Amazing Hiking At Karangahake Gorge

Well, we had a few wonderful days in the Coromandel Peninsula but the time has come to move on. We left yesterday morning and decided to cross back over to Coromandel Town and head down the west side of the peninsula. Our destination…Waihi Beach which will be our home for a couple of days while we explore the beach and do some amazing hiking at Karangahake Gorge. There’s so much to see in this area we could probably stay an entire week but we need to pack in a lot in just a couple of days.

On the trip down we stopped at Rapaura Watergardens in Thames. The gardens are just a short 6 km detour off of Highway 25. The 64 acre property filled with gardens, waterfalls and lovely ponds is the home to Sally Sank. She has continued to cultivate the vision of the original owners from over 50 years ago.

Keep in mind it’s winter here so the gardens were not filled with colorful flowers and singing birds but still we found a serene beauty on our walk. And, there’s something so wonderful about having a place like this all to yourself and that we did! Well, except for the flock of ducks that followed us looking for a handout. We stopped here for just a couple of hours before heading down to Waihi Beach. It was a nice break from the long drive and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk around the property.

Waihi Beach BnB

Our Air BnB at Waihi Beach is another winner. Cheryl, the owner, has seen to it that every little touch is thought of right down to the fresh flower bouquet in the bathroom. And this little gem is just a block from the beach. When the doors and windows are open we can hear the surf crashing upon the shore.

For us one of the best things about this terrific place is that the kitchen is well stocked with everything you need to make a great home cooked meal. We get tired of eating out when we’re on the road for so long and so many times the BnBs will say they have a well stocked kitchen only to have dull knives, aging cookery etc… Yes, this place is exceptionally well stocked and it is greatly appreciated. Thanks Cheryl!

Off To Karangahake Gorge

This morning we woke up ready to take on the Karangahake Gorge. It’s a stunning day with the bright sun overhead lending a welcome warmth to the air. It’s the perfect day for a good, long hike. And what better place could we choose to hike than one of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenic areas?

The Karangahake Gorge is listed in the top 100 things to do in the entire country. We drove past it on our way up to the Coromandel and from the road it looked incredible so we can’t wait to get right in the middle of it. We’re anxious to see the tunnels, river and all of the remains of the once bustling gold mining days. There are many different access points to the trails in the area but the central one located on Highway 2 just 13 km west of Waihi is where we decide to hop on.

Gold Mining In The Karangahake

To understand what makes this such a special place you must first know a bit of its history. You see, at one time this entire area was known for its lucrative gold mining. Gold was first discovered in New Zealand in 1852 and by 1875 the gold rush hit the Karangahake Gorge.

It didn’t really take off here until the late 1880s though because it was difficult to mine gold from this region. While the ore was of high quality it was difficult to mine due to its refractory nature meaning it was difficult to break down to get to the gold. In 1894 the world’s first cyanide leaching process was introduced which allowed them to extract gold from lower grade ore resulting in a boom in the gold mining industry here.

The Crown Mining Company developed this process and it was a game changer for the mining industry in the area. In fact, at the Victoria Battery you can walk around the ruins that include giant vats that once were filled with cyanide. It was in these vats that the leaching of the gold from the ore occurred. Honestly, we walked this area and it was a bit eerie just thinking of the amounts of poison that ended up in the ground beneath our feet. Made me think of what it would be to tour Chernobyl.

The cyanide vats at Victoria Battery. A bit eerie but definitely interesting!

The problem with this process is that it meant they had to take much more ore to get the same amount of gold. The sad part, aside from the obvious poisoning of the landscape, is it left behind huge open pits and produced large quantities of waste. The good news, if you want to see it that way, is that the abandoned mines have left some great walking trails with interesting tunnels and artifacts behind that are very cool to explore.

Hiking The Karangahake

The first trail we decide to take leads us to an area called the Windows Walk. We leave the parking lot and cross over a long suspension bridge to reach the trail. I’m not a big fan of suspension bridges but this one seems pretty sturdy and I’m so captivated by the scenery and the Ohinemuri River below that I hardly notice the bridge. Well at least not until Dan started jumping on the bridge to make it swing so he could watch me panic.

Along the path to the “Windows” we see an abandoned rail car that was used to move the ore from one place to another. We also see some interesting stone structures that are remnants of times gone by. The “Windows” themselves are a series of holes that were blown into the mountain wall to bring fresh air into the mines. The provide rather fantastic views of the river below.

Now to know me is to know I can get claustrophobic in the backseat of a car so walking into mines and caves is really a stretch. The ceilings of this mine are low and water drips from the top as you trudge through mud and pools of water. It’s slippery and I’m just waiting to bust my backside when one of the spiders or weta bugs come dropping down from the stone ceiling and startles me. Fortunately the bugs keep to themselves and I manage to keep my footing.

