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March 2016 Issue
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Ridge over the river Wai(kato)

A short diversion near the end of the track leads to this cascade. Photo: Alistair Hall
Hakarimata Scenic Reserve
Total Ascent
Northern access is from Parker Road, north of Ngaruawahia, while the southern access is from Hakarimata Road, to the south
Hakarimata Walkway, Hakarimata Scenic Reserve

I first planned to tramp the length of the Hakarimata Range a number of years ago. I called around trying to determine the condition of the track and was warned it was rough as guts, hardly maintained, full of windfall and muddy as hell.

Although somewhat deterred, the biggest impediment to that foray was not the state of the track, but the length of road between track ends: some 12km. No taxis operate out of Ngaruawahia, so I would have to try my luck hitching. In the end, I put it in the ‘too hard’ basket.

That was before the once neglected Hakarimata Walkway joined the Te Araroa Trail. These days, it’s a far cry from the rough reputation it once had, though the distance between track ends has not decreased.

Fortunately, I had a willing partner so we parked a vehicle at the southern end and drove our second car to the northern end to begin the walk.

Though the range has a high point of just 374m, the way to the range top is via lengthy stretches of steps, regardless of which end you start at – many hundreds thousands of them all told. It’s relentless and not entirely enjoyable.

We ignored the turn-off to the Kauri Loop Trail, a decision we later regretted when we realised we had missed the one opportunity of the walk to view any kauri.

About 40 minutes in, we came to an area that provided views north to the giant chimney stacks of Huntly power station and the meandering Waikato River.

This viewing area also marked the end of the steps. From here on, the walkway reverted to a tramping track. And what a wonderful track it is.

The brown, leaf-littered path cuts a thin line through the greenery, and tree roots made the perfect substitution for handmade steps. It was ‘watch where you’re going or go for a trip’ territory. It was fun.

We bounded along the track, occasionally finding a view through the bush, but mostly totally enveloped in its cool shade. Tui flittered through the trees, calling out a warning, and and at least one kereru thwumped its way overhead. Birdlife in general was not particularly vibrant, but it was better than most everywhere else within spitting distance of Auckland and not encircled by a predator-proof fence. You don’t need a symphony of bird song, but hearing and sighting a handful of birds adds to the experience of any track and that’s what we got.

The range undulates between 300m and 374m for most of its length. At Hakarimata, the 374m highpoint, is a tall viewing platform which provides views in all directions, the best being back along the range, from whence you came, and to the east over Ngaruawahia and beyond. The Waikato River, looking divinely swimmable in the blazing sunshine, drew our eye through the heat haze to Hamilton.

From the viewing tower, the trail heads down, so steeply in places it became apparent we had tackled the walkway from the correct direction – heading north and having to climb these steep sections would be much tougher.

Then we hit the southern steps, speeding the descent to the base of the range.

Just before emerging near the road and the Hakarimata Rail Trail, which would take us back to our car, a short side track led to a wonderful cascade where shaded pools invite swimmers and water tumbles through a gorge which can be easily  climbed. It’s a highlight of the walk and worth the very short diversion.

We walked the short distance along the Hakarimata Rail Trail to our vehicle, from where we drove north to collect the second car, covering in minutes what had taken us several hours on foot.

Logistics and steps aside, the Hakarimata Walkway is one of the best tramping tracks near Auckland.