Explore your own backyard in April with this walking festival hosted by locals, for locals. The Echo Walking Festival is now in its sixth year, the nine day series of events covers the Kaimais to Coromandel - traversing ranges, discovering estuaries, summiting mountains, braving tunnels and coastal walkways.
Every year organisers strive to find new walking opportunities, with enough variety to cater for all ages and fitness levels. Twenty guided walks are being held between April 18th and 26th. Most walks are completely free, except where a small fee is charged to cover transport costs.
Six communities are hosting the Walking Festival this year: Katikati, Waihi, Paeroa, Thames, Coromandel and Te Aroha. Each community involved has a feature walk that highlights a unique local characteristic. There are also walking winery tours, ‘senior delinquent’ walks for our vintage walkers, rugged coastal tramps and feature walks.
Echo Feature Walks
The Uretara River Walk (Katikati) explores New Zealand’s only Haiku walkway along following the banks of the Uretara River to a newly created wetland. Katch Katikati Co-ordinator, Jane Burke, says this guided walk features a great mixture of poetry and wildlife. “The wetland restoration along the Uretara in Katikati is an ongoing process undertaken by the owners John & Milinka Holwerda. This will be the only salt & fresh water wetland in our region and a fantastic asset to our community. It already attracts over 20 different species of birds. A wonderful project to keep an eye on,” says Jane.
More adventurous walkers and trampers can tackle the Wairere Falls to Te Tuhi traverse, just south of Te Aroha. This challenging full day tramp will reward visitors with stunning views of Wairere falls and vistas across the Waikato plains. Walkers should expect a steep ascent to the top of the 153m high falls, before heading south along the spine of the Kaimais, and descending through farmland along the marked Te Tuhi track.
Explore Waihi’s Martha Mine at dusk with the Pit Rim Night Walk. “This is an excellent opportunity for both locals and visitors to experience a unique new walking track around the rim of an open cast mine, right in the centre of Waihi,” says Brian Gentil of Go Waihi. First opened to the public in October 2008, the walkway is about five kilometres long, with some hilly parts. Torches are an absolute must. This path is suitable for almost all walkers and it’s pushchair-friendly. Walkers can also try their hand at panning for gold with Newmont Waihi Gold. “Where else in the world can you do this?” asks Brian.
Paeroa continues the gold rush theme with the Karangahake Tunnel Loop Walk and Treasure Hunt in the Karangahake Gorge. This loop walk passes through dramatic natural scenery and the ruins from the district’s gold mining heyday. “One of the exciting features of this popular circuit track in the Karangahake Gorge is being able to walk one kilometre through an old train tunnel,” says Anne Harris, a Karangahake local, and Positive Paeroa Co-ordinator. “It has an eeriness and atmosphere which we will enhance to make it more interesting for families searching for clues in the Treasure Hunt. I feel privileged to live in the Karangahake Gorge and it will be nice to be able to share the stunning walks I take on a daily basis, with visitors to the area during the Walking Festival.” This walk will be a school holiday delight for the young and young at heart.
Rocky’s Goldmine is a 2.5 to 3 hour walk through the regenerating bush of the Thames area. There are great vantage points along the path, with views over the Firth of Thames, swimming holes (optional swim!), a bird sanctuary and bush. The area's vegetation is still recovering from the early days of gold mining and grazing. After a short steep climb, the clearly marked walkway continues past old gold mining tunnels, through regenerating forest and back to the Tararu Stream.
Coromandel Kauri Walk Challenge is a fun family walk that explores Coromandel Town’s “two” Kauri walking tracks and on through the awesome camp at stunning Long Bay finishing with a picnic at Tucks Bay. However there will be an easier option for those who would still like to participate or who have pushchairs.
How to register? At participating information centres or online (see below). The walks are free, but a gold coin donation would be appreciated. Any donations go towards supporting this community event. All registered participants go in the draw to win fabulous prizes provided by local sponsors, including a night’s accommodation at Panorama Country Lodge, near Katikati, Poets Corner Lodge, near Waihi Beach, holiday accommodation in Whiritoa or tickets to the New Spirit Festival.
