Pillars of Hercules – Kaimanawa Forest

Tree Trunk Gorge, near power station

Tree Trunk Gorge, near power station

The Kaimanawa Forest is a little known nature park full of surprising sights. I’m amazed this forest is just minutes away from the famous Tongoriro National Park yet very few people have heard of it. The park has amazing walks, multi-day hikes, small waterfalls and fantastic gorges.

We went to see the Pillars of Hercules and bravely walk across the long and narrow swing bridge that hangs above it. On the way to the Pillars of Hercules we stopped at a huge gorge on the main road. I believe we were on Tree Trunk Gorge Road, but I’m not certain. The gorge isn’t marked, there is a sign for Kaimanawa Forest, but if you didn’t know the bridge offered amazing views of the gorge below, you would just drive on to the clearly marked walking tracks. I believe this is Tree Trunk Gorge, the same gorge which is off of Kaimanawa Road, which has a small waterfall.

The gorges are part of the Tongoriro River and formation started over 350,000 years ago. The rock on either side of the river is actually hardened lava flow from Mount Ngauruhoe. The gorge formed when the rivers sliced through the ancient andesite and ignimbrite rock. View the river closer to Lake Taupo and you can appreciate how much water is actually going through this gorge.

Bridge over Tree Trunk Gorge

Bridge over Tree Trunk Gorge

Not only is the gorge beautiful, but a walk under the bridge offers some great photos. There was a small, overgrown path that may have led down to the gorge, but we decided to stick to the official tracks. Our experience sliding down Mount Doom at the Tongoriro Crossing has taught us to be more cautious. The gorge was beautiful. The water was a dark, shiny blue, which leads me to believe the water is very deep. I wonder if after a hard rain if the gorge fills to the top and floods over the sides. The rock had lots of pot holes filled with water, and I wonder if that is all rain water or connected to the river water some how.

We continued down the road to find the Pillars of Hercules, another gorge, but this one had the added attraction of a swing bridge.

Pillars of Hercules Swing Bridge

Pillars of Hercules Swing Bridge

The view of gorge beneath the swing bridge isn’t nearly as impressive as the other views, but going across the swaying bridge is really exciting. I gripped the rails and inched my way across, while Paul sprinted to the other side, pausing in the middle to take photos.

Pillars of Hercules from bridge - Kaimanawa Forest

Pillars of Hercules from bridge - Kaimanawa Forest

The bridge leads to a mountain bike trail to Desert Road, so I had to climb onto the bridge of terror again to get back to our car. Next to the bridge is another track that goes through the forest to the Urchin campgrounds. It is only a 30 minute walk (an hour to return), so we enjoyed the forest scenery for a while before ending our day.

Face Carving at Pillars of Hercules

I’m happy we took the trail, because we saw a really cute carving someone had made in a side of a tree and some wild mushrooms.

Mushrooms at Pillars of Hercules

Mushrooms at Pillars of Hercules

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