Last Summer, we did the Pinnacles walk in the Coromandel New Zealand and found it a real highlight of the area. We sat up in the mountains (759 m high to be precise!) and watched the sun go down over the Coromandel Peninsula. It was such a beautiful sight and the two of us really loved it.
In fact, we loved it so much we decided it was worthy of a return over the 19/20 Summer!!
This blog details all you need to know for the Pinnacles walk in the Coromandel including some of our own tips, how busy it is, and when we think is best to visit!
So first of all, how long is the Pinnacles Walk and where do you start from?
The Pinnacles Walk is a 7km walk (one way) from the carpark (Kauaeranga Road end) carpark to the Pinnacles Summit. Note, to get to this car park you drive on a gravel road for approximately 8.2km. And while it’s definitely 2WD accessible, it’s probably one of the worse roads we have driven in NZ. It’s not maintained (I don’t believe it’s a council road) so is often corrugated and full of pot holes. It's one of those things - if you expect it, then it probably won’t bother you but if you don’t it probably will!
From the car park, it’s approximately 6km to the Pinnacles Hut (which I’ve touched on below under the accommodation section) and then a further 1km from the Hut to the Summit.
For us, it took 2 hours 15 minutes to get to the hut/camp site (with our packs/tent etc.) and a further 35 minutes to get to the Summit from there. (I.e. total time from Kauaeranga Road end carpark to the Pinnacles summit was 2 hours 50 minutes). The walk back down from the summit to the carpark (the next day) took us approximately 2 hours 20. It can be a wee bit rough on the knees so try not rush it too much!
What is the walk like?
The best way to describe the walk would be to call it a bit of a Pick ‘n’ Mix really. You walk along swing bridges and over creeks and waterfalls, up wooden staircases, through a bit of muddy forest and then all of a sudden find yourself along dry, exposed rock-walls. The walk to the Hut (from the carpark) is uphill, but much more gentle when compared to the section from the hut to the summit. This part of the walk (from the hut to the summit) is primarily staircases and once you near the summit, it becomes rock climbing. DOC have done a fab job of putting iron rungs in, and there are two ladders to help you get up. You do need to be a wee bit confident to do this part of the walk, but as it is quite popular, you will likely be able to find someone to help you/give you a hand if needed. In some areas James and I both gave each other a hand and helped each other up. The top part of the walk is also quite dusty and you tend to use your hands/knees a lot so I would recommend wearing darker clothes if you can!
How difficult would you say the walk is?
We would say its about a 7 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. It can be quite demanding, in particular when you approach what feels like never-ending staircases, but we found it easier than Mount Fyffe in Kaikōura. If you take your time on this walk it’s not too bad - we saw several parents hiking up with their wee ones and going well!
How busy is the walk?
I was going to say good question but just realised I’m the one writing the question haha. Last year (2019) we did the walk in April and for sunset. On this particular occasion there was no one up top (during sunset) and it was so lovely. While the Pinnacles are rather well known for being a sunrise hot spot, we were still surprised to find it completely empty at sunset.
This year (February 2020), we did the walk as an overnight hike so we could be up top for both sunset and sunrise. (We also wanted to see if sunrise was better as everyone says!)
At sunset (not including us) there were approximately eight people up the top watching the sun go down. At sunrise (not including us) there were approximately 23 people up top watching the sun come up. Now this might not seem like a whole lot of people, but the space up at the summit is quite small so it can feel crowded quite quickly. In fact, for sunrise, we got to the top and as there were already four other people up there (noting we were up there 40 minutes before the sun was even due to come up!!), we decided to head back down a little and shoot an epic cliff face instead. We thoroughly enjoyed this and tried to get a little creative, but each to their own - you may prefer to be right up top for the sunrise show!
Is the Pinnacles better as a day walk or overnight? What are the accommodation options?
We would definitely recommend doing this walk for either sunrise or sunset, so make it an overnight trip if you can! With sunrise you will a) get the sun rising over the Coromandel Peninsula which is pretty spectacular, but b) probably struggle to get a quiet, peaceful sunrise if that’s what you’re looking for. At sunset, the sun goes down over the mountain ranges and in our opinion is equally as spectacular. As the Pinnacles are known for being the best at sunrise, sunset is always going to be quieter. The Pinnacles are beautiful any time of day, but in our opinion, is best seen during either sunrise or sunset (you probably just need to think about what kind of experience you're aiming to have so you can pick between these).
