The Coromandel peninsula is like a Stepford wife of nature. It is suspiciously perfect. The glorious green forests, the incredible rocky bluffs that acted as look outs and of course, the white sand beaches with the towering white cliffs and the sparkling turquoise waters, all of it bathed in perpetual sunshine. It was almost annoyingly perfect. However the Coromandel would have one dark secret which would be shared with us soon enough.
We had decided to do “The Pinnacles” which is a long hike up to the jagged rock peaks. It is the highest point in the surrounding area and famous for its views. There is even a hut near the top that you can stay in if you want to take it at a more leisurely pace. We, however had decided to do it in a day. So the night before we paid for a stay at a DOC campsite. DOC is the Department of Conservation, ruler of the land and attempted saviour of local wildlife. This campsite was actually the most expensive we have stayed at so when we pulled up at a bare piece of grass and the tiniest long drop toilet you have ever seen I thought there must be more. Alas I was wrong, this was it. Not even any running water.
However in the spirit of freedom camping I can certainly cope with that. What I wasn’t prepared for however was the plague like numbers of mosquitos. They were everywhere and it became a morning and nightly ritual to remove at least 5 from the seat of the toilet alone. If only they were that easy to remove from the car. As dusk drew in Peter and I attempted to cook tea and wash up before they descended. Unfortunately we were too late. The rest of the evening and night was then spent on the hunt for the mossies.
It was war!
After half an hour the roof of the car was more mosquito than fabric and still we heard their buzzing as we tried to drift off into a fitful sleep. That tiny nose from their flying as they approach ever closer before bypassing you like an annoying kid on a toy motorbike was a sound we just couldn’t ignore. Every now and again one of us would ferociously smack a part of the car followed by a declaration of joy if we’d got one or anger if we’d missed the bugger. Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep and awoke in the morning tired, grumpy and bitten.
But we would not let that stop us on the hike. Peter was in charge of food and I was to bring the photographic equipment and together we set off, occasionally scratching a new bite as we went, towards The Pinnacles.
The dappled shade was hugely welcoming and we forged into the depths of the forest, crossing large streams on tiny swing bridges and hauling ourselves up stone steps which were originally created for packhorses delivering food packages to the loggers that lived higher up the mountain range.
Thankfully though it wasn’t endlessly uphill. The path meandered through the ferns and endangered Kauri trees, seeming to follow its own level of interest, often dipping down to the level of the river before reaching ever higher towards the looming mountain tops. It was at the first open plateau alongside the pale rocks that we started to see the view of the tree canopy rolling down the valley below us. It was beautiful but there was still more to come.
Plodding on we came to a parting of the trees where a dramatic looking rock mound jutted out from the rest of the mountainside. Reading the information sign we learned that it was volcanic but had actually been created from inside the volcano and whilst the outer layers of cooled lava had eroded away, the innards remained intact. Peter declared it as “The volcano butt plug!”
We carried on up, above the line of the tree canopy where the path and surroundings seemed more akin to a scrub filled desert and the sun beat down on us heavily. We finally reached the Pinnacles Hut which is still a way off the peak itself but gladly stopped for a refuel of water. We had to admire the stylish and spacious accommodation which DOC provided atop the mountain yet our campsite at the bottom remained a destination of dread at the prospect of returning to that evening, it was quite a play of frustrating opposites.
We set off again with the path to the peak in sight, its jagged outline of boulders which capped the crown beckoning us to climb them. Not long after we left the hut we came across our first set of wooden steps – made by DOC (I’m guessing) for ease and safety. We climbed them and carried on upwards until we came to another set. Then another and another, all in quick succession. As we climbed them the exhaustion levels grew so great I actually succumbed to climbing on all fours and had to stop at the start of each new set to catch my breath. However the views were also taking that breath away. As we climbed higher we could see further out to the east until finally we could see across the whole of the Coromandel and out to sea.
554 steps, 2 ladders, some iron bolt on railings and a great deal of careful scrambling later we finally made it! The steep climb once we’d cleared the steps was exhilarating and brought us around the side of the mountain where stacks of vertical rock stood admiring the scenery for a lot longer than we had time for. At the highest point I climbed right out onto the edge of the tallest boulder, much to the horror of Pete, and took in the 360 degree views along with a healthy jolt of vertical induced adrenaline.
We celebrated with a victory lunch we felt we had earned just down from the peak and then headed back down all those steps, each jarring the knees slightly more than the last did. The descent certainly involved a lot of spine jarring, knee knocking, leg wobbling action but we eventually made it down again, complete with a celebratory fist bump once we’d reach the car park again. It had been over 14km hiked in one day and we certainly felt proud of our achievement.
The Pinnacles wasn’t something that I had originally planned on doing and the guide books don’t tell you all that much about the walk in favour of all the adrenaline junkie activities the country had to offer. However DOC do a great job of signposting the walkways, even giving estimates of how long it should take to complete, and of course, it’s wonderfully free.
After another mosquito filled evening we were eager to move on and up towards the top end of Coromandel where the town itself lies. And then across its width to the east where we were to encounter a new, wonderful and unexpected paradise altogether.