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4. Whirinaki Track, East Coast

 River flowing through the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park and rainforest.
It is thought that the Māori have lived here as long as the oldest trees that can be found. This deep intertwined relationship plays out today in how the park is co-governed under Ngāti Whare’s kaitiakitanga (guardianship) with the DOC. Today, there is a native nursery in order to restore hundreds of hectares of land back into native forests after centuries of logging.

If you are a regular hiker or climber you might have had one of those awakening moments of feeling negligible compared to gigantic mountain peaks. The Whirinaki Track offers another (yet similar) take on scale as you’ll walk among 65 meter (213 ft) mammoth trees, and under a towering primeval canopy.

Go green

Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park is considered one of the great forests of the world, with a well-graded path that takes you directly into the heart of dense stands of native podocarps, including kahikatea, rimu, miro, totara and matai. Among the primordial cone-bearing forests are innumerable plants, varieties of ferns, and rare birds, such as the whio (blue duck). It is particularly known for growing rongoā (“medicines”) still in use today.

Starting at the southern entrance at Plateau Road, you’ll follow a steady decline across the entirety of the 25.6km (16 mi) one way trek, with small climbs sprinkled here and there. The hike itself commences with a crossing of the Caves swing bridge along Plateau Road, named after a massive cave in the area that is silhouetted against a massive green backdrop.

Trudge along the right bank of the river to cross Taumutu bridge, then make your way to the Central Whirinaki Hut. Most people choose to stay here overnight, as it is the largest in the park. In the evening, head out to peep pekapeka (long-tailed bats) flying about.

The next day, continue north towards Vern’s Camp along an undulating path deeper into the forest full of waterfalls and mossy rock stairways. Keep a keen ear for songbirds such as kākā (parrots) and the friendly “cheet cheet” of the pīwakawaka (fantail). The trail is a mixture of dirt and layers of dry leaves like an aisle of potpourri specially curated by nature. 

A few kilometers on, we recommend you take a 200 meter detour to Whirinaki Waterfall, an alluring spectacle. What comes next is Te Whaiti-Nui-a-Toi Canyon with remarkably stacked columns cloaked in a thick layer of moss, decorated with vines and white-water gushing below. There is a stairway to get into the canyon, just be cautious as it may be slippery. From here, take the bridge over the canyon to escort yourself to the finish at River Road.

Other things to do

The entire forest is a hub to explore, similar to some of the best hikes in Oahu. Arohaki Lagoon Track takes you to a shallow rain-fed pond and is a great chance to see birdlife such as blue duck, North Island kākā, red and yellow crowned kākāriki, kiwi and kererū. If you like waterfalls, you can hike to Waiatiu and Whirinaki falls.

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