The New Zealand Walks for Wimps series provides essential information about short, relatively easy hikes around New Zealand. This one is a visit to Whanganui Inlet, with a stunning drive, the beautiful Kaihoka Lakes, and fantastic views from the Knuckle Hill Track. Click on the map markers and links on the right for more great easy NZ walks!
Nearest town: Collingwood (very small but has the basics)
Type of track: there and back (all info for Knuckle Hill Track)
Official distance: 5.6 km each way (but this seems wrong to me – I don’t think it’s this far)
Official time: 2 hours 40 mins return
Jenny’s time: about 4 hours
Toilets: at Kaihoka Lakes, none at Knuckle Hill
Tips: The Knuckle Hill Track can also be done on a mountain bike, but you’ll have to leave it on the main track where you turn off for the last 20 minutes up the hill.
I could hear him before I could see him, and as I scrambled over the last few rocks to the top of Knuckle hill I wondered what the strange, rhythmic rumbling noise was.
He was stretched out in the sunshine, head against his pack facing the spectacular view of Whanganui Inlet far below us. His snoring cut through the quiet like a freight train, but he seemed so serene otherwise that I didn’t mind.
I tiptoed around, not wanting to rouse him from his slumber, positioning myself on the log nearby for a rest and to take in the scene.
Eventually he awoke, surprised to find that he had company, and we sat chatting for an hour or so. My unexpected companion was lovely, happy to share my snacks in exchange for snapping a couple of photos of me in front of that incredible view.
He’d come from the opposite direction, via the Kaituna Track, a lone adventurer planning to camp somewhere for the night. But the Kaituna Track that was supposed to take 8-9 hours had only taken him about five, so instead he walked down with me and I gave him a lift back to town.
The Knuckle Hill Track is an easy walk from the carpark, climbing steadily for about an hour on an old logging road through forest, then turning for a steeper climb through rock and thick spindly grass for the last 20 minutes or so.
The panorama from the trig marker at the top of the hill is incredible; from 342 metres above sea level you can see most of Whanganui Inlet, and in the other direction nothing but trees looking back towards Kahurangi National Park.
The drive to get here isn’t too shabby either. Dry Road winds around the inlet, crossing streams and small bays before climbing to the turnoff for the Knuckle Hill Track. At low tide it was stunning with tiny channels snaking their way through the mud flats and seaweed and the late afternoon light giving it all a silvery glow.
This entire estuary is protected, in the form of Westhaven Wildlife Management Reserve and Westhaven (Te Tai Tapu) Marine Reserve, so will be here in this state for you to enjoy for years to come.
The road extends beyond the Knuckle Hill turnoff, but for me that journey further into nowhere seemed best left for another day.
If you have time you can take a further turnoff to Kaihoka Lakes, where a short trail leads past one lake to another, their clear water shining in the sun.
They’re surrounded by nikau palms and tropical-looking vegetation, with sheep farms and rolling hills beyond. It was too cold when I was there, but on a hot day this would be a lovely spot for a swim or a paddle.
You could easily spend an entire day in and around Whanganui Inlet, so pack a picnic lunch and get going!
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