The Hihikiwi Track is a bite-sized section of Te Araroa Trail in Waikato’s Pirongia Forest Park. It leads to a dramatic lookout and the 20-bunk Pahautea Hut. By Meg Drive
From the car park, it is an immediate ascent up wooden steps through the bush. Soon the man-made steps become natural steps of rock, root and mud as the trail continues the gradual and continuous upward journey. Even in late January, there were sections of expansive mud, knee-deep in some places. In winter or wetter conditions, allow extra time to navigate the muddy sections.
As the track begins to settle into the undulating ridgeline, there are north and westward glimpses to Kawhia Harbour and Mt Karioi and you’ll find a weather-beaten wooden sign indicating a lookout, which is a good spot for a snack and a photo. Don’t be fooled, though, this is not the Hiwikiwi Lookout and it’s less than halfway to the hut.
The trail meanders through the forest and walkers may spot blue mushrooms. Legend has it that kōkako owes the colour of it’s wattle to this mushroom, thus the fungi’s other name: werewere-kōkako. Endemic to New Zealand, they are also known by their scientific name Entoloma hochstetteri and are found on the New Zealand $50 note. Though the werewere-kōkako are not magic mushrooms, they do give a magical fairy-like quality to the trail.
After about two hours of rather technical, muddy uphill the boardwalk viewing platform at Hihikiwi Lookout (905m) is reached. The weather on Pirongia can change quickly. What might be clear skies in the morning can become view-obliterating clouds in no time and strong winds at the lookout are not uncommon.
The next section of the trail to Pahautea Hut includes 800m of boardwalk nestled into the shelter of the bush and that can be safely and easily navigated in the most dire conditions. It makes a welcome change after the often muddy climb.
Cloud and mist can often be found blanketing Pahautea Hut, helping to keep its occupants warm despite the hut not having a fire. When the clouds dissipate, the view directly to the south shows the peak of Hihikiwi with the pale rails of the boardwalk visible as white stripes along the ridge.
The summit of Pirongia is 800m farther down the track in the opposite direction of the Hihikiwi Track. Continue along the sometimes steep track before reaching an elevated viewing platform at the top where, on a clear day, views extend to the Central Plateau and Taranaki Mounga.
- Total Ascent
- Car park to Hihikiwi Lookout, 3-4hr; To Pahautea Hut, 15-20min; To Pirongia, 30min
- Pahautea Hut ($5, 20 bunks)
- Pirongia West Road