In the native Maori tongue, it’s called the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail. But you might know it as the sunrise Pinnacles Hike in the Coromandel. Something on our bucket list for a while, I jumped at the chance when my housemates wanted to go too.
There is a second Pinnacles hike in the south of the North Island near Wellington (you can read about that in the LOTR: self-drive post), but this post will focus on the Pinnacles hike in the Coromandel.
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17.2km hike / 10.68 miles
Time to complete:
6-8 hours round trip or 3 hours one way
970m at the summit
Spending some time in the Coromandel region? Check out these other fun activities:
If you want to follow the trail yourself, you can use this link here.
Located in Coromandel Forest Park, almost in the centre of the Coromandel Peninsula, The sunrise Pinnacles hike is not one to be missed. Less than a two hour drive from Auckland, you could easily make this a day trip.
The best way to reach the entrance to the Kauaeranga Valley to begin the trail is from Thames. It is not advisable to try and reach the trail from the eastern side of the park from Hikuai. You will not get very far!
The road from Thames into the park is a rough gravel road so take it slow to minimise damage to your car. The road takes you to the visitor’s centre which is the last bathroom before you start the Kauaeranga trail (unless you park at a campsite).
Any other questions you might have about the area and the park can be answered here too.
Due to the location, there is a high chance you are off-grid for most of your time here. There are only about 3 spots I successfully got phone signal, and even then it was a stretch at only 2 bars. Make sure you are travelling with somebody in case of an emergency.
Pro tip: If you do happen to travel alone, consider getting a satellite phone in case of emergency. This is also a well-walked trail so you are very likely to see some others enjoying the landscape too.
Length of trail
The Pinnacles trail is a 17.2km loop track that takes you through the dense woodland of Coromandel Forest Park. With multiple ways to enjoy this hike you can have a different experience each time:
- There and back in one day
- There and back over 2 days including an overnight stay
Direction of trail
So, now you know the options, let’s get into some more detail. You could either walk to the hut and back the same way down on the Webb Creek Track. This is *slightly* shorter and could be done in roughly 7.5 hours.
The second option is to start on the Webb Creek Trail and walk as far as the hut, then take the Billy Goat Track on the way back down to the car park. This option takes the typical hiker an extra 2 hours instead. This is the route we chose and I’m grateful we did. The billy goat trail going up would DEFINITELY be much more difficult.
On average it takes 3 hours to get to the hut, plus another 40 minutes to get to the summit from there. We decided we would much rather rest up in between rather than cram it into just one day.
For visitors of a higher fitness level, you may even get this done quicker than the average above. Our group decided to stop and take lots of landscape photos and take PLENTY of breaks. I love to hike, but I definitely do not have a high level of fitness. I’ll admit, I held up the group a fair bit, but we made it.
Want more tourism ideas while in New Zealand? Check out:
- The Hobbiton movie-set
- Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: A tourist must see
- LOTR New Zealand tour: An Independent self-guide
What to Expect
The ascent & the Webb Creek Trail
Due to some areas of the forest being in a flood zone, (due to the old dams upstream) there are a few swing bridges you will come across on your route.
Rather than get your shoes wet by trying to walk the shallow river, make sure to always use the bridges when available. This also prevents you from slipping on the rocks below.
The whole of the sunrise pinnacles hike ascent weaves the trail through the forest, occasionally coming to an opening in the trees and showing you the valley views. Breathtaking sights at every turn. You’ll find large sections of staircases followed by areas where the trail plateaus for a little while.
There are many signposts showing you the way and letting you know how far you are from the hut. This seems great until you realise you’ve been 3 hours away for 3 hours! It feels like the trail will never end.
Eventually you reach a high point on the trail with unobstructed panoramic views for quite some time. This is the first sign that you’re not too far away from the hut! Before you know it you’ll be freshening up inside the rustic backcountry cabin with the other people experiencing the trail.
The hut (run by DOC)
If you would rather not do the entire loop in one day, you have the option to stay at the Pinnacles Hut overnight. This hut (like many others on longer trails across the country) are run by the Department of Conservation.
This is a group under the New Zealand government who keep the parks across the country protected and safe for visitors.
The hut on this trail is an 80-bed accommodation. Due to the popularity of this hike, you would need to book in advance if you want to stay overnight. Their booking system is usually open a year ahead of time, but you should be good just booking a few weeks before you wish to go.
$25 per person, per bunk if over the age of 18
$12.50 per person, per bunk if aged 5 – 17
FREE if bringing an infant under the age of 4
Bunk beds are the only type of bed available, so don’t be expecting anything fancy here. Just enough for visitors to get a good rest before hiking the second half of the trail. There are no stores or places to purchase food on the trail or at the hut.
