The top of Mt Te Aroha is one of the places in New Zealand that really gives you an idea of the geography of the country because you can see so far. On a clear day you can see Mt Taranaki on the west coast, Mt Ruapehu in the centre of the North Island, Mt Maunganui and the Bay of Plenty, the Firth of Thames and the Coromandel Peninsula, and the broad flatness of the Waikato plains. Of course, you would see a long way when you’re almost a kilometre into the sky.
And it was on one of those glorious days that we decided to ascend Mt Te Aroha. Te Aroha town is a nice little settlement of about 4000 people that originally derived benefit from geothermal activity at the base of the mountain. There are commercial hot pools there today, but you can still see the occasional bubbling stream if you know where to look. Park your car outside the domain as it’s only a short walk, and car parks in the domain have a 120-minute limit.
From Te Aroha Domain several tracks head off into the Kaimai ranges from next to the pools, but the one with most of the traffic is the one that relentlessly climbs towards the summit. True, many people just go to the first lookout and turn around, but for the more adventurous that don’t mind another couple of hours’ slog the rewards at the top are truly spectacular.
Much of the climb is single-track and can be a bit muddy; some of it is scrambling up banks with tree roots, some has convenient (if occasionally slippery) wooden stairs, and right at the end there’s a significant stretch of craggy rock. Near the top you start getting peeps of the view through the vegetation. Five minutes from the top you start to hear the generator in the transmission tower and eventually you emerge onto the road that goes up to the tower and the views open out.
Walk around the back of the tower and you’ll find a trig point with a metal disk with a map telling you what you’re looking at – Whale Island, Mayor Island, Matakana Island and numerous others stretching across into the Bay of Plenty.
We stopped at the top for a picnic. The winter chill gradually cooled us as our heart rates dropped.
While it’s 2.5 hours on the way up, it’s only 1.5 hours on the way down the track. However, you can choose to walk down the private road which gives different views and landscapes. It’s not quicker, though, as it’s almost 10km back to town, but it is easier on the knees.
From the road several other tracks head off towards the mines and other destinations – you could spend several days walking in the Kaimai-Mamaku forest park, e.g. towards the Waitawhetu hut.
The road eventually reaches the golf course where it’s flat again and you can take the back streets, returning to the town centre along roads seemingly populated by people with a great affinity for cats; one was stationed every few houses guarding its territory.
Te Aroha town
We didn’t have much time to spend in the town itself as it was just a day trip. We ate dinner at Austins which seemed to be the best of an average bunch, but the food wasn’t good value at all. There are some interesting sculptures on the street and a clock tower which is illuminated in a variety of colours.
We want to come back to Te Aroha and try some more of the walks and explore some more of the history of the place.