Hiking plans dashed again. The weather just doesn’t seem to hold much promise some days. That being said, during my 3 hour drive from Auckland to Coromandel, I did figure out an alternative.
My original grand idea was to hike The Pinnacles, a mountain smack dab in the middle of the Coromandel Peninsula. It’s peak gives a commanding view of both sides of the peninsula as well as everything else around. It’s supposed to be a great hike (6-7 hour return), tough but doable. But I knew when I awoke in Auckland that I wouldn’t be doing that climb today – nothing but clouds, rain and mist. I was *not* about to hike yet another peak without getting to see anything from the top! Instead, I opted for a detour to the Karangahake Gorge – and I was glad I did.
The Gorge had numerous walking options and I opted for two 90 minute loops – which turned out to be pretty conservative time wise. I did the Windows Walk/Crown Tramway track, and the Old Railway Tunnel circuit. To get to the other side and the start of the loops, I had to cross a pretty neat suspension bridge.
This is the variety of bridge that sways and bounces just by you looking at it. In other words, lots of fun! And yes, I did jump up and down on it in the middle of the span.
The majority of the tracks followed the 100 year old rail tracks. This area was mined heavily for gold in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and much of the place was completely cleared of vegetation. It has since grown back nicely.
The tracks would weave in and out of the nearby hillsides. In many of the hills the workers blasted windows, where they could then toss any further stones out of. Now a days, it just gives great views of the rest of the area and gorge.
Walking through the tunnels in this part was interesting – it was pitch black in areas. I had brought my flashlight as the signs had warned, and was glad I did. I reached the bridge shown in the previous picture and started my loop back to the starting area.
After getting back to the parking area, I then headed off on my second circuit – the Railway Tunnel loop. After 20 minutes of hiking I got to the entrance of the main tunnel.
It was such an interesting walk for this next part. It was dead straight and level, and cut completely through the hill side. It was just over 1km long of non-stop tunnel. Even right at the entrance you could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The height of the tunnel was surprising – about 3 meters or so. And the light at the far end was deceptive, it looked a lot closer than 1007 meters away. While the exterior temperatures had been pleasantly warm, if damp, the temperature in this tunnel dropped quickly. There were also several small rivers that had formed inside – the tunnel was over 100 years old now and cracks had formed in spots, allowing small streams of water in. Sound reverberated and travelled really well under all that rock, and just when I got to the end of the tunnel a couple of people had gotten a minute or two into the tunnel at the other end – I knew that because I could hear their voices quite well. All in all, a really cool walk.
After returning to the car and having a stimulating lunch of banana, granola bar and my remaining Whittaker’s stash, I headed up the coastline. It was a dramatic drive, to say the least.
For the first half the road followed the coast completely, winding it’s way back and forth between the bays and cliffs. The speed limit for some reason was 100km/hr. I don’t think I hit that for a combined time longer than about 10 seconds. I think the speed limit exists as a dare, since I can’t imagine a sane person maintaining that speed for much of the drive. My average speed was probably 50-60km/hr, and even that felt FAST. It was 2 hands on the wheel, full attention driving the entire time, with often a sharp drop off to the ocean on my left hand side.
Then I moved inland for the 2nd half. And oddly enough, the roads got even more wiggly, with the combined challenge of now ascending/descending hills! Pretty exhilerating drive to say the least. I took a rest stop at the peak of one hill and got oogled by some cows.
Just to the left was this For Sale sign. Not too shabby looking area.
After that, I finally made my way into Coromandel Township. A sleepy little town to say the least, I was glad to have only stayed one night – there was pretty much nothing to do but get drunk there. Which I and 4 other hostel-friends did, by economically all picking up a bottle of wine for $9NZ and polishing them off off. Classy bunch we were. My sleep would have been peaceful after all that wine if it weren’t for two people across the dorm getting rather friendly. Ah hostel life. Either way, the next morning I hopped in my car and headed eastward to the other side of the peninsula and the town of Whitianga – only this time I wasn’t alone.