Only 30 minutes drive out from Hamilton, this is one track I surprisingly loved! A short but reasonable fitness, and a bit of a challenge, tramp.
Tirohanga Track – Intermediate (bottom section) turning into advanced (top section). Time taken, 1hr one way. Return the same way you came.
Ruapane Track – Advanced. Time taken, 1.5hrs one way. Return the same you came.
So first there are two tracks to choose from. The Tirohanga Track where the car park is on Corcoran Road or the Ruapane Track where the car park is on Waite Road. Both car parks are reached via Te Pahu Road and you will see blue road signs to both car parks marked as “Forest Access Road”. Regardless of which starting point and car park you choose to start from, both car parks are situated at the end of each road. So the car park for the Ruapane Track is at the end of Waite Road. You will know you’re coming to the end of the road because you will see a yellow triangle stating “road ends 210m”. When you’re reaching either car parks, the wide road suddenly becomes a narrow unkept single track road with some steep sharp corners on short sections. “Yes! You are going the right way” because that thought crept into my mind several times, especially as I was driving a small engined but long bodied car at the time and the prospect of reversing all the way back out while also dealing with short steep corners is not my idea of fun. You will also drive past post boxes and driveways to people’s homes, don’t turn into these, just keep following the single track until it literally ends.
The Tirohanga Track is marked as easy by DOC but I have no idea why. The walk from the car park (the bottom section) has an incline but its a manageable incline with some steps built in at the most steep sections. This is an ‘natural’ track so you will find yourself tackling a lot of tree branches, and if it’s wet, mud and puddles. When I was there there were so muddy parts but nothing too strenuous or wet, but even still I would have categorised this part of the walk as intermediate as you would need reasonable fitness to do this (i.e. not your usual stroll in the park).. I will call this part the bottom section and will take you approx 45mins to walk. The bottom section ends where it meets up with the Ruapane Track. At this junction you will see the usual green forest signs.
The Ruapane Track is marked as advanced and I can see why. When you reach the car park you will not see you’re usual car park or track signs that you would see at a lot of other track sites. Instead you come to an abrupt end next to open paddocks (fields). The only indication of a track being there, apart from the Ruapane Lookout Track sign at the start of the single track road down to the car park is, at the car park there is a stepping stile and the familiar orange triangle. All indications that perhaps not many people tackle this short tramp. After a very short walk up the side between fields you come to a hill and it is steep! Short sharp and steep. This is not a built or maintained path so be prepared. Just over an hour later you will come to a junction which meet with the Tirohanga Track.
The top section i.e. The Tirohanga and Ruapane Track meeting/coming together.
From here the sign indicates that to get to the peak it will take 15mins, and when you see it you will begin to doubt, “really, 15mins?!” The reason for this is because at the start of the top section it is a steep climb up, but the most challenging part for many is when you come abruptly to a (surprising especially since the Tirohanga Track is categorised as EASY) large craggy rocks/boulder that you have to sudden tackle to continue on with the tramp. In the Pirongia and Raglan Tracks brochure they refer to this short scramble as “tramp leads up over rock to the trig view point” and “it then climbs steadily up a rocky outcrop to the trig”. I don’t know about you but when I read that I was expecting just a steep short haul over a boulder, not actually scrambling, but don’t worry, this only rocky section only looks daunting but there are enough ledges, crevices, cracks, tree trunks and branches to allow you to scramble up. If the rock is wet then extra caution is required because this will have made it a little bit more risky to climb. It was dry when I tackled it. After the rocks you will continue to ascend upwards and come across a second rock section. Again, with well thought out steps there are enough features on the rock to allow you to scramble up and over it.
At this point you maybe thinking getting up is one thing, how do I get down? Well, personally if I find a really steep section which I have to get down from I would sit down on the edge of the steep section, steady myself by grabbing something with my hands whether that is a tree branch or a part of a rock, and then step down slowly with my legs. If I feel like I’m going to fall forward, lean back and just sit on the edge, you’re not going to go anywhere. Also remember that your arms are holding onto something so you should already be steady before you started moving. Plan out what your going to do and take your time.
There are two rock sections that have to be tackled but both are no more than 5m in vertical length so it’s short. I was sceptical that that last scrambling section would take 15mins to get to the peak when I saw it but it really just took us 15mins so it’s not too taxing, just a little bit more physical exertion required. Once your over the second scrambling section it’s the peak so once you’re over over that you’re there! Because we started off in the late afternoon, we could see the light peaking through the canopy at the top of the trees beckoning us to reach the summit. Once you’re at the top you are greeted with some wonderful views and of course the usual lookout post. As the entire walk except for the summit is through forest you’re walking under canopy and so when we reached the top the contrast in colour and light of the sky and landscape was stark. As I have come to love, walking around Waikato makes me feel like I’m walking in the rainforest for the humidity and the sounds of the different birds. I loved listening to the whistling bird (which I think was the Tui birds communicating – DOC bird song , this is where an expert would be handy right now) in an otherwise peaceful environment.