The climb to the Pinnacles, just two hours from Auckland, can be achieved in one day. But why not stay a night at the Pinnacles Hut and be up there for sunset and sunrise?

Highlights

  • An achievable overnight hike for beginners and families
  • Bouncy swing bridges overlooking swimming holes and forest valleys
  • A fun collection of ladders and ‘rock staples’ to climb to the Pinnacles
  • Incredible sunrise and sunset views over rocky ridges and out to the coast
  • A modern, well-equipped hut complete with gas cookers

Journey to the Pinnacles

With New Zealand out of Level 3 COVID-19 lockdown and overnight trips back on the cards, I was itching to get out and do something (anything!)

The Pinnacles Hut had been on my to do list for far too long. With a ten person limit on the otherwise 80 person hut, it was the perfect opportunity to experience the spot in relative solitude.

Located two hours from Auckland and only a 2-3 hour walk in, the Pinnacles Hut is a magic combo of achievability, accessibility and breathtaking scenery.

It’s a great introduction to overnight hiking for families and beginners, but if you’re short on time, you can even do it as a day trip.

The Hike to the Hut

An industrial-scale Kauri dieback cleaning station greets you at the trailhead. The Coromandel Forest Park is full of beautiful Kauri, so ensure you remove all the mud on your boots at the station to avoid spreading kauri dieback.

Heading up through the Kauaeranga Valley, the track takes you through spectacular native bush, over several bouncy swing bridges and up hundreds of stone stairs.

 

 

These stairs were initially cut for packhorses during the Kauri logging era (1870s-1920s), but nowadays provide a thigh-burning workout for their human users. In total you’ll be climbing 650m up to the hut, so you may want to think twice before packing that second bottle of wine!

To get to the Pinnacles Hut, you have a choice of the Webb Creek Track or the Billy Goat Track. We chose the Webb Creek Track as we were told it’s the easier, less slippery option. But if you’re keen for variety and little more of a challenge, the Billy Goat track is worth a try.

Either way, both routes rejoin at the Hydro Camp before the final climb to the Pinnacles Hut. Hydro Camp is a lovely open spot for lunch or a snack. The last section before the hut starts to deliver on the scenery, with views out to the Pinnacles and the Kauearanga Valley not only beautiful, but a satisfying reminder of how high you’ve climbed.

 

 

The name Kauaeranga means ‘stacked row of jawbones’. Initially, I assumed this referenced the shapes of the rock formations at the Pinnacles, but turns out it refers to actual bones. Interpretations vary between Māori iwi (tribes), with meanings ranging from the ‘heaping up of whale jawbones’ from whale strandings, to the skulls of slain rival iwi.

Arriving at the Pinnacle Hut

After 2.5 hours walking from the carpark, we arrived at the hut. And what a sight to behold. Nestled in the bush the huge hut has wooden boardwalks through the forest, a surrounding deck and even glass screens at the entranceway! Not your average backcountry hut.

 

 

The Pinnacles Hut is the biggest hut in New Zealand, with a whopping 80 bunks. The hut warden said it’s fully booked almost every Friday and Saturday night year-round, though it’s also a popular mid-week spot for school groups.

If you’re planning a trip up to the Pinnacles, make sure you book online early, so you don’t miss out. It’s $20 a night for an adult and $10 for kids.

Conveniently, the hut has gas burners provided, but you’ll need to bring your own pots and cooking utensils.

If you’d like a good night’s sleep, earplugs are a good idea, as the chance of a snorer in a 40-person bunk room is pretty high! And lastly, don’t forget toilet paper (sometimes provided, but probably not worth the risk!)

 

The Pinnacles

After copious amounts of snacking and our sleeping gear laid out ready for a cosy night, our next stop was The Pinnacles themselves. Climbing 150m over 1km, the heart pumping walk to the viewpoint takes 30-45 minutes.

The last section is a bit of a scramble, with two ladders and apparatus best described as ‘staples’ bolted to the rock. It can be a little tricky, but it sure is fun. 

 

 

We arrived at the viewpoint just in time for sunset. And I must say, it is spectacular. The 360 degree views overlook the creeping coastline, the gorgeous forest valleys and an imposing series of rocky formations and ridges.

Having spent quite a bit of time in New Zealand’s South Island, I’d come in with unfairly low expectations of the area’s scenery. Man, I was blown away.

 

 

So of course, we had to check it out at sunrise too. Climbing up by head torch for a leisurely 7am sunrise (the benefits of May), we were hoping for more breathtaking views. But the clouds were uncooperative, rolling in around us.

As the sun came up, the scenery was virtually non-existent. Though the mist certainly made for a moody alternative. It turns out if we’d been a little lazier, we would’ve had great views just 10 minutes up the track from below the cloud. You win some, you lose some!

 

 

After a leisurely morning breakfast, we wandered back out of the hut and were back to the carpark by lunchtime. The walk down is a little slippery in places but easier than the upwards cardio.

Having barely left the house in two months, the Pinnacles hike was a wonderful first taste of freedom. Though even if you haven’t been locked away, I’d still absolutely recommend it!

 

Essential Gear

  • Headtorch
  • Sleeping bag
  • Pots and cooking utensils
  • Toilet paper
  • Warm clothing
  • Food
  • Plenty of water (in summer the hut tank supplies often run low)
  • Hut booking confirmation (on phone or a print-out)
  • Earplugs

How To Get There

The hike starts two hours from Auckland, so head to Thames and take the signposted turnoff to Kauaeranga Valley. The drive from Thames is 35 minutes along primarily gravel roads.

On the way, you’ll pass the Kauaeranga Department of Conservation Visitor Centre, so stop in here if you have any questions. Ultimately, you’re aiming for the Kauaeranga Valley Road End Carpark, so can type this in Google Maps and you should be good to go!

Activities

  • Hiking
  • Photography
  • Swimming

Skill Level

Intermediate

The track is very easy to follow and is a great first overnight hike for beginners and families. However, it can be slippery, and there’s a decent amount of climbing involved so you’ll need a reasonable level of fitness.

In particular, the last section from the Pinnacles Hut to The Pinnacles viewpoint requires some ladder climbing and rock scrambling, so those who dislike heights may find it a challenge.

Distance Covered/Elevation Gain/Duration

Total return hike: 14 km / 750 m ascent / 6 – 8 hours

Carpark to Pinnacles Hut (via Webb Creek Track): 6 km / 600 m ascent / 2 – 3 hours

Pinnacles Hut to The Pinnacles (one-way): 1 km / 150 m ascent / 30 – 45 mins