After a lazy late-summer Saturday spent napping and lounging, we were craving an adventure. The kind that involves driving through the night and stumbling around blindly in the dark as we climbed to the top of a jagged peak just in time for sunrise.
Buried in the depths of a Coromandel forest, the Pinnacles trail (Kauaeranga Kauri Trail) had been our to-hike list for years, but it had been closed two separate times for track maintenance. Once it reopened, we had still been putting it off, thinking we’d need to spend a night near the parkl to avoid an unpleasantly early wakeup. Ha.
On that Saturday evening, we packed our hiking backpack with all the essentials – including a torch (that’s Kiwi for flashlight) and a borrowed head lamp. Before the sun had even completely disappeared, we hopped in bed for a short snooze, with alarms set for 12:00am. We left Auckland in the dead of night and tore down the open road south. We arrived at the eery trailhead around 2:30am and started the climb by 3:00am.
I can’t say much for the trail itself, as it was nearly impossible to see. But the lack of light pollution in the park meant that each time we reached a clearing, we had the most incredible view of the stars and Milky Way. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced before.
Another exciting (yet terrifying) aspect of hiking in the middle of the night in New Zealand is the glowing eyes of possums! Every half hour or so, an unsuspecting nocturnal creature would dart across the track, making us jump each time. To be fair, I think we scared them more than they scared us. The little buggers wouldn’t stay still for a photo, sorry.
Towards the top of the trail, just past the DOC hut (where everyone was still sleeping), the trail turned into an obstacle course. Ladders and footholds helped us with the scramble to the top of the rocks. As someone low-key terrified of falling to my death, I was surprised at how much easier it was to complete the climb in the dark – as I couldn’t see anything except for the next ladder rung in front of me. We both absolutely loved it!
We made it to the top by about 5:15am, 45 minutes before sunrise and just minutes behind the first (and only) hikers we saw on the way up. The other group immediately claimed a dangerous perch, blocking our previously unobstructed view of the impending sunrise with a tripod. Slightly annoyed, we patiently waited for the show to start, while the hoards of noisy hut-stayers arrived with an unrelenting dialogue about the snacks they needed to consume after their 30-minute walk. Ugh.
Though it wasn’t the pure serenity we were were hoping for, nothing can ever ruin a sunrise from 2,500 feet. We snuck down to about 2,450 feet to have our own moment away from the chatter and it was even better.
We enjoyed a nutritious breakfast, popping open an aptly named Founders Breakfast Stout to hydrate before starting our descent.
Finally we could see the trail. No wonder it was difficult… the cobblestoned steps were a foot high! The trail was used by bushmen and the horses who helped them haul Kauri tree logs in the 1920s. Our legs aren’t nearly as long and strong as the packhorses the trails were designed for.
We arrived at the bottom with sore knees, yet smug and satisfied with our accomplishment… and were back on the road by 10am!