Home / Articles / The Life List

Go with the flow – North Island

Image of the January 2018 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
January 2018 Issue

Cool off this summer on a walk where water is the drawcard

Beach hopping

Orokawa and Homunga Bay, Orokawa Scenic Reserve, Bay of Plenty  

North of Waihi Beach, a track follows the coast, winding through regenerating bush to two magical bays which are as close to perfect as you can get.

Crystal-clear water rushes to a wide sweep of sand fringed with ancient pohutukawa trees – ideal shade on a hot day. Orokawa Bay is first and from here a side track from the beach leads to the 28m William Wright Falls (30min return).

Between the beaches, the track winds over bush-clad bluffs and rocky cliffs with superb ocean views along the coast and out to White Island. At Homunga Bay, small streams drop from a steep bluff onto the beach, creating an ideal shower to rinse off after a swim.

The track passes two pa sites. Neither pa is named or has any signage, so keep an eye out for them. This coast was devastated by Ngapuhi raids during the Musket Wars, when the population either fled ahead of the invaders or bravely defended their homes, only to be taken captive or killed. By the time of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, few Maori remained on the Coromandel Peninsula.

The surf can be rough here and there are occasional stingrays in the shallow waters.

While most do the return trip to Orokawa Bay, the coastal stretch to Homunga Bay is far more attractive and with fewer people. From the northern end, it is a steep walk to the bay from where the track follows the coast back to Waihi Beach – a pleasant two-hour walk (4hr return).

Access From the north end of Waihi Beach (Homunga Bay can also be reached via the Ngatitangata Road end) Grade Easy-moderate Time Waihi Beach to Orokawa Bay, 45min; to Homunga Bay, 2hr.

– Peter Janssen

A hot spring haven

Kaitoke Hot Springs, Great Barrier Island

Kaitoke Hot Springs is a pool of hot water in a fork of the Kaitoke Stream. Maori often used the springs, but Europeans first frequented the steaming pools in the 1860s.

The Kaitoke Hot Springs Track is wide and even, though after five minutes you will have to cross a shallow stream. The track undulates gently to the fork in the river by the hot springs, where there is also a picnic bench.

The water can reach 84℃, but is usually a more agreeable temperature. A concealed fault line in the region allows deep-circulating groundwater to rise through the overlying rock to re-emerge in the forested enclave.

Industrious locals have constructed a ring of river rocks around one pool, beneath the languid fronds of overhanging ferns. The silted base allows for a comfortable mattress and well-placed rocks form ‘pillows’.

To avoid the danger of contracting amoebic meningitis, keep your head above water.

Access From Whangaparapara Road Grade Easy Time 2hr return.

Marios Gavalas

Crossing the bridge over Wairere Stream. Photo: iriana88w / 123RF

Waikato power

Wairere Falls, Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park, Bay of Plenty

Set in attractive native bush, these spectacular 153m falls drop in two stages over the Okauia Fault. The Wairere Falls Track follows the stream, and the bush here is particularly attractive, with water trickling down moss and fern covered rock faces that in places resemble a Japanese garden. The stream shows clearly the power of running, or rushing, water, with huge boulders littering this small valley, some the size of a small car.

It’s a steady uphill grade until a long flight of steps, just before the viewing platform. From here, the top of the falls is a further 45 minutes up steep flights of steps where there is another viewing platform. The view from here is spectacular and covers the entire Hauraki Plains and the distant peaks of Maungatautari and Maungakawa.

Access From the end of Goodwin Road, off the Te Aroha–Okauia Road Grade Easy Time 1.5hr return.

– PJ

Delightful travel down the Oroua River to reach Iron Gates Gorge. Photo: Warren Wheeler

Exhilarating view

Iron Gates Gorge, Manawatu

This classic summer day trip is suitable for adventurous beginners keen to explore a scenic stretch of the lower Oroua River, in Ruahine Forest Park.

A poled route leads through farmland to a gate at the park boundary. Interpretive signs provide insight into the logging days. Stoat traps along the track provide a more modern environmental message.

The track crosses an arched footbridge and the old road continues for another 20 minutes to Alice Nash Memorial Lodge, high above the river. From here, it is about an hour along the ups and downs of the sidle track, with occasional views of the river below, before the track joins the river and heads downstream. A swimming hole here makes a fun diversion and a good lunch stop.

Travel down the river is delightful, with lots of easy crossings and at least one pool, which can be bypassed over a rocky outcrop on the true left bank. After reaching the Oroua Campsite, it is about 45 minutes downriver to the gorge. A large rock protruding into the rushing water provides an exhilarating spot to view the calmer waters of the gorge itself. Walkers can then cross over a little upstream to the Stoat Trappers Track and climb back up to the main track and out to the car park.

Access From the end of Pedersons Road, off Table Flat Road Grade Easy-moderate Time 3hr.

– Warren Wheeler


Lake Tutira in autumn colours. Photo: Shelie evans

Overwhelming serenity

Lake Tutira Walkway Long Loop, Hawke’s Bay

Lake Tutira captures your attention with its picturesque beauty and overwhelming serenity. Whether glanced from SH2 or admired from atop one of the surrounding escarpments, the still waters and forested shore blend in an inviting combination.

In 1882, William Herbert Guthrie-Smith bought the land. As well as his farming duties, Guthrie-Smith was a keen naturalist, talented wildlife photographer, avid botanist and author. In 1921 he published his opus magna, Tutira: The story of a New Zealand Sheep Station. This included a detailed description of the changes in vegetation due to sheep farming, landscape change, flooding, earthquakes and habitat destruction.

The work is now seen as a classic in environmental history, one of the finest and most complete examinations of the minutiae of a particular location. It was far ahead of its time in terms of its attitudes towards conservation and environmentalism.

A network of tracks explore the surrounds and lake edge, imparting many different moods with the changing light and seasons. Some tracks are closed for lambing in August and September.

The Long Loop is marked with poles and crosses farmland for almost its entire length. The high point is Table Mountain Trig (487m). The open pastures afford distant views in all directions including, on clear days, the Hawke’s Bay coast, from Mahia Peninsula to Cape Kidnappers.

Access From SH2 south of Tutira Grade Easy Time 3hr 45min.

– MG 

The distant White Cliffs viewed from near Elephant Rock. Photo: Peter Laurenson

Unrivalled cliff formations

Whitecliffs Walkway, White Cliffs and Mount Messenger Conservation Area, Taranaki

This untamed coast is testimony to the relationship between land and sea, an arrangement that can sculpt dramatic landforms.

Unrivalled cliff formations border the coastal section of this walk and mesmerise the senses with the colours, textures and patterns.

Cross the stile and head up a private farm track for 45 minutes. On reaching a grassy plateau surrounded by vegetation-encrusted papa cliffs, it is a little more tricky to spot the next stiles. Look to head left to the low point in the ridge below Mt Davidson (286m). Entering White Cliffs Conservation Area, the final drop into the basin of the Wai Pingao Stream is aided by hundreds of wooden steps. Turn left and follow the stream for 30 minutes to the beach. This track can be wet and muddy. Turn left again and follow the beach below White Cliffs for an hour to return to Pukearuhe Road.

The White Cliffs tell a geological story with their colourful banded strata and rockery of boulders strewn at their base. The mudstone was deposited at the mouth of a river and settled in distinct layers. During stormy episodes, when the massive volume of water hurtling down the river contained sufficient energy to move boulders, these too were transported to the river mouth where, on meeting the sea, the energy dissipated and the boulders settled.

When a showery westerly buffets this coast, the cliffs become smothered in a light sheen. Breaks in the clouds allow sunlight to penetrate and illuminate the cliffs into a rainbow of vibrant colours.

