Bronwyn Sell enjoys a girls' weekend away with a difference - a walk and wine in the Coromandel's Kauaeranga Valley.
It wasn't your usual girls' night out. There was no lipstick, for one thing. The handbags were by no means sparkly and delicate. And the shoes weren't anyone's definition of sexy.
But there was red wine, we were getting out of the house, and someone else was looking after the children.
Ten of us girls planned to spend a Saturday afternoon tramping up the Kauaeranga Valley in the Coromandel Forest Park to the DOC Pinnacles Hut, where we would crack open the casks and flasks and dine al fresco. The following morning we would launch a pre-dawn assault on the Pinnacles - a craggy bluff with grand views - before descending along the aptly named Billygoat Track.
Most of us are mothers of young children so it had been a long time since we'd attempted a wilderness adventure. The closest I'd got to tramping for a good 10 years was putting a child in the baby backpack and walking along Takapuna Beach. Still, it wasn't the Kepler. The walk to the hut is steep in places but takes just three hours. By the time the muscles really seized up - always a day or two later - I'd be back at home.
Some of the track, called the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail, follows a packhorse route that was hacked out of the steep terrain a century ago by hardy kauri fellers. On the Billygoat Trail you can step down the remains of tramlines to nowhere, built by a timber company in the 1920s in spots where it wasn't feasible to launch the logs down the river from great wooden dams. In the 1940s the tracks were used by workers stringing power lines across the peninsula. Since then, DOC has maintained and upgraded the trails and built three picturesque swing bridges.
In parts, the track takes on the appearance of a cobbled lane, so carefully have the rocks and stones been placed. In other parts it's the classic New Zealand bush trail - hard-packed dirt fringed with ferns and sheltered by nikau.
You can't help feeling like a bit of a wuss complaining that some of the steeper steps are a tad hard on the quads when you think of the bushmen who cut them from stone by hand and hauled whole kauri logs out along them.
The conversation among the girls is muted on the uphills - we're too busy wondering quietly why the hell we didn't just go to a day spa - but on the easier stretches the tuis can't get a trill in edgeways.
We make it to the Pinnacles Hut in the late afternoon and get comfortable at a picnic table on the large deck, looking out to the craggy bluffs of the Pinnacles. The cheese, crackers and plastic wine glasses come out and the stories begin in earnest. The 80-bed hut, split into several dorms, is full, but by 9.30pm we're one of the last groups still up.
Now, you'd think the pinnacle of a walk to the Pinnacles would be to reach the Pinnacles. But, sorry readers, even the weighty responsibility of sharing the experience with you wasn't enough incentive to get me out of my sleeping bag before 5am after several wines the night before.
However, my dogged research reveals that it was a bit of a scramble in the dark to the top, involving ropes in places, with the reward of vast views and a peaceful sunrise.
So, as usual, I've come away from my girls' night out regretting that last glass of wine - but vowing to do it all again soon.
The Pinnacles walk (Kauaeranga Kauri Trail): From SH25 at Thames, follow Kauaeranga Valley Rd 21km to where the road ends and the walking track begins.
Allow three hours to get to the Pinnacles Hut. DOC recommends boots as the track can be slippery if it's wet.
The Pinnacles Hut has 80 beds, a kitchen with gas cookers and running water and a barbecue. Adults $15.30, children (5-17) $7.60 per night.
Bookings are essential, online at booking.doc.govt.nz or through the Kauaeranga Visitor Centre, phone (07) 867 9080.