Karangahake Gorge is an odd mix of remnant goldfields and nature’s majesty. Once the site of New Zealand’s most lucrative gold strike, it is now a recreation and impressive hiking destination. Swing bridges, gold mine shafts, a historic cyanide treatment plant, and lush green forest led us to the gorge, a jaw-droppingly beautiful site.
The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway parallels an old railway line that once ran between Paeroa and Waihi. With several walks to choose from, we opted for the Karangahake Windows Walk. It took us into the mine shafts, and then out to “windows” offering impressive views of the gorge and the river below.
Much of the history dates back to 1875 when gold was first discovered here. In fact, 60% of the gold mined in New Zealand originated here. While this rush lasted for a while, by 1920 it was no longer profitable and the main batteries at Karangahake were demolished. However, gold is being mined today in the nearby town of Waihi.
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway
The Karangahake Gorge walks should be taken slowly. Read the signage. Learn the area’s history. Enjoy the extraordinary remains of the mining and railway ages.
Views from the Karangahake Windows Walk
No doubt, the Karangahake Windows Walk is the highlight of any visit. We walked along the old mining tram tracks toward the mine shaft tunnels. Even with a flashlight, the mine shafts felt cold and dark, not a place I would have wanted to work early in the last century. The periodic light from the side tunnels made the windows easy to find. The windows were created when the miners blasted holes through the cliff face to tip tailings into the gorge below. Today, they offer spectacular and unexpected views of the gorge and river.
What You Will Need for the Karangahake Gorge Walks
- Good solid walking shoes as much of the ground is uneven.
- Torch (flashlight) as many areas of the tunnels are dark.
- Camera, the photo opportunities are endless. If you want an easy to handle, go everywhere, waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, freezeproof sturdy camera that can shoot in RAW files allowing you to edit if you choose to later, I recommend the Olympus TG-5. It’s the top of my current wish list.
Karangahake Gorge Accommodation
Riverside: If you love the region, why not stay a while. There is plenty to explore and in summer you can take a dip in some of the waterways. Our pick is the Riverside Accommodation. Perfect for couples, families, and budget travellers. The rooms are comfortable, the staff is friendly, and the range of room types offer both private and shared bathrooms. ⇒ Check pricing and availability at Riverside Accommodation
If you are into antiques, the logical place to stay is just down the road (8 km) in Paeroa, the antiquing capital of New Zealand as well as home to our unofficial national drink, L&P (which stands for Lemon and Paeroa and is now owned by Coca-Cola). ⇒ Check for pricing and availability at Paeroa accommodations
Practical Information on Visiting Karangahake Gorge
- Karangahake Gorge is on State Hwy 2 between Waihi and Paeroa. It’s about a two-hour drive from Auckland or one-hour from either Tauranga or Hamilton.
- There is plenty of parking, bathroom facilities, and a visitor kiosk at the main trailhead.
- The Karangahake Windows walk is 2.5 km and takes about an hour. It is not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers. Bring a torch (flashlight) and take caution in the abandoned mine shafts as a sign warns that they can collapse at any time.
- There are several other Karangahake Gorge walks and options ranging from simply exploring the history just across the bridge to a four-hour hike which includes a waterfall.
- A section of the Hauraki Rail Trail passes through the area and this Karangahake Gorge cycle trail section and is often considered the highlight of the three-day Grade-One cycle trail.
Nearby Things to Do
To the West (towards Auckland)
If you are heading west from here, don’t miss the Ngatea Water Gardens, a collection of water features, humour, and an unprecedented Canny Museum featuring over 11,000 beer, soda, and other beverage cans.
To the East (towards Bay of Plenty)
If you are heading east towards the Bay of Plenty, be sure to take a night kayaking tour to see the glowworms in the canyon on Lake McLaren. See my review here.
To the South (towards Rotorua)
Probably the most popular, and definitely the more touristy thing to do in the region is a visit Hobbiton. Lord of the Rings fans won’t want to miss this movie set tour of the Shire.
Don’t be one of the many people driving by Karangahake Gorge without a second thought. Take at least an hour to enjoy the Karangahake Windows Walk.
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When will you do the Karangahake Windows Walk?