The Urchin Track and Summit is located in the Kaimanawa Forest and leads to the Waipakihi Valley, where you can continue your hike for a loop around the small mountain range staying at the 4 huts in the area.
When we started the Urchin Track we were just looking for a fun day hike. We had already been to a few other short hikes in the area and we weren’t expecting this 2.5 hour hike to be too rigorous. The beginning of the trail starts of steep and narrow, but as with many other trails we expected it to level off and become easier – It didn’t.
The trail does widen a bit, so don’t expect to be navigating through thick bush the whole way. It becomes a lovely forest trail, where we were fortunate to stumble upon some gorgeous mushrooms and small forest birds. Paul spotted a deer, probably a red deer, which inhabit the area.
The mushrooms were really cool and diverse. Maybe to a Kiwi these are common place, but I’ve never seen such a variety of mushrooms. The ones I see in Florida are the typical mushroom cap shape and usually a dull color, brown, gray or white. On this trail I saw yellow ones, red ones with white spots and pictures above the cool bulb shaped ones. It was also evident that some forest creature was feeding on some of the mushrooms because we would see some with pecks taken out of the cap.
The trail probably wouldn’t have been that difficult if we had mentally prepared for over 3 hours of uphill climb (yes it took us much longer than the sign claimed). During the hike we were slightly annoyed and grumpy. We kept waiting for a change, a lookout, a waterfall, anything. We discussed turning back because it was beginning to be just more of the same. Forest trails are beautiful, but when you don’t know where your going and your low on food and water they become monotonous. Luckily just as we seriously considered turning back we crossed paths with a couple hikers coming down. They told us there was a view if we kept climbing, so we marched on . . . and on . . . and on.
The landscape changed a little and we had a few glimpses pass the tree line to Mount Ruapehu. We wondered if this was the view the hikers had mentioned. We were getting tired and seriously grumpy, so once again we discussed turning back. We saw Mount Ruapehu, would a little lookout boardwalk really be that much better than the view through the trees?
If we had done even the smallest amount of research before we started this hike we would have known it led to the beautiful Waipakihi Valley. There is an excellent post about the full trail on the Windy Hilltops blog, if you are interested in doing a multi-day hike. Since the Windy blog post the trail has been worked on by the Department of Conservation. We found 99% of the trail easily navigable. There were a few sections that had been washed out by a hard rain, but if you can hike uphill for over 2 hours, you’ll have no problem with the bumps along the way.
After seeing the view and seeing no end to the trail we decided to turn back. I peered around the corner and saw the trail changed from mostly dirt to lots of small rocks. I decided to give it 10 more minutes, if we still didn’t see anything we would turn around. We were now down to 1/2 a bottle of water and we still had to go all the way down. I’m soooo happy we chose to keep going. Just 20 feet ahead and the treeline cleared, leading to the Urchin summit and amazing views of Lake Taupo, Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe and and Mount Tongariro. You could see several rivers leading into Lake Taupo and another small lake in the Tongariro National Park.
After the forest the landscape changes to small bushes and flowers typical of an Alpine environment. Besides my experience on Mount Doom, I’ve never see this kind of plant life, so I was absolutely delighted. Unlike the dry, desert-like terrain of the Tongoriro Trail the Urchin summit had a lot more plants and gentle slopes that were easy to climb.
I got a second wind and raced to the top of the trail. The air was thin and cool and I was thankful I had a jacket with me. At the top I was rewarded with even more spectacular views, not only of the mountains to the west, but also the rest of the urchin trail following the rolling hills in the Waipakihi Valley. I wish we had more time and provisions, because I would have loved to continue on the trail. I think it is even more beautiful than the famous Tongoriro Trail.