THERE’S heaps of things for a visitor to the Waikato to do.
East of Cambridge, there’s a range of low mountains with spectacular views over the plains and south to the volcanoes of the central North Island. You can drive to the top of Pukemako and look out from there. Further east, still just a few kilometres from Cambridge, are Hobbiton, Te Aroha HotSprings, Mount Te Aroha and the Kaimai Range, all of which I’ve talked about in other posts.
West of Cambridge lie the town of Te Awamutu and Pirongia mountain, a subalpine mountain with beautiful volcanic rock faces,.
In the remainder of this chapter, I’m going to talk about hiking on Pirongia which, at 959 metres high, is easily the highest peak in the Waikato region.
At only 25 kilometres southwest of Hamilton, the mountain is also the largest remaining area of native forest close to the Waikato’s biggest city.
Although there are several routes to the summit, when I tramped it we took the 18.5-kilometre-long Bell Track to the top, heading past the Kaniwhaniwha Caves and along a ridge to the Cone, which is the second-highest point on Mt Pirongia.
The Bell Track is very much up and down, as is the form of Mount Pirongia itself, so you will end up climbing a lot more than 959 metres in total: be warned! From the Cone, we carried on to the Pahautea Hut, where it’s another thirty minutes to the summit. The track itself forms part of the Waikato section of Te Araroa, meaning ‘The Long Path’, a trail that takes youthe length of New Zealand all the way from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
I tramped Pirongia in the summer and found that despite the heat, it was very muddy at the top.
The peaty soil grows beautiful subalpine ferns, and foranyone who is interested in ferns, Pirongia is a special treat.
This post is referenced in my new book The Neglected North Island: New Zealand's other half.
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