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Hooning in Hunua

Image of the June 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
June 2020 Issue

Dave Mitchell heads to South Auckland to ride through a forest alive with the sound of birdsong

Auckland’s Hunua Ranges Regional Park once provided timber, food and refuge for local Māori.

Around 1870 onwards, early settlers logged the massive kauri, rimu, totara and kahikatea and cleared the hilly terrain for pasture. But the poor soil proved difficult to farm. Manganite was mined for a short time around the turn of last century, but the area’s true potential was eventually realised as a water supply catchment for a rapidly growing Auckland City. From 1950, four large water supply dams were built and the greater catchment either planted in plantation exotics or left to regenerate back into native forest. 

The ranges rise to over 600m, are home to more than 450 native plant species and, thanks to intensive trapping, a growing native bird population, including the rare North Island kōkako. 

A network of walking, tramping and mountain bike tracks has evolved since then, providing a real recreational asset for Aucklanders. Because of the threat of kauri dieback some tracks have been closed and some are being upgraded in attempts to eliminate the spread of this deadly disease. Cleaning stations are provided at all entry points to the park for footwear and mountain bikes. 

1 Mangatāwhiri MTB Tracks

From the Upper Mangatāwhiri Campground, the aptly named Mangatāwhiri Challenge Track heads north along Waterline Road to the top of the massive Mangatāwhiri earth dam – second only in size to the mighty Benmore Dam on the Mackenzie Basin’s Waitaki River. The gravel dam-road trundles around the water reservoir edge before intersecting Keeney Road. Go left here and climb to the signposted Challenge Track turn-off. This is where the fun begins and the initial steep ascent will take your breath away.

Once on top of the ridge, it’s a real single-track roller coaster through beautiful regenerating bush. Tawa, rewa-rewa, mānuka, nīkau palms, a huge variety of ground and tree ferns, supplejack and the odd kauri tree pushing its way to the sky.

There are a few short, sharp and loose climbs followed by gnarly descents that require good fitness and bike handling skills. An old derelict and bedraggled fenceline besieged by vigorous regeneration follows much of the track.

The trail eventually joins Repeater Road at one of Hunua’s many campsites high on the ridge. There are commanding views from here of the dam infrastructure and the surrounding ranges, making up for virtually no views along the Challenge Track tops.

Barrel down the smooth wide Repeater Road to the main Moumoukai Road intersection and head left and downhill for a short distance to the Challenge Downhill Track on your left. This is a no-surprises smooth-flowing descent back to camp.

It’s a brilliant and challenging grade three track in the dry but is not recommended in the wet due to the proliferation of slippery clay surfaces and ruts.

Wild file
Access From Upper Mangatāwhiri Campground, at the end of Moumoukai Road
Grade 2
Topo50 map BB33
Time 2hr
Distance 15km

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A tricky stream crossing on the Moumoukai Farm Track. Photo: Dave Mitchell

2 River Track and Moumoukai Farm Track

A series of amazing natural flow, custom-built tracks loop the lower valley. It defies logic, space and time confined within a narrow corridor between Moumoukai Valley Road, Graeme White Road and the valley stream.

From Mangatāwhiri Campground, head south down Mangatangi Hill Road and soon after the gate, head right onto the River Track. This is a narrow gauge single-track that winds its way above the valley stream through thick stands of mānuka and ferns galore.

A tricky stream crossing is followed by a short climb up and onto the Moumoukai Valley Road. Turn left then right onto Mangatangi Hill Road for a short climb to the Moumoukai Farm Track. This track snakes its way through a regenerating sliver of land between the upper and lower valley roads. Fantastic flow, lots of challenges and, mysteriously, far less climbing than descending. Dr Who’s Tardis effect is at play.

As the track nears the end of the valley at the Lower Mangatāwhiri Campground, it crosses the road and dives off down a series of switch-backs to the valley floor. From there it slips below the road roaming along the stream edge and open grassland going north to the start and the campground.

Wild file
Access From Upper Mangatāwhiri Campground, at the end of Moumoukai Road
Grade 2
Time 2hr
Distance 18km
Topo50 map BB33