Coromandel’s Land’s End - A Great Walk

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Reaching the top of Coromandel Peninsula has been near the top of my must-do list for a long time. You see, being brought up in the Waikato, our family often camped on the peninsula’s coastline, yet we never ventured beyond Colville. The reason was simple: our family sought serviced campgrounds, but such camps didn’t exist beyond Colville. That digit of land that points further north was always left unexplored … until now. I will finally make a journey to land’s end at Port Jackson to map the new Pahi Coastal Walk for the Great Hikes App.

So on a winter’s day, I reach Colville and park up at ‘Hike and Bike Coromandel’. When the new track opens in a few weeks’ time, visitors will be shuttled 25km to the start of this private walk. I get a lift from Colville to Port Jackson (which is only 65km across the water, but 200km by road, from half the country’s population). Here I meet farm owners Cath and Zander who now add the title ‘Track Manager’ to their resume. They offer a three-day fully catered private walk comprising a half-day trip, followed by a full-day walk, and then a third half-day with a range of options.

Mapping begins by warming up the technology before I activate my legs. I switch on my GPS units and they slowly reorientate themselves from being in the deep south to my current position. I also strap on several cameras. Next, I set off from the front deck over the pretty grassed lawn, passing under the gnarly and twisted pōhutukawa branches to reach the arc of Port Jackson beach where this coastal walk begins. What a beach to begin on! The stage is set for a great afternoon’s walk. In the foreground, the gentle waves of the sandy bay rhythmically rise and fall in near silence. Just behind and circling the bay are pōhutukawa crowns which would act as nature’s parasols on a summer’s day.


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The backdrop has green fields with scattered black and white dots of distant cattle and sheep on the hill country. I head for the hills and start the walk by crossing a stile and heading along the farm track following orange markers that lead me up and out of the bay through a cutting in Kaiiti Point.

The gap offers a new window to the west. Gone is the beach behind me and ahead is the Hauraki Gulf. I stop here and watch a yacht gently drift by and I scan the surroundings for familiar geographic features. From left to right I can see the flat cone of Rangitoto, the long stretching profile of the Hibiscus Coast and in the hazy distance is the craggy knob of Whangārei Heads. Leaving the cutting I begin heading southward just above the rocky coastline, moving in and out of small water catchments.

Along this stretch I watch the watchers; around each corner, cattle are transfixed by my stride. There is no grazing. Neither chewing nor mooing interrupts their gaze. It doesn’t matter how distant they are, all skyline silhouettes are watching my every move. They stay clear of my way and give me plenty of space, which I am grateful for as I climb over fences on newly built stiles. As I pass from paddock to paddock I wonder how long it will be before the presence of walking groups becomes the norm, the humans passing by being no more interesting to the bovines than the wandering sheep.

Soon the track crosses the road and heads up into the trees. It seems like the next act has begun where I leave behind the rocky coastline and enter a forest scene. The narrow bush track weaves between the trunks of native trees with the orange markers placed more regularly to guide me through this cool and dim environment. There are some giant trees here which make for a varied and interesting climb that leads up to a telecommunications tower on the ridgeline. Now well above the ocean, I take a snack, GPS the tower and take in the oceanic views in almost every direction.


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From here the farm track enters another pocket of forest and reaches the largest pūriri tree I have ever seen. As I stand next to its giant feet, its girth dwarfs my small frame and I can’t resist hugging it. Surprisingly my arms don’t even span a quarter of its trunk. Large vines twist their way around its body and plunge deep into the ground. It’s as if the vines are acting like ropes attached to a ship’s anchor holding this mammoth in place. Leaving nature’s wonder behind, the track leads to a junction. For the weary, a shortcut can be taken, but I opt for the upper track which climbs to the highest point. The view is well worth the journey. I take another GPS point at the summit and a few photos for memories, before descending to the walk’s first night’s retreat beside a bubbling brook with watering holes.

The second day is a full-day walk. From the retreat, the track crosses the stream and follows a farm track leading eastward and upward. It’s good to complete this climb in the morning when the temperature is still cool and the views are clear. After passing through a patch of forest the track reaches a saddle with a stunning outlook. Here my eyes follow down the green pastures until land terminates and the expanse of the Colville Channel sits between me and Great Barrier Island. If it’s a clear day like today you can even see the white buildings at the back of the island’s Tryphena Harbour. Beautiful.

