New Zealand is a trail runners paradise, there are just so many options. Because of this, some great hiking, tracks and trails struggle to get a national or "tourist" profile. Last weekend, together with family, I was in the Waikato, particularly well known as a dairy farming area. Keen for a morning adventure and an endorphin kick, I quizzed Graham, my Brother in Law about where the locals go and straight away the answer was "the Huks bro."
We headed out to the Hakamirata Walkway, a short drive north of Hamilton. The popular with locals Hakamirata Walkway is a narrow ridge run, rising out of the farming plains as a steep forest covered ridge about 12 km long with options. It is handy if you have two vehicles or someone to drop you off so the Trail can be run from one end to the other.
There is a great mid point, known at the Waterworks Summit stairs, approximately 1600+ stairs, beautifully built and well maintained, the stairs climb through regenerating virgin New Zealand temperate forest, rising with no respite until you get to the top of the ridge line, providing a real work out and test of aerobic ability, finishing with a raised wooden platform (more stairs!) for amazing 360 degree views.
However, we started at the northern end of the trail at Parker Road, some 8 km north of the Waterworks stairway and started our run with the Kauri loop, getting up and close to Kauri trees estimated to be over 1000 years of age. The track was well formed and benched and we made good time.
Leaving the loop walk, we began our ascent to the top of the ridge and headed south to the first viewing ridge view point. At this stage the trail became pure trail running, with the track following the form of the land, snaking through the trees and following the path of least resistance. Popular use of the trail and the Department of Conservation's (DOC) traditional orange triangles, placed at regular intervals, meant the trail was easy to follow and we could really open up, running quickly and lightly, hot stepping over exposed roots and fallen branches, while briefly holding trees for stability as we brushed by them.
Two solid hours of continuous trail running was a delight, running under the tree canopy at all times, shielding us from the sun. Yet because we were on the ridgeline, there were occasional vantage points out of the foliage to the farmland stretching below and the breeze cut through the canopy giving relief in the warm conditions as the day got hotter. There was little margin for complacency on the uneven surface, a factor I really enjoy, sometimes stepping quickly and lightly between tree litter on the forest floor and at other times leaping over muddy holes or across fallen trees.
Before two long we suddenly popped out at a clearing and there stood the Waterworks Summit platform, rising above the treeline. Graham, normally a rugby player and not one for running through the woods for fun, slumped on a wooden bench under the platform while I took in the surrounds above, looking down on the mighty Waikato River and plains.
Feeling great, I was keen to finish the ridgeline trail, however our car was parked at the bottom of the stairway so we made good time past many local runners and hikers marching and panting up the stairs. DOC's investment into this stairway is matched by it's popularity.
I can't wait to return and do the route the other way to feel the burn up the stairway. I think Graham though I was a bit sadistic when I suggested we do it then and there "just for fun".