We were pretty excited to see how accessible the track to the Kaitoke Hot Springs would be. We put a post out on Barrier Chit Chat before we arrived, the Island’s Facebook page asking about wheelchair accessible things to do. The Hot Springs came back highly recommended. We also had some lovely offers from locals to take us out fishing by boat, a tour of the community gardens and a stargazing adventure with Good Heaven’s Dark Sky Experience.
It was hot and humid on the day we decided to do the track, Finlay was definitely feeling the heat. The track was under a canopy of beautiful ferns and kanuka forest, a welcome shade from the sun beating down. I have to confess we probably weren’t as prepared as we should have been. Our youngest, for example, forgot his shoes so it made for a lot of complaints from the gravel under feet and the heat in the ground.
I had no idea whether we’d manage to get Finlay into the Hot Springs, but I knew the bush walk would be fantastic. We just needed to work out whether we could get through the Kauri Die-back cleaning station. These have recently been put at the entry of many Department Of Conservation (DoC) managed tracks.
The walk to the Hot Springs starts 2.5 km along Whangaparapara Road. The track crosses a stream and follows the edge of the Kaitoke wetlands. It passes through regenerating kanuka forest to sulphurous hot springs where a series of natural pools are dammed. Stream water may be hot so definitely a need for caution.
The walk is said to take you 40 minutes to 1 hour one way. For us however, travelling with an all-terrain wheelchair, a family member experiencing fatigue, a child who’d forgotten their shoes and Nana with a rehabilitating ankle, it took us double that time taking it easy. I mean what’s the rush anyway? We’re on Barrier time here, no WIFI, no electricity and tank water only. It is like time stands still and gives you the chance to recharge and live the day.
What to Bring
We experienced the walk in the Summer months so bring plenty of water to keep hydrated, a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent. There are a few little rest areas to enjoy a picnic lunch or snack along the way. We wore swim suits underneath just in case and took towels.
Parking is along the side of the road. It gets quite busy in the Summer months, particularly around Christmas/New Year, so it pays to turn up early to find the closer parks to the entrance. We managed to find a gap wide enough, but it is frustrating when cars park so close to each other like this. They can block any wheelchairs or pushchairs gaining access to the entry of the track. I’m not sure how I’d feel about getting stuck on the way out. I’d say it would pay to park strategically if you get the chance.
Kauri Die-back Cleaning Station
Kauri Die-back cleaning stations have been somewhat of a barrier to many of our DoC tracks and trails. They can be hit and miss as to whether our wheelchairs can get through them. I’m happy to report with this one we managed it and found it more accessible than any of the others we’ve encountered elsewhere. There is a bar attached from above that divides the entering and exiting that we just managed to negotiate. It would be helpful if they just removed this completely, but apparently it’s there to direct people over the cleaning brushes. The cleaning stations have been installed to stop the Kauri tree infections spreading. We can bring it in on our feet, to clean our wheels we use the brushes and spray generally close by.
The track is made up of hard-packed gravel and board walks. There are a few gradual gradients, tight corners and washouts to negotiate, but Finlay’s Hippocampe all-terrain wheelchair navigated everything well. I would consider this an easy track to push a chair if the wheels are all-terrain. A manual wheelchair could cope with a free-wheel attachment and someone to assist for pushing in places. I think our Powerchair could have managed much of it, but it can be a gamble when unsure of how maintained the track is on any particular day. This track was looking well maintained by the Department of Conservation (DoC) on our visit.
Taking to bridges along the way to navigate the wetlands.
It’s wonderful being able to experience being out in the bush like this.
This was an area of the track which had more of a gradient to it with big bits of gravel that got stuck between the double mountain bike tyres of our Hippocampe. Finlay’s father here experiencing fatigue, but managing it like a trooper. You can see Nana up front doing extremely well with on her rehabilitating ankle injury. I think all these points are good to share to a blog describing how accessible an experience can be. We, as a family are certainly not feeling in tip top physical health at present, but still love getting out and about.
Here the terrain became a little more uneven.
This was probably one of the most trickiest areas we came across. Gaining entry onto this small boardwalk bridge. The corner was tight and the lip almost like a step. Again, the Hippocampe managed it well with assistance, but this would have been a definite stumbling block for the Powerchair.
We came across a bench to sit down and re-hydrate. There was a bit of bartering around shoes here. Little brother eyeing up Finlay’s shoes as being in a chair he felt he didn’t need them as much.
A bit further along we get to another resting spot while we waited for Nana and Pop.
We left the rest stop and continued along the walking trail. The bush becomes more open, with the wetlands either side of boardwalk, the native birdlife singing as we continue on.
We were just about there and came across a toilet! Totally inaccessible for our needs, but there it was, being well utilised by those who could access it.
We finally made it! It was quite busy when we arrived and most of the more accessible areas were occupied. The water was also a little cloudy due to the amount of people enjoying the Springs. We tested the water and it was so warm but I didn’t feel brave enough strength wise to try and get Finlay in. Possibly, if there was no-one else here and we had more choice where to put in I would have given it a go. I can sometimes have that ‘can do’ head on and regret it in mid transfer. My back and joints aren’t what they used to be and Finlay has become a strapping tall lad too.
Finlay was happy to just be here and watch on with all his family around him, “next time my wee man.”
Maybe DoC could work their magic and create an accessible pull into one of these hot pools? It could be done quite simply at https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/auckland/places/great-barrier-island-aotea/things-to-do/tracks/kaitoke-hot-springs-track/ #accessiblewalksTweet
Information about the Hot Springs is located just before the track continues on towards Mt Hobson (Hirakimata). This part of the track is inaccessible with a steep climb and descent before it joins the Tramline Track. Mt Heale Hut offers a 20 bunk bed capacity, cooking facilities and a wonderful view. DoC considers this an easy walk from the road end … maybe we’ll have to explore how easy and accessible at a later date.
On the Return
As usual, the return trip never seems to take as long as a trip in. We knew the track well and were looking forward to grabbing an ice-cream and jumping into the sea before returning to the Bach.
Finlay had faired well, but he certainly felt hot sitting in the chair the whole way. He was looking forward to his outdoor shower which I can’t wait to share with you in another blog about our accommodation.