The Waitawheta Valley provides an impressive combination of spectacular scenery, varied forest and historical artefacts. The valley was virtually stripped of its kauri forest, which grows here near its southern limit. The extensive logging has left a legacy, including the remains of the tramway, which can be explored by walkers visiting the valley. Today the route of the old tramway forms a walking track through the spectacular cliffs and bluffs of the gorge.
After periods of rain, the river level can rise rapidly and trap the unwary between river crossings. Do not attempt the walk if conditions are unfavourable.
Access to the Waitawheta Valley from Waihi is along S.H.2 towards Paeroa. Turn left into Waitwheta Road, 2km past the Waikino Visitor Centre. From Paeroa, Waitawheta Road is 13km along S.H.2 on the right.
Continue along Waitawheta Road for 4.3km and turn right into Franklin Road. After 200 metres, Franklin Road bears right over a one-lane bridge. The roadend is a further 2.2km. Access to the Waitawheta Valley is over farmland, 200 metres past the carpark at the roadend.
All tracks (except the Dalys Clearing Loop Track) start from just inside the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park boundary. To reach the park boundary, follow the yellow-ringed bollards for approximately 30 minutes across the farmland.
The start of the track is signposted from the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park boundary.
The track is uneven and boggy in places.
Approximately 20 minutes after entering the forest there is a small waterfall on the right. This is framed with paritaniwha, which also cascades to the trackside.
In total there are six crossings of the Waitawheta River. Wet feet are unavoidable on each crossing. The first crossing is encountered approximately 1 hour after entering the forest. From here it is possible to gain an impression of the immensity of the Waitawheta Gorge. The first four crossings occur in relatively quick succession.
The track follows the old Waitawheta Tramway on a gentle gradient. The river crossings generally take place where once there were bridges. On the second crossing you will need to walk upstream approximately 20 metres and cross the braid. The track is rejoined a few metres upstream from the final bridge footing.
Bridges are provided over side streams after the sixth crossing. Occasionally the track becomes overgrown, but is always well-formed.
Approximately 30 minutes past the Waitawheta Hut is a series of informal tracks, some of which are overgrown. These explore the remains of the Waitawheta Timber Company’s mill site.
The Waitawheta Gorge is a spectacular feature of 100-metre-high cliffs. The vertical faces of hexagonally jointed andesite lava are so sheer that vegetation cannot find purchase.
The riverside forest includes lush groves of ferns, red and silver beech and the occasional stand of kauri.
During the late 1800s, the thriving Ohinemuri goldfields of Mackaytown, Waitekauri and Karangahake fuelled a huge demand for timber.
In 1896 the Waitawheta Valley was surveyed and divided into three blocks, one of which was bought by the Kauri Timber Company. For the next 14 years, huge investments were made with the Waihi Gold Mining Company to construct a tramline through the Waitawheta Gorge.
Sheer-walled cliffs and a notoriously flood-prone river made work on the 19km tramway both hazardous and expensive. When completed, horse teams were used to pull the logs on trucks. At Owharoa Falls, a railway siding was used to lower logs onto carriages for transportation along the Paeroa to Waihi railway line. The Kauri Timber Company’s operation ceased in 1915 having removed 31 million feet of kauri timber.
In 1922, an entrepreneur named Bob Joughin, who traded as the Waitawheta Timber Company, secured the cutting rights and the use of the tramway to extract the valley’s final block of timber.
Bob Joughin built a mill at the head of the tramway and ingeniously converted a Fordson tractor to haul the sawn timber to the railway siding at Owharoa. His operation ceased in 1927 and the tramway was dismantled shortly after.
The Waitawheta Tramway was constructed between 1896 and 1910. It was financed by the Kauri Timber Company and the Waihi Gold Mining Company. The Waitawheta River was crossed in six places and the footings of the bridges are still evident.
Many old sleepers are present on the track. There are also cuttings after the third and fourth crossings. Rusting lengths of tramline and discarded truck axles cast the imagination back to a time when huge kauri logs were hauled 19km to the Paeroa to Waihi railway line.
The Waitawheta Timber Company’s mill operated between 1924 and 1927. Today there are numerous remains of the timber structures, rusting cables and the consolidated sawdust heap.
North Island ▷ Bay of Plenty ▷ Waihi
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