We started 2016 on a very high note, campervaning around south island with good friends visiting from Thailand. We planned to keep that high – and I mean literally – as we were hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and possibly climb Mt Ngauruhoe, more popularly known as Mount Doom! It is an active volcano which you can climb as part of the 19.4k and 800m ascent Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is famous for being the greatest one day hike in New Zealand and all four of us were going to do it on January 16th.
As part of the training, we decided to go to our local favourite – Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and do a 3-4 hour hike with steep climbing involved. We had been here before to visit the infamous black sand Piha Beach and I remember being in awe at seeing such stunning seascape fringed with native coastal forests. It was one of the first bushwalks we had done when we arrived in New Zealand 10 months ago.
Waitakere Ranges Regional Parkland is situated just one hours drive away from Auckland on the west coast. It covers more than 16,000 hectares of native forest and coastline. The park has 250km of walking and tramping tracks, some amazing beaches, stunning views, waterfalls and cliffs. It was so hard to choose which walk to do! The one we really want to do one day is the Hilary Track, named after Sir Edmund Hilary, and is a 4 days self guided track through the west coastline of Auckland. But I think we have to build up to that, not sure if kids are ready for 4 day hike yet – they are 8 and 10!
There were some lovely shorter hikes with waterfalls that you can swim at, but we needed something longer so we chose the Montana Heritage Trail – 8 km long, 4 hour tramp, very steep most of the way, with some original Kauri forest, tranquil lake, lot of history and described as a very dramatic hike with awesome views.
The day was really hot and sunny so we were happy that we were in the shaded forest. We saw many different plant species, our favourite are the giant ferns, but the Kauris were so majestic, they are aptly known as the soft giants of the forest. We saw several species of birds – Tuis, fantails, kererū (wooded pigeons) – to name a few and heard the calls of several other species.
The hike was as steep as the website had promised, the first 5k was all uphill! Only at times we could tell how high we were when we would catch a glimpse of the countryside below through gaps in the forest. There were steps along the way, but lots of it was just meandering paths going uphill. Most of the track was signposted well, but you had to know the four main junctions to take the right turn so that we would make our way back to the car park.
We stopped for lunch – we had packed sandwiches, fruits and cereal bars – and thankfully had brought lots of water. The kids carried their own backpacks as part of the training for Tongariro crossing. They were doing really well, despite the extra load and the steep climbing. The promised candy every 2k they hiked helped to motivate them further 🙂 At the last 2k of the hike, we caught a glimpse of the lake through the forest vista. It looked really tranquil and blue. There was a dam further head and we read that the water stored here, along with four others, are the main supply for all of Auckland. There was a sign saying that the water was so clean, they had to treat it very little, so please don’t pee in it!
We saw the oldest Kauri in the forest – 800 years old. The Kauri tree are suffering serious damage throughout New Zealand as they are suffering from ‘Kauri Dieback’ it is a deadly kauri disease caused by Phytophthora agathidicida and it is specific to New Zealand Kauri tree. Nearly all infected kauri will die and in the past 10 years, kauri dieback has killed thousands of kauri around the country. There are somethings people can do to minimize spreading the disease. You can make sure you really clean your shoes and gear of all soil before entering the forest. At various points throughout the trail, there were stations to clean your shoes. You can also stay on the track and not step on the roots. Just after we saw the oldest Kauri, there was an opening in the forest and lo and behold, we were out of the forest! Tired and happy, we felt confident now that the kids could take on the big hike next week 🙂
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