DANNY DE HEKnbsp» Entrepreneur Decision Maker Connector Podcaster EducatorThree extinct volcanos, now eroded into steep broken hills, form an impressive backdrop to the lush green farmlands of the Waikato basin.

These volcanos are poor cousins to the three snow-capped giants of the Tongariro National Park. In past epochs they would have stood exceedingly tall, roaring defiance and belching out pumice and ash, but today they are a valuable resource for the ardent tramper, bird-watcher, botanist, and photographer.

The Pirongia Forest Park is 30 km west of Hamilton. It is accessed from a number of secondary roads, which lead to marked farm routes over private property to the park boundary. The Mt Pirongia block has an extensive track system leading to the summit (959 metres). It links with Central Hut in the middle of the block, a promontory called The Cone and several clearings and campsites. This mountain is usually climbed from Corcoran Road on the Hamilton side.

Mt Karioi block is located 12 km southwest of Raglan, from where you can complete an interesting around-the-mountain drive in 2 hours. The Te Toto tramping track is very scenic, although strenuous. It ascends steeply to a lookout point and then follows an easier route to the summit. From the east side the Wairake Track is a steep 2 hour hike to the summit, and it meets up with the Te Toto Track.

Te Rauamoa block can be reached via Hauturu Road off S.H.31 and you can also approach the forest from the southeast along Oamaru Road. This area is less frequented than the others. The Te Kihi Track runs from Hauturu Road through the forest to farmland in the northeast.

Plant life is interesting as the park falls within a transition zone where the southern limit of kauri meets the northern limit of beech. Lacebark trees from northern areas merge with southern rata and kamahi. Camping is allowed throughout the park with three exceptions:- the Te Rauamoa block, Oparau Ecological Area and the Maungamuka Stream Water Supply Catchment.

Mt Pirongia is visible from much of the Waikato region rising abruptly out of the lowland forest. Explore its bush-clad slopes and enjoy the expansive views.