Bell Rock – a shorter hike

Bell Rock is one of those iconic shorter hikes that stand out in one’s memory long after you’ve done it. It’s an easy 3 hours return, and takes a bit of travelling to get to, but ultimately is supremely worth the effort in getting to. Don’t do this hike without a camera! It’s also best to do it on a clear day, as views and scenery form a huge part of the enjoyment of this walk. Take a packed lunch and thermos – there’s nothing like sitting on top of the world, enjoying a sandwich and a cup of tea or coffee!

To get there: drive north from Napier on SH2 to Tutira. The drive there is almost worth the trip in itself, with great views and scenery on the way. At Tutira, turn left into Matahorua Road. There is a good information panel at the general store on the corner, if you need a short break. Keep going up Matahorua road for about 4km until the road forks – keep left, into Pohokura Road. The tarseal changes to gravel shortly after, but there’s nothing to worry about, as it’s graded to a good standard. The road soon starts climbing, with majestic views opening up the higher one goes.

Other than the large Boundary Stream Reserve, there are a number of small reserves off Pohokura Roadworth a visit, if you have time. Or better, come back again, as some, such asShineFalls, are worth dedicating a whole day to. Lake Opouahi Kiwi Crèche is small enough to do on the same day however, if time permits.

After approx. 12km driving from the fork, one arrives at a parking area with information panels on the right, and a large covered picnic area on the left. It’s worth a stop, as there are some great interpretive signs and panels, giving one the background of what’s happening at the reserve, and the issues facing conservationists in this part of Hawke’s Bay.

Drive on for approx another 1.5km, when you’ll see a lay-bye parking area on the left, with another information sign – this is the start of the Bell Rock track. For the first 45 minutes it’s pretty much all uphill, but at a reasonable gradient. The bush is lush, and has a lovely feel to it. You’ll notice wooden boxes on the ground at regular intervals – these are pest traps designed to catch stoats and rats, which are the main predators of native birds. The reserve is intensively managed with traps and bait stations, and it is intended to eventually re-introduce birds that were lost because of predation and habitat loss. You’ll also notice a few rectangular wooden boxes on a tree now and then – these are weta condominiums, designed to attract and house New Zealand’s unique weta, an insect unique to this country. Have a look inside…

Eventually the bush thins out, and the track abruptly emerges onto tussock and grasslands. Turn right here, continue to the farm fence, and climb over the stile. From here, follow the farm track, marked with poles. About 50m further on is a track junction, with a DOC sign. Turn left, and follow the track as it winds gently upwards. From this point on some of the views that this walk is famous for start opening up the higher one goes. This part of the reserve is retired farmland, and is an interesting contrast to the dense bush earlier on. Eventually the rack reaches a high point, and then descends steeply into a gully. Take a moment here to orient yourself – look across the gully, and you’ll see the marker poles heading up the other side. Keep going up here until you see another farm fence, with a gate. To the right of the gate is another stile – climb over, and the poles continue on, upwards. The track winds slightly to the left, and suddenly a magnificent view opens up to the west, quite breathtaking! Keep following the track and in a few minutes, Bell Rock comes into view. This makes all the effort just so worthwhile! Bell Rock, and the surrounding rocks, all consist of limestone, sculptured by generations of strong wind and rain. Have a closer look, and you’ll see fossilised remains of shellfish embedded in the rocks – quite something, considering the altitude you’re at, to think that this place was at some time long past submerged under water.

There is a flat rock ledge surrounding Bell Rock, and it’s just great to sit here, have lunch and drink in the incredible views. Take care not to go too close to the edge – it’s a long way down!

The way back is pretty much the way you came. Keep an eye out for some great views to the east along the way, and some more wind & water sculptured rocks. When you arrive back at the track junction and DOC sign, there is the option to keep left, or return the way you came. Keeping left will eventually lead you back to Pohokura Road a km or so below your car, necessitating a walk up the road back to the car park.

On the way out, stop for a coffee and cake at the Tutira Store – an interesting experience in itself, as it’s the hub of this isolated community, with locals frequently popping in for food or groceries.

Important notes:

  • Be prepared! Take clothing and provisions for all weather possibilities – the weather can change in a matter of an hour from beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures, to snow and sub-zero temperatures. Strong winds are frequent.
  • Check the weather forecast – don’t do this tramp if it’s overcast or raining. You’ll miss out on the main attractions of this walk, and it’s better to re-schedule for another day.
  • Moderate fitness required. Total walking time is about 3 hours return.
  • Suitable for children from 7 years or so, but keep an eye on them at Bell Rock at all times, as there are some precipitous drops close by!
  • Tell someone where you’re going, and what time to expect you back.

A map should not be necessary – the track is well marked and easy to follow, but if in doubt, enquire at the store beforehand. A map or pamphlet can also be obtained from the DOC office in Napier.

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