Route Guide: The Pinnacles Track
The Pinnacles Track is a great track for young and old, large and small. The circuit track leads to a modern hut on the Pinnacles, with views across the Coromandel Peninsula and beyond.
Hidden behind Thames it’s around 16km to the start of it, up an ever narrowing road which follows the Kauaeranga river, up the Kauaeranga valley. The Kauaeranga Valley itself has numerous short walks and at least 4 camping spots for those who wish to tent in the bush for a night or two. The Department of Conservation office is a well built structure situated several kilometers before the end of the road (and start of the track). You should pick up your hut pass here before carrying on (and you can get the weather report from the hut near the top). Also, check if any school groups are up there. Driving to the end of the road, there are several parking areas to leave the car. Whilst security is pretty good (DOC close the road at night) there have been instances of break ins of vehicles – not a lot, but try not to leave anything valuable behind.
Pinnacles Track follows the old pack horse trails from the car-park, over the river and up the valley to the Pinnacles hut. A fit person can get to the hut in over 2 hours. If you aren’t in a hurry, 3½ to 4 hours is plenty of time. The track was used in the good old days to bring supplies up to the millers and tree fellers, who cleared out hundreds of acres of kauri trees in the valleys. In the late 1990’s, the track (which had become a bit scungy) was upgraded, and rebuilt, close to what it looked like at the start of the century. The result is spectacular . . . stone steps, wide enough for packhorses, dominate most of the track, crossing the river three times as it rises steeply to logging / power camp at the ‘near’ top. I warn you now – the stone stairs are great to look at but hard on the legs – and they take an hour to do. Here are some loose timeframes anyway.
From the car park to the first junction takes around 20 – 30 min. From here the track undulates a little, then rises steeply to the first swing-bridge. If the water level is low, you can just cross over the rocks…use common sense naturally. From the first swing-bridge, the stone stairs come into play – it will take 1–1½ hrs to leave them and get to the logging camp. It's not all stairs, but they are what you’ll remember most. You’ll cross two other swing-bridges (from the last swing-bridge, it's about 20 min to logging camp)
The logging camp was also used as a base for the power company to helicopter huge power lines in that feed from Thames to Tairua etc. It’s a good place to stop and rest, have some food and appreciate how high up you’ve come. There’s a long-drop hidden in the trees at the Northern end, if needed.
From the logging camp, it’s an undulating walk of between 30 min to an hour to the Pinnacles hut. Good views.
The Pinnacles themselves
Once at the hut, you can leave your pack and climb the Pinnacles proper.
Whilst not dangerous, it isn’t for the faint hearted. It’ll only take 45 minutes to get to the top, but you go up some steep rock faces, and several ladders before negotiating a large boulder, to get to the narrow ledge at the top. From the top, you can see both sides of the Coromandel – Tairua / Pauanui on one side, The firth of Thames and Hauraki Plains on the other. The view is breathtaking.
If you are doing a daytrip, from the Pinnacles to the hut to the carpark would be about 3 – 4 hours.
I’d recommend you do an overnighter and stay in the hut. The following day you could either go back down the stairs, or go down via the Billy Goat Trail. More on that in a minute.
The Pinnacles Hut
This has to be the most AWESOME hut I have ever seen. The old hut (which was damp and yuk), is now the warden's house. The new hut, which cost several hundred thousand dollars, is immaculate (for huts anyway). It has:
- 80 bunks (split into two bunkrooms)
- 3 chemical long-drops (no smell, no spiders)
- A cold shower (note the word cold)
- A gas Kitchen (and a BBQ but you should ask DOC at Kauaeranga Valley if it's still there before taking rackloads of steak up)
- And – wait for it – it has a solar powered lighting system. Yep…when it gets dark, you can press a button and the lights stay on for twenty minutes (then you press the button again of course)…saves on torches in the bunkroom, though you’ll still need them for midnight trips to the toilet.
It’s all decked, so once you're there, no muddy boots needed to get to kitchen, toilet wherever.
If you are lucky, the warden (on weekends usually) can get the generator out at night and give a 1 hour slide presentation in the kitchen, showing photos of the history of Thames and the Kauaeranga valley.
Price: $15 – $17 per night (call DOC to find out), but well worth it, even without the slide show.
Billy Goat Trail
So you stayed the night, admired the views, used the gas kitchen and relieved yourself in mighty comfort. Time to go, and there are two ways back to the carpark.
- Follow the stairs back down again (2 hrs).
- Follow the Billy Goat Trail (3 hrs).
The Billy Goat Trail starts at the logging camp – instead of going right and heading for the stairs, you go sharp left after the stream (north-west), walk past the power company hut and follow the trail. This trail undulates again as it winds around the sides of the hills and there are some steep climbs but eventually it peaks and you can stop by an almost hidden information post and have a breather and admire the view.
