I have always enjoyed the drive through the Karangahake Gorge. It’s a stunning landscape with a gorgeous river and majestic mountains. And it always looks like it has stories/secrets to be told. When we were planning a family holiday to Waihi Beach I was excited that the Karangahake Gorge Walks were going to be one of the first walks we did as a two child family.
There are two main walks in the Gorge; the Windows Walk and Rail Tunnel Loop. We started off on the Windows walk as it isn’t pushchair friendly and we thought we would do the walk that our 4 year old could do while she still had lots of energy. She has always enjoyed walking and in fact when she was young if you asked her what she wanted to do she would say ‘go for walk’. The trail is a good level for a young child to achieve and is interesting with the old mining tunnels and railway. Our son had only just started walking ( that day in fact ) so he was in the backpack.
The first time we walked the Windows Walk it was a loop and we got right around without having to carry the 4 year old.
The name of the Windows Walk comes from the holes that were cut in the sides of the tunnels to shovel out rock into the river in the gold mining days. In parts you are walking on the old railway used to move the rock/gold around and there are lots of interesting ruins to see along the way. As well as marvel about how hard the mining work must have been so long ago.
We have subsequently done this walk 3 more times with friends and homestays and everyone loves this walk. The last time we walked it we went further down one of the side tunnels and one of the kids asked what the ‘bits of fluff’ hanging from the top of the tunnel were. We wondered if they were glow worms so turned off our torches (or torch apps on our phones) and to our delight discovered that they were in fact glow worms. I had always thought you had to be quiet to see glow worms but there is nothing quiet about my son so they must be tough glow worms.
Unfortunately the last 2 times we have done this walk, we haven’t been able to do the full loop as there has been a slip on the track after you cross the bridge over the main river. The Department of Conservation has closed the track so you have to return the same way you came. It’s a shame as this was a lovely part of the walk. You can also no longer explore further on the right hand side of the river where there was a side track to a powerstation cavern excavated out of the mountain and DOC have also closed this track so it must be unsafe.
After returning to the carpark and getting out the pushchair for the 4 year old we set out to do the Rail Tunnel Loop. This walk is quite different to the Windows Walk as you follow quite close to the main river in the gorge on the opposite side to the road. I always love the sound of running water, if I can hear it over the sound of my son chattering, and love walking so close to the river.
The next part of the walk goes through a 1km long tunnel. Its interesting being able to see a tiny dot of light at the end of the tunnel and walking slowly towards it. And its also surprising how long it takes to walk 1km in the relative dark.
This tunnel section of the trail has since been opened up to cyclists as part of the Thames to Waihi ride and it’s even more interesting to be walking in the relative dark with cyclists going past.
You then cross over the highway via an overbridge and walk back along the river to the carpark. This walk is very achievable with a pushchair and a great day out with the kids. The cafe at the carpark is also a nice treat for all once finished.
Other things to do in the area:
Visit the Waiha Museum
Visit the Martha Mine in Waihia
Take a trip on the Goldfields Historic railway
Cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail