Climbing Mt Te Aroha

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13 Days on the Road

Waking up in Te Aroha Holiday Park marks the start of our next section of our New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year: exploring the Waikato region. So far, we are surrounded by farms and a whopping great mountain sits right behind us. What’s the best thing to do when you visit a place where you have no idea what to start doing? Go climb the resident mountain.

Before all that, we get all the boring chores out of the way: groceries, filling up the gas, all that nonsense. Oh yeah, and work too, of course. By the time lunch swings around we are ready to go explore Te Aroha town and have a finale by climbing Mt Te Aroha.

Getting all geothermal

First impressions of Te Aroha are: “Why are these road junctions so weird?” But shortly after that, we see the iconic town clock that puts on a light show every night. It’s quite a pretty little town is Te Aroha!

We park up at the Te Aroha i-SITE and walk up to the base of the mountain to start the mountain climb. However, we are totally distracted by the thermal pools that are steaming away in the local park! Especially on this chilly winter’s day, the steam is thick as it rises from the trickling streams. You have to love these little surprises like this. Although Robin is well accustomed to the attractions of Te Aroha, Laura had no idea this geothermal wonderland exists or even that Te Aroha was known for its geothermal activity. (Some crappy New Zealand travel writer she is).

Every 45 minutes, a geyser at the end of the park is meant to erupt… Emphasis on “meant”… We are waiting and waiting but this geyser just steams and toys with our emotions. Robin assures Laura that he has seen the geyser erupt before. Perhaps we are getting too impatient because, we give up watching the geyser before giving it a real chance, and well, there is the start of the walking tracks literally right next to us. This mountain is not going to climb itself!

Hike to Whakapipi Lookout

Time to get a march on! Mt Te Aroha isn’t exactly your easiest town stroll. This thing get pretty steep pretty quickly. Plus, the higher we go the more the track becomes a scramble over roots and rocks. The hike is not exactly a long one (45-minutes) but it is a quick blast of intense uphill struggle.

Yet, here are all the locals using the walking track as their everyday workout spot. There are at least 10 people passing us on an evening jog up the mountain, breathing like they are about to keel over and die at any moment. As it’s a public holiday, the Queen’s Birthday, there are also families pounding their way up the hill. We meet a guy who is looking after his nine children, plus two more children. All of them are dispersed throughout the mountain, one kid crying in the distance because it turns out she cut her hand on grass… All we can say is good luck to the man and be thankful that we only have to look after each other, which is enough of a struggle as it is.

A “whaking” awesome view at Whakapipi

We pull away from the family gatherings and just enjoy the final push to the lookout. The whole track is thick with forest and bird song, until finally there is a small opening to a decking area with a sign: “Whakapipi”. We made it!

The view reaches for miles! Just below us is Te Aroha township, then we can see wetlands with the water reflecting the sun and clouds, then fields upon fields of lush farmland continue into the distance, with the horizon showing more mountains. It’s pretty awesome. We stop here a while, watching the colours of the landscape change as the sun goes down. As soon as that sun gets super low though, the temperature changes in an instant. That’s our motivation to get back down the hill and keep warm.

Soaking in the hot pool

Back down the mountain, back at the Te Aroha Holiday Park, we are keen to reward our mountain climbing efforts with a hot pool. This is Te Aroha after all: we have to get some hot water experiences under our belt, right? We know full well that the spa pool in the holiday park is not naturally heated, but oh well. If you don’t tell, we won’t.

Oh yeah, and we have chocolate cake in the spa pool too because we are right fatties.

Anyway, we’re going to chill out in the hot pool until our skin has wrinkled. See you tomorrow where we’re going to walk in the old mining tunnels of Karangaheke Gorge. Stoked, bro!

Hiking back down Mt Te Aroha

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For more things to do in Te Aroha and the greater Waikato region, check out Waikato – Guide for Backpackers. All this talk on geothermal activity may have got you interested in these little nuggets too:

See you tomorrow for good times at Karangaheke Gorge!

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