This walk is a treasure for families; it provides a good level of challenge, without being excessive in terms of time and length. By Matthew Liddicoat
The central Bay of Plenty is an adventure-seekers’ playground and climbing the gem-coloured jewel in this crown makes for the perfect family-friendly outdoor experience.
Just south of Rotorua, Maunga Kākaramea and the Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve is a popular stop for those seeking both short and longer walks and it is common for cars to scatter the large car park located directly across from the idyllic Lake Ngāhewa.
The summit track begins by gently meandering through regenerating native vegetation. The initial section is shared with Te Ara Ahi (a 66km section of the Nga Haerenga/New Zealand Cycle Trail). After approximately 15 minutes of easy walking, a sidetrack leading to a viewing platform overlooking two emerald-coloured crater lakes is reached. These are shadowed by the multi-coloured rock face from which the mountain takes its name.
After another 15 minutes, the track reaches a junction, where, veering to the left, it ascends moderately towards the summit. This section of the track is shared with the Te Tihi O Ruru mountain bike track (Grade 4-advanced track, uphill only). Snaking in and out of native vegetation and exposed clearings steaming from geothermal activity, the walk can have a spiritual feel, especially when low cloud is clinging to the peak.
This relatively wide part of the track is on an exposed clay surface with ruts in places and can be slippery. The track passes multiple picturesque lookouts along the climb to the top. The final 20 minutes is steep with the track popping out onto the 4WD road roughly 50m from the 743m summit. Walkers must watch for 4WDs which also use this dual-purpose road.
After a short time on the gravelled road, walkers follow signs to the left for a short and steep final ascent to the summit where there are a fire watchtower and radio antenna. If it’s a clear day, there will be magical views of Mt Tarawera, Lake Rotomahana, Paeroa Range, Te Urewera Ranges and Kaimanawa Forest.
Take care on the same track descending as it can be unpredictable under foot depending on weather conditions.