So if you want to bring something for dinner once you arrive, you will need to carry it on your hike. Try to avoid anything too heavy like tins if you can.
You don’t need to only bring cold food though as luckily the hut has cooking facilities for guests to use. Our group brought a mix of pasta, hotdogs and snacks as these were all lightweight foods for us to carry on the way up. It’s also quite sociable as most people are there for the same reason and there’s a large communal area for people to enjoy a sociable evening.
Want some more hiking ideas in New Zealand?
- Bobs Cove Track, an easy short trail with stunning views
- Queenstown Hill walk & what to expect of the trail
- Walk the Mount Maunganui volcano: All you need to know
- Mt Eden Summit: A dormant volcano walk in Auckland
Sunset or Sunrise
One thing that made this hike a favourite of mine, is how good the sunrise looks here. It’s the main feature of the sunrise pinnacles hike after all! It’s exactly why so many people choose to stay overnight in the hut. So that you are only 30-40 minutes from the summit before the sun rises.
We set our alarms for 5am so that we could refill our waters and get out on the trail with plenty of time. Due to sharing a room with 40 other people you can’t expect to have the best night’s sleep, but it was much quieter than we expected considering how many people were getting up at the same time.
Not only is the last section of this trail to the summit the steepest, but it is also done during the dark if you plan on making it to the top before sunrise. You can expect to walk up MANY flights of stairs and they seem to never end.
Once you get close enough to the peak, the stairs come to an end and you will be met with steel bars sticking out of the rocks. These are the ladders to get you to the top. I am a huge wimp when it comes to heights so I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous at this point.
Tip: Consider getting a headlight to use during this part of the ascent – that way you’ll still have your hands free for the climb/scramble.
This part of the hike is more of a climb than a walk. Plus, considering you already hiked nearly 4 hours the day before, your body could be aching at this point.
After climbing upwards for what seems like forever, you will eventually reach a clearing in the rocks and a viewing platform. If arriving in the dark, find somewhere comfortable with a good view to wait for the sun to come up.
Once it is light enough, you will see panoramic views across the entire Coromandel Forest park / Kauaeranga Kauri trail, and on a clear day you can even see the eastern coast too!
We couldn’t spend as long as we wanted up at the summit due to an incoming storm. We could see the lightning in the distance and did not want to be climbing down the metal ladders when the storm reached us. The storm did make some great photo opportunities though!
The descent & the Billy Goat track
Normally, when you are heading back down a mountain, you expect the whole way back to be downhill. Well, that is definitely not the case for the Billy Goat track due to the fact we somehow ended up travelling uphill this way too.
Did you ever hear those stories that parents or grandparents would tell you as a child, where they “walked to school uphill both ways”. Well, if you did the route we took on your pinnacles experience – you would have too!
This was 100% not my idea. I wanted to go the other way because at least I know that way is downhill on the way home! I was exhausted after our sunrise pinnacles hike the day before. I wanted an easy trail the second day.
The Billy Goat track was not as well kept at the Webb Creek trail with a lot of the track overgrown and a disused railway track that’s been covered by plants.
Some sections of the trail were obvious old staircases, but over time, many of the steps had broken away which made it a little more dangerous.
Many sections were now just rocks that had crumbled away. I would suggest good hiking boots/shoes for this half of the trail.
After travelling up and down for what felt like an eternity, we ended up at the bottom of the mountain range at a river. This is where a lot of people stop for a paddle and sit down after such a long walk. It was a bit too cold for us to stay for too long but it was refreshing after working up a sweat for the past 4 hours!
The car park is right across the water and the pinnacles hike is finally behind you.
Best time to visit
Spring or Autumn are the two best times to visit. There are less people on the trail and it is not as hot as the peak summer months. If you are already sweating on the hike, you probably don’t need it to be 30 degrees outside too.
Be careful if you do the hike in the winter, as although the trail is open, there is a flood risk. Many of the small streams overflow and the trail can become muddy and slippery. Take precaution.
Make sure to stay safe while hiking by avoiding the common dangers associated with the activity.
Packing List for day Hikes
- Hiking Boots or Trainers with grip – It’s not steep until the summit but it is rocky enough for me to recommend appropriate footwear.
- Water bottle – Staying hydrated is so important when hiking for long periods.
- Portable Battery Pack – Even without signal, you can still save Trail maps & take photos with your phone!
- Sunscreen – The New Zealand sun is no joke. You can get burnt much easier than you can at home.
- Food & drinks – Anything you want to eat you will have to carry with you all day.
Have you experienced the sunrise Pinnacles hike yet?