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June 2014 Issue
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Student humour in the backcountry

Auckland University Tramping Club's Ongaruanuku Hut. Photo: Matthew Pike
Time
2 days (or 8hr)
Grade
Moderate
Accom.
Ongaruanuku Hut (12 bunks). For bookings, call Auckland Council (09) 301 0101
Access
Plenty of parking next to Piha North Beach

Ongaruanuku Hut, Waitakere Regional Park

So who knew there was a hut in the Waitaks? I didn’t until recently and then discovered there were three (there may be more); one belonging to Auckland University Tramping Club, another to Auckland Tramping Club and another to the Alpine Sports Club.

I booked to stay at the university hutOngaruanuku – close to the Ark in the Park predator control area. It was then a case of scanning the map and deciphering a good two-day trip – a job made more difficult by the many tracks closed due to kauri dieback.

I chose what looked like a good round trip from Piha and parked the van close to Lion Rock on Piha beach. The sea was relatively calm by west coast standards and I headed north on the wide expanse of grey sand, passing the odd dog walker, surfer and horse rider.

The map told me that, as I approach the end of the beach, a track heads right up the side of the cliff. I couldn’t see the track and such a construction seemed impossible given the vertical nature of the hillside. But sure enough, tucked behind a rock was a path heading to Te Waha Point, from which there’s a lookout over Whites Beach – far smaller and more secluded  than Piha but with the same familiar ruggedness.

I climbed down the steep, rough track to Whites Beach; some rope helping me overcome the more precarious section towards the bottom. There’s a far more developed track to the beach a little further on.

I took Laird Thomson Track up the steps to the best and final view of Piha before joining the track that leads past the better turn-off to Whites Beach and up the hill to Anawhata Road. I turned right and followed the road around a few bends, before a footpath led me over paddocks, following orange markers to a kissing gate and into regenerating forest.

Kuataika Track undulates sharply in places, but Anawhata Stream is a pretty place to stop and I made sure I filled up my bottle at Kuataika Stream – the last water source before the hut.

Kuataika trig is well worth the little detour and I stopped there for a sandwich while enjoying the view north towards Bethells Beach. From here, there’s not a lot of steep stuff, as good wide tracks head along ridges through forest. There’s not much in the way of views but the increase in bird song was noticeable as I turned off Smyth Ridge Track to Long Road Track and the Ark in the Park sanctuary.

I continued – my track often joined by the Montana Heritage Trail for short sections – and, just a minute or two after passing the closed RGB Track, a faint track headed right to Ongaruanuku Hut, just visible between the trees.

I’ve never seen a hut with a piano in it – how they got it there is anyone’s guess! But I loved the student humour which characterises the building. A sign reads ‘Deep hole here’ behind one of the toilets and another saysWarning – security cameras operating’ on the inside of the toilet door. (My favourite sign was the one on the rickety old toilet, which read ‘University of Auckland School of Architecture’.)

Even the hut itself is of great quality; bright, solid and with running water – more than worth the six dollars I spent to stay there. I fell asleep to a chorus of mosquitoes and the occasional aeroplane and awoke to a chorus of tui and grey warblers.

I continued along Ridge Road Track, turning right on Cutty Grass Track just before reaching the road. When reaching Anawhata Road I took the left of the two tracks – Centennial Track – on the opposite side. This felt more like a backcountry route than the wide paths I’d just left, with the odd nasty fall possible if I’d lost my footing. The forest here is lush and the views over the valley are quite stunning.

I dropped to Piha Stream and headed up the steps the other side where Piha Valley Track provides a very easy walk back. But I chose instead to continue uphill to Home Track because I wanted to see the Kitekite Falls. After being held up by a class of slow and very noisy teenagers, I followed Winston Track to the pools at the top of the falls that beg for a dip.

It’s best to take the Connect Track to the base of the three-tier falls where there’s also a lovely swimming hole.

I crossed the stream to Kitekite Track, which provided an agreeable amble to Glenesk Rd, after which I followed the roads back to the beach.

Matthew Pike

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