If you think you are pretty fit because you run up the steps on Kaiti Hill (Gisborne's famed fitness track) twice a day, try the
at Morere Springs Scenic Reserve.
It's a whole new level of torture — especially with five hunks of manuka firewood in your pack.
The steps are steep, high and seemingly endless as they wind their way to the top of the hill high above the hot and cold pool complex. Being blessed with short legs, I had to use my tramping stick to push myself up some of the tallest steps which are like small cliffs compared with Kaiti Hill's civilised, paved steps.
But there are bonuses on the Mangakawa track that Kaiti Hill doesn't have. While your muscles are being tuned up for marathons, Ironman/woman, Coast-to-Coast events — or in our case, back-to-back tramps of the Milford and Hump Ridge tracks — you are walking alongside the pretty Mangakawa Stream in the dappled shade of a stunning virgin rain forest, a haven for a wide variety of native bird-life. The Sunday we did the track was a scorcher so rule number one was to find a shaded walkway for our training tramp.
And another major plus of the Mangakawa, is that at the end of the tramp, you can dump your pack, peel off your sticky gear and luxuriate in a refreshingly cool, outdoor pool — or if it's a cold day, soak your complaining muscles in one of the hot mineral pools at the springs where the track begins and ends.
I am an avid reader of information panels, of which there are plenty, so I learned how early Maori used nikau palm leaves for thatching, basket-making, floor mats and wrapping food for cooking. Many other trees in the forest are also named which satisfied my curiosity.
Negotiating your way around the massive boulders brought down by the huge storm in April 2011, which shut the pools and walkways for months, provides an element of risk and adventure for those who don't find the exquisite natural environment enough of a thrill.
It's also fascinating to see the source of the hot springs — the track takes you past a pond where the hot water bubbles up and is piped to the pools below.
Described by the Department of Conservation as "among the most diverse and beautiful of New Zealand's short bushwalks", the loop track is only a 45-minute drive from Gisborne.
It is physically challenging but easily managed in two hours if you have a reasonable level of fitness - an hour and a half if you don't stop all the time to take photographs and read every information panel.