The Pinnacles in Coromandel
The Pinnacles is is a very popular mountain in the Coromandel ranges, so popular in fact that DOC’s largest hut is located below the summit with an impressive 80 beds!
As Coromandel is so close and convenient I have never been up to the Pinnacles even though I have been wanting to go there for a long time. Last year around this time I tried to book room in the bunkhouse but it was full, it is so popular.
A week before Auckland Anniversary this year I tried again, and again the bunk house was full but this year I have a brand new tramping tent that I purchased with the Boxing Day Sales – and luckily there were still camping spaces. Thus I get to finally climb the Pinnacles and I get to try out my new tent all in one go – so it was all on.
You can walk up to the Pinnacles hut in around 3 hours via an easy path if you wish but I was not having anything to do with that. So I turned the walk into a multiple day tramp through some great but rough terrain instead.
So with my mother spending the weekend at my house with the kids, Julianne and I dashed off at 6-30am Saturday on Auckland Anniversary weekend morning. There were a number reasons for getting away so early, such as to beat the long weekend traffic, it’s a 4 – 5 hour walk to the first camp site and we wanted to ensure we got a camp site early as it’s first in, first severed for spaces.
I was hoping to be parking the car at 10-30am at the latest, and driving to Coromandel which is one of the traffic hot spots on a long weekend at 6-30am was clearly a good idea – traffic was no different than normal and leaving so early is no different than getting and going to work so not a great hardship. So I was at the DOC information centre just after it opened at 8-45am, nice and early.
So I quickly paid for tonight’s campsite, Moss Creek for only $10, had a quick look around the information centre then headed back to the car when I spied a 5 minute walk leading to a replica dam.
This valley not only contains the Pinnacles but also some interesting history, which always appeals to me as I have become a history buff after being in the UK.
There was an amazing Karuri forest throughout Coromandel which was too hard to get to in the 1800’s but by the turn of the 1900’s they were using dams to hold back water – into which the huge kauri trees were dropped, the dams released and away flushed the kauri trees to sea level where they were ferried across the harbour to Auckland.
These dams were an impressive feat of engineering all done by hand up in steep hard terrain, and the numbers - there well over a hundred alone in Coromandel. All this effort just to get to trees which had spent hundreds of years growing in peace and harmony with NZ’s impressive nature.
The replica dam was quite impressive and looked full size, and helped give an understanding on how they would have looked back in the day when looking over the ruins of the real dams which I saw over the next couple of days.
Back in the car I headed up the Kirikiri Valley for another 20 minutes to find the car park was very crowded, and I was getting worried we couldn’t find a carpark, and it was just past 9am, but Julianne spotted what looked like the last good car park. As the car is going to be on its own for several days I wanted to make sure it was safe and secure.
Julianne and I then grabbed our packs and headed off up the track.
The first 20 minutes was like walking along a high-way, not even remotely tramping like even though I was surrounded by trees, but then I left the Webb Creek track and headed up the Moss Creek Track, which was much more like a real tramp.
The first part of the Moss Creek Track was like your average NZ track, and then as always it started going up, and boy was it steep – it was almost like rock climbing with a pack on. It was not easy in places but I enjoyed it and it was only for an hour before I was at the top. I had a nice stop on the way up to have lunch with a great view down below.
Then I was walking along the top of the ridge for around 15 minutes to Moss Creek Camp site along a very muddy track. It was a surprise to see so much mud after the weather has been so nice for the last few weeks. It appears that the water pools along the top of the flat areas on the ridge and does not drain away.
The mud was so deep in places my boot got stuck several times, so it took a while to get around the edges so I didn’t keep getting stuck in the mud, which was quite time consuming.
It is amazing that this rough, steep and muddy track is so close to the Pinnacles super walking highway along the Webb Creek track.
We arrived at the Moss Creek Camp site and there was no one else around which was very nice and unexpected. First priority was to go look at the remains of the kauri damn, take my shoes off and bath my feet – what a great feeling. I was tempted to go completely under but it was so very cold, and I had another walk planned which I didn’t want to do wet. Nearby, back along the path just before the steep part of the track was a side path leading up to Mt Rowe
So after getting my feet out of the stream it was time to put up the tent up – first time in the bush and only second time ever. And it was very easy, so that was good news.
As Julianne wanted to relax on her own in the bush reading her kindle I headed off alone on the one hour walk up to the top of Mt Rowe. Following my footsteps back over the last 15 minutes of the track through the mud was a lot easier with no pack on I can tell you. I arrived at the junction and headed up to Mt Rowe.
