were slippery when dry, so we decided to climb down and eat lunch later.
We did get a little rained on in the end, but the rain literally only lasted for the short time we were on the Pinnacles summit itself and once we got to the hut it stopped again for the rest of the day. But at least we got to enjoy the view before we got rained on.
A Steep Descent
Back at the hut we ate our lunch, rested for a little longer and made our way back down to the starting point. We first thought about taking the Billy Goat Track to walk a loop, but it would’ve been steep and take an hour longer. My legs were very tired by now, so we decided to descend the same way we came up. By the time we reached the valley my legs were dead. As soon as we stopped walking for a while, my feet felt like they were going to explode and I was extremely happy when we reached the car park and I could take my shoes off.
The rest of the evening I felt quite good, surprisingly. I thought I’d knock out straight away, but my body seemed to be used to hiking more than I expected and I even woke up a little. We had a really nice and relaxing evening and went to bed early. It felt so well earned!
Pinnacles Coromandel Verdict
The Coromandel Pinnacles are definitely a walk that’s worth all the hours of going uphill. If the stairs weren’t so special, it might at first feel a little like an average forest walk. But the adventure from the Pinnacles hut to the very top was awesome, a hike that shouldn’t be missed! And the Kauaeranga Valley has a lot to offer, too. Many more walks, swimming holes and swing bridges make it a bit of an adventure playground off the beaten track.
Pinnacles Walk FAQ
Pinnacles Walk: How to get there?
The Pinnacles Walk Coromandel is located deep in the Kauaeranga Valley, which can be accessed from Thames. From Auckland, it takes about two hours to reach the end of the valley, where the car park is located and the walk starts.
When is the best time to go?
The Pinnacles walk is a year-round walk. Bear in mind, though, that the Kauaeranga Valley is wild and when it’s been raining, a lot of water will shoot down Kauaeranga River, often flooding the valley. Always check the DOC website for recent alerts.
How Hard Is The Pinnacles Walk?
It’s easy in terms of finding your way. However, the ascent from the start to the summit is just over 500 metres, mostly over high steps and stairs. Good fitness is required and your legs will get a workout.
How long does it take to walk the Pinnacles and how far is it?
If you do ascent and descent in one day, it will take you about 8 hours return. It’s about 7km from the starting point to the summit, which will make a 14km return.
Can you stay at the Pinnacles Hut?
Yes. The hut sleeps 80 people and you need to make a booking on the Department of Conservation website. The Pinnacles Hut is the most popular DOC hut in New Zealand and often fully booked. Please note you’ll have to bring your own bedding, food, water and cooking utensils.
What to bring for the Pinnacles Walk
Wear sturdy walking shoes or even better hiking shoes. Walking poles can help to take some weight off your feet, which is especially helpful on the way downhills. Hiking clothes (no jeans), several layers and a jacket against rain and wind. A backpack with plenty of drinking water, lunch and other walking snacks (ie nuts, chocolate, banana). Always useful: sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
Have you hiked the Coromandel Pinnacles walk before? How did you like it? Which other tramps in New Zealand would you suggest everyone should do?