This past weekend, we climbed, trekked, sweated, and plunged. Today we are resting and celebrating. The tracks leading to the Pinnacles Hut in the Coromandel were closed after major flood and rain damage from March 2017. We booked our places in the hut in August, optimistic that the repairs would be completed long before January. Re-opening was delayed, then delayed again. But we were in luck - the road and the tracks were temporarily opened for the summer.
We were 14 adults and 20 children tramping along the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail to the Pinnacles Hut. The youngest child, 16 months old, rode happily in his child carrier backpack, alternating between gazing and dozing, seemingly unaware of the possibility of walking. The next youngest of the trampers will be three next month. She walked when she wanted. When she grew tired of walking, she found her spot, riding on her parents’ shoulders where she could rest her back against the tops of their packs.
There were a handful of 5 year olds and 7 year olds and a few older children, too. All the children five and older carried their own packs with water, snacks, and spare clothing, and walked the whole way. Six adults tramped without an adult partner and carried gear for themselves and their children. The bravest seven year old travelled without his parents on his first overnight tramp. Here's more about what to pack when you're tramping with children.
We took the Webb Creek track via the Hydrocamp, which was 6 kilometres from the carpark to the hut. The Kauaeranga River water level was low so the children had the pleasure of choosing to use the swing bridges or the navigating their way over rocks to cross. The track itself wide enough for two people to walk hand-in-hand in most places, though it's quite a busy track so moving left to allow passers through is frequently required. The first section of track is gravel and flat. Shortly after the first swing bridge the steps begin. There are hundreds of them, cobblestone, wooden, rocks, or roots. The storm took out one of the swing bridges leaving a large slip in it's place. The track is redirected to traverse a short river crossing then through the area of the slip where concrete and rock steps were built after several large boulders were removed. (Note: A replacement bridge was installed when I visited again in September 2018).
Our group spread out over the track due to staggered starting times and different walking speeds. Paced by our courageous and determined 5 year old, it took our family 3 hours and 40 minutes to reach the hut, just 40 minutes longer than the times suggested by the DOC sign.
At the hut, we were greeted by Lester, the hut warden. Lester was friendly, thorough in his communication, and fastidious about cleanliness, all characteristics that any tramper can appreciate. Because of our large group size and numerous children, we were allocated one of the bunk rooms to ourselves, with other trampers directed to the other quieter room.
We refuelled with dinner at the hut, then many of the children dug deep to get themselves the additional kilometre, with 179 metre gain, to the top of the Pinnacles. The route from the Pinnacles Hut to the Pinnacles summit is technically difficult. It starts with steep steps, then two long ladders, then metal rungs attached to rocks. Where there are no ladders and rungs, tree roots and rocks provide secure hand holds and foot holds. Though often masked by bush, the sides drop off precipitously so care and caution were primary in all of our minds. No matter what their pace in reaching the top, the children were solemn with respect, ensuring the safety of themselves and the ones climbing ahead and behind. With the younger children, we took our time while some of the older children reached the top in only 17 minutes.
Back at the hut, the children played happily. And noisily. It was light’s out at 9pm. The next morning, one tramper remarked that while it was the loudest evening she had ever spent in a hut, it was certainly the quietest night. Children sleep well when they’re exhausted and, unlike adults, most children don’t snore.
The pinnacle of the pinnacles is of course the pinnacles so we couldn’t help but want to go up once more before tramping down again. One of the children and her father woke in the dark to reach the pinnacles summit for sunrise. The rest of the group breakfasted, packed up, and cleaned before making our way to the top again.
The long range forecast had predicted rain for the weekend, but instead we got humidity. On our way out, an hour from the finish, we plunged into one of the swimming holes, which cooled us down enough to reach the carpark. The kids and some of the adults were asleep in the car before we made it down the long road to the DOC visitor's centre.
A weekend like that is such a tank filler. Of course, we had our challenges. Packing takes ages, we forgot stuff, our backpacks felt heavy, the kids complained, it was really humid, one child vomited, another skinned her knee, there were meltdowns... did I mentioned kids complained?
But the highs were so much greater than even the view from the top of the Pinnacles. Our children persisted, they felt strong for using their bodies and their minds to do something that was hard for them, we had the chance to support our friends and accept help when we needed it, we had time together to chat about all the things we never have time to talk about, we ate treats, we had a massive slumber party with amazing friends, we experienced walkie talkies (added to the xmas list), we smelled rain, we tasted mud, we immersed ourselves in native bush, we spotted bellbirds, we saw the devastation caused by the flood and the storm, we appreciated how people worked so hard to rebuild the road and the track safely, we felt the icy cold water cooling our bodies steaming from the humidity, we overcame fear of heights and climbing, we laughed, we cried, we wanted to cry, we took far too many photos... All worth it!
Pinnacles Hut, Kauaeranga Valley, Coromandel
Time: 3+ hours
Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult for 6 and under
Buggies: No. Child carrier backpacks okay. Front packs probably not as you'll want to be able to see your feet.
Toilets: At the hut.
Pinnacles Summit (from the Pinnacle Hut)
Time: 30 minutes (one way)
Difficulty: Difficult for children. Close adult supervision required.
Buggies: No. Probably not safe for child carriers of any sort.