Explore pack tracks and tramlines from gold mining days - the shorter option is suitable for children and follows New Zealand’s oldest known railway (1882-83) with the original rail still in place.
Low Level Loop
Time: 2 hr loop
Distance: 5.5 km
An interesting walk for children, this well graded track takes in several significant sites around the lower Waiorongomai goldfields. From the car park go up the stairs to the left of the concrete ruins and then follow the signposted Low Level Loop to the right. The track winds up the valley through regenerating bush across a few small streams and passes a small tunnel and a pipeline.
After about an hour the loop turns back south at the signposted junction and joins the Piako County Tramway at the base of Butlers Incline, with the rail still in place giving a sense of how the tramway worked. The walk then descends along the tramway to the top of the Fern Spur Incline giving views to the south. It is a short walk down the hill from here to the car park.
Alternative route from Butlers Incline to Premier Creek
Beginning at the bottom of Butlers Incline, this track leads up the valley and connects with the Mangakino Pack Track and the Waipapa Track for longer overnight walks along the Kaimai Heritage Trail. From the Low Level Loop turn up the steep Butler’s Incline. Follow the Piako County Tramway, passing a junction with the High Level Track after 40 metres. This section is a level grade with rail lines along most of the length.
The track then crosses Diamond Creek before reaching an intersection, and then follows the historic Low Level Track up the May Queen Incline. The track continues along the tramway and passes another junction and a short but dark tunnel. The tramway finishes at Premier Creek. Add 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Premier Creek. Return the same way or take the Mangakino Pack Track north to the Waiorongomai Saddle.
Alternative route via New Era Branch Track
This is an alternative way to approach the head of the valley, avoiding Butlers Incline. Take the New Era Branch Track to the right at the signposted junction with the Low Level Loop, just before reaching Butlers Incline. There are two stream crossings which can be difficult after rain. This track meets up with the Piako County Tramway just below the May Queen Incline. Add 1 hour to reach the May Queen Incline. Return the same way or via Butlers Incline.
Alternative route via Kauri Grove Route
This challenging route features regenerating kauri forest and access to the site of the old Bendigo Battery. Take the turn off from the Low Level Loop after 45 minutes (the junction is on the corner by the tunnel). Just before the battery site the route crosses the Waiorongomai Stream and climbs very steeply to a junction with the old Pylon Line route.
After this the track descends to the north through a grove of kauri tree rickers then undulates with small stream crossings before meeting up with the New Era Branch Track. Add 3 hours to walk the Kauri Grove Route.
High Level Pack Track
Time: 2 hr 30 min one way
Distance: 4.3 km
This track climbs steadily up the valley and leads towards the Waiorongomai Saddle. Take the steps behind the concrete ruins and follow the signs for the High Level Track. Continue straight on at the junctions with the Low Level Loop and the Buck Rock Track, reached after about 30 minutes. The path crosses a number of streams before ascending to a bridge across Butlers Incline.
The following junction gives access to a number of other tracks. The High Level Track branches to the left and continues upwards, passing several mine portals and waterfalls. It levels out just before the old mining camp known as Quartzville, then descends to the historic Low Level Track, just above the May Queen Incline. Return the same way or return via the Low Level Track heading south. Overnight walks are accessible by continuing north to the Waiorongomai Saddle.
Waiorongomai walks start from the car park at the end of Waiorongomai Loop Road near Te Aroha.
History and culture
A prospector, Hone Werahiko found gold in the Waiorongomai Valley in 1881. The goldmines were never very successful - expensive engineering projects failed due to low yields from the unexpectedly hard rock of the enormous gold bearing reef. One of these projects was the Piako County Tramway which is a feature of many of the walks.
Know before you go
Caution: Mine tunnels and shafts are very dangerous and may be hidden by vegetation:
Consult a topographic map.
No mountain biking is permitted.
Source: Department of Conservation
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