The Billy Goat Trail used to have an old wooden bridged railway running from the top of the valley to the bottom. At about the ¾ mark (1½ hrs), there is a small marked diversion (trail) which can show you the remains of the main rail logging bridge. Alas, the bridge was blown up by army engineers thirty years ago when it was deemed unsafe, so there’s not much to see, but since your there you may as well look.
The trail becomes a gentle walk around the side of some more valleys (with remnants of train tracks and piles sitting about)…then the last half an hour will test the calf muscles…a step descent down to the valley floor. There are actually 2 ways down…Unless you know bushcraft, just follow the trail. It's wide and easy to follow (and steep). 30 minutes later you’ll cross the river and it’s a couple of hundred metres walk back up the road to the road-end (go right if you have just crossed the bridge / river), to the carpark.
The Stairs / Billy Goat trail can be used as a circular tramp. Some of the running clubs use it for training so don’t be surprised to see scantily clad anorexics charging around the place in their Nikes. They’re well behaved and will generally fall off a track rather than run you over.
switchbacksarah I plan on venturing out and tramping the Pinnacle Track sometime in the Autumn(most likely September). Unfortunately, I suffered a pretty bad high ankle sprain this past week and don't know if I will be able work myself back into hiking condition before it's time to leave on my journey.
Because I am stubborn, there is nothing that is going to stop me from going on this adventure. Therefore, I'm looking into some contingency plans, from different types of footwear to ankle braces(is anyone familiar with http://www.ultraankle.com?), in case my ankle isn't fully healed in the next three months. I'm hoping that I won't have to make any drastic changes as I am happy with the gear I have. However, I will bite the bullet if I must.
Anyway, I know there is a plethora of information out there on how to treat injuries. I'm hoping to receive some additional information on the trail, and see if it's doable on a bum ankle(I'm guessing at the worst it will be working at 80% capacity). Thanks!
11 June 2011
Radhika My Partner (Avi) and I did this track -last week 08/09/09 one of the most awesome tracks we've done so far --Just Utter Brilliance. We even saw a Billy Goat up on the Mounts - stuck in between stones..... Next time around - we'ed definately stay over in one of the huts... Looked quite clean and tidy.We'ed both reccomend this track - take lotsa water and food.
If anyone would like to join us for Milford Sounds Track later in the year pls email me.
I will post some pix tonight......
17 September 2009
bigpaul The track to the top of the pinnacles has been upgraded by DOC steps for africa and a very much like 20 minutes on a step machine in the gym but well worth the climb. A very fancy visitor information centre at the start of the park.
25 April 2009
ptd The new track from hut to the summit is now open. If you like stairs, you'll just love it.
Also, you may have heard of the tragic recent case of the British tramper who lost his life in the Kauaeranga valley. I understand he made a late decision to do the Moss Creek route alone. The track is in poor condition. He got lost and eneded up in the next valley. Treat Moss Creek with care.
8 May 2006
cbell Well it's been a while but I'm back again. (Life does fly, by doesnt it?)Pdt is right but I got an update. Because of weather conditions, the track upgrade between the hut and the pinnacles was delayed. It should be completed by 10 april 2006...end of the week. Don't let that stop you from going to the hut though (and based on the booking figures it doesnt look like it has). Glad you all liked the article. I'd do some more but matthew keeps beating me to it. I guess I better get out into the bush some more and brush up on my reviews.. :) c bell
6 April 2006
ptd Note the last section, from the Hut to the Pinnacles themselves, will be closed from 1st November 2005 until 24th Feb 2006 while a new track is built. Webb Creek & Billygoat still open.
31 October 2005
ptd This is a great daytrip or overnighter which I’ve done several times. Tramping times up are a bit conservative. I, only averagely fit and often overtaken, can reach the Hut via Webb Creek in 2 hrs. First half of route from Hut up Pinnacles themselves is boggy, esp if it has been raining during heavy use. Final ascent is a scramble which tests strength and agility, though my 10 yr old managed fine. Round trip, up Webb Creek to Pinnacles, down Billygoat, is about 6-7 hrs tramping plus stops. If you’re staying overnight do take enough water, that in the hut resembles dilute coca cola. Charlie, one of the wardens is a real character – and always grateful for some extra tucker! Hut does get full, I’d avoid weekends in summer. Note: The Environment Waikato website, www.ew.govt.nz, has a live monitor of the Kauaeranga river level. Click on Rivers and Rainfall and you’ll find graphs of both river level and cumulative rainfall over the past week. Updated every 15 minutes they seems very reliable – you’ll see the river level start rising an hour or so after it starts raining and drop equally quickly when rain stops. Minimum river level in summer is about 5.95 metres. I’ve seen it rise 3m over a couple of hours during a storm. A good guide to how you’ll find underfoot conditions generally.