I try to focus on taking pictures and the fact that I can look out of the windows at the river below but as we move deeper into the cave I get a little more apprehensive. My breathing gets a bit more shallow and my heart rate elevates. All I can think of is what’s going to happen when there is a rock slip and we’re buried alive under tons of rock.

Of course Dan is making fun of me the entire time and he does manage to get me to laugh a bit. But, by the time we’ve gone as far as we can go and return to the entrance I’m ready for a beer or better yet a shot! No time for that now though. We’ve got more exploring to do.

Is This The Right Way?

We hike back down to the river and head east. We’ve seen on the map that this trail along the river will take us to the rail tunnel. Yes…another tunnel! Guess I’m just a glutton for punishment today. Of course this is a much larger tunnel with lights so I’m thinking it will be a bit easier to take. We will see.

The walk along the river is absolutely brilliant. The area has had lots of rain recently so the rapids are really churning. At one spot I get close enough to check out the water temp and it’s cold, cold, cold. Note to self….don’t fall in!

We walk along the trail for quite a while and it just doesn’t feel like we’re going the right way so we turn around and head back. We take another gander at the trail map and decide to take the trail heading north. This skirts the river as well but at a bit higher elevation. Pretty soon we come across a walking bridge that goes over the highway and on the other side we find the rail tunnel.

The Old Rail Tunnel

Like I said, this is a much bigger tunnel but then it’s much longer too. It’s just over a kilometer long. As you walk in, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is nothing more than a tiny white speck. I snap a few photos…you know, in case the tunnel collapses and kills me. Hopefully they will find my phone and get to see my last ever photographs. I really don’t like tunnels! Anyway, with pics on the phone I take a deep breath and walk inside the tunnel.

Being that it’s the middle of the week here there are very few people and at one point we’re the only people in the entire tunnel. It is a very eerie feeling but again Dan keeps me laughing and I try to focus on how cool it is to be here. And, honestly, it really is kind of cool.

One thing that seriously gets to me is the amount of tagging and graffiti we see on the walls inside this tunnel. In fact, we have seen more of it than you’d imagine in this somewhat remote wilderness. It absolutely disgusts me and really makes me angry. What is wrong with people that they think they can just desecrate property like this??? I can tell you if I found one of my kids doing it, they’d learn very quickly never to do it again as they spent the next year washing graffiti off of every surface I could find.

The pure destruction of property is just revolting!

Okay, sorry, I just needed to get that off my chest. Back to the beautiful walk. As we exit the end of the tunnel we find the path on the other side of the river and start making our way back to the car park. Just a few hundred yards down the trail we realize we are on the same trail we turned back on earlier. Guess we just didn’t give it enough time. Oh well, it’s beautiful and we are enjoying every second.

Back at the car park we sit and enjoy the picnic lunch I prepared for us. You see, we’ve learned in New Zealand that you won’t always find a little pub or restaurant so sometimes you either bring a picnic or you go hungry. Our sandwiches and sodas at the edge of the Ohinemuri River are a real treat after the 8 kms (5 miles) we walked today.

This map shows the trails we walked today.

A Beach To Myself

Both of us are pretty worn out so after lunch we head back to the BnB but when we get there I just can’t seem to sit still. Dan takes a nap and I take a walk over to the beach. WOW! What a treat! I have the entire beach to myself. For as far as I can see in either direction there isn’t a single soul and the views, the views are just phenomenal. Even better, there are shells, splendid shells, everywhere I look. My short walk to the beach to grab a couple of photos became an hour long shelling expedition.

I make it back to the house and Dan is awake waiting for me. He cooks us up some beautiful filets on the grill and I make a tasty salad before we settle in to watch a movie. It’s been a truly spectacular day and we’ve seen some brilliant scenery.

Tomorrow we’re heading back to Tauranga to meet Ryan of Hercules Tanks so he can dry fit the almost completed freshwater tank. I’d sure rather do a bit more hiking in Karangahake but Dazzler and her tanks come first. I’m sure Dan will treat me to a little lunch and maybe a photo stop or two on the way back.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

We took lots of great photos on our hike. Click below to see more.

Read About Our Time In The Coromandel Peninsula… Click Links Below

Coromandel Peninsula

The Ever Stunning Coromandel Peninsula

Road To Port Jackson

The Perilous Ride To Port Jackson

Driving Creek Railway

Driving Creek Railway, Waiua Falls and Pigs

Author: Dan & Jilly

3 thoughts on “Amazing Hiking At Karangahake Gorge

  1. Still love reading about your N.Z adventures. We live in such a cool country! Hope you are enjoying a safe lockdown.take care, Angela 💜

    1. Thanks for following us. We’re sure getting the most out of our time here. Think we’ve seen more of NZ than most Kiwis. Guess Covid has been good in one way for us. Cheers!

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