The Billygoat Track
Friday, 22 April, 2022
It was already starting to rain as we rendezvoused at Rhodes Park, Thames, just before 10 a.m. However, that was never going to put the damper on our eagerness to hit the Billygoat trail, deep in the Kauaeranga Forest, on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Of several track possibilities available, this was to be the best option, given the wet conditions and river level resulting from the last few days of rain. Instead of having to cross the river through the water, the Billygoat track is accessible via a new suspension bridge built by Abseil Access in December 2020. Also, the track is almost all gravel or stone surfaced, or hewn out of the solid rock on the steeper sections, so there was next to no mud with which to contend.
Suspension bridge across the Kauaeranga River
The forecast for the morning was for thunderstorms and heavy rain, but the worst we encountered was a consistent light drizzle, up until around 12:30 p.m. with a couple of periods of moderate rainfall. In fact, with the day temperature reaching 23 degrees, the misty rain made for a most pleasant and comfortable walk. Clothes certainly have
Suspension bridge across the Kauaeranga River
their place in extremes of cold, but the human body is designed to cope better without clothes than with them in the temperate maritime climate of the Coromandel Range. While doing energetic activities such as this, it’s easier for the body to regulate its temperature without extra layers of textile trapping in the heat.
The track is uneven but well-formed and free of mud
Seven of us – Shane, Alan, Philippe, Stephen, Charles, Dawei and I, Rok - piled into two vehicles and drove the 30 minutes to the car park at end of the Kauaeranga Valley Road, where the track begins. After stripping off and sorting out what gear to take, we headed for the cleaning station at the start of the track. The Kauaeranga Forest is home to what is left of the once-abundant Kauri tree. Human traffic is the main way Kauri dieback disease is spread, so cleaning footwear and gear is the best way to contain the disease and save what is left of these magnificent forest giants.
With a girth commonly exceeding 10 metres and a height to the crown approaching 50 metres, the Kauri was once king of the Kauaeranga Valley forest. After the discovery of gold-bearing quartz reefs near Thames in 1867, gold mining on the Coromandel started in earnest. Within a year the population of Thames had climbed to 18,000 and large companies were taking control of the goldfields, investing huge sums of money to develop the infrastructure for ore processing. Logging of Kauaeranga’s Kauri happened mainly in response to the demand for timber to fuel the goldrush and an insatiable demand for quality timber to construct houses, shops, hotels and supports for the structures in the mining tunnels and shafts. By the time logging ceased in 1928 the once magnificent Kauri forests had been all but annihilated.
The first part of the Billygoat track follows the Western bank of the Kauaeranga for about half a kilometre before crossing at the new suspension bridge, We then follow the river for a further 1½ Km before
passing turning Eastwards up Webb Creek, named after Sam Webb, who was given the contract to log Kauri from the Billygoat Stream area in the 1880s. After bearing right at the junction with the Moss Creek Track, the track starts to climb, and the surface is now river rock - a little uneven but still well maintained. A few meters further up and Alan was provided with his heart’s desire – a small waterfall cascading into a tiny rivulet.
Eventually we came to the remains of a log jam, just before the first Webb Creek swing bridge. Once across the bridge, the track is formed by steps cut into the solid rock as it makes its steep ascent towards the Hydro Camp, crossing the creek once again via a single-person swing bridge. We passed a family coming down that I’d encountered the day before during my recce of the track. One of the boys gave a cheeky grin as he pretended to shield his view of these naked people approaching. The family had stayed the night at the Pinnacles Hut and the parents were proud of the kids managing to complete this rather challenging school-holiday excursion, making it right to the Pinnacles Lookout at the summit.
That was not going to be within the time constraints of our hike, however, and at the top of the first ridge we decided it was time to start the return, stopping for lunch at the log jam we’d passed earlier. The rain had stopped and the sun was
Alan finds his happy place!
starting to poke out of blue patches of sky. It was a welcome break, feeling the warmth on the skin and listening to the sound of the water rushing over the rocks. After a few photos it was back to the track for the less arduous portion of the trail back to the car park, via the Billygoat Falls lookout.
From left: Rok, Alan, Charles, Philippe, Steve, Shane, Dawei. The spot below the log jam where we stopped for lunch
With 45 minutes still up our sleeves, we decided to end the day with a dip at Hoffman’s Pool – a popular swimming hole at the spot where the old logging tramline crossed the Kauaeranga River. In fact, the concrete foundations of the trestle bridge are still there today.