It turns out that the path up Mt Rowe is no longer maintained by DOC, and it’s not even on Julianne’s brochure of the area. So I was a little apprehensive as I have not done any fitness training recently and I didn't want to wear myself out on the first day, but it was not too bad at all and only took 40 minutes instead of an hour; clearly I travel a lot faster with no pack on.
The whole day was spent walking in the forest with not much of a view, but suddenly at the top of Mt Rowe I could see the valley below and across to the Pinnacles, it is a great view but boy was I surprised at how far and steep and challenging the Pinnacles looked in the distance! It seemed miles away, which I suppose it was, tomorrow looks like it’s going to be a long day.
Back at the camp site I relaxed a bit before another couple turned up, which was a shame – through here we are just beside the Pinnacles which has almost 100 people, and here only a single days walk away there are only the 4 of us - quite surreal to be honest.
Tea was a great fry up, bacon, hash browns, and eggs. It may sound like a lot to take tramping but no water was required in the cooking! And it’s tastes and smells great at the end of a long day.
The following morning I felt OK and considering it’s been a while since I slept on the ground, this was a good sign but Julianne was not a happy camper and had not had a good night sleep.
It turns out the long life milk we had brought along expired several months ago – I hope it’s OK no way to replace it now.
The first several hours of walking were spent going through non-stop mud, and still quite challenging. I don’t mind a bit of mud but getting stuck was not fun.
But there was bonus in that I found a reasonably intact dam that I got to explore, I’m easily amused by historical stuff.
I don’t walk very quickly as there a number of neat things slowing me down such as watching fantails, climbing dam’s and seeing cool tree’s. It was a nice walk even with the mud hassles.
After several hours heading along the top of the valley I turned ninety degree’s to head towards the Pinnacles, which involved an hour downhill and then an hour uphill.
Lunch was in the middle of this up and down at the main river through the valley where again my boots and socks came off and straight into the water – ohh so nice.
I really wanted to get to the campsite early so we could choose a nice spot for the tent, well we arrived at 3pm and there are 5 campsite’s just below the Pinnacles hut in a place called the Dancing Camp campsite and they were all nice and fancy so it would not have mattered to be last, but we were in fact first and I nabbed a spot right outside the most complete dam which was absolutely brilliant. So the evening was spent relaxing, reading and having tea while staring at this neat piece of history after a long day tramping – heaven !
Plus the tent went up in 8 minutes, talk about quick.
The original plan was to climb up to the top of the Pinnacles today, but Julianne wanted to rest and suggested we do it tomorrow morning as the walk out will be along the busy walking highways so should be easy.
So that is what we did. The last morning was nice and quiet – unlike up at the hut with 80 people were it was busy but again poor Julianne had a bad night sleep, no more sleeping on the ground until we get blow up tramping beds it appears.
It was a quick but nice breakfast in front of the historic dam and then we headed up to the top of the Pinnacles – and you can actually get all the way to the top which was a surprise, but there is quite a bit of help with ladders and steps. I was concerned that there would be no view as there was cloud cover above us, but once we were up at the top there was a view through the gaps in the clouds and what was really nice is that there was no one else there. So Julianne and I had the whole of the Pinnacles just to ourselves for about half an hour.
I clambered around a bit getting a view in between the clouds while Julianne relaxed and then phoned my mother to see how the boys are going. Strange to be having a conversation on the phone with the family on the top of a mountain – but that’s what I did. Eventually other people joined us so we started to head down, plus there is a long walk ahead of us and then a drive back to Auckland today.
It didn’t take too long to get down to the tent, which had to be pulled down and packed up along with everything else into the packs for the walk down.
There are two routes down, a quick route called the Webb Creek track which is the main walking highway used by most people and the longer Billygoat Track, and of course I was after the Billy Goat track.
Julianne was so very right to insist we rested yesterday as the walk up to the Pinnacles was easy while we were fresh and the walk down later in the morning went very quickly to start with - plus the morning light created great photos.
The Billygoat track was steep in places and my knees began to give me trouble near the end but some very cool stuff was seen on the way down including the huge 180 metre high Billygoat Falls, the remains of an old train track used just to get Kauri trees out and the sad stump, all that remains off a huge old kauri tree. The other bonus of the longer route is that it was a lot quieter than the main pedestrian highway.
We got out about 2-30pm, a lot later than planned because of climbing the Pinnacles but it was OK, we jumped into the car and headed to the DOC centre to buy some gifts for the boys and the all-important ice cream.
I was concerned about the drive through the rush hour traffic – heading home after a long weekend from Coromandel , but as Julianne was brought up in the Bombay Hill’s she knew all the sneaky short cuts and it was not bad at all.