Please take precautions if you intend to climb or hike Mount Pirongia. Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially at higher altitudes. Always carry a change of clothing, wet weather gear and sufficient food to cater for any emergency.
Walk: Easy well formed tracks, for all ages and fitness levels.
Track: Marked tramping tracks; requires skill, experience and average fitness. Note: many of Pirongia's tracks can be muddy, especially after rain.
Route: Requires higher levels of skill, experience and route finding ability. Suitable for well equipped trampers. Routes may be marked or unmarked.
Domestic animals are prohibited in the park. Permits for hunting dogs may be obtained from the Department of Conservation Office in Hamilton.
Pirongia Forest Park Lodge, situated at the end of Grey road, is a residential outdoor facility available for hire. For further information and bookings, contact the manager on (07)8719570
(3 hours return)
Circular walk through beautiful native forest. There are many opportunities for swimming and picnicking along the way. Start the walk at Kaniwhaniwha carpark and follow the stream across farmland.
(3 hours return)
The two limestone caves are near the start of the Bell Track, 10 minutes from the Nikau Walk junction. You can walk through the 20-metre long main cave, except for a short hands-and-knees crawl. The cave is wet underfoot and torches are required. The second smaller cave is tight and narrow.
(2-3 hours to lookout)
The track climbs steadily from Grey Road carpark through tawa forest to Wharauroa lookout, one of the best viewpoints on Mt Pirongia. The last 30 metres before the viewpoint are quite steep, and chains have been bolted to the rock to guide your ascent.
(4-6 hours to summit)
Follow the track to Wharauroa Lookout, then on for another 30 minutes to Mahaukura. From here you descend steeply before climbing again towards the summit of Pirongia.
(1 hour to lookout)
A steady climb from Corcoran Road leads to Ruapane Trig. Excellent views extending across the Waikato Basin to the Kaimai Ranges.
(3-5 hours to summit)
After climbing to Ruapane Trig, traverse an undulating ridge on uneven ground to the summit. On a clear day look for Mounts Taranaki and Ruapehu in the distance.
(8-11 hours return)
You can create an interesting round trip by crossing from Grey Road carpark to Ruapane via the Nature Walk, then following the Tirohanga track to the summit. Return via Mahaukura.
(3-5 hours to the summit)
After this track leaves the Nikau Walk it climbs steadily up a ridge through strands of tawa. The Tahuanui Track can be combined with the Bell Track for a good overnight trip, staying at Pahautea Hut enroute.
(8-10 hours to summit)
From the bridge just before the kahikatea tree you climb a spur to a series of clearings. The last clearing, signposted as the half way point, has a small stream nearby and is a good camp site. The track becomes muddy at this point and continues along the ridge to The Cone and then to Pahautea Hut. It is another 30 minutes to Pirongia summit.
(6 hours return)
Follow the Bell Track past the Kaniwhaniwha Caves, alongside the Blue Bull Stream to a 66.5 metre high kahikatea tree.
(1 1/2 hours to Ruapane)
This alternative track to Ruapane Lookout starts at the Waite Road carpark.
Routes (requires high level of skill, routes may be unmarked)
(2 hours to Wharauroa)
An alternative route to Wharauroa Lookout. Cross farmland from O'Shea Road carpark for 30 minutes before reaching the bush edge.
(1 1/2 hours)
This route provides access to the Mangakino Block. Start at Vandy Road carpark and follow the semi-formed Vandy roadline for an hour before crossing farmland to the bush.
(1 hour to boundary)
From the Pirongia West Road this route follows a rough roadline across farmland to the park boundary. The Oparau River is not bridged and can be impassable after heavy rain.
(5-7 hours to the summit)
From the end of Te Tahi Road this route climbs steadily to Tiwarawara with good views to the south. Continue via Te Akeohikopiro and Hihikiwi peaks to Pahautea Hut and the summit.
The Mangakara Nature Walk at the end of Grey Road in Pirongia Forest Park, takes about one hour to complete. It is accessible to people of most ages and fitness levels but is not negotiable by wheelchairs. Numbered posts have been installed along the walk, the points of interest at each station are described below.
The tall miro tree to the right of the track is a member of the podocarp family. Its bark falls off in small flakes creating a distinctive ‘hammered' look. On the ground you will probably find a fallen twig. Notice how the sickle shaped leaves form in two rows on either side of the stem. In autumn, miro produce small reddish-purple fruit that kereru (NZ pigeon) often feed upon.
These days the green and white plumed kereru is a threatened species, mainly through nest predation by rats, mustelids and possums. You may see kereru in this part of the forest or hear their noisy wing beats as they fly overhead.
This tawa fell during a storm in July 2000. It lies here as part of the natural cycle, to decay and return essential elements to the soil and forest. Beetles and termites commence the breaking-down process. These insects have bacteria in their guts that break down the cellulose of wood. The holes and channels made by insects and their larvae are then enlarged by fungi. Water percolating through the channels and gaps then softens the wood, paving the way for attack and decomposition by microbial action. Tawa is one of the most common canopy trees in Pirongia Forest Park.
