Whakapipi Lookout-Bald Spur Track passes through lush parataniwha covered valleys. Photo / Outdoor Kid
Enjoy sunny autumn days strolling the tangled trails covering Mount Te Aroha, the mountain of love, before taking a dip in silky mineral-rich waters to soothe weary muscles, writes Ceana Priest
For more than a century, it’s been boom or bust on the mountain of love. Beneath the highest peak on the Kaimai Range, the plucky township of Te Aroha has weathered its fair share of checkered fortunes. Long gone are the old-timer gold prospectors and ailing Victorians seeking the rejuvenating waters of the former Edwardian spa town, replaced instead by Lycra-clad outdoor enthusiasts. Wafting coffee aromas herald their weekend arrival along the sculpture fringed main street. Then, brandishing sturdy hiking boots and snacks ferreted in pockets, they disappear away beneath the town’s nameake mountain to explore myriad walking and mountain bike trails.
In 1880, when harsh conditions and unyielding rock sent thousands of gold prospectors packing only months after they arrived in Te Aroha, enterprising townsfolk began touting an alluring tourist drawcard, even before the dust from the miners’ departure had settled. Silky piping hot soda mineral water had the infirm flocking to the mineral spas, where “taking of the waters” was said to cure ailments. But with medical advances, bathing became more recreational, and the geothermal marvels of Rotorua lured many tourists away.
Today you can follow in the prospectors’ footsteps along these well-traveled adventures hidden in the hills while keeping an eye out for flecks of gold in the mountain streams.
Butlers Incline, Waiorongomai Valley
An eye-watering steep engineering relic on the slopes of Waiorongomai Valley can be explored two ways, easy or just plain daft. The 400-meter long incline was abandoned in the early 1900s when impenetrable rock thwarted miners’ efforts to extract riches from the valley’s gold-bearing reefs. A pleasant stroll through native forest leads to its base, where you can ogle its vertigo-inducing 25-degree angle before heading home past the smaller Fern Spur Incline, and its Jenga styled pile of railway sleeps. Or, take leave of your senses and climb to the top of the incline, which makes it a nearly 9km-long return trip from the carpark, so best check doc.govt.nz before tackling.
Need to know: Allow 120 minutes (5.5 km) return for the Low-Level Loop. Car park on Waiorongomai Loop Rd. Rustic toilet. Walking only. No dogs.
Whakapipi Lookout/Bald Spur Track, Te Aroha Domain
Suppose the troops aren’t ready to conquer the highest point of the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park, Mount Te Aroha. In that case, this scenic alternative offers rewarding views from its vantage point at a more achievable 350m above sea level. The well-formed trail ascends quickly, zigzagging past introduced pines, native trees and swathes of parataniwha before reaching grand views of the township and Waihou River snaking past the bird-refuge Howarth Memorial Wetland. It’s a steady climb, so bring snacks and drinks for this adventure. The trailhead begins beside the world’s only hot soda water geyser, which erupts in a frothy frenzy every 40 minutes.
Need to know: Allow 45 minutes one-way to the lookout. Toilet and parking at Te Aroha Domain. Walking only. Dogs on leads.
Howarth Memorial Wetland Walk, Spur St
Mount Te Aroha provides an imposing backdrop for this shelter teeming with native birds. Once a swampy dumping ground for rubbish, its transformation has budding bird enthusiasts quivering through their binoculars with matuku moana/white-faced heron, tētē moroiti/grey teal and kawau/black shag spotted here. Youngsters can peer into the wetland’s murky depths from the viewing platform, looking for water-dwelling critters. The loop is buggy-friendly, and the family pooch is welcome.
Need to know: Allow 60 min (about 3km) to complete the loop. No bikes. Dogs on leads. Parking on Spur St.
Wairere Falls, Goodwin Road
The beguiling roar of the 153m-high Wairere Falls echoes down a steep valley past mammoth moss-covered boulders and cascading watering holes. Conquer the cliff stairs to emerge into the upper gorge lined with groves of nikau and pūriri before views appear of the tiered waterfall plunging off the steep escarpment. On windy days the falls are blown apart like delicate lace. To upsize the outing, continue to the spectacular upper viewpoint with its vast expanse of exposed rocks. It’ll add another 60 to 90 minutes return from the lower lookout.
Need to know: Allow 45 min (2km) one-way to the lower lookout. Walking only. No dogs allowed. 25 min south of Te Aroha on Goodwin Rd. Toilets available.
Tūī Domain Track, Te Aroha Domain
Not too long, not too short; This family-sized adventure begins beside Mōkena Geyser before sidling around the base of Te Aroha to a rocky outcrop and the picturesque Tutumangao Waterfall. The dirt track leads past overgrown historic relics hidden in the shrubbery before reaching Noel’s Lookout for views to Hapuakohe Range. Take a breather beside the waterfall while kids paddle and look for kōura/freshwater crayfish. Then, return the way you came, or be adventurous by crossing the wooden plank and navigating the winding, often unmarked, trails back to the Domain.
Need to know: Allow 60 minutes return. Toilet and parking at Te Aroha Domain. Walking only. Dogs on leads.
For more things to see and do in the region, go to waikatonz.com
Ceana Priest is the author of family-friendly Outdoor Kid guidebooks outdoorkid.co.nz
For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and Ministry of Health advice before travel at covid19.govt.nz