Most North Island Off-roaders will have heard of the Maratoto and Old Wires tracks on the western slopes of the North Kaimai Ranges, a few kms South of Thames, and the Coromandel Penninsula.
More familiar to Trampers is the extension track from the end of “The Wires” across the ranges and down to the network of trails around Whangamata. In the late 1800’s the area had become part of the great Coromandel gold hunt, and remains of mines, roads, bridges and extraction plants still litter the area.
One of these tracks exits at the Wentworth Valley Camp Ground, and the DOC walk up to the Wentworth Falls
Although not a true 4WD destination, the campsite provides a get away from it all experience that belies its proximity to civilisation.
About 10 km South of Whangamata, right on the edge of the big Forest Park, Wentworth Valley Camp offers some basic conveniences, but is also well suited for the self contained among us.
When we were there the site had a mix of family tents, a small group of club level trucks sporting roof top tents, three or four Aussie camper trailers, and our back-roading caravans.
The road in to the camp has recently been sealed, losing some of its “adventure” but is still narrow in places. A concrete ford at the entrance to the camp tests the clearance of lesser vehicles.
The track down into the camp area crosses another narrow concrete bridge/ ford, and winds through the forest, to a large grassy area, and some “right in the bush” private hide-aways.
These days the main attraction of the valley, apart from the camp itself, is the walk up the old access track, through regenerating Kauri Forest to the Wentworth Falls.
The falls drop 50 meters in 2 stages, with an amazing rocky pool between. The main walking track to the falls ends at a DOC viewing platform, but for the more adventurous a steep unofficial track leads right down to the base of the falls themselves.
A similarly sketchy track off the main track accesses the pool between the drops, and the main track goes right to the top, giving a view over the top of the falls drop off, back down the valley.
From there the genuine trampers head off to Maratoto, about 5 hours away.
In mid 1989, the stunning scenic destination of Wentworth Valley, just South of Whangamata in the Coromandel, became the destination of a very different group of hunters, as the region became part of the largest land based search in the country.
Swedish backpackers Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen (above) had disappeared while tramping in the area, and Police, local residents, the Military and Search and Rescue were all involved in “Operation Stockholm”, the effort to find them.
Paakkonen has never been found, but Hoglins body was discovered in October 1991 close to Whangamata. Convicted killer David Tamihere had been on the run in the area, after being paroled on a charge of assault and rape in Auckland.
He was arrested in Auckland after having been seen in possession of the Swedish couples car. Tamihere was convicted of the murders in 1990, but has always protested his innocence. The discovery of Hoglins remains turned up material that contradicted Police evidence, and a key Prosecution witness later recanted his evidence.
Claims of bribery and planted evidence still surround the case, and as late as 2017/18 developments were still being reported.
Returning back down the track to the camp reveals a number of detours to swimming holes, and mining history.
Variously known as the Mananu Mine or the Wentworth Mine, operations in the area around Whangamata, including the valley itself was started by the Hauraki Penninsula Exploration Co Ltd, of London from 1897 to 1899, at which time they operated as the Mananu Gold Mining Co.
At its peak the operation was running two ten stamp crusher batteries, and a large cyanide extraction plant.
Finally the mine was sold to the Auckland Mining Company, which operated until 1908. Overall 9,891 tons of ore was crushed to produce just over 15,000 oz of Gold Bullion, which at todays prices would be worth around $38.5 million.
A short walk downstream from the camp site passes two more mine entrances, on the way to a day car park.
The camp is open year round, and presents a mysterious, damp and, at times dark and misty, winter destination, where getting away from it all is the name of the game.
In summer it’s a great social place, with real outdoor adventure awaiting!
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