Visitors are surging to Ngaruawahia's Hakarimata Summit.

The Department of Conservation recorded an annual 140,000 visits compared to 5000 five years ago.

To put that into context, it would like filling a fifth of the Waikato Stadium and the next week filling it five times over.

On a Monday afternoon, the foot traffic up to the Hakarimata summit was non-stop.

Runners, puffed first time walkers and even baby bearing mothers eye the ultimate goal of conquering the 1349 steps each week. 

The steps' success is good news for the town and great example for other small towns to follow suit, according to BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander says.

Other towns should take stock of their attractions and work out what would work best for them.

"It's good, in terms of economically… the local community need to think, what else can we offer people."

He said opportunities for growth only come around "every now and again" so it would be "unwise to pass up".

But benefiting from its success should be factored into long term plans, he said, especially with the impending $12 millon Government infrastructure fund set to be invested into small communities. 

"The local business people should be drawing up desire for what that infrastructure should be."

For other small centres across the country there are similar opportunities. 

The trick is not to dwell on the Auckland's rapid growth but to take advantage of it by promoting assets. 

"Get the chip off your shoulder about Auckland's growth, look at how you can link into Auckland's growth."

Waikato District mayor Allan Sanson said he knew the summit track was popular but had no idea the numbers were so high. 

Hikers enjoy the Hakarimata Wilderness - Ngaruawahia Hakarimata Summit Steps

"We've got people travelling from far afield to come here, they're coming from Auckland, they're coming from Tauranga.

"There's some quiet little competitions about the fastest they can go up it."

While the Waikato is home to plenty of outdoor trails to tick off the list, it's hard to compete with the famous stairs.

"[There's] Nothing quite as impressive as the tracks."

Waikato DOC operations manager Ray Scrimgeour said the stairs' popularity was beyond anyone's expectations. 

"I think the lesson for us in the Hakarimatas is probably we wouldn't have predicted that. Several factors that came into that was the style of the track and the length of the track."

Because of its popularity, investment into maintenance and improvements will be a priority, he said. 

Social media was partly to thank for the success. 

The track has its own dedicated Facebook page with champions of the stairs sharing their success.

A run to the top and back of the Hakarimata Summit Steps will take most people beyond their level of endurance

One man even conquered it in high heels - something plenty of women probably wouldn't contemplate. 

Te Aroha resident Mat Honeyfield was on his way down from doing the loop as part of the Te Araroa trail travelling from Cape Reinga to the Bluff. 

He had never heard of the summit track before Monday but said it was his favourite so far. 

"It's beautiful, it's a good thing to do."

After his trek, he planned on heading back up to tackle it again.

Hamilton friends Kirshni Bhula and Erin Parker were back from Otago University for a study break and didn't waste any time hitting the steps.

"It's still a struggle but it's really cool," Bhula said.

Learning about it through sports students at their school two years ago, they decided to have a go and have been regulars ever since.

"There's nothing out there like this that you can do in a hour," Parker said.    

Image source: Tom Lee/Fairfax NZ

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Business opportunities await you in the open Waikato district.


Ngāruawāhia is situated north of Hamilton, only a short drive on the Waikato Expressway, at the base of the stunning Hakarimata Ranges. It is where the Waikato and Waipa Rivers meet and was a vital transport and trade route for Māori and European settlers. Ngāruawāhia is also the headquarters of the Māori King movement (Te Kīngitanga) and the official residence of the Māori King, Tuheitia Paki. The Hakarimata Summit walk will test your fitness levels and is a very popular track in summer evenings and weekends. Ngaruawahia is open history waiting to be discovered.

Ngaruawahia Fact Sheet (400KB)


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