Full details of the Echo Walking Festival are available online www.echowalkfest.org.nz, and you can also pick up a brochure at your local i-Site or information centre, or the April edition of New Zealand Walking Magazine. For further information or photographs please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Stephanie Twaddle on 07 571 2723.
Waitawheta Track - ‘Family-Friendly’ Hiking near Waihi
There’s no better time of year to stride through some of the Bay’s many walkways and forest tracks. One family-friendly track a comfortable drive north of Tauranga near Waihi, is the Waitawheta Track.
The Waitawheta Valley lies just 10km west of Waihi, near the small township of Waikino. The track starts from the end of Franklin Road off Waitawheta Road, that’s a left hand turn off State Highway 2 (just north of Waikino Tavern if you’re heading towards Auckland). From the carpark at the road end hikers follow the Waitawheta River through private farm land before entering the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. The tramping track soon meets up with the historic Waitawheta Tramline bed.
The historic tramway was used to log kauri timber early last century. The concrete foundations of the original tramway bridges are still visible in the river below the new suspension bridges. Original tramway sleepers, and ballast rock can still be seen on much of the tramping track, along with a restored logging bogie (cart) and information panels which tell the story of the Waitawheta Valley’s early industrial history.
The track continues along the tramline and the spectacular Waitawheta Gorge until reaching Waitawheta Hut, which sleeps 26 people. With three of the six river crossings now bridged, this popular three-hour track in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park is safer for family groups, but still offers the adventure of getting your feet wet.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) opened two new bridges on the track in January. “Hopefully they will encourage more family groups and less experienced trampers to explore the Waitawheta Valley and gain confidence in the outdoors,” says Kody Williams DOC Ranger and project manager.
The Bateman family of Tauranga were some of the first to try out the new bridges. Having spent the night at the 26-bunk Waitawheta Hut they were enjoying the scenery on their leisurely walk back to their car. Twelve year-old cousins Keegan and Taylor Bateman were both impressed by the riverside track. “The big rocks in the river looked really cool,” enthused Keegan. “And the nature’s really nice,” added Taylor.
International volunteers representing seven different nationalities have been working on the Waitawheta track. A team from Conservation Volunteers New Zealand (CVNZ) helped to bench sections of the Waitawheta track. In the last year CVNZ volunteers and their tutors have spent 15 weeks working with DOC in the Waitawheta Valley on heritage projects, and creating and maintaining tracks.
More information and hut tickets are available from Tauranga’s DOC office at 253 Chadwick Road West, Greerton, Tel 578 7677, or most information centres.
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway
So you don’t want to walk as far… For some great shorter walks (Easy walking, 45 minutes to 3 hours return) try this walkway, which has three sections. From the Waikino Visitor Centre, across a footbridge to the Victoria Battery site, follow the old railway line to the Owharoa Falls/Taieri Stream confluence at Waitawheta Road (1hr return). From the other end, start at Karangahake beside the foundations of the Crown Battery, cross the river and go through the 1100 m former rail tunnel, which is well lit. From a bridge at the tunnel exit there is a choice of going on to Owharoa Falls (3hrs return) or taking the loop track back to Karangahake (45mins). The loop track is unsuitable for wheelchairs.
Don’t want to drive as far? Tauranga boasts 60 kms of walkways which are open to the public - around coastal areas, estuaries and inland reserves. The walks vary from gentle 15- minute strolls to more ambitious 2 hour hikes. Some of the tracks are purpose built, wooden-slatted paths, while others are natural walkways, forged by previous walkers, complete with tree roots and native plants. In particular, Tauranga is a district of harbour walkways.
The council has an excellent booklet showing 16 of the main walks around Tauranga. Each walk has a map showing access, the time to complete it, and other useful info. Sadly, perhaps for cost reasons, the colour booklet is not available in the Willow Street offices, but you can download it from council’s website
Tauranga's walkways cater for people of all abilities and the booklet has ‘easy access walks,’ the best known of which is of course, the Mauao (Mount Maunganui ) base track.