The Hillary Trail – because it’s there

I decided I would walk the Hillary Trail as part of my training for the South West Coast Path walk in April this year. When the calendar ticked over to 2014 I realised the date is drawing nearer, it’s this year rather than next year.

So on 1 January I set off from Arataki with my bother-in-law, Vernon. The first day is quite easy especially as they have upgraded the track with boardwalks. It started to rain, which I was thankful for, although it was relatively humid like a tropical rainforest. We stopped for lunch at Huia so the first day of four to five hours we had completed in half that time. Two of my sisters and a niece joined us for afternoon tea and it was a pleasant way to spend New Year’s Day at the picturesque Karamatura Campsite.

The others went home and I continued up the steep Karamatura Track on to Mount Donald McLean Track, through Puriri Ridge track to Omanawanui. Luckily I had got an early start so even though it was warming up I still got to Whatipu quite early. It was hot work going up Gibbons, thankfully most of it was in the shade. Here a funny thing happened, I completely lost my appetite but my thirst quadrupled. I ate ten apples that day, lots of water but had to force myself to eat.

Down Muir Track I met a girl coming the opposite way also doing the Hillary Trail
– I didn’t envy her having to go up Omanawanui in the heat of the day. Down to the
old familiar Les Ward Shelter at Pararaha but still only 10.30 am. I rested for a while and headed to the base of Buck Taylor. The trail gave the option of the hill or beach so I chose the easier beach walk. It was getting hotter and progress was slow through the soft sand so I was grateful to get to Karekare for some shade and bathe my feet in the stream to get rid of the excess sand and cool off.

Another hill at Comans Track leading on to Te Ahu Ahu to the road. Here was
the first drag along the road with another short bash along the busy Piha Road. I was thankful to be able to drop back in to the bush at Ussher Track leading above the Kitetkite Falls. The place was packed, the car park overflowing and the falls visitors parking as far away as the end of Glen Esk Road. Another hot road bash thankfully broken when I arrived at the Piha Store. Even though there was a pile of food available I could only think about quenching my thirst with a large coffee, ice block and cold drink. Another road trudge and up White Track to Anawhata Road, a short road walk to the welcome sight of the Craw Campsite. So thirty kilometres in one day, my feet were sore; I managed to quench my thirst but still no appetite for food. This campsite has a great viewing platform to watch the sunset over Piha, a real contrast to the hustle that was Piha.

Day three up early and retracing my steps to the start of the Kuataika Track, a steepish downhill followed by a steep uphill to the trig. Magnificent early morning views made the climb worthwhile. I was fooled a bit here thinking the next stretch would be downhill but no, still going up through Smyth Ridge. I had decided to exit at Swanson
as it was easier for transport so went through Smyth Corner, Long Road track and Upper Kauri. A short stint along the Auckland City walk and up Anderson to Scenic Drive. Crossing the road and then down Peripatus which, as you would expect, is very steep.
I had to have a few breaks and go easy down here as my legs were a bit shaky. Finally on to Swanson Pipeline leading to Tram Valley Road and a final hot haul up the road to the train station. No trains, replaced by buses but I only had to wait two minutes before one came and took me home. So it was satisfying to knock the track off but it was harder than I thought it would be due to the steep ups and downs plus the heat. The trail was easy to follow despite a number of the metal signs being souvenired. It was interesting to link all the tracks that I had done at various stages.

If you are interested in doing the trail campsites are $6.00 per night payable at the Auckland Regional Council, 21 Pitt Street or at the Arataki Information Centre. I tented but you can stay at Whatipu Lodge or the lodge at Craw Campsite, in fact I would recommend this as the first day is too short in comparison. It is recommended as a four day, three night trip but was manageable for me to drop one day off.

Chris Vernon