Billygoat Circuit Track

Billygoat Circuit Track

Kauaeranga Valley

90%

Details

4 Rankers Reviews

4 Face-to-Face

238 Walking

14 Thames

Maps

Information

10.5 km return | 4-5 hours return

There are constant reminders of kauri logging - old decaying stumps beside the track, jammed logs in the streambed and abandoned logs awaiting a drive.

Access

Access to the Kauaeranga Valley is along Banks Street off S.H.25, 4.5km from Kopu and 0.5km south of the Thames Information Centre. The road bears right into Parawai Road and becomes unsealed after 10km. The Kauaeranga Visitor Centre is 12km from S.H.25, and should be the first stop before exploring the valley.

There are toilet facilities at the Visitor Centre, all the campgrounds and the Roadend Carpark.

The track is signposted from the Roadend Carpark.

Track

Webb Creek to Hydrocamp: After crossing the swingbridge over the Kauaeranga River, the track remains wide, even and metalled. After bearing right at the junction with the Moss Creek Track, the track starts to climb. The steep path crosses Webb Creek on several occasions on its way to the Hydrocamp. The path is well-maintained but the surface is uneven.

Hydrocamp to Kauaeranga Roadend: The track is solid with ‘in-situ’ cobbles and steps carved into the rock. It skirts the upper reaches of the Billygoat Basin watershed and then descends, crossing the Atuatumoe Stream. Watch for the orange triangle markers for the crossing point of the stream.

The descent to the Kauaeranga Valley via the Long Trestle and Short Trestles is well-maintained. The path surface becomes more even on the approach to the valley floor.

To return to the Roadend Carpark, cross the Kauaeranga River and turn right. The carpark is a further 700 metres.

European History

After the first crossing of Webb Creek, the track follows the old packhorse trail. Groups of horses carried weekly supplies to the bushcamps further up the valley.

There are constant reminders of kauri logging - old decaying stumps beside the track, jammed logs in the streambed and abandoned logs awaiting a drive.

Near the Hydrocamp on the right, are the remains of a ‘Skidded Road’. This was constructed of logs laid lengthways to form a channel through which bullock teams could haul logs. This skidded road was used to transport logs from Condemned Creek to Webb Creek, from where they were driven down to the valley floor.

The Hydrocamp was used as a campsite in the 1940’s when the power lines to the east coast were erected.

Webb Creek is named after Sam Webb, who was given the contract to log kauri from the Billygoat Stream area in the 1880’s.

In the 1880’s, early attempts to log the aptly-named Billygoat Basin proved largely unsuccessful. 90 percent of logs were destroyed after cascading the 180 metres over the Billygoat Falls. Sam Webb, the contractor, overcame this problem by constructing a wooden tramline to circumvent the falls. This stopped short of the valley floor. For the remaining distance logs were slid down an earth chute. This method also proved too wasteful. Logging was abandoned in 1888, when a sacked bushman set fire to the surrounding forest.

In 1921 the Kauri Timber Company constructed a more elaborate tramline. Logs were loaded onto two trucks, which were lowered by a steam hauler to the valley floor. Brakemen rode on the rear of the truck. A section of the upper part of the Incline has been restored and follows the track.

A 5-minute detour is signposted to the remains of the Long Trestle, just before the junction with the Hihi Trig Track. This bridge was used to transport logs to the top of the Incline. The bridge was 160 metres long and up to 11 metres high.

Feature

The generous rainfall of Coromandel’s maritime climate nurtures the impenetrable forest of the Coromandel Range, once ruled by the majestic kauri (Agathis australis). Dominating the canopy with a monumental presence, the gracefully spreading crowns were supported by straight untapering boles of monolithic proportions. With a girth commonly exceeding 10 metres (although rare today) and a height to the crown approaching 50 metres, the kauri was once king of the Kauaeranga Valley forest.

Following the discovery of gold-bearing quartz reefs near Thames in 1867, goldmining on the Coromandel started in earnest. Within a year the population of Thames had climbed to 18,000 and new stamper batteries were being erected as fast as new claims were being discovered. Large companies were taking control of the goldfields and investing huge sums of money to develop the infrastructure for ore processing.

Logging of Kauaeranga’s kauri was in response to the demand for timber to fuel the booming Thames goldrush. With the rampant development came an insatiable demand for quality timber to construct houses, shops, hotels and supports for the structures in the mining tunnels and shafts.

