Back when I had just arrived at the valley, we went on a really great hike to the top of some of the mountains on the penninsula, known as The Pinnacles, in Kauaeranga Park. The hills and valleys of the park used to be filled with ancient Kauri trees (the one pictured here is actually from the valley, but they are quite big, and that one is still pretty young!) The Kauri can live to be 5000 years old, tower over everything else, and while they are conifers they spread erratically and just sort of sprawl. Unfortunately for them, their timber is one of the best ship building materials on the planet, and make very high quality lumber for just about everything else. So most have been logged and much of the country, which used to be covered in these giants, only have tiny babys or none at all.
The Pinnacles hike started down at the valley floor and started in fern covered rainforest and a pleasant hike along a stream. But that ended all too soon. Within an hour or so we got to "the steps" which I clearly didn't pay close enough attention to earlier. What followed was 700 or more ogre sized steps carved out of rock which went most of the rest of the way up the path. Maybe I was more out of shape than I anticipated (weight loss burns a lot of muscle too, sadly) or maybe it was our spider monkey leader Dave's ever cheerful bounding up the mountain at a quick pace, but the steps left me thoroughly exhausted. Either way, we ended up doing what was for most people a two day hike in a rather long day hike.
But the scenery and the view along the way were totally worth it, and that hike really helped me get in shape for later hikes we did. As we climbed in elevation, the forest changed to more broadleaf evergreen plants, then to bushes and a few trees, then to just scrubland. The tops of the pinnacles were practically just rock covered, though the actual height was about 850m (~2250ft). The view from the top was incredible. We could see both sides of the penninsula, which had the South Pacific in the distance, and the Firth of Thames (which goes between Auckland and the Coromandel) closer by. Since the Coromandel is pretty rugged to begin with, the view was goreous, with tree covered mountins stretching into the distance with the less hilly valleys south of the penninsula even further away.
On the way back down we took a different route, which had me cursing a few times due to a couple more half hour ascents (I had no energy left by this point). But interestingly, we came across some of the logging relics of the past era (late 1800s). There was a sign for some bridge, though when we got there nothing remained, heh. We got to walk down an old railway track which was steeper than I thought trains could handle. We also saw some of the waterfalls and dams the loggers would use to gather up the massive Kauri stockpile. The trees were so heavy, and the terrain so rugged, that the most effective way to clear the valley was to build dams on the river. They would dump the trunks in the water and collect a bunch and then blow up the dam. A thundering rush of Kauri and water would the rush down stream toward the lumberhouses near Thames.
I didn't really get to see any truly old Kauri while I was there, but I have a place pegged at the top of the north island to do just that. They can grow to almost 50-60 feet in circumference and stretch branches tremendous distances. Deffinitely not to be missed on my Old Growth Trees to See list.