Look for the unmistakable olive-green drooping foliage and grey-brown slabby bark of rimu. These magnificent ancient members of the podocarp family have had pollen tracked back 70 million years, and can grow to over 50 m.
From this station you should be able to identify the different forest layers. Look down the valley and you will see a layer of ferns, shrubs and seedlings. A subcanopy of tree ferns, nikau and small trees such as mahoe shelters the shrubs. The next layer is the canopy; here it consists mainly of tawa, pukatea and rewarewa. Emergent podocarps, like this rimu, stand out above the canopy.
You are standing in front of a kahikatea, New Zealand's tallest native tree (it can grow to over 60 metres). The buttressed trunk and flaky grey bark can be used to identify kahikatea. The buttresses give support in swampy habitat.
The small red and blue berries were eaten by Maori and, after the arrival of Europeans, the odourless timber was milled for butter boxes.
This vigorous, spreading herb grows best in damp, shaded conditions in lowland forests. The leaves were once used for wrapping kumara for the hangi. You'll see parataniwha on the way to the next marker post. Please note the track sign across the bridge and veer right to stay on the Nature Walk. Otherwise you'll end up at Ruapane!
This leafy green tree is something of an oddity. It is in fact two trees - mahoe and kohekohe. They have grown so closely together that they now appear to be one.
Mahoe grows to 10 metres, making it the largest violet in the world. Its long smooth leaves are dark green on top and light green underneath. Mahoe is also known as ‘whitey wood' because of the colour of its bark, though this example is green with moss.
Kohekohe has a large, glossy, broad leaf and its flowers grow directly out of the trunk. Kohekohe are a favourite food of possums and many trees have been killed by possum damage.
This is a good part of the forest to watch and listen for birds. Look for the darting piwakawaka, the fantail. They often follow you through the bush, feeding on insects as they go. Usually heard but rarely seen is riroriro, the grey warbler. This tiny bird has a distinctive trill, often repeated several times. The pipiwharauroa or shining cuckoo often lay their eggs in riroriro nests. Their monotonous call of five or six upward notes, followed by a final downward whistle, is a common sound in this forest.
No one is sure how this large boulder came to be here. It may have been thrown out in one of Pirongia's eruptions, though they were generally not very violent. It appears well worn by flowing water so may once have been part of a stream bed.
The leaves of rewarewa, also known as New Zealand honeysuckle, change as the tree ages. In young trees the leaves are longer and acutely toothed. Mature trees, like this one, have shorter, coarsely toothed leaves. Rewarewa have striking red flowers that are rich in nectar. It is an important feeding tree for tui and bellbirds.
The shiny black tui has a distinctive tuft of white feathers at its throat while the bellbird is smaller with olive green colouring. Both birds have similar songs with pure, bell-like tones. They can be hard to tell apart, but the tui intersperses its song with various clicks and wheezes.
On either side of this station you will see long black vines known as kareao or supplejack. This vine was called supplejack by the crew of Captain Cook's ship. “Supple” because it bent in many directions, and “jack” because it was useful for many tasks. A single vine can have up to 50 branches making parts of the forest impenetrable. Maori used kareao for ropes and woven baskets.
Another vine, kiekie, flourished here. It has whitish, ringed stems and long, blade-like leaves, often with orange blotches. Kiekie grows on tree trucks and the forest floor. Maori prized its tasty fruit and kiekie is also said to be the food of the Patu Paiarehe, the ‘people of the mist'. These mythical, fairy-like beings from the peaks of Pirongia reputedly emerge only under cover of darkness or in thick mountain mists.
Look closely at the colourful rocks in the streambed. These have been washed down from Pirongia's volcanic slopes. Life flourishes in the stream, though at first glance it may not be obvious. Touch the rocks and feel the slippery algae growing on them. Hiding between the rocks you might see the larvae of insects like caddisflies and stoneflies; these are an important source of food for the kokopu, a small native trout. Koura (native freshwater crayfish) and eels live in areas of slow moving water.
A feature of pukatea is protruding, flange-like buttressed roots that provide support and absorb oxygen. Mature trees reach a height of 35 metres. Maori used the juices from the bark of pukatea to alleviate toothache and constipation.
The reddish-brown roots descending down the rear side of the trunk belong to a rata. Rata begins life as an epiphyte (a plant that grows on, and gets support from a “host” tree), eventually sending roots down to the ground. These roots can grow so large that the rata becomes a self-supporting tree.
There are a number of nikau palm trees to the left of the track. The nikau is New Zealand's only mainland native palm and the most southern naturally growing palm in the world. Its name can be translated to mean ‘barren coconut' as it bears little fruit in comparison to its well known relative.
The heart and undeveloped leaves were occasionally eaten by Maori, but as this killed the tree it is no longer permitted. The colourful nikau berries may look edible but they are very hard. They were eaten by kaka, which were present in the park until the 1960s. Kokako were also present but are now almost certainly extinct in this area.
Department of Conservation,
Waikato Conservancy Office,
Level 4, 18 London Street
Private Bag 3072
Tel (07) 838 3363
International +64 7 838 3363
Fax: (07) 838 1004
International +64 7 838 1004