The Thames Water Race was built between 1873 and 1876 to provide the rapidly-expanding town with a water supply. It was originally constructed to power the stamper batteries, which crushed the ore derived from the labyrinth of mines working in the town’s vicinity. It was 14 km long, flowed into the Waiokaraka reservoir and cost £80,000 to build. It was such a significant undertaking that the amount of timber and roading required for its construction had the effect of opening up the valley for subsequent logging. This construction used a huge quantity of timber, all derived from the Kauaeranga.

In 1871 the first cutting rights were secured by the Stone Brothers. They built booms at Parawai and a sawmill at Shortland, near the mouth of the Kauaeranga River. They subcontracted the responsibility for logging Kauaeranga’s kauri forests to bushmen, who led teams to the Billygoat and Webb Streams.

Among the first casualties to face the saw were the most accessible specimens lining the banks of the chuckling Kauaeranga River. The lower reaches of the Mangakirikiri and Mangarehu tributaries were next.

To fell a tall kauri tree safely and in the desired direction, took skill and experience on the part of the bushmen. A wedge-shaped cut, known as a scarf, was chopped by the axemen on the side the tree was to fall. Side scarves facilitated the freedom of the saw’s movement, which was powered by one man at either end. Iron wedges were driven in behind the saw to arrest jamming. To encourage the tree to fall, the sawing would often have to continue until it reached the scarf. With a deafening crash the massive trees would tumble, millennia of growth terminated in just a few seconds.

Once felled, bushmen cross-cut the trunk into manageable sizes. The crown was usually discarded and the remainder cut to length. This length varied according to the orders at the mill, determined by the eventual use for the timber, and could be up to 10 meters long. After cross cutting, the ends were rounded, or sniped, to allow for easier transportation.

The methods of transportation employed included the use of rolling roads, a line of logs that were carefully manoeuvred down an excavated roadway. Using handspikes and timber jacks, bushmen would guide up to 100 logs down a 4-5 meter wide levelled depression. By easing the bottom log a few meters downhill, the logs above would follow.

To move a log downhill, chutes were built into the hillside. They were either a muddy depression lubricated with water, or a more elaborate design involving three lines of logs laid end to end. One line formed the base and the other two the sides. Mutton fat and water lubricated the chute and also helped reduce the risk of smouldering fires from the friction generated heat.

A variation of the chute was called a skidded road, which was constructed over gently sloping ground. Logs were laid end to end with cross pieces known as skids. This arrangement allowed bullock teams to pull logs more easily over the saddles between watersheds.

The early loggers used bullock teams to move logs for subsequent transport to the booms. Over the rugged country, teams of bullocks were preferred to horses as they were able to feed on the undergrowth and harnessed a solid hauling power. Eight pairs were normally yoked together in tandem and directed by the driver with cracks of the whip. The bulls proved patient and reliable in the muddy conditions of a bush winter.

Where the terrain was so rugged and steep that the use of bullock teams was impossible, bushmen caused artificial known as drives. These were triggered by releasing water collected behind, usually after periods of heavy rain. As the dam was ‘tripped’, a surge of water flowed through the watershed, collecting logs on its way. Normally a series of dams were tripped in succession. The flood accumulated an increasing number of logs as it progressed to the holding booms in the lower reaches of the watershed. This method proved so effective that between the 1880s and 1920s over 100 dams were built in the Kauaeranga Valley.

Sites were selected where the stream banks were high and a large area behind could accommodate the dammed water. The surrounding bedrock needed to be solid to support the foundation beams. Local timber was pit-sawn on site for the construction. It took a team of bushmen several months to complete a dam.

The Tarawaere Dam was a flume dam, built in 1920 by Jim Angel. When full, it was 24 metres wide at the waterline and 8 metres high. Planks were placed upright in the centre of the gate opening and attached to the main stringer (horizontal beam) by cables. They were replaced after each emptying of the dam.

The nearby Waterfalls Dam exhibited a different design and was known as a swinging rafter dam. The gate had a loosely attached, free-swinging rafter that pivoted above the centre of the gate opening. This type of dam had a limited life expectancy and was used in small creeks. Logs were not generally passed through the gate.

On 18th November 1873 over 2000 logs were driven to the booms in one flood. The chains spanning the lower reaches of the Kauaeranga River split under the immense pressure and the haul of logs washed out to sea. Although recovery of the logs strewn about the Firth of Thames was aided by boatmen, a similar occurrence befell the same booms nine years later.

