Stonework of Kauaeranga Valley

Years ago, my friend Paul Duffy told me that I needed to visit the Kauaeranga Valley to see the old stone steps and paths upon which walkers ascend to the Pinnacles, inland from Thames. It has taken several years for me to finally visit that valley, where the stonework exceeded all of my expectations.

These paths and steps were primarily built for bringing supplies through to the loggers who were felling enormous kauri trees that formerly occupied the Kauaeranga Valley. Some massive stumps can still be seen near the tracks, as reminders of those giants. In the intervening decades since logging ceased, the regenerating forest and shrubland has enveloped the paths.

In some parts, steps have been cut out of the solid rock, as in the photographs above and below. This is an astonishing amount of effort to go to, which demonstrates how much value was placed on access into this area.

Despite their pragmatic purpose, many sections have been put together with a considerable degree of craft. As is often the case with extensive tracts of stonework, the level of finish and expertise varies over differing segments - no doubt due to it being the work of many hands. It is interesting to note that, despite being apparently dry-packed, the stones have stayed in place for many decades.

The stone types change based on the geology surrounding the respective areas of the tracks, giving the tracks a variety of colours and textures. Like much of the Coromandel, this area has volcanic origins. Ignimbrite, rhyolite, andesite and dacite are major stone types that occur in Kauaeranga Valley. Andesite is characteristically a grey or greyish-brown colour, whilst many of the cream and light brown stones that one encounters are typical of rhyolite and ignimbrite.

This network of paths and steps is a fascinating example of the practical, unpretentious use of stonework within our landscape. It is a cultural landscape worth valuing, and one that is made even more impressive by the juxtaposition with the regenerating native flora in the Kauaeranga Valley.

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