Mount Urchin Track
The Mount Urchin track is a beauty, and it’s one of those walks where you get epic views for comparatively little effort. It is 6.6kms return – there and back along the same trail – with an approx 500m climb from around 800m to 1390m. You will find it in the Kaimanawa Forest Park, about 15kms South of Turangi in the central plateau area of New Zealand’s North Island. From Turangi drive South on the SHI and after around 15kms take a left onto Kaimanawa road. (It’s signposted as the Rangipo power station not as Kaimanawa road).
I headed for the Urchin campsite rather than the track itself. It was a nerve-wracking 10-minute drive down a gravel road. I needn’t have worried, the road was in pretty good shape without too many rocks, holes or steep bits and my aging van coped admirably.
Urchin campsite is a basic (free) DOC campsite in a clearing of the beech forest. It has a toilet but no shelter and the nearest water source is 150m away down the Tree Trunk Gorge track. My three neighbours and I had the place to ourselves, but I imagine it gets packed in summer.
It got really cold overnight – probably due to the 700m elevation and the Southerly wind that was blowing.
Luckily I had 2 sleeping bags, and slept in my clothes, including hat and gloves – so I was very snug.
I woke to a beautiful clear morning, had a coffee and breakfast and headed up the road to the start of the track.
Urchin Campsite to Urchin Track
The road end/trail head was about a twenty minute stiff and winding uphill walk from the Urchin campsite. Quite honestly I was relieved I didn’t take the van, I’m not sure she would have made it! I reached the start of the trail at 7.40am.
Mount Urchin Track
The trail was wide and well worn with plenty of directional markers. It started in the beautiful beech forest and climbed steadily.
I heard a couple of birds around me, and a small black and white tomtit came to check me out – hopping from twig to twig as I huffed up the track. As uphill walks go, it wasn’t too steep or gnarly and I enjoyed the beautiful trees and ferns.
By 8.20am I reached a flatter section, muddy in parts, which were still frozen. By 8.40am I came out of the trees and got a glimpse of the tops ahead of me and great views of the mountains to the West.
The DOC website categorises the Mt Urchin track as an advanced/tramping track. I would imagine that’s because of the final 10 minute stretch above the treeline. It was high, exposed, and absolutely freezing in the strong Southerly wind. The upper part of the track was quite steep and there were pockets of snow and ice, as well as loose shale rock underfoot. Marker poles guided the way to the trig at the top at 1391m.
Views from Mount Urchin
From the trig the views were spectacular. The mountains of Kaimanawa Forest Park to the East and South were dusted with snow, and the volcanic peaks of Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro to the West were glorious. Lake Taupo completed the picture to the North.
This area of the Kaimanawas has plenty of opportunities for longer hikes in better weather exploring the immediate vicinity of the Waipakihi River, Waipakihi hut and Umukarikari track.
It was so windy at the trig that I could barely stand up straight, so I didn’t want to linger at the top for too long!! In the 4 minutes in which my glove was off to take photos, my right hand went almost completely numb with cold – another good reminder to be well prepared on the New Zealand mountain tops. I fumbled to get my glove back on as quickly as possible and hurried back down.
When I returned I checked out the couple of other short walks from the campsite. I was a bit disappointed not to find any pillars at the Pillar of Hercules Gorge, but there was a nice swing bridge over the Tongariro river and high vertical cliffs.
I started off on the Tree Trunk Gorge Track, which was very pretty, but I turned back at the river as I didn’t want to get my feet wet. I’ll save it for another time.
If you have a weekend to spare, this little part of the Kaimanawas is well worth exploring and has a little something for everyone.
You can find more info on the DOC website.