The bushcamps housing the busmen were rudimentary affairs. They were by nature temporary and became redundant when the felling of a particular kauri block was complete. Using in situ material for construction, most shanties were simply thrown together using kauri pailings nailed to saplings. Nikau fronds were woven together as thatching. Dancing Camp in the upper reaches of the Kauaeranga was a typical camp with a main shanty serving as the cookhouse, dining room and dormitory. Later camps had separate cookhouses and bunk rooms.

In the 1880s, early attempts to log the aptly-named Billygoat Basin, east of the main Kauaeranga River, proved largely unsuccessful. When the kauri loggers attempted to transport the timber to the valley floor, logs falling over the 180-metre-high Billygoat Falls shattered, 90% of them disintegrating to splinters.

Sam Webb, the contractor, overcame this problem by constructing a wooden tramline to circumvent the falls. Logs taken from a holding dam above the falls via a wooden tramline were slid down a log chute which stopped short of the valley floor. For the remaining distance logs were slid down an earth chute. This method also proved too wasteful, the massive trunks splintering to unmillable logs on reaching the valley floor.

When a sacked bushman set fire to the surrounding forest in 1888, logging was abandoned. By the late 1880s, the industry was also slumping and in 1888 a Melbourne consortium bought the struggling mills and formed the Kauri Timber Company.

It was not until 1921-6 when the Billygoat Tramline was constructed, that logs were transported safely. A steam hauler lowered two trucks carrying the logs from the basin to Billygoat Landing. Brakemen rode on the rear of the truck, a job not without an element of danger and thrill, especially when the braking mechanisms tired and the trucks were witnessed hurtling down the tracks at breakneck speed, bushmen clinging to the runaway trucks for an involuntary white knuckle ride. The tramline was 1160 meters long, with a vertical drop of 290 meters. Its steepest gradient was 1:2.7. After unloading at Billygoat Landing, logs were pulled by steam hauler to the Kauaeranga Tramline railhead.

During the 1900s, steam haulers were often used to winch logs out of inaccessible valleys. Fuelled by tea-tree or kauri off-cuts, the stationary engine drove a revolving drum that wound the heavy steel cable. Bullocks or horses could also be used to pull a horizontal arm attached to a revolving barrel. This device, known as a capstan or whim, was powered by the animals walking around it winding in the rope and the log it was tied to.

The final period of logging extracted all the remaining kauri from the valley, work mainly concentrating around the headwaters of the Kauaeranga Gorge. By this time the valley floor was being farmed and farmers were becoming disgruntled after drives, as fences and other farm infrastructure were being damaged.

The Kauri Timber Company ingeniously devised a system, logs being transported in drives to booms erected across the main river near the Whangaiterenga Stream, upstream from farming operations. They were then loaded onto trucks, which rolled along the Kauaeranga Tramline. Its construction commenced in 1913 around Hoffmans Pool, and after a period of suspension during the First World War, was finished in 1920. Logs completed the journey to Thames, where they were unloaded into tidal water, tied into herringbone rafts and towed to Auckland for milling.

By the time logging ceased in 1928 the once magnificent kauri forests had been annihilated.

Details

Feature Value Info

Location

North IslandCoromandelThames

Categories

  • Walking
  • Free

Contact

Reviews

Heike Buchmann's avatar

Heike Buchmann

Germany

Ranking: 9/10

Paths are not always easy to hike but interesting nature and views.

Reviewed over 2 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Conservation Campsite Pass

Save up to 70% on campsite fees! Support conservation and experience the natural beauty of NZ. 79 Department of Conservation campsites, one convenient pass.

Get the Pass

Dave O'Brien's avatar

Dave O'Brien

United Kingdom

Ranking: 10/10

Brilliant track for a run - well marked. Lovely circular route through forests, past rivers and through historic mine workings. Refreshing river to swim in at the end.

Reviewed over 3 years ago and experienced in January 2016

Top Ranked NZ Deals Pass

Access savings worth hundreds of $$ on Top Ranked NZ Accommodation and Activities for just $1 per day.

Get deals pass

Nora and Edward's avatar

Nora and Edward

Germany

Ranking: 7/10

Duration 5-6 hours, 6 river crossings and a lot of steps.

Reviewed over 6 years ago

DOC Managed

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 😍

Nick Morrison's avatar

Nick Morrison

Rankers owner