The Waitakere Ranges offers visitors a wonderful experience of the natural environment, with rugged coastline, black sand beaches, powerful surf and expansive virgin rainforest.
Explore the forest of the Waitakere Ranges
Waitakere Ranges Regional Park covers more than 16,000ha of native bush and coast, with 250kms of tramping tracks to explore. While the arrival of Europeans in the 1830s led to wholesale felling of the forests for timber and farm clearance, the Waitakere Ranges are now protected, and valued as a unique rain forest environment, containing a great range of native trees, ferns and flowering plants. The forest is sanctuary to many native species such as tui, kereru, morepork, geckos and Hochstetter’s frog.
The Arataki Visitor Centre is a good place to head to, for maps and information on the area, its history, flora and fauna, and trail conditions. Dramatic carvings by the local iwi, Te Kawerau a Maki, stand at the front of Arataki. The 70km, four-day Hillary Trail opened in 2009, beginning at the Arataki Visitor Centre and ending at Swanson, and taking in the beaches of Whatipu, Karekare, Piha, Bethells, Anawhata and Muriwai along the way. If you don’t feel like tramping quite that far, try one scenic section for a day walk or trail run.
If you want to experience the rainforest, but have children who can’t manage a big walk, you could catch the Rain Forest Express, a narrow gauge railway that runs out to the Upper Nihotupu Dam, taking in ancient forest, tunnels and wooden bridges and commentary along the way.
Beautiful West Coast beaches
Cornwallis is a safe beach, popular for family picnics, swimming or fishing off the wharf. Nearby Kakamatua is popular with dog owners, the off-leash area includes an inlet and beach perfect for canine splashing and racing. At Whatipu Beach an easy walk takes you to a number of caves - the largest was used for formal dances in the logging years. If you don’t mind the climb up from Whatipu, a good day walk is the Omanawanui Track, with stunning views over the ocean and the Manukau Heads.
Karekare Beach was the location for Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Piano. As well as striking, windswept beach and dunes, Karekare has forest glades and two waterfalls to picnic beside. You’ll find Auckland’s best surf at Piha Beach, where you can also climb Lion Rock or relax over breakfast or lunch at Piha Cafe. Anawhata Beach is only accessible by foot, but the steep climb down is rewarded with a beautiful spot free from crowds.
Te Henga, or Bethells Beach, has an easy walk to a lake hidden amongst sand-dunes, for a Lawrence of Arabia feel. Requiring a bit more effort, Te Henga Walkway climbs up to coastal cliffs, with spectacular views of dunes, lagoons and sea. At Muriwai Beach you can see gannets close up, and watch the sunset from the sand dunes.
There is a general store, cafe and RSA at Piha, and two cafes and a dairy at Muriwai, but part of the appeal of beaches such as Anawhata and Karekare is their wildness and lack of commerce, so stock up on groceries before you get there.
On your way out to the Waitakeres, don’t forget to stop in the charming Titirangi Village: enjoy a bite to eat at a cafe, visit the Titirangi Village Market (on the last Sunday of each month, except December), or admire some local art works.
What to do
Visit the gannet colony at Muriwai Beach
Climb Lion Rock at Piha
Walk the Hillary trail
Ride the Rain Forest Express
Picnic by a waterfall
Try the surf at one of the wild west coast beaches