Having reached the highest point on day two I sidle around the upper catchment before crossing a stile to join the Stony Bay mountain bike track. Boy, the track is steep in any direction for cycling. I have ridden some pretty challenging trails over the years, but to tackle this track on pedals, even if electrified, would be quite a feat – my feet would certainly be walking a bike. The path picks up the Coromandel Walkway beside the forest and reaches the historic shepherd’s hut. I pop inside and see what the conditions would have been like for those who worked in this remote location – it appears it would have been a rough life.


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Just a few minutes further along the track, it reaches a volcanic intrusion named Sugarloaf. Nearby a shaft of rock rises vertically out of the ocean. I stand still to take a photo and observe this feature. It is questionable whether the hill looks like a sugarloaf, especially when you compare it to the most well-known example in Rio, Brazil. Unless you were born in the 19th century, most of us have never seen refined sugar moulded into a conical sugarloaf; even sugar cubes are a rare find these days. For me, the shape of this hill is more like a rye bread loaf rising out of the sea, similar to that of Square Top Island just offshore. Needless to say, if I had the naming rights of geographic features, our country would have more-accurately coined placenames.

After slicing through the base of the rye loaf the track leads down to picturesque Maloney’s Beach. The black volcanic sands of the beach are cooked up from the eroded remains of the volcanic basalt activity that formed the nearby loaf and island behind me. The black sands are a huge contrast to the white quartz-based beaches of Port Jackson just around the corner. The meandering stream leads me down to this cute beach, hemmed in by rocky headlands that are covered in coastal trees. If there was ever a place to have a rest, then this would be my pick as it is secluded, has no road access and is a surfcaster’s paradise. As I watch two fishermen returning from a catch, I look around for a dry spot to sit and set up my lunch. It is hard to leave this place, but I map my way north and drop into Fletchers Bay. As I wind down the hill I can see the terminus of the public road from Colville reaching the Department of Conservation campsite nestled behind the bay. The fishermen I saw earlier are tenting there too. No fish filleting or fry-up is going on but I can see that both are loving this paradise, each with a cold brew in hand.

The track follows the road up out of the bay and veers back onto a farm track to reach the Muriwai Walk, which follows along the edge of cliffs towards Cape Colville and a modified hillside, the fortified terrace being the remains of the Wharekaiatua Pā. This is as far north as I go on the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, and it’s only a short walk along Port Jackson’s beach to reach the shearers’ quarters for the walk’s second night’s stay.


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If the overnight conditions are good and you are an early bird or a night owl then it’s worth being around for dawn or twilight; there are great vantage points near the quarters for watching the changing light. If you are neither a night owl nor an early bird then count sheep like a shearer and sleep deep in their quarters.

The final day offers some choice choices: the most relaxing is spending the morning chilling out; the semi-active option means a short elevated walk inland; and the final (and in my opinion the best) option perfectly completes the journey. If booked in advance, the third option involves the return to Colville along a stunning coastline by e-bike while the shuttle van returns to collect bags and any stragglers. This is sure to be a few hours of biking bliss and I put my hand up. Oddly given all the cycling I do, I have never travelled far on the new breed of e-bikes. I am ready for the challenge and my legs are keen on being aided.


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All powered up and ready to go, I start by riding the flats in the bike’s ‘Eco’ mode, but as soon as the hill climb begins out of the bay I can feel my legs burning from the previous days of walking. I don’t hesitate to flick into ‘Tour’ mode and I gently rise towards the only real climb on the ride. Somewhat surprisingly this is not enough for me, so knowing there is plenty of juice in the battery bank, I skip the next setting and go straight into ‘Turbo’ mode. Now that’s what I am talking about! I power up faster than any Tour de France hill-climb rider, as if there is no hill. At the ridgeline saddle, I turn my head for my last view of Port Jackson then descend to the western coastline, sniggering as I go at the joys of electrification.


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I have the road to myself as it meanders around the rocky coves, and I stop off at many points, bays and scenic features. It’s charming here. One of my stops is to marvel at a concrete waterfront bach with inlaid pāua shells. The riding between the tree-lined bays is simple, scenic and secluded. The only part of the ride where I slow down is to cross the shallow fords which are carrying increased water from the recent winter rains. Time and kilometres fly by on the bike and I soon begin to turn inland. It’s not long before I reach Colville and return to my car. I put my bags in the back and motor back to the Hauraki Plains. But wow! What a trip! One like no other. I have now visited the land’s end beyond Colville by circumnavigating its shores (mostly) by foot, before the official opening of the Pahi Coastal Walk.


MAP Pahi coastal hike NZToday RV Lifestyle vol 19


32km, 3 days
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