A few in the group thought better than to inflict themselves with needless pain of icy water, but in fact the water was surprisingly not too bad! Certainly fresh, but quite pleasant none the less!
Alan, Philippe, Charles
Shane, Alan, Rok
So how did our trampers feel about the walk? Here are some of their thoughts . . .
• "It was an enjoyable first experience hiking naked in the bush with a group of fellow Naturists." Steve
• "When I came across a young mum and daughter at the spot where we intended to have lunch, I immediately launched into a discussion about the hut they were going to, how far we
had gone, and where we were stopping for lunch. After a farewell, a little later she was able to look down over us from a swing bridge and gave a friendly wave before heading up the hill." Alan
"We passed quite a few other people, singles and family groups, all clothed to the hilt. Most people I think were more interested in navigating the terrain to worry about 7 naked humans. And although a couple said, 'We must try that next time', didn’t [immediately] take up the challenge of, “Why wait? Do it now!” Maybe they will. In the last couple of years, we have seen a lot of division and fear in the community and it is great to be able to get out again and have the freedom of choice in what we do. The tide is slowly turning and people are starting to question the status quo and, maybe, open their thoughts to accepting naturism as mainstream. Now that would be good for society!" Charles
"What I can’t resist reflecting on is the reaction of women. Firstly, that’s because most are cheerful and friendly, sometimes singing out hello to us first, often waving an additional greeting when we’re spotted somewhere else on the track as it doubles back on itself. Were I to try and speculate why this might be, particularly in the case of younger women on their own, my guess is that they might be relieved to encounter a group of males who are so non-threatening. This might sound completely counter-intuitive, but if you stop for a moment to think about it, what kind of insecure macho bloke is going to strip off with a bunch of other guys and walk naked in the bush?" Shane
If any of our group were apprehensive at the start of the walk about hiking naked, those fears were laid to rest by the positive and encouraging attitudes shown by virtually all of the many clothed trampers we met along the way. Several beneficial observations and outcomes were demonstrated, both to members of our group and to members of the public that we encountered:
In appropriate circumstances, the average reasonable person has no problem with nudity, even in the presence of children. This is an important fact to remember when considering the application of the law in New Zealand. The threshold for prosecution under Section 4, Summary Offences Act 1981 (Offensive behaviour) is very high. To get a conviction, police would have to prove something more than that someone was offended by the sight of a naked person. They would have to prove a person disrupted public order so much that other members of the public were unable to go about their normal activities in that place. For behaviour to be "offensive behaviour”, it must be calculated to wound the feelings, arouse anger or resentment or disgust or outrage in the mind of a reasonable person. Clearly, our hike demonstrated that the many reasonable people we encountered were anything but offended
Kids have no problem with nudity. On the day before the hike, the kids of the family we encountered asked me questions such as how far is it to the top, or how muddy the track gets, or anything else about their trip. The only question relating to my nakedness was, “Isn’t it cold without any clothes on?” I assured him that it was actually very comfortable. There was not even a hint of any discomfort. To him it was unremarkable.
Although only a drop in a very big ocean, this was one more event that helped to normalise nudity as an acceptable dress code in appropriate circumstances in the minds of the public. A few weeks earlier, we cycled the busy Hauraki Rail Trail from Paeroa to Waikino and back. The more we can get out there into the public domain without clothing, allowing people to get used to seeing others enjoying recreational activities such as these without clothes, the more acceptable it becomes. That’s how trends develop.
Activities such as this give Naturists more confidence in how reasonable people react towards nudity. More often than not, the fear of offending, in the mind of the Naturist, is far greater than warranted.
In 2013 Andrew Pointon of Tauranga was convicted of mowing his lawns and gardening while naked. The District Court Judge’s reason for the guilty verdict was ridiculous, ruling that “Pointon knew what he did would cause offence to some of his neighbours, and did so in any event.” But the defence failed on a technicality. Andrew should never have lost that case and it should never have gone to appeal. Now, nine years later, more precedents have been set in the courts. Today, such a complaint is highly unlikely to be taken very far by police, let alone make it through the front doors of a courthouse. By taking part in and documenting activities in public spaces, noting particularly the accepting attitude of the public, we are slowly amassing a wealth of evidence to counter any “I’m so offended!” complaint to the police.
So, you missed out on this hike? Being naked while immersing yourself in the forest is an experience that can hardly be described in words. It is, for many, a spiritual encounter. It can require some physical exertion to whatever degree you choose, but relaxes the mind and soul in the most natural way. If you want this experience for yourself, then comment below and we'll set one up to suit.
2 May 2022