Swelling, dark clouds loomed above Palmerston North, threatening to spill over. And I had discovered only a day or two earlier that my waterproof jacket is no longer waterproof with a big tear down the back from my trek up Atene Skyline Track. This was not a good sign. But I had decided to do Sledge Track up to Toe Toe Loop to Platinum Mine Loop and that was what I was going to do. Rain or shine apparently.
I hiked Sledge Track last year but just to the swing bridge and back. I've also taken the kids up part of it to the swimming hole before so know that the first part of the track is relatively easy. This led me into a false sense of security going in. I was a bit too overconfident until I hit 'The Elevation'. That sure knocked back a bit of my arrogance at how well I had done until then. Nature sure has a way of putting you back in your place.
Time to do Sledge Track and Toe Toe Loop to Platinum Mine Loop allow the best part of the day. It took me 5 and a half hours to get back to my car again. The official time the track states is 7 hours but it shouldn't take you that long.
These are the suggested times but take them with a grain of salt:
- From the carpark to the swimming hole 10-15 mins
- Swimming hole to Argyle Rocks 30-40 mins
- Argyle Rocks to The Elevation 30-40 mins
- The Elevation to Platinum Mines 1.5 hours
- The Platinum Mine Loop 30 mins
- Platinum Mines to the car park (taking the shorter Toe Toe Loop way) 2.5 hours
- Platinum Mines to the car park (taking the longer Toe Toe Loop way) 3 hours
Difficulty to the Elevation is fairly easy. There are a few inclines and hills but they aren't too long or strenuous. From the Elevation, it is recommended experienced hikers only with who are at least moderately fit. This is due to the consistent uphill, steps and nature of the track.
Access Head through Palmerston North past Massey University towards Levin. Take the left hand turn off towards Woodville. There is a road to your right signposted for Sledge Track, take that road and follow it until you find the carpark. It is quite a way down and the tar sealed road turns to gravel. It is quite narrow and windy in places to be aware of oncoming traffic as during the weekends the Kahuterawa Valley is popular. There are lots of mountain bike tracks in the forest as well.
Fitness You will need to be fairly fit to tackle the whole hike from Sledge Track to Toe Toe Loop to Platinum Mines. The track is uphill for a good solid hour and a half.
Sledge Track to The Swing Bridge
This is where I got cocky. I set myself a goal of not stopping until I got to the swing bridge. Not even to take photos, which is totally not how I roll. But I did it. And suffered later due to the slightly aching legs once I reached the dreaded elevation.
This part of the track is fantastic if you are just wanting a short hike or are taking along children. There are numerous landmarks to stop and admire as well as plenty of spots to stop for a quick dip in the river during summer. Waterfalls cascade over the track lazily over summer. Slightly more furiously during Autumn. The footbridges are perfect if you like troll spotting. Each part of the track is labelled with little wooden signposts. See how many the kids can spot.
Argyle Rocks is a great destination for children. The huge boulders make for a great clamber and the little stone beach is ideal for setting up towels and picnics. Argyle rocks took me about 20 mins of solid walking to get there. There were a couple of inclines but I took my kids here last summer (aged 9 and 11 at the time) and they managed to get to the rocks easily and without complaint. Mostly.
Another 20ish minutes past Argyle Rocks and the swing bridge was in view down a few flights of dirt stairs. I was in a bit of a daydream here just plodding along so was slightly surprised at rounding the corner and nearly crashing into the bridge. Not literally. Well...
I remembered it to be further away so was happily startled to stumble across it so quickly. The swinging on the swing bridge would have to wait though. I was on a mission.
The Swing Bridge to The Elevation
Immediately after passing by the swing bridge (and not swinging) you round the corner and pass a makeshift bridge. By makeshift bridge, I mean a plank of wood balancing on a rock at one end and the track at the other. The bridge (I use that term loosely) doesn't start from the track so you need to either make like a mountain goat and hop from rock to rock or do the less graceful method of stomping through the creek to get to it. I opted for the latter.
There are also no trolls under this bridge. It is too close to the water for one to fit. During winter I would imagine the bridge can be submerged under the water.
A short hike zigzags away from the river for the first time to... The Elevation. Dun dun duunnnn.
The Elevation to Toe Toe Loop
The dream of the rest of the track being like the part I had just hiked was shattered with that small sign. That'll teach me for not doing my research beforehand.
The Elevation climbs steeply uphill until you reach Law on Stairs. Also not a good sign. The incline (roughly gaining 350m in altitude) is relentless and lasts right up until you reach Hardings Park and the start of the Toe Toe Loop. It took me just over an hour from the bottom of the Elevation to get to the start of the Toe Toe Loop.
I had a couple of stops here. One for a much needed Haribo fix and the other to eat my apple looking out over the view. I was starting to get Hangry by the time I reached the lookout. And a Hangry Jem is not a fun Jem.
The track was not difficult to navigate, the orange triangles were aplenty, but at times it was difficult to find even footing. The track was often scrambling up exposed tree roots, squelching through slippery mud or climbing steps intended for giants. Or regular sized people.
My new boots were put through their paces and passed with puddle stomping, mud covered ease.
The view from the start of Toe Toe Loop with Palmerston North in the distance
Toe Toe Loop to Platinum Mine Loop
Make sure you stop and admire the view here. It stretches out over farmland past Palmerston North and into the distance. Well, it does if the clouds aren't hanging out all low. It took just under two hours to get from my car to this part of the track.
