Sunday, June 26, 2022

West side glory: Outdoor pursuits in West Auckland

Travel

Get out and about in West Auckland. Photo / 123rf

If you’re keen to stretch out summer while attempting to dodge Omicron, West Auckland has plenty of uncrowded and well-ventilated adventures on offer, writes Peter Dragicevich

At first glance you might think that West Auckland was short-changed when they were dishing out regional parks, with only three between the north head of the Manukau Harbor and the south head of the Kaipara. Think again, as one of them is an absolute whopper and, arguably, the best of them all.

Waitākere Ranges Regional Park covers 17,000 hectares and is so large and diverse it has had to be split into 10 separate sections on the Auckland Council website. Te Kawarau ā Maki, whose rohe this is, know the area as Te Wao-Nui-a-Tiriwa (The Great Forest of Tiriwa). The name Waitākere (deep or cascading water) originally referred only to the Waitākere River valley, which reaches the coast at Te Henga (Bethells Beach). In 2017 the iwi imposed a rāhui over the rainforest to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease, which has already made incursions into the park. Since then, a lot of work has been done to upgrade and reopen tracks, with new ones being added to the safe list all the time. Call into the excellent Arataki Visitor Center for the latest, and advice on a hike to suit your needs.

Omanavanui Track in the Waitakere Ranges.  Photo / Tim Roxborogh
Omanavanui Track in the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Tim Roxborogh

Aucklanders needs no introduction to this wild, jagged coastline, seemingly beamed in from a South Pacific fantasy. Hell, Piha even has its own reality TV show. If it’s a surf-propelled swim you’re after, stick to the patrolled sections of karekarePiha, dog-friendly North Piha and Te Henga, For a gentle, toddler-friendly splash, choose the shallow waters of Cornwallis over the Piha and Te Henga lagoons.

Aucklanders need no introduction to Piha's wild and jagged coastline.  Photo / Auckland Unlimited
Aucklanders need no introduction to Piha’s wild and jagged coastline. Photo / Auckland Unlimited

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However, this is a seriously big park, so there’s bound to be a corner you’ve never visited. The dusty, winding Whatip The road has finally reopened, giving access to a lonely coastline at the head of the Manukau and a series of caves set into the cliffs, the largest of which once had a wooden floor installed for dances. Whites Beach and Anawhata aren’t patrolled and require a bit of a scramble to get to, but consequently they’re considerably less busy than their famous neighbors.

Leaving the Waitākere Ranges, the two smaller regional parks to the north have the added advantage of being reached via State Highway 16 (SH16), which passes through the heart of the West Auckland wine region and is dotted with farm shops selling fresh fruit and vegetables . Soljans Estate Winery has a large cafe with plenty of outdoor seating for the Covid-cautious. Kumeu River doesn’t do food, but it does produce one of the best chardonnays in the country. They’ve been closed to limit the Covid risk during harvest but are due to reopen their cellar door next week. If it’s a foodie experience you’re after, Coopers Creek has the acclaimed Tasting Shed restaurant within its grounds.

Interior detail from Kumeu restaurant, The Tasting Shed.  Photo / Babiche Martens.
Interior detail from Kumeu restaurant, The Tasting Shed. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Turn off at Waimauku to reach Muriwai Regional Park, Muriwai sits at the southern end of a 50km-long black-sand surf beach (patrolled at peak times) which stretches all the way to the mouth of the Kaipara Harbor. If you’re looking to indulge your inner David Attenborough, this is the regional park for you. Sitting atop the sculpted cliffs and rock stacks that separate the main beach from wee Maukatia Bay, the Muriwai gannet (tākapu) colony offers the chance to get within smelling distance of these endlessly fascinating creatures (and, boy, do they smell!), separated only by the most cursory of fences. At this time of the year this season’s fledglings are preparing for an epic nonstop trip to Australia, where they’ll hang out for several years before returning to mate.

Muriwai sits at the southern end of a 50km-long black-sand surf beach.  Photo / Auckland Unlimited
Muriwai sits at the southern end of a 50km-long black-sand surf beach. Photo / Auckland Unlimited

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If you really want to get away from people, the northernmost of the West’s regional parks is located on the shores of the Kaipara near the top of South Head peninsula. If you’re coming from the central city, it will take you over an hour to reach Te Rau Priri Regional Park via SH16, turning off at Parakai (which presents the enticing option of a hot-water soak on the way home).

From the roadside car park, a loop track leads down through an isolated sheep and cattle farm offering a panorama of the southern reaches of the Kaipara, a view that few Aucklanders will be familiar with. It takes about 40 minutes to reach the shoreline where a thin sliver of sandy beach gives way to what, at low tide, is a broad expanse of mudflats reaching seemingly halfway to the distant shore of one of the world’s biggest harbors. Gazing out over the fabulously undeveloped scene, it’s hard to believe you’re in the Super City at all.

Call into the excellent Arataki Visitor Center for the latest advice on Waitākere Ranges hikes.  Photo / Auckland Unlimited
Call into the excellent Arataki Visitor Center for the latest advice on Waitākere Ranges hikes. Photo / Auckland Unlimited

For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.

Check traffic light settings and Ministry of Health advice before travel at covid19.govt.nz

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Nation World News Desk
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