Nestled in the Pohangina Valley lies Totara Reserve, a 340 ha regional park shrouded in native bush. Totara Reserve is home to many walks, campgrounds and other recreational activities. The Pohangina river provides many swimming holes making it the perfect summer hang out spot. Within Totara Reserve Gilchrist and Pettifar Loop Tracks are two fantastic family-friendly hikes that will cater to all members of the family.
Access Drive down Pohangina Valley East Road until you reach the well-signposted carpark on the side of the road.
Time 1-2 hours per loop
Gilchrist loop leads off down the old coach road. It is wide, flat and well-maintained. The track forks off where it meets up with Pettifar Loop. Gilchrist Loop continues down a wide flat path, encased in trees. Birdsong is abundant and I spied (and heard) kereru, fantail, tui, thrush and sparrows.
The fantails were feeling especially friendly flitting in and out of the surrounding trees, peeping happily. I think they were just happy to see me because I stirred up the dirt ground for them, making grub hunting easier. I’ll take it though. However, in true fantail style, they never stayed still long enough for a photo.
Not so much a loop
The track eventually starts to become more overgrown and often difficult to find. Dirt paths wind through dry streams, between blackberry bushes (mandatory blackberry tasting stop) and then evens out onto a grassy clearing with few tall spindly trees.
Eventually, the path takes you to a cliff above the Pohangina river. I tried to find where the track went from here, trying several possible paths but all lead to more dead ends in overgrown bush. In the end, I had to concede defeat after going around in circles so many times I got dizzy but none of the paths led anywhere. There was a sneaking feeling that it had either fallen down the bank as there were signs of a slip or the debris from a recent storm has blocked the path.
Never mind, I headed back the way I came and before long found my way back to old coach road and back to the car. I was a little disappointed I couldn’t find the path but ho hey, these things happen and it was still a lovely walk. Plus I got to go past the blackberry bush again which is never a bad thing.
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Pettifar loop is the most popular out of these two tracks, it is well-maintained the entire way and easy to follow. There are occasional tree roots snaking along the track and in winter, a small creek crossing. However, since I did this in the height of summer, the creek ran dry. No wet boots for this gal.
I managed to complete this track in an hour including stops to admire the view along the river. There are a couple of small inclines but these don’t last very long and are not steep, rather they meander up before evening up. My kinda hill!
After the hill, the track runs parallel to the Pohangina River, the river was very low in summer but it fills up nicely during winter. The track will get slippery in winter so be careful on this part of the loop. There are a couple of places to stop and admire the view along the way and children will be entertained with the varying sights and sounds offered throughout the loop (including a tunnel near the start).
After following the river, the track winds back towards the road and finishes with a walk down the old coach road. I have to admit, this was my least favourite part of the track. While it was beautiful, it did get a little monotonous after a while. However, the carpark comes into sight after about 10 minutes so it could have been worse. Anyway, it was quite lovely and peaceful ambling down the old road under the tree tunnel listening to the birds chatter away.
Pettifar Loop is a worthy family hike or for the days when you just can’t face those hills that are so common on New Zealand hikes.
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Other activities in Totara Reserve
There are many other activities to do in the area with a number of camping grounds, walks and swimming holes. Piripiri campsite is a Department of Conservation campsite that is free. I stayed here over the summer and it was a beautiful spot to spend a night or two with the perfect swimming spot (and more blackberries. Huzzah!)
Camp Rangi Woods is another campsite alongside two other campsites, a larger one attached to Camp Rangi Woods and a smaller one across the road.
Kahikatea walk and Fern loop walk also reside in the area. Kahikatea walk is a short 20 minute loop and Fern walk is a more challenging 2 – 3 hour loop that climbs up into the bush passing many native trees.
You can choose to do just one track or give yourself more of a challenge and combine both Gilchrist and Pettifar loop tracks for a longer hike. It is easily doable to walk both in one morning or afternoon. The area is popular for families and dog walkers so be prepared to spot another walker or two. Be sure to keep children close when you are walking along the cliff side
Other hikes in the area
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