In the Wairarapa region of the North Island, the Putangirua Pinnacles make for a breathtaking hiking adventure.
It was a moody, grey and drizzly day when we arrived at the DoC (Department of Conservation) camp at the Putangirua Pinnacles, which would be our home for the night. The camp here is mostly gravel so good for winter, and is surrounded by imposing hills which lead your eye to the pounding waters of the Tasman Sea in the distance.
The walk to the Pinnacles begins at the camp, and you have two routes to choose from. The first option is to follow the overland track to the viewing platform, and from there you can then take the steep track to the base of the Pinnacles. According to the sign at the start of the walk, DoC thinks that this track is easy, but don’t be fooled, the easy comment refers to the grade of track, as the walk is anything but easy, or maybe we are just getting old!
The second option is to follow the river bed and this is the option we initially chose as it looked easier. Almost immediately though we were faced with a river crossing, with no stones or logs to help us across. On such a cold, wintry day we really didn’t fancy getting wet feet so early on in the walk, so we re-traced our steps and took the overland route instead.
It’s around an hour to the viewing platform depending on your fitness level and the track rises almost constantly right from the start. The views are pretty spectacular though, especially when we finally reached the viewing platform and were rewarded with the first breathtaking views of the Pinnacles as they are revealed for the first time.
Formed over eons
The Aorangi Ranges where the Pinnacles are located used to be an island around 7-9 million years ago. As the land was slowly eroded, large alluvial fans were formed, which were then submerged again as sea levels rose.
After the last ice age, as sea levels receded, the old alluvial fans were exposed to the elements once again, and over time the forces of nature have weathered these earth pillars, known as hoodoos, to the stunning formations that exist today.
Into the Valley
After catching our breath whilst taking in the spectacular vista before us, we now had a choice to make. If we wanted to descend to the base of the Pinnacles, then we’d probably have to attempt to return along the river, or it would be a very steep climb back to the lookout. Alternatively, we could just return back the way we came and not get to walk amongst these giant rocks. In the end, it was a no brainer, so down we went and we’re so glad we did.
The foot of the track opens out onto a giant scree slope at the base of the valley, with tantalising glimpses of the soaring hoodoos in the distance. We could almost hear them calling to us on the wind that whistles down the valley, enticing us to come a little closer. It’s a hard slog walking uphill on the loose stones, but with every step we took, another part of the panorama opened up in front of us, making all of the effort worthwhile. The whole place is surreal, an amazing collection of gravity-defying mind-bending structures.
Once we reached the top and stood dwarfed before the immense megaliths of the Pinnacles, it was truly humbling to see up close the power that time and the elements can illicit on solid rock. Standing there, face to face with their weathered facades, it’s not hard to imagine that you’ve travelled back in time, to an age where mythical creatures roamed the earth and huge forces battered and shaped the landscape.
Some of the formations actually look like giant heads, hewn from the solid rock. Standing like sentinels, guarding the entrance to an ancient kingdom and gazing upon us as we stood in awe at the stunning scenery that surrounded us.
Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson obviously understood the raw power and beauty of this place as he used it for a scene in the Lord of the Rings movie The Return of the King. It’s the scene where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride to meet the Army of the Dead along the Dimholt Road. Apparently all of the horses used in this scene had to come from farms where there was no gorse growing, and only be fed on foods which didn’t contain any seeds. They also raked the horses footprints so there would be no trace once they left.
All too soon it was time to return to the camp and the warmth of the ‘Moog’, our motorhome. A light drizzle had started to fall and the thought of climbing back up the extremely steep track to the viewing platform, and then taking the long overland route back just didn’t sound like much fun. After weighing our options, we bit the bullet and decided to return via the river route, even though the river was a little higher than we would have liked.
It was pretty precarious in places as we had to swing on tree roots protruding from the crumbling river bank to keep ourselves out of the icy water. There was only so far we could go along the bank though before we had to traverse the river. We were able to hop on some rocks to get across, but it wasn’t long before we had to cross back again and this happened a few times, with us skipping back and forward across anything we could find to save from getting wet.
Eventually our luck ran out though, and it was time to get wet. Justine sensibly took off her boots and socks and waded through whereas I decided to just walk straight through and did the rest of the walk with cold, wet feet.
The walk back down the river would be much easier in warmer weather, and I’m sure in summer the river bed would be almost dry, making it a breeze to take this route. One bonus of taking this way back though was that we got to see these geodesic mushrooms on the side of the path. We’d never seen anything quite like them before, just amazing.