Kaimai Backcountry Hiking: What You Might Not Know About Trails and Huts

Author Alison Smith on one of the steep sections of the volunteer-built Kaimai Trail. Photo / Post HC.

At the top of the Kaimai Ranges after a five-hour hike, few would stop to realize that it takes more than just personal fitness to get those 360-degree views from Tauranga to the west coast.

The signs are Department of Conservation (DoC) green and yellow, but it’s thanks to the thousands of volunteer hours of hiking clubs, hunting clubs, and search and rescue volunteers that hiking in the backcountry of the magnificent Kaimai Ranges is accessible to all.

The Kaimai Ridgeway Trust (KRT) is made up of 12 tramping clubs and deer hunter associations that maintain four lodges and miles of trails in South Coromandel.

KRT’s Roger Montgomerie says there’s a “hardcore” of 40 or 50 people doing the work – mostly with hand tools – and there’s hope for more huts in the future.

“The real benefit will be that if people want to, they can start from the top of Kaimai and walk 85 kilometers to Te Aroha or Karangahake and have a nice hut every six or seven hours,” says Roger.

“It’s a tricky process getting a cabin up there and working with iwi and DoC, but that’s our long-term goal. It’s going to be as enjoyable a ride as possible.”

Already, the views are hard to beat.

Incredible views are the reward for the steep climbs in the Kaimais.  Photo / Post HC
Incredible views are the reward for the steep climbs in the Kaimais. Photo / Post HC

The Thames Valley Deerstalkers Association (TVDA) maintains two of the four outback huts in the area. Member Maureen Coleman says it’s a huge combined effort and labor of love that they’re happy to share.

“The signaling is DoC and that’s great,” says Maureen. “But people probably don’t realize that the trails and huts are all maintained by volunteers. DoC has been great. They realize that we’re all here for the same cause. We’re here to make the outdoors accessible and help native flora and fauna.”

The TVDA and the Bay of Plenty Deerstalkers branch maintain four simple former goat slaughterer huts in the Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park – the Mangamuka, Hurunui, Karotatahi and Motutapere huts.

They keep recreational users of the forest safe, with an overnight option where they can make a fire and rest their weary feet.

These cannot be booked on the DoC system, so you should plan ahead for a tent in case the huts are full when you arrive.

As basic huts, they provide important shelter on tracks accessible from Waihi, Te Aroha and Katikati, including on the Te Tuhi and Tuahu tracks off the North-South Track, linking the east coast to the Hauraki Plains and beyond.

Maureen recalls the time the huts were nearly swept away by DoC.

“There were a bunch of users, photography clubs, glider clubs, tramping clubs, hunters…and we thought ‘this shouldn’t happen’.”

DoC liaised with users and then, Maureen says, everything quieted down until one night she received a phone call confirming that she knew the huts were going to be removed the following Monday.

“At 6 p.m. that evening, I spoke to a DoC guard in Tauranga. He said, ‘If we do them, are you going to deal with them?’ I said yes, and he said ‘deal done’ They didn’t fly in, we wrote a memorandum of understanding between ours and the Bay of Plenty branch, and we’ve been looking after them ever since .”

The hike to Motutapere Hut begins with a steady climb through pine forest into native bush, opening up to views of man-made lakes with the patchwork of plains laid out like a carpet over the landscape.

Going higher there are steep sections and rocky sections that require three contact points, but the rewards at the top of the north-south trail are worth the climb.

From there, the hike requires climbing a ladder and traversing increasingly alpine native plants before returning to native forest and a clearing for the simple, welcome view of the cabin.

The TVDA runs a tight ship, providing guidance to users to ensure there is a supply of used firewood and a supply of rat bait for the bait stations to refill, if needed.

A long drop toilet is an eco-friendly design and there is no gas for the stove, so hikers should be well prepared and bring a water filter to be safe.

It’s wonderfully quiet and feels like a secluded getaway, but from a clearing a short distance from the cabin, the sprawl of Tauranga, Katikati and offshore islands is a reminder of just how accessible wilderness is here.

“We saw the absolute need for the huts for recreation and safety, as the weather sometimes turns bad for people crossing the north-south track,” says Maureen.

She is proud of the combined work of so many volunteers, and keeping their use open to all is a labor of love that the association is happy to share.

“We love that people are using them.”

Roger says that as an organization based entirely on volunteers, help is always welcome. It’s physical but satisfying to see the difference after a day’s work.

“The average person probably thinks ‘gee DoC is doing a great job’, but actually we take care of all the backcountry tracks and they take care of what we call the tourist tracks,” says- he.

Roger says they could “absolutely use more help…Especially people with outdoor experience because it’s not an easy job, and anyone with skills in using poles scouring gas, those are the people we’d like to get on board.”

Whangamata, Auckland, Auckland Baptist, Manukau, North Shore, Kaimai, Katikati, Hikoi, Cambridge and Tauranga Search and Rescue volunteer tramping clubs are part of the KRT, as are the Thames Valley and Bay of Plenty branches of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association .

How you can help:

1. Volunteer to help with trail maintenance – contact any of the clubs listed on the website www.kaimairidgeway.nz to join one of their work crews.

2. Volunteer to help build or maintain the hut.

3. Encourage groups or people you are in contact with to volunteer to join the party.

4. Provide groups with detailed information about the status of their tracks.

5. Firewood for the Te Rereatukahia Hut woodstove must be flown in – if you are there and enjoy the warmth of the fire, or would like to be there, please visit our Kaimai Firewood GiveALittle page to contribute at the cost of this major hut upgrade.

6. Donate directly to their bank account (KRT is a charity, so donations are tax deductible).

7. Provide fundraising suggestions.

• Consult the various Kaimai Track guides on www.kaimairidgeway.nz.