The further reaches of the Manukau Harbour are worth exploring, discovers Cate Foster on a journey to the far west.
Not living in West Auckland I have always found reasons not to visit some of the further reaches of the Manukau Harbour coastline, but not today. This was the day when once and for all I was going to find what I'd been told about so many times. A picnic was packed, togs hopefully wrapped along with sunscreen and hats, and we set off with the west in our sights.
We drove through Titirangi village and took a left down Huia Rd where the three sculptures on the roundabout mark the beginnings of what I always characterise in my head as the far west. A bit like the Far North, from here on this is an area with a personality of all of its own. A bit bohemian, a bit loose, this is rural Auckland.
I'm not sure why, but windy roads always seem longer than straight ones even when they are no distance at all.
Huia Rd is definitely a bit twisty and to save our sanity and the car upholstery as much as anything we turned into Armour Rd, simply because it advertised a beach at the end of it. And what a find Armour Bay was.
Ankle-high wavelets delighted the toddler and the smooth green of the reserve that embraced the little beach proved the perfect place to stretch out and watch him do battle with them.
In front of us a large and happy family launched a boat from the tiny boat ramp, the pohutukawa above our heads were as red as a cliche and for a blessed hour it seemed as though time stood still.
However Cornwallis round the corner still called and dragging Junior from the water we repacked the car and pressed on.
However, moments up the road we found another hitherto unheard of beach. This time it was Mill Bay, part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and, like a handful of secluded beaches administered by Auckland Council, the vehicle access road is locked in the evenings, although the beaches are still accessible on foot. Again a seaside reserve, flat as a bowling green, hugged a small beach, families picnicked under the pohutukawa and children ran with their dads learning how to fly kites. Here a pesky easterly was producing knee-high waves so Junior didn't fancy the water, but I could see this was a spot to remember.
Two kilometres further on we reached Cornwallis itself. Years ago I had been told of the wharf and little did I know that in the interim it had been completely refurbished. The last remaining of the 16 wharves that once provided maritime access along the shores of the Manukau, it had by the early 90s been in dire danger of collapse. In danger no longer, its 200m length stretched like a crooked arm across the water to where its tip in the deep water of the channel stood crowded with fisher people of all ages. Unfortunately for us, by now the easterly was distinctly unpleasant and whipping up choppy waves along another of those impossibly cute narrow strips of sand. The reserve again was the place to be.
One last cup of (thermos) coffee for the road and we headed home. We had planned to walk to the McLachlan Monument, the parking area for which was a mere few minutes drive from the wharf carpark, but Junior was sagging in my arms. It didn't seem too hard to miss what we had been told are breathtaking views out to the Manukau Heads as now we've found this enchanting spot we'll be back, only this time without that easterly.
* About 45 minutes from the CBD.
* Titirangi Village is the last coffee stop.
* All three beaches are very tidal so best swimming is at full tide.
* Up to five self-contained campervans can stay overnight at Cornwallis (for a maximum of two nights), but permits must be obtained in advance, from either the Arataki Visitors Centre, or Auckland Council offices. Phone first to check availability and for credit card payment.
* Bush walks of various lengths. Not all sections are wheelchair or baby buggy accessible.
* Check arc.govt.nz/parks for information on regional parks and bookings.
* The Arataki Visitor Centre, 300 Scenic Drive, is 6km from Titirangi. Ph (09) 817 0077.