James and I had planned a weekend in Paeroa so that we could run a section of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
While I was investigating the Hauraki Rail Tail (trying to decide which section/s we would do) I came across a photo taken from the Windows Walk in the Karangahake Gorge which was so breathtaking that I immediately knew that while we were in the area I’d have to go and see it for myself.
Although the Windows Walk is not a part of the Hauraki Rail Trail, it’s close enough that you could add it in as a side trip.
This spectacular walk passes through the relics of the Talisman and Crown mining operations.
From the Karangahake Reserve car park begin by crossing both the suspension bridge over the Ohinemuri River, and then the Lower Waitawheta Gorge bridge. Go up the stairs and through the abandoned buildings and machinery of the Talisman battery.
Then follow the rail track along the gorge and into the old gold mining tunnels. The tunnel has four openings (windows) which look down on the spectacular river gorge far below. The track emerges from the cliff and descends a staircase before crossing the river on a suspension bridge and returning on the opposite side of the gorge along the Crown Tramway Track to the car park. 1 hour 30 minute round trip. 2.5km (Source).
Once you get past the bridges and onto the track “proper” it’s very Indiana Jones’esque especially if (like us) you start out before all of the tourist buses arrive (although James disagreed with the Indiana analogy because of the amount of names scrawled into the walls – I was more forgiving, viewing them as modern day cave drawings) 😉
I was quite relieved to find that the ascent wasn’t as hard going as I’d imagined it would be. Perhaps it was just that we were very well rested having stopped to read all of the information boards and investigate the ruins as we passed by (after all, we may not get another opportunity).
After 10 minutes we reached the “windows” or more accurately a tunnel with windows carved out of the side that lets the light in and affords an amazing view across the river to the Crown Tramway Track. The first part of the tunnel actually receives quite a lot of light but if you are not near an opening its VERY dark and if you happen to be all alone it’s bloody spooky.
I know this because James left me by one of the windows to explore a side tunnel and the longer he was gone, the more freaked out I became especially as my headlamp didn’t make a huge dent into the darkness around me (I think I might need to ask Santa for an upgrade).
After bordering on tears and screaming my lungs out, my husband sauntered back into the light of the window to lead me out of the darkness, he wasn’t sure what the fuss was all about – after all, he’d left me by a window.
“You were perfectly fine Julia, who on earth is going to wander all the way up here to kill you?”
Obviously he doesn’t watch anywhere near as much Criminal Minds as I do …
Once we came out into the light, all was forgiven and I headed down the stairs and across the bridge to the Crown Tramway Track (which leads you back to the suspension bridge to complete the loop) and James went back into the darkness of the tunnel so that he could take a photo of me on the other side from one of the windows.
It’s the least he could do after leaving me in the dark tunnel to die ..
This side of the track winds it’s way around the mountain following the path of the water and the panoramic views are stunning and it’s a slight downhill all the way back to the main bridge that leads to the car parking area.
Although all the literature that I read states that this round trip takes 1 hr 30 minutes you’d have to move REALLY slowly to come anywhere near that. Even though we jogged up hill stopping to read the information boards and clamber over the ruins and then spent a good 15-20 minutes inside the windows tunnel (under duress I might add) we still completed the loop in under 40 minutes.
Even though I may have found the tunnel “slightly scary” I’d do this loop again in a heart beat (although with a higher powered light) – it’s well worth the 90 minute drive from Auckland. In fact, next time we head down (if we are sans kidlets) I’d probably completely forgo the Hauraki Rail Trail and spend the day exploring the trails up in the mountain instead.
The other stuff;
Location – The Karangahake Gorge is on SH2 between Waihi and Paeroa, at the southern limits of the Coromandel Peninsula
Parking? – Yes (very large)
Toilet Facilities? – Yes, located at the car park.
Kid Friendly? – Yes, it’s short enough and although the tunnel is quite dark I’m pretty sure my kids (7 & 8) would be fine as long as their Dad didn’t wander off into the darkness and they had a hand to hold.
Till next time