James and I were child free this weekend so after going out for an amazing lunch at The Falls Retreat (more on that over here) we decided to go for a walk on the Windows Track through the old mines and tunnels at Karangahake Gorge. This is James old stomping ground so he knew it well but for me it was all new roads to discover. We set off on a leisurely pace, the thick trees taking some of the heat out of the sun and James imparting knowledge about the old settlement built around the gold in the hills that surrounded us.
Sometimes, James tells me, you’ll still see a rock flecked with gold. I looked and I looked but I didn’t find one today.
There are loads of walks on offer here and you could easily spend a day exploring on foot or as many others were, by bike. We chose the Windows walk. Aptly named for the windows that open up as you walk through the darkness – sudden vistas of light, affording stunning views down over the gully. This is definitely not the Pinnacles walk (which years later James and I still talk about and you can read about over here) and the gradients are much kinder and easier to the novice walker.
The other thing I loved was that the view around you was constantly changing – from steep stairs one minute to gently winding rail tracks on the flat the next.
After watching the news one night may years ago about the awful events at Pike River my eldest daughter made me promise to never go in a mine so I felt decidedly guilty as I stepped into the inky darkness that is the tunnels that snake their way through the sheer cliff face.
I’m not sure if you would call them mines or simply tunnels but they were buried deep within the hills. The railway tracks snake their way through them and they are for the most part completely dark so it helps to bring a torch (although it is kind of fun to feel your way through like we did for a while).
The sign said it was an hour return walk but we did it in about 40 minutes – and this was at photographer speed as I stopped constantly to take pictures of everything I saw and to set up my tripod in the caves to play (not as successfully as I might have hoped) with light in the caves.
We went on arguably one of the busiest days of the year – the carpark was full to the brim and as we walked in there were people everywhere. There were families swimming in the fresh water streams and water holes and I nervously counted the number of people on the swing bridge that warned of a maximum load of 10 people.
The sheer number of tracks and spots to explore meant that there was no linear way that every person went so the numbers thinned and it didn’t feel busy at all so if you do arrive on a busy day, don’t let it put you off. It’s a magical spot – full of history and is a brilliant way to get out and about in this great country of ours and explore for free.