When we started heading back down to the carpark (around 9:45am), we passed approximately 40 people heading up to the walk and when we got back to Vinnie the carpark had 46 cars in it (approximately 11:30am). (Also I have to ask - are we the ONLY people that do this?? Whenever James and I are finishing a hike, we always have a guess at how many cars will be in the carpark haha). If you’re planning to do it during the day, know that it will be very busy, and if you can, avoid doing the walk during the weekend!
The Pinnacles has an awesome hut with 80 beds, water (non-drinkable), mattresses, toilets, burners and even a cold shower. I believe it’s 20 beds per room (with there being four rooms). The hut costs $20 per person and must be booked in advance (it typically sells out on the weekends, so again if you want to stay here try and time your visit for a weekday). You can book and read about the hut here.
There are a couple of campsites on the walk up to the Summit, but in our opinion, are all too close to the start of the walk, so you’re better off continuing up to Dancing Campground if you would prefer to camp than stay in the hut. We chose to camp at Dancing Campground and really, really loved it. It is $10 per person (so half the price of the hut) and there are four sites available. They each have their own bench/log and a seat and are on designated sections filled with bark (so nice and easy for pitching your tent). This is great because there’s none of that awkward “where should we pitch our tent” or “are we too close to them!?” nonsense. We really loved camping here and found it so nice and quiet (there was only one other couple camping when we stayed and as we took site 4, and they took site 1, it felt very private). The campground also has its own toilet and non-drinking water tap so you don’t have to keep going to the hut for these. The campground is about 2 minutes from the hut, so the distance to the summit from there is about the same. You can book and read about the Dancing Campground here.
How did you guys do the Pinnacles? What was your itinerary?
Last Summer we walked up for sunset and then back down in the dark. To be honest, we were pretty tired/ exhausted doing this and said if we were to do it again we would stay in the hut. So this year when we set off to do the Pinnacles and were about to book the hut, we saw there was a campsite on offer and decided to give that a go as we had seen how busy the hut could get!
We set off from the carpark around 4:15pm on a Thursday, got to the campground around 6:30pm, set up our tent, dropped all our camping gear and then walked up to the summit for sunset. We were up at the Summit by around 7:15pm, with the sun going down around 8:00pm. We wanted to be there well before sunset, because as you're up so high, the sun dips behind the pinnacles well before 'sunset time'. After that we walked back down, had a shower and ate dinner in our tent.
On Friday morning we woke up around 5:20am, started walking up to the summit for sunrise (getting to the top around 6:15m for a 6:55am sunrise) and stayed up there for a few hours just taking it all in. By roughly 8am (or just before) the top of the summit was completely empty and all the 'sunrisers' had gone back down. We then went back to our campsite, had breakfast, packed up our tent and walked down. We left the campground around 9:45am and were back at Vinnie (in the carpark) by 11:40am. All in all, the whole adventure took us about 20 hours from start to finish!
Be sure to arrive early/stay late for golden hour.
The summit can get quite busy at sunrise/sunset so you might enjoy photographing from different spots.
At sunrise, the sun comes up over the Peninsula and at sunset, it goes down over the mountain ranges.
Our favourite spot for photographs was the rock facing towards the summit (where Charlotte is sitting up on top - image below). To get this shot, James stayed down on the ground (with the camera) just before the first ladder, and Charlotte climbed up top. Surprisingly, we weren't actually all that far from each other so we could wave and use our walkie talkies to chat.
Take multiple exposures when shooting into the sun so you can blend in Photoshop
General tips for the Pinnacles Walk in the Coromandel? What do I need to know?
Check the walk here and make sure you’re aware of any alerts in place. During the Summer, day walkers are not able to use/access the water at the hut/campground so if you’re not staying overnight you must carry enough water for the walk up and down.
Pack Condyz Crystals or Potassium permanganate as the water really does need to be filtered/treated before drinking. I don’t usually say this, but the water here (especially in Summer) can be a bit gross/stagnant. I made the mistake at looking at the water source haha.
Try not to visit during the weekends as this is a real favourite for locals!
Try and time your visit for a sunrise/sunset if you can
If walking in Summer, or over the weekend, book the hut in advance as it can fill up quickly.
Wear dark clothes as the top part of the walk does get very dusty and you will need to be on your knees/using your hands for the rock climbing part.
Wear good sturdy shoes – sneakers or hiking boots and note they will get a little muddy in parts.
The summit can get windy so you might like to pack a windproof jacket (although this hasn't been the case for us on either of our visits!).
I hope this blog helps you plan your walk up to the Pinnacles, but even more so, I hope you have a wonderful time there! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or send us a message!