The beach section at the base of the White Cliffs is only negotiable two hours either side of low tide. The walkway is closed for lambing between the July 1 and September 30.

Access from Pukearuhe Road end Grade Easy Time 4hr return.

– MG

The upper Pencarrow Lighthouse was built in 1859. Photo: Dubh/Creative Commons

A Wellington icon

Pencarrow Lighthouse, Pencarrow Head, Wellington

New Zealand’s first lighthouse was constructed after more than 100 ships were wrecked on the coast. It has views of Wellington Harbour and south to Mt Tapuae-O-Uenuku (2885m) and the Inland Kaikoura Range.

In the nascent colony, the Government could not impose ‘Light Dues’ on shipping to raise the revenue for coastal lights. Cook Strait was pivotal to the whole navigational system of New Zealand, for ships travelling both within the country and on to Australia and Cape Horn. By 1845, there had been 102 wrecks. Some form of coastal navigation aid was becoming urgent.

It was decided that a light was needed on Pencarrow Head and a three-sided pyramid was constructed in 1842. It blew down after the first heavy storm and was replaced in 1849 by a shed. The seaward-facing window had a lamp placed at the window. Predictably, this proved totally inadequate, but it was another 10 years before the Pencarrow Light commenced operation. The lighthouse was the first in New Zealand and operated from January 1, 1859. It was superseded in 1906 by the lower Pencarrow Lighthouse, which still operates today.

From Eastbourne, follow Muritai Road to the end at Burdans Gate. Take the wide metalled road below steep, gorse-covered hills and occasional gullies of ngaio to just below Pencarrow Head. A signpost marks the steep track to the old lighthouse.

Access From Muritai Road Grade Easy Time 3hr return.

– MG

Tired of the hitting the slopes? Waitonga Falls is a short walk from the road. Photo: Max Webby

Ski field diversion

Waitonga Falls, Tongariro National Park

Every year thousands of people drive Ohakune Mountain Road to Turoa Ski Field unaware they are passing two beautiful sights just a short walk from the road.

There is a car park at around the 14km mark. From here, climb some steps to reach the first part of the track. Then it’s fairly easy – the trail is part of the Round the Mountain Track and is well maintained.

It takes about 20 minutes to reach the boardwalked section around Rotokawa. On a calm day, the lake can show a stunning reflection of Mt Ruapehu. There’s a seat here and the temptation to rest and soak up the magnificent view is impossible to resist.

After descending some steps and near where the track splits to lead to Blyth Hut, you can view the 39m Waitonga Falls, but it’s worth wandering up the stream to gain a better vantage.

Access Car park 14km along Ohakune Mountain Road Grade Easy Time 40min each way.

– Max Webby

At Tarawera Falls, the water bursts from the rock face. Photo: Dominic Scott

An explosive past

Tarawera Falls Track, Lake Tarawera Scenic Reserve

The Tarawera Falls flow from a hole in a rhyolite bluff and tumble over huge boulders at the base, leaving a white veil in its wake.

The curious architecture of the falls stems from the cracks and fissures in the huge block of rhyolite lava ejected by Mt Tarawera around 11,000 years ago. These weaknesses in the rock capture the course of the river, approximately 30m behind the cliff face, and weave an underground network of watercourses that re-materialise through the hole in the cliff.

The track is wide, metalled and suitable for wheelchairs with assistance. It climbs gently to a lookout below the falls. For a longer walk, you can continue to the Lake Tarawera Outlet and further to Humphries Bay. This makes the outing a full day trip.

To reach the waterfall, you must first obtain a vehicle permit from Kawerau i-SITE Visitor Information Centre (infocentre@kaweraudc.govt.nz).

The gate entering the private forestry land is open between the hours of dawn and dusk, but may be closed due to logging operations or high fire risk. A map and directions will be given once you’ve secured the permit.

Access Directions available with permit Grade Easy Time 30 minutes return; Humphries Bay return, 9hr.

– MG