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May 2021 Issue

There are dozens of ‘pinnacles’ in the New Zealand backcountry, but these five are especially worthwhile to visit.

Not surprisingly, New Zealand’s mountains and coastlines are full of features with names like crag, bluff, precipice, buttress, spire or pinnacle.

Search ‘pinnacle’ on online maps and locations pop up for most regions of the country, from Northland to Southland and also including the Chatham Islands. Marlborough has no fewer than five peaks with ‘Pinnacle’ in the name, ranging in height from 1233m to 2720m. Others are remote and obscure, like The Pinnacle (1365m) in the Paparoa Range, or Dizzy Pinnacle (1838m), a glaciated peak above the West Coast’s Okuru Valley, or Retreat Pinnacles, on the edge of Otago’s Olivine Ice Plateau.

The five featured here are more accessible to those trampers with some scrambling skills and all are worth visiting.

1. Pinnacles Hut and The Pinnacles, Coromandel Forest Park

At 773m, Coromandel’s Pinnacles may not be high but they make a worthy summit with enough exposure to ensure an exciting tramp. To reach them, tramp the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail to Pinnacles Hut (booking required), where the route to The Pinnacles begins. The approach rises gently until the terrain steepens, then several ladders aid upward progress to reach the top where grand views over the Coromandel Peninsula can be enjoyed. Allow 1-2 days.

2. Broken Axe Pinnacles, Tararua Forest Park

The Broken Axe Pinnacles earned their name from a broken Māori adze found nearby by Harry Holmes late in the 19th century. Situated between the peaks of McGregor and South King, the pinnacles are most directly accessed via the Atiwhakatu Track and Jumbo Hut, where a poled route leads to the summit of Pukeahurangi/Jumbo. From there, an unmarked route leads over Angle Knob and McGregor towards the Broken Axe Pinnacles (1425m).
Traversing the pinnacles requires a good head for heights, although an easier sidle route is possible. Hardy trampers might like to exit down the upper gorges of the Atiwhakatu River. Allow 2-3 days, with a stay at Jumbo Hut or McGregor Biv.

3. Pinnacle, Leatham Conservation Area

This pyramid-shaped mountain (2120m) rises steeply above the Leatham Valley and is best climbed from Boulder Forks Hut. The easiest approach is via a steep spur south of McCallum Stream, which leads directly to the summit. Panoramic views include much of mountainous Marlborough and the nearby mountains of Nelson Lakes. With appropriate scrambling experience, trampers can descend into Krushen Stream and then tramp back to the hut along Boulder Stream. Allow one long 10-12hr day from the hut, best done in summer. Winter ascents will require mountaineering experience and equipment.

4. Pinnacles Hut, Hakatere Conservation Park

Pinnacles Hut on the Mt Somers Circuit takes its name from the volcanic cliffs on the northern slopes of Mt Somers. Popular with rock climbers, these pinnacles rise above the comfortable 19-bunk hut (bookings required), which is reached on a 3-4hr tramp from Sharplin Falls Reserve. Alternatively, hike from Jig Road via Woolshed Creek Hut (allow 5-6hr).

5. Pinnacle Bivouac, West Coast

Pinnacle Biv occupies a pleasant basin beside Crinkle Top, high above the Kokatahi Valley. The two-bunk bivouac takes its name from a nearby 1508m summit. It’s reached on a demanding two or three-day tramp up the Kokatahi Valley to Boo Boo Hut, then up a steep 600m route to the bushline. Members of Permolat West Coast maintain the route.