Hiking to the Pinnacles hut with kids

The Pinnacles hut, located near Thames in the Coromandel Forest Park, is a great hut to visit with children in tow.

Sleeping 80 people in two large, airy bunkrooms, it is the largest Department of Conservation hut in the country.

There is a full time hut warden – so you can be sure that the hut will be clean and tidy, well-maintained, rodent free (?!) and that other hut users will not be partying all night keeping you awake – these are all fairly major considerations when you are taking your children tramping to a hut, and you want the experience to be a positive one…

The other good thing about the hut is that it is very well equipped with gas rings, kettles, cooking pots and pans, plates, cups, utensils…unless the hut is full, you don’t need to carry up any of that gear yourselves.

Apart from all of that, the location is spectacular, and the hike itself provides a ton of interest. There are a number of trails in the area. Make sure you visit the Kauaeranga Valley Visitors Centre on the access road as you drive to the start of the track – the staff there are very helpful, there’s heaps of interesting info about the history of the kauri logging in the area, and there are a few last minute supplies for sale in case you have forgotten anything vital.

DoC recommends allowing 3 hours to complete the shortest walk to the hut, and a further 50 minutes to climb up to the top of the Pinnacles rock formations from the hut. It took Nate (6) and me 2.5 hours to hike up there, and 2 hours to get down the next day, using the Webb Creek track to Hydro Camp and then on to the hut.

Not far to go now!

As you would probably surmise from a destination named ‘The Pinnacles’, you are going to have to go UP to get there. Yes, there are rather a lot of steps, mostly unevenly formed out of slippery rocks, and the steps themselves are quite high – I wouldn’t recommend this track for children under the age of six unless they are particularly capable and experienced. It is a challenge for little legs (and older parental ones!) but it is doable. Poles are recommended. We didn’t have them, but my geriatric knees would have appreciated a pair on the way down!

The track begins with a pleasant, undulating amble through the bush on a well-formed path. A swing bridge over the river will delight the children – and there are more to come. The bridges were a big hit with Nate.

Soon enough you will begin to ascend. The large, rocky steps need care to tackle, and it can get boggy in wet conditions – which is often the case in this part of the country! Tip: wax/waterproof up everybody’s boots/shoes before the trip and wear decent, thick, hiking socks. Gaitors are not necessary.

You’ll pass beautiful little cascades, and cross more bridges – often, you will have the choice of a tame river crossing, or a small swingbridge as a flood detour.

Nate was astounded to think of all the huge kauri logs crashing down Webb Creek on a log drive (kauri logging ended here around 1928). Gazing back down the tranquil valley, with tui song all around us, we imagined the deafening ‘BOOM’ as a dam was tripped and the logs would have rumbled through.

Still going up, we started to see volcanic peaks appear around us, with strange basalt towers and the remnants of past eruptions denting the landscape.

We passed through the old Hydro Camp where the loggers set up a base long ago, and from there it wasn’t far to the hut – about 45 minutes. It’s always exciting getting the first glimpse of your new little home for the night up ahead. Nate wanted to explore, I boiled up a brew of tea, and the friendly warden, Lester, gave us a run down on how things work at the hut. Clean up after yourselves, etc.

We relaxed in the last of the afternoon sun, our socks steaming and pungent. No showers up here, Nate was thrilled to hear.

Nearing Matariki, we were there the week of the winter solstice, so darkness fell very quickly. With it came a motley group of teenagers on a local school PE trip. They had come up on a different track to us, and had been slogging away for eight hours. They were too exhausted to caper around, and settled for a quick hot meal and a game of cards. Nate was fascinated and had to be forklifted into bed.

The kitchen/dining room is heated with a very efficent coal fireplace, but the bunk rooms are not heated at all. Most of the year, this would not be an issue – in summer I would imagine it gets extremely hot at night when the hut is full. But on this clear, star spangled evening in June, the temperature dipped to zero degrees overnight, and we went to bed fully dressed, with beanies on. In the middle of the night, Nate wriggled up next to me for a cuddle as he was still cold. I was snuggly in my new Macpac Overland sleeping bag. (I chose the women’s model – a bit narrower in the shoulder area and slightly shorter in overall length. The slight size and weight reduction does make a difference when you are trying to take the bare minimum and keep weight down in your pack.)

The next morning, after a luxurious fry up of bacon and eggs (didn’t smash the eggs on the hike up! Winning!) we packed up, cleaned up, and then left most of our kit on the hut deck to collect later as we trundled off up the path to the Pinnacles peaks.

It was crisp and clear, the sun low on the horizon, just starting to lift itself with that searing, bright white winter light. I blinked to clear the tears brought on by the glare. Our boots crunched along the frosty track, and we craned our necks in wonder at the vertical rock formations above us. Were we really going to be able to get ALL the way up there?! How?

The answer soon came in a series of heart-stopping ladders and metal rungs driven into the sheer rock. Nate galloped up them, face shining, sure-footed, completely oblivious to the very real danger. I clambered up behind him, swallowing hard, but I couldn’t stop grinning, either. We were seriously high up! Exhilarating.

We finally emerged at a metal platform between the tallest Pinnacle peaks and there we stood, slack-jawed, at what lay in front of us. Rolling, regenerating forest across a high plateau, studded with enormous tree trunks, forever petrified from a fire 90 years ago. Vast volcanic towers. Birds swooping. The Pacific Ocean glinting far away to the east, and the mysterious dark interior of the peninsula’s spine stretching away ahead. The hut, a tiny wee speck amongst the trees far below. ‘Mum,’ breathed Nate, ‘this… is… AWESOME’!

For hut bookings and info (tip: book well in advance!) check out the website here: Pinnacles Hut

For more info see:

Kauaeranga Visitor’s Centre

or contact them on +64 7 867 9080.

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