Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Auckland
Just 30-minutes from downtown Auckland, the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is the jewel in the city’s impressive park network. At 17,000ha and with more than 250km of tracks, numerous waterfalls, kauri forests and a recovering native bird population, it has something for everyone, including easy walks of a few minutes right up to the 76km multiday Hillary Trail.
As a recreation resource, the Waitaks are unrivalled, but they also collect and store Auckland’s drinking water supply and serve as an iconic backdrop to Karekare and Piha beaches – the former, latterly made famous by Jane Campion’s film The Piano. For those retuning from long spells overseas, flying over the ranges after the vast expanse of the Tasman Sea or Pacific Ocean signifies to all Kiwis – especially Aucklanders – that they have arrived home.
A lot of walks in the park are just an hour or so duration, so take a map and create your own loops from the multitude of trails and enjoy a full day in the forest – and always, always, clean your footwear at any kauri dieback cleaning stations you encounter.
– Alistair Hall
1 Arataki Visitor Centre
This impressive visitor centre must rate as one of the best in the country. Raised boardwalks and decks offer views south over the Manukau Harbour while canopy trails introduce walkers to what’s on offer in the park, including some of the wildlife thanks to bird feeding stations and weta boxes. Inside, interpretive displays explain the park’s history and recreational opportunities.
2 Mercer Bay Loop Walk and Te Ahua Point Lookout
Taking in two vantage points – Taketu Head and Te Ahua Point – views north to Piha and south to Mercer Bay and beyond can be enjoyed on this 1.5hr loop.
3 Tunnel Point Campground
Access to this 20-site walk-in campground is tide dependent, so be prepared to get your feet wet. The easiest route is from Karekare, heading south along the beach to pass beneath Tunnel Point, a passage carved out of the headland.
4 Kitekite Falls Track
This easy metalled track is a great diversion for those seeking respite from the sun and surf at Piha. From Glenesk Road, follow Glen Esk Stream through cool rainforest to a steep spur that edges around Tapp Stream before descending to the foot of Kitekite Falls. A loop from here leads past the falls along a kauri-covered spur to return on the opposite bank of Glen Esk Stream.
5 Omanawanui Track
Possibly the best track for views in the entire park, Omanawanui Track is reached from remote Huia. The track follows the ridge above the Manukau Harbour all the way down to Whatipu. Along the way are some great vantage points providing views of the harbour entrance, Awhiti Peninsula and Whatipu.
6 Hamilton Track
Hamilton Track includes magnificent kauri trees and views of the Nihotupu catchment.
7 Auckland City Walk
This 1.5km track follows Waitakere River and is a good introduction to the area – touted by some as the finest short walk in the park, it includes huge kauri – one fine specimen 6.5m in diameter. Totara trees also line the track and a bonus 150m side track leads to Cascade Falls – a popular destination and safe for swimming.
8 Laird Thompson Track
At the north end of Piha Beach, the short (600m) Laird Thomson Track ascends steeply to Te Waha Point with views of Piha and secluded Whites Beach, a further five minute’s walk away.
9 Lake Wainamu
A shin-high stream flowing over soft sand provides an easy walk to this unique lake with giant sand dunes to its western side. A graded track circumnavigates the lake and Wainamu Stream, at the eastern end, has an attractive little waterfall and numerous swimming holes.
10 Tasman Lookout Track
From south Piha take this steep track, with steps in places, along the cliffs to a lookout point over Piha and Taitomo Island. A second lookout further along the track overlooks The Gap – a narrow passage in the sea separating Taitomo Island from the mainland.