7 August 2005
bmackz I have been going to the Pinnacles since the 70,s and it is still a beautiful place. The track is fantastic but the hut to my way of thinking has crossed the line and the outdoor experience is now largely missing. It also seems such vast resources have been sunk into this hut that the rest of the area has been neglected. Its a great walk around the head of the valley to the old Moss Creek hut site and much better way out than having to retrace much the same way but it needed work last time I was around there. Deep mud!. A replacement hut at Moss Creek would take a lot of the pressure off the Pinnacles and provide a great round trip option.
3 June 2005
Lucky7755 I recommand you better start from the very end carpark and back via billy goat track since the view is excellent. The track to long Trestle is not as good, so be careful.
The route to the Pinnacles is steep and has ladders near the top end. I spent 50 minutes up there on way, didn't believe someone could make it in 11 minutes.
6 May 2005
springbok I have done this walk twice , the first time I slept in the hut and the second time I slept in the campsite under a tarp in winter . The campsite is well sheltered from wind and 2 minutes from the hut . I was unsure of the rated times when I started tramping so I hurried a bit the first time and got to the hut in 1 hr 27 minutes from the carpark with an 18kg pack . It took 11 minutes to the top of the pinnacles with a daypack at a brisk walk . It is worthwhile taking the bily goat track back because the scenery is reasonably different . The hut is brilliant !
16 August 2004
st02135 Wow. It's an awesome track - I led a Duke of Edinburgh expedition up there a few weekends back, and it was everything i expected - and more. The slide show is great too - thanks Kurt for an awesome evening. However, i have to say, Routeburn Falls hut (built in 2000)gives the Pinnacles Hut a run for its money. but hey, it's better than freezing out butts of at the campsite in the middle of June. the Pinnacles was awesome - we have some amazing photos of a certain Outdoor Education Instructor sitting on a tree-branch leaning over a 100m cliff... our group split into two on the second day - with one group going back down Webb Creek - which is a very different experience in the rain - and the second group going dowm the Billygoat, completing it in 2 1/4 hours - not bad in the wet! thanks to all the DoC staff for a great weekend, I'll definately be back.
5 July 2004
morag We have just completed this track as an easy weekend option - even with wet conditions and high winds it was really enjoyable on the main Pinnacles Track and Billy Goat Trail return. The trip up to the Pinnacles from the hut is great fun and worth effort for fantastic views. Appreciated the great article by cbell. Even though the hut was only half full the kitchen/living was quite busy and hard to find a seat. A fun mix to people but no talk by the warden as solar batteries flat. It fills you with awe to imagine the kauri forest before the logging - must have been magnifcient. Morag
7 June 2004
Skiwi007 I am with 6 Squadron Air Training Corps and we have completed this tramp twice this year - Jan and March. Both trips were very successful. The second trip was a group of 20. There was plenty of room in the hut, and we also used the limited number of campsites at the hut. Leaving our packs at the hut and then taking a day pack up to the Pinnacles was a good idea. Sometimes the wind is strong up there, but the views are worth the climb and not to be missed. There are some photos on our web site if you want to have a look. http://6sqnatc.org.nz/OfficersPinnicles.htm This really is a must do tramp with a resonable level of fitness required.
7 April 2004
Nessa I completed this track in January 2004 - I found the track to be exactly as described here - right down to remembering the steps afterward! Was funny seeing the anorexic nike clad runners (just as described...) It was a great trip up and back - funny how you seem to forget the 'pain' once you are back on solid ground. I did not go up to the very top, but stayed at the hut, and took a look around at the dam, the camping ground etc. Word of warning, the shower is extremely cold - but very very refreshing!
It took me a good five hours to climb up, as I have a walking disability, however one of the nike clad runners made it to the hut in 56 minutes. Hopefully he didn't break anything on the way down. There is not much at the hut (some cards there, that seemed to be well worn, but nothing else) so if you arrive at midday, take something to entertain yourself with for the rest of the day.
The Billy Goat was steep (of course!) on the way down, but definately doable - I would not want to do it in rainy weather, or just after rain - It could be rather difficult to negotiate. I relied on my hiking poles a lot.
Take plenty of water with you, (even when boiled, the water there tasted disgusting) enjoy the views, and take your time - no point in rushing up to the top to sit around for the rest of the day - well done to DoC for an amazing hut, am planning on doing this one again soon, and this time I will get up to the very tip of the top!
8 February 2004
brett The trip up the Pinnacles is one of my favourite day tramps anywhere in NZ. The journay to the hut takes you through a mix of verdant vegetation and the historically significant remains of Coromandel's kauri timber industry. On parts of the path you are walking in the water sluices that were used to divert water into the valley and wash the kauri logs down as far as the Thames township. Don't miss the kauri dam - near the campsite just past the Pinnacles Hut - it's one of the best preserved in the area. I've heard there's a second even better preserved dam down river from this one but I've never been down there and I don't think there's a track. I'd check with the ranger before heading off to search for it. The picnic tables on the deck of the Pinnacles Hut make a comfortable lunch stop and although I've never stayed overnight the hut does look palatial. It's good karma to leave a doantion in the box if you've used the facilities. Past the hut the track leads to the base of the rock formation known as the Pinnacles then it's up the fixed ladders and a fair bit of scrambling to the top. On a clear day there are great 360 degree views from the top of the Pinnacles - west to the Firth of Thames and East to the Coromandel beaches. The trip back to the carpark is all downhill so you only need to allow half the time of your ascent. A stop at the swimming hole on the way back out the Kauaeranga Valley is a great way to wash off the sweat and dust.
7 February 2004
Dan-E My wife and I did a loop tramp in March this year - Moss Creek, where we camped the first night (rather exposed, and good fun on a windy night! - make sure your tent is well pegged/tied down, if camping here). Note the estimated walk times to the Moss Creek site, and from there to the Pinnacles Hut as stated on the signs and in the literature are optimistic at best - allow for at least an additional 25% of walking time. In winter and after rain, the tracks represent one continuous bog, and the log rounds placed for stepping on are treacherously slippery. Definitely 100% concentration needed! Pinnacles hut is the epitome in tramping luxury, as C. Bell states - an extremely welcome sight after a long tramp! Kurt, the ranger on duty at the time, was very friendly and helpful.Awesome cooking facilities, and even some (extremely cold) showers! Met some nice people, and had a great night's sleep. The walk back to the car via the Pinnacles track the next day took us about two and a half hours, comfortably, but those with knee problems had best be careful, or avoid it alltogether. Some awesome views, and informative signs along the Pinnacles track - well done, DOC.
24 November 2003
BobP You might even see (and/or smell) a billy goat on the Billy Goat Track. I saw two goats there once (around 1998/99). Wonder if they've culled them since.
Skink. The Moss Creek Hut is no longer a welcome site. It burnt down a few years ago and has not been replaced. It is now just the Moss Creek Campsite.
20 August 2003
MikeC We did this walk one long weekend last year, but went the wrong way round (up billygoat and down pinnicle track). its everything cbell says it is.
Just a word of warning DOC don't always get it togeather, we had booked a tent site (as one of our number were doing Duke of Ed and had to sleep outdoors). But when we got there we found that there were already 6 tents crammed into the 4 tent sites avaliable, and teh bunkhouse was already full.
The Ranger was very nice and helped to move some smaller tents togeather so we could squeeze two of our tents onto a single tent site.
After we turned up another pair of tenters arrived and the ranger had to let them tent on his front lawn (even though regulations say he wasnt allowed to do that).
9 July 2003
moose reading the artical brought back memories of when i did the round trip in the late 70s stayed at the pinnacles hut the first night shared with army who were on a training exerciseso was cramped and then spent a night in moss creek hut on the way home great trip but very muddy between the two huts reading makes me want to do it all again thx
31 May 2003
Ann really enjoyed the track the views were great althought i only went to the hut as heights are not my thing
23 May 2003
carole Well done cbell, this is a track I have often been asked about and have yet to try - excellent description - thanks!
22 May 2003
skink Haven't been up there since hte new hut was built, but we always had a lot of fun tramping about to and from either the old pinnacles hut, or Moss Creek hut on the edge of Table Mountain. Moss Creek was always a welcome sight after the battle of the swamp.
5 February 2003
vitalise This is a great walk. i have done it about 4 times now myself. Its great fun getting up to the very top as the track is muddy and hard to navigate in someplaces. Its got awsome views from the top seeing all the way out to the coast on fine days.
18 December 2002
kolsen I took eight teenagers to the hut and top of Pinnacles on weekend. Every time I go I get something new from the experience. Reading about it is good - but you've got to go see for yourself. It's fantastic.
24 November 2002
skink Awesome photos from the pinnacles can be had of landscapes and sunrises/sunsets
20 February 2002
Martin The hut has a booking system. In the on season book by phone beforehand as you will be turned away if it is full. They told me it can fill up very quickly.
18 January 2002
paulus This is a really great description of the track. Well done!
15 January 2002
jbain Excellent article. Very informative and useful perceptions of the grade etc. Well Done.
5 December 2001