As I was sitting on my perch a top of a picnic table I could hear voices floating up the track. I have gotten so used to not seeing another soul (well, human soul) on my solo treks that I kind of froze like a deer in headlights. If I stayed still, maybe they wouldn't see me. No such luck. I had to go through the formalities of polite small talk before they carried on their merry way. After my cup of tea. Obviously. I headed clockwise down Toe Toe Loop and soon enough caught up with the hikers. We became Tramping Buddies for the next wee while as we all wanted to explore the Platinum Mines.
Toe Toe Loop
Toe Toe Loop to Platinum Mine Loop was fairly straightforward. A few ups and downs but a relief on the legs after the last section. The track was a bit slippery due to recent rainfall, which thankfully didn't eventuate while I was up in the bush. The first mine is actually before you hit Platinum Mine Loop track. A horizontal mine established in 1875 by Alexander Menesdorffer.
A muddy entrance meant my boots were feeling all superior to my Tramping Buddies trainers. If they could look smug, I'm sure they would have. A quick flick around with the torch revealed no cave wetas inside that we could see. What is the point of a cave if there are no cave wetas?
Platinum Mine Loop took about half an hour from the start of Toe Toe Loop to get to. This was why I had climbed those darn steps. To see the
cave weta mines.
Platinum Mine Loop
Platinum Mine Loop is another straight forward loop. There are few hills and plenty of caves to keep everyone happy. The first cave we came across on the loop was a verticle one. The ladder stretched down into the darkness, the ground barely visible. Even though I was with two men, it was ladies first. Phone shoved down my top and torch between teeth I descending the wobbly ladder into the darkness.
It was a little claustrophobic down the hole as there is only enough room for one person to stand comfortably. Tramping Buddy stayed up on the ladder as I shone the torch around to reveal intricate strands woven by glowworms. The strands clung to all the natural nooks in the side of the wall. Just as we were about to head back up the ladder again I spied something by my leg. The entrance to a horizontal mine.
I quickly got down on my knees and peered in. Cave Wetas! Hundreds of the little buggers! I was so excited that Tramping Buddy wanted to see what all the fuss was about. We swapped places so he could peer in. I was ushered up the ladder almost as soon as the torch beam hit the roof of the cave. Apparently, Tramping Buddy was not as fond of Cave Weta as I am.
More Mines (Yass!)
I reluctantly had one last look down the ladder and said a silent goodbye to the weta as we headed to the next mine. This time Other Tramping Buddy lost the 'who has to go down the ladder' bet and reluctantly descended. To his relief and my disappointment, there was nothing down the ladder. Not even glowworms.
The last mine we came across was a horizontal one which probably met up with the very first mine back in the olden days. Now it has caved in about 15m (maybe, I am rubbish with measurements so taking a wild guess) from the entrance. This one you could awkwardly go through with your knees bent and hobble in like a penguin. That was rather fun. You don't want to go on your hand and knees unless you feel like crawling through a couple of inches of water. Which I didn't.
The only inhabitants of this mine were spiders. And they weren't even big ones.
Back on Toe Toe Loop
Soon after a short incline, we were back on Toe Toe Loop again. The whole ordeal from car to the tip of Toe Toe Loop took just under three hours.
Tramping Buddies decided to go up the track to have lunch. I opted for heading back to the second mine and seeing the cave weta again. Tramping Buddy rushed me up the ladder so fast, I didn't even get the chance to take a blurry photo.
After I had gotten my blurry photos and had a wee chat with the locals I found an exposed rock to sit on and admire the 360-degree views. It was windy and I was nearly blown off my perch but I wouldn't have got the same views nestled amongst the shrubs. So I settled for clinging precariously to the side of the rock as I attempted to sip my tea before it blew out of my hands.
Platinum Mine Loop to the Car Park
The sign states it takes 2.5 hours going back through Toe Toe Loop the same way or 3 hours continuing around Toe Toe Loop to join up with Sledge Track again. I opted to take the long way. May as well do the whole thing while I was there. Plus it saves having to do it again another day and go back up The Elevation. It took me 2 hours to get to the car so like I said, take the signs with a grain of salt.
I took along my Trekking Pole this time. I learned a valuable lesson from Atene Skyline Track.
Always take a trekking pole when hiking hills after it has been raining.
It made the descent a whoooole lot easier that's fo' sho. When I got back to the car I had clean hands and everything. Normally I have mud caked hands from constantly catching myself after slipping. It was a pleasant change.
Going down to the swing bridge was still tough, the mud and slippery tree roots make finding even footing rather tricky. But with my trekking pole in hand, I could tackle any hill. Mud or no mud. Tree roots or no tree roots. I was a right ole mountain goat.
With slightly heavier footing. And a little less graceful.
I allowed a few photo stops on the way back and a wee play on the swing bridge as a reward. The hills that had seemed small on the way up had grown suddenly while I was up the top. One last grunt and the car was in sight. With my slippers inside waiting all toasty.
Sledge Track is a flexible track that allows you to cater it to your fitness and Tramping Buddies. If you are going with children, to Argyle Rocks or the Swing Bridge is a great day out. If you are wanting a bit more of a challenge, head to Platinum Mine Loop. You can even challenge yourself further by taking Otangane Loop Track, an extra 7.5km that veers off Toe Toe Loop into the Tararua Forest.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole track, yes, even the Elevation even though I nearly died. Having completed a few hikes lately, I can feel my body getting stronger. And honestly, the Elevation wasn't as bad as it would have been had I attempted it a few weeks ago.
Platinum Mine Loop was well worth the climb up. The cave wetas and glowworms are a wonderful hidden find. If you do go, remember, leave them be. Cave Weta are protected and glowworms like their space. As I tell my children, look with your eyes, not your hands.
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