I’m paused, transfixed by movement on a rocky outcrop in the distance. Peering past my companions’ backpacks, I spot a goat making its way down a rock face, pausing to nibble at some grass or weeds as it goes. The creature is moving far more elegantly than I can ever hope to, expertly navigating the steep incline with sure-footedness and an almost irritating level of confidence.
We’re about ten minutes away from The Pinnacles, an eroded volcanic cone in the Coromandel on New Zealand’s north island. Hiking to The Pinnacles along the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail is often done in a day, but we (five work friends based in Auckland) decided to break up the trip by staying overnight at a DOC campsite. We were hoping to catch the sunrise and sunset and admire the much-hyped 360 degree views of the Coromandel Peninsula and beyond.
Sadly, those views eluded us. Shortly after we spotted the goat, clouds rolled in and completely obscured the surroundings below. Despite this, the hike was pretty darn incredible, so here’s everything you need to know if you’d like to do it yourself!
What is the Kauaeranga Valley Trail?
The hike (or tramp, as Kiwis would call it) up to The Pinnacles is known as the Kauaeranga Valley Trail. It’ll take most people who walk at an average pace around 2-3 hours to ascend through the Kauaeranga Valley up to the top for a glimpse of The Pinnacles themselves. This part of the walk is mainly through forest, with several river crossings (though there are flood detours and bridges you can take instead).
It’s an uphill climb most of the way, and while you’ll get a few breaks on flatter ground, these won’t last for long before you’ll turn a corner to face yet another steep incline! Our group were all active young females in our twenties but we were definitely puffing. Though this was probably due to the fact we were carrying larger packs with our sleeping bags, tents, food and other camping gear. You’ll have it much easier if you’re doing the whole trail in one day.
What you’ll see along the Kauaeranga Valley Trail
We took the Webb Creek Track in both directions, though there are different routes to take if you have more time on your hands. The Webb Creek Track begins at the carpark and takes you across the Kauaeranga River along a packhorse route that was used in the 1920s. The Coromandel experienced a logging boom in the late 19th century, and there are plenty of reminders of this history – from tramway clearings to old kauri dams. If you’re knowledgeable about New Zealand’s flora and fauna, there’s also a lot to see (and hear) along the route.
After around two and a half hours, you’ll start following a ridge and will get some gorgeous views of the Kauaeranga Valley and the east coast of the Coromandel as the forest opens out. The Pinnacles themselves finally come into view and not long after that you’ll reach the 80-bed Pinnacles Hut. Stop here for a rest or to stay the night – though book early if you want to do that, as the beds fill up fast, particularly on weekends. We stayed at the Dancing Camp campsite five minutes further along the track.
Of course, the hike isn’t complete without taking the additional side trip up to The Pinnacles themselves. If you’re heading out for sunset or sunrise, give yourself a good 45 minutes to get up there, as a lot of other people will have the same idea and it can get a bit crowded. If it’s overcast you’re not likely to see anything, but there are still some great views that make it a worthwhile trip. As I mentioned, we lucked out as clouds began to sweep across just before sunset, and when we woke up at 5.30am the next morning to catch the sunrise it was also cloudy.
But the ascent is great fun! There are (a lot) more stairs, so brace yourself for that, but once you get past those you’ll get to feel like a kid again climbing up ladders and over boulders to reach the very top. Although we missed seeing the sweeping views, the cloud actually gave the climb an eerie, mystical feel that made for some great pictures – so don’t think it’s a total waste of time if there’s not a totally clear view from the lookout platform.
How to get to The Pinnacles:
The Pinnacles are just over two hours’ drive from Auckland. Follow the SH25 towards Thames and take the turnoff down Kauaeranga Valley Road. After about 14kms you’ll pass the visitor centre, and the actual hike itself begins 9kms further down at the very end of the unsealed road.
Important information for hiking The Pinnacles
Supplies: You can stock up on food, water and other necessities at the Pak ‘n Save in Thames.
Accommodation: The DOC campsite at Dancing Camp costs $5 per person per night and needs to be booked in advance. They don’t allow freedom camping, so make sure you have a booking as the warden will come by to check your names.
The DOC Pinnacles Hut costs $15 per person per night. It’s equipped with gas stoves, running water, mattresses, a solid fuel heater, BBQ and solar-powered lighting. This gets booked out quickly over weekends, particularly Saturday nights, so book ahead of time to ensure you get a bed.
There are also accommodation options in Thames if you’re doing the hike over one day, and as the hike is only a two hour drive from Auckland it’s also doable if you’re basing yourself in the capital for the night.