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Published: March 21st 2009
Yes, this really is a motorway - State Highway 2 in fact!
It's been a good few weeks since we set out for a long walk so I was determined to get out of the city this weekend and see some more of NZ's fine countryside. I've been hankering to visit the Karangahake Gorge ever since hearing about it from Liz last year. So with DOC (Department of Conservation) leaflet in hand and Mayuko, our Japanese friend, along for the ride, we headed eastwards, loosely in the direction of Tauranga.
We travelled along State Highway 2 which is technically a motorway but by UK standards would barely qualify as an 'A' road. In fact it was pretty much all single carriageway and I swear we passed more cows than we did cars along the way! Cresting a steep hillside at once point, we were surprised to find ourselves heading towards vast flat, grassy plains with the moutains of the Coromandel Peninsular so distant they were hard to distinguish from clouds on the horizon. It was very picturesque.
Just before arriving at the gorge, we passed through a town called Paeroa where the popular fizzy drink L&P was invented. If you've never heard of it before it's because it is, according to
Lots of L&P
You just can't drive through Paeroa without paying homage to their 'world famous in New Zealand' drink!
their advertising slogan, 'world famous... in New Zealand'. L&P stands for Lemon and Paeroa so no prizes for guessing it's a type of lemonade and its unique flavour supposedly comes from the spring water in Paeroa. As L&P is now owned by Coca Cola, I suspect it is no longer produced in Paeroa, nevertheless it would be rude to drive through the town without stopping to have our photos taken by one of the giant L&P bottles that the town is so proud of?
A further 10 minutes up the road, we reached our destination. Ignoring the two Magic buses full of backpackers that had recently spewed their passengers along the riverbank, Glynn picked out a route that would take us in the opposite direction to everyone else. The first adventure was the walk across one of many swing bridges along the route. A swing bridge is essentially an Indiana Jones style suspension bridge made of metal cables with a planked floor that swings from side to side as you walk across. I'm not too keen on wobbly bridges but Glynn and Mayuko dashed off in front and madly zigzagged from side to side in a bid to get
Our first view of the gorge from the carpark. Not bad, eh?
the bridge really swinging which didn't help my nerves one bit!
A few minutes' walk from the bridge we came to the remains of one of a number of the gold mining batteries constructed at the turn of the 19th-20th century. The Karangahake Gorge was a prime gold rush location in NZ and there are remnants of buildings and rusty old cast iron equipment to be found throughout the area. Our route continued with a 1km walk through an abandoned mining tunnel which, despite some rather hazy orange lighting every 50 metres or so, was so dark we couldn't see the uneven path beneath our feet. Mayuko had come wearing jandals (flipflops) and it wasn't long before she inadvertently dunked her feet into one of the many puddles in the cold, dank shaft. The walk through the tunnel was eerie and reminiscent of a low-budget horror flick and although we laughed and joked along the way, I think we were all secretly pleased to make it to the other end without any nasty beasties jumping out at us.
Emerging into the bright sunlight, we crossed the river and followed a gentle path along the water's edge. Hundreds of
Hustle and Flow
View upriver from the first bridge we crossed. There's our blue van in the carpark on the left!
small white butterflies flitted around us as we headed on to a beautiful waterfall just 5 minutes off the main track. The falls were easily as high as a 3 storey house and trickled gently down into a pretty lagoon at the base. The water looked so cool and inviting it was all I could do to resist kicking off my hiking shoes and plunging straight in.
Another waterfall was marked on the map which would be our cue to turn off the main path and follow the road to loop back round. On we walked....and walked....and walked, the turning never appearing and with no markers to show distance, we wondered if we would ever get there. Just as we were about to turn back, we came across another swing bridge that led us out onto the road and a minute later we were looking out onto another stunning cascade of water. There was a separate path leading to the thundering Owharoa Falls but we were already tired from our 3 hour trek and decided not to deviate.
The road led us slowly uphill and eventually leading to the Dickey's Flat campsite where Glynn and I had once
The pathway along the river was strewn with bits of old gold mining machinery parts.
considered staying. By now my feet were complaining and I was secretly wishing that a good samaritan would pull up in one of the few passing cars and offer me a ride. Incredibly, just a few minutes later my wish came true! A couple of girls pulled up next to me and asked if they could take me down to the campsite and I was desperate to say yes but Glynn and Mayuko were way ahead of me at this point and had gone around a bend where I couldn't see them. I felt like I shouldn't get in unless they knew where I was so I declined. What an idiot! I could have sat in the back, had the girls honk the horn at Glynn and Mayuko as we passed them and laughed all the way to the campsite! Ah well.
I motivated myself to continue by thinking of how nice it would be to stick my sore feet in the river when I got down to Dickey's Flat but could I find a spot to climb down the riverbank and make it back up again? No. The weather was staring to look a bit ominous too at
A Fungi to be With
There were so many different mushrooms growing in the woods but these were by far the most tasty looking ones - not that we tried any!
this point so we trudged on. After a while, we found ourselves looking into the mouth of another dark, gloomy cave only this time there was no alternative route and there wasn't even the comfort of hazy orange lighting to help us. Having not thought to bring a torch with us, we pushed on into the blackness of a tunnel that was barely higher than Glynn's head and narrow enough to be able to use our hands to feel our way along the walls. It's actually a strange sensation to be in such complete darkness that no matter how you strain your eyes, you just can't see a thing.
It must have been around the mid-point of the tunnel (hard to tell what with all the darkness) when we first saw some pretty greeny blue dots of luminescence sprinkled across the roof of the tunnel. At first we saw just two or three but gradually more and more gloworms became visible and it was as pretty as looking up at a clear night sky. Mayuko was especially excited as she thought the famous Waitomo Caves was the only place to see gloworms in NZ but here she could see
Glynn and Mayuko fly down to investigate the ruins of a former gold mining battery.
them for free!
Finally, we reached the tunnel's end only to discover it was throwing it down with rain outside. We took shelter for a few minutes to see if would subside but no luck. By this time, we had been walking for over 4 and a half hours and we estimated we had at least 1.5 hours to go. Feeling like we had no choice, we stepped out in the rain and hiked along the rocky path at top speed. Needless to say we were drenched in no time at all but the rain certainly helped us to keep moving. Eventually, the downpour abated just in time for us to enjoy a ramble along an abandoned tramway (like a railway for old mining carts) and through yet more dark tunnels where I belatedly had the genius idea of using the glow from my mobile phone to help light the way. The tramway led us out into the gorge proper where we saw evidence of some quite impressive engineering left over from the area's gold mining heyday. There were walkways hewn into the rocky banks of the gorge and passageways leading off deep into the darkeness, alas all of
Don't Lose Your Head
Japanese Chad meets British Chad :-)
which were sealed off.
Feeling certain we were close to the carpark now, we mustered what remained of our energy and made for the final phase. Just a short path and a couple of swing bridges were all that stood between me and the chance to sit down and rest my feet, and I ran gleefully across the rickety planks not even caring about how much I hate wobbly, rickety bridges. Man, it was good to get my shoes off! God only knows how Mayuko must have been feeling having done the entire trek in her jandals! The walk had taken almost double the three hours we had predicted - five and a half hours in all but we all agreed it had been a most enjoyable adventure :-)
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