Karangahake Gorge is some drivers' worst nightmare. It's a winding section of State Highway 2 between Paeroa and Waihi along one one of the more common routes between Auckland and Tauranga. The road is narrow with a cliff on one side and the Ohinemuri River on the other. If you were to zoom out, you'd see the Kaimai Ranges and the Coromandel Ranges framing the scene. Needless to say, it's pretty darn dazzling. But when you're driving, it's also pretty difficult to appreciate.
Fortunately, this is New Zealand. The land of endless natural beauty and resourcefulness in the pursuit of accessing the outdoors (among other things). Thus, from the motorway that runs through Karangahake Gorge, you'll find cycling trails, walking trails, and tramping tracks, complete with suspension bridges and tunnels. And, because this is the North Island, Kiwis will tell you it is busy. One third of the 4+ million people who live in New Zealand live in the Auckland area, so it is relatively busy compared to the rest of the country. In this sense, we are fully acclimatised Kiwis and agree that most destinations within a few hundred kilometres of Auckland are New Zealand busy, however this is much the same as being World famous in New Zealand. Context is everything.
On our last visit, the large Karangahake Gorge carpark was full and we squeezed into a spot between a big truck, a trailer, and a bush. There were people milling around the picnic area and taking selfies on the suspension bridge. Over the bridge, we started up the Scotsman's Gully Track and encountered two other walkers and a couple moving into a tiny house on the side of the mountain. We didn't meet another soul until a runner past us at the top. How's that for busy? Taking in the gorgeous scenery in relative peace is pretty amazing. Wait, wait, pause the classical music soundtrack - interject with whinging kid noises.
The trail is a steep, unrelenting uphill, much of it overgrown, and, with gorse in bloom, very prickly. We've done a lot of tramping over the past few weeks, so thought we'd give the kids a break and carried their gear. We'd forgotten the magic power that packs have over our children, especially the wee one. When Sadie puts on her pack, she goes from 6-year-old demi-princess to 6-year-old tramping superhero: conqueror of hills, crosser of rivers, and annihilator of mud, rocks, and roots. Without her pack, she suffered with constant exposure to the kryptonite that is being a civilian ill-equipped to tackle nearly insurmountable obstacles, such as the Mount Karangahake track.
Family tramping top tip for today: Help your kid be a tramping superhero.
For Sadie, her pack makes her soar. Dan's superpower switch has changed over the years and currently he's motivated by timing the walk on his digital watch.
What's makes your kids fly? What about you? Many of my friends look forward to a glass of wine at the destination. Jack loves to take photos and I love to share them.
Despite the down mood on the way up, we made good time up to the summit. We stopped for photos at the top, found a geocache along the way, then began the sprint back to the bottom. The kids loved running through the obstacles - another superhero switch discovered. 90 minutes up, 40 minutes down. Exact number of minutes available from Dan and his new digital watch.
Highly recommended after-tramp refreshments: Falls Retreat.
Scotsman's Gully Track and Karangahake Mountain Track
Time: 3 hours according to the sign, 2.5 for us.
Note: Take care to spot the summit track entrance. It's unmarked and easy to miss. You'll find it on the left about 1km from the start of the Mountain Track.
Buggies: No. Front or back child carriers okay for experienced trampers.
Dogs: On lead on some tracks.
Barefoot: Yes. Beginning appropriate. There are different sections of bark, pine needles, gravel, rocks, and mud. A variety of textures for your developing your toe repertoire.