Our first significant battle against gravity since our Matamataharakeke walk at Waikawau Bay was Mt Karioi, a 2.4-million-year-old volcano 8km south of the seaside town of Raglan in the Waikato. I’ve climbed it before, years ago, but from the non-scenic side and not in 27-degree heat.
The drive from Raglan is along a winding, narrow gravel road until you get to a car park with a phenomenal view over Te Toto Gorge.
Te Toto Gorge
There’s a viewing platform right on the edge of one of the three natural amphitheatres formed by Te Toto Gorge; it’s not for those with vertigo. At this point you’re around 220m above sea level, and you can make your way down to see remnants of ancient Maori walled gardens down a mostly unformed track which is steep and difficult at first but flattens out near the bottom.
Mt Karioi track
Opposite the car park entrance there’s a discrete sign marking the beginning of the Mt Karioi track to the summit of Mt Karioi. The other track, Wairake track, starts the other side of the mountain, so you can’t do them in a loop.
Two hours to the lookout or three hours to the summit. We decided on just going to the lookout because we also wanted to explore Raglan and have some time on the beach. Usually the Department of Conservation signs are pessimistic, so we were hoping for 90 minutes up and less coming down.
The track starts in grove of kanuka trees with a surprising number of juvenile lancewoods and quickly opens out into grassy farmland. It’s 99.9% uphill for over 500 metres of elevation change, so don’t expect any respite.
There are several shady spots you can stop for a rest if you want, and as the air is very clear and unpolluted in this area there are some nice collections of saprophytic plants on the trees.
Heading up this side of the mountain gives you endless scenic gifts up and down the west coast of New Zealand. As it was clear we could see Mount Taranaki (which is 215 kilometres away!) as a grey triangle on the horizon.
The track quickly becomes forested again as you meet the main ridge and there’s some shade from the sun, but then the advance climbing starts.
The track is often narrow and you’re pushing through vegetation, then there are slippery tree roots, large boulders to scale and finally, rocky outcrops with chains to help you get up and down.
Some of the forest is pleasantly damp in the hot sun, and mosses hang from the tree limbs while fantails flit around catching flies.
Mt Karioi lookout
Occasionally you get a glimpse of the summit from the track, but we knew we weren’t going there and at around 90 minutes of walking we got to the sign for the lookout which is a 10-minute diversion to the north.
The lookout is a rocky outcrop baked by the sun which affords panoramic views of the Whaingaroa Harbour and Raglan town.
We had decided to take 7 litres of water which, while an unwelcome weight in the backpack, turned out to be quite necessary as by the time we got back to the car park we had gone through 5! We had met a group of people at the lookout who were worried they would run out of water as they had only brought about 1-1.5 litres each and were going to the summit.
The walk back down was about as difficult as the walk up as parts of the track are slippery and steep, but it was a lot of fun. This is marked as an advanced hiking track and you do need the right footwear and attitude (and some upper body strength) to get yourself over some of the more challenging obstacles.
We headed back to Raglan to have a rest. Raglan is a popular surf and kitesurf destination. In fact, you can do a lot on its wide expanse of beach including land yachting, kite flying, fishing, horse riding and other activities. As there was a strong breeze up, there were plenty of kite surfers out and the tide had receded to leave a large number of warm pools of water.
We left the kite surfers to their activity and went and had a lie down. We’ll go back to Raglan again sometime and explore in-depth as we didn’t investigate the Bridal Veil Falls, or any of the shops and cafes.