Volcanic views on Kakepuku
Winding around the forested flanks of an extinct volcano to a formidable pā site, the highlight of the Kakepuku Track is the views that extend all the way to Mt Ruapehu.
Kakepuku forms a 449m symmetrical lump (the name translates as ‘swollen stomach’) in the Waikato just south-east of Pirongia and is part of a volcanic field that includes Pirongia and Mt Karioi near Raglan.
The Kakepuku Track takes about two hours, climbing to the summit of the volcano where a large lookout tower has been built atop the remains of a pā.
The walk is also part of Te Ara Wai (The Path of Memories), a free self-guided tour through culturally significant sites in the Waipa District. A four-part audio tour is available for the track which explains the mountain’s history and cultural and environmental significance. It adds an enticing dimension to this day walk.
From the car park, the track starts through farmland and gradually climbs into regenerating bush. Soon the bush thickens with large ponga trees forming a canopy over the track.
After about 45 minutes the track steepens, climbing a number of stairs and enters a dense forest with more mature trees.
After about an hour, the carved entrance to the pā site is reached. Here, a boardwalk begins, forming a loop up to the summit, climbing the terraced embankments of the pā. At the top is a large lookout tower with views of Pirongia to the north-west and Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu to the south-east. A number of information panels describe the history of the pā and Kakepuku’s volcanic origins.
The pā, called Hikurangi Pā Tirohia, once encompassed over 4000m2 and was never conquered in battle. A panel on the lookout platform shows an artist’s impression of what the pā might have looked like.
Kakepuku is part of the Alexandra Volcanic Group, a chain of seven volcanoes that stretches 65km from Karioi to Waikeria, south of Te Awamutu, and was formed between 1.6 and 2.7 million years ago.
Significant efforts have been made to bring the birds back to Kakepuku. A group called the Kakepuku Mountain Conservation Project has been trapping 198ha around the mountain since 1995 and North Island robin and karearea have since been reintroduced – I saw about a dozen fantail flitting among the ponga trees in one part of the track.