Stephanie Chamberlin takes her family to see the Hunua Falls, with a caffeine stop in Clevedon en route.
As earnest, angst-prone parents of preschoolers, my husband and I were shocked to realise that our children, aged one and four, had never seen a waterfall. Worse, Nickelodeon had provided where we hadn't - in the form of a Dora the Explorer episode in which a baby jaguar is rescued from the lip of a horribly unrealistic 2D version.
Hunua Falls being our nearest decent waterfall, we plan a family visit on a Sunday morning. That way we can fit in a pit-stop first at Clevedon Farmers' Market.
We overshoot our turnoff, though, and get waylaid by the cheerful bunting of the Clevedon Village Craft Market. This is a place to buy tea-cosies and lavender soaps rather than gourmet food but we can't resist the queue-free coffee cart. There are also ample parking spaces. While the friendly coffee guy fixes our brew we browse the outdoor stalls and buy a week's fruit and vege as well as honey, jam and chutney.
For picnic goods we pop into the Clevedon Co-op, a chic grocery store on the main street.
They stock fresh food from some of the farmers' market's suppliers, so we're well catered for.
Hunua Falls are about 10 minutes on from Clevedon.
The sense of a hinterland quickly grows as we wind uphill into the forested Hunua Ranges. The turn-off is clearly signposted and the large carpark has toilets and information boards.
The waterfall is veiled behind trees but there's a promising roar and a definite moistness in the air.
From the carpark, paths lead left and right. The path right leads almost immediately to a picnic area at the base of the falls. We're keen for a walk so we turn left, where excellent ramp access leads on to a bridge over Wairoa River. There are stunning views to the falls, although our children are more interested in the swivelling signs placed at their eye level on the bridge's handrail.
We are amazed to learn that elvers (young eels) are actually able to climb the 30m waterfall. Using crags in the rock, they work their way upstream in search of quieter habitat. The mind boggles to imagine the descent at the other end of the life-cycle, when metre-long eels head toward the sea.
Across the bridge we take the bush track to the eastern side of the waterfall, a buggy-friendly trail that is less than five minutes from the carpark.
We picnic on the wide, grassy lip by the waterfall pool, mesmerised by the towering cliffs and pounding tail of water. A family of ducks wander over and help us eat bread scraps. I take advantage of this distraction and leave the children with their father, nipping off to check out the 30-minute Hunua Falls Lookout Walk.
This would be suitable for school-age children, although younger ones may need cajoling on towards the end as the track ascends steeply here. It culminates at a viewing platform but the waterfall is distant and glimpsed through trees. In this case, it is the walk that is more spectacular.
The track winds beside a quiet stream and the steep gully is layered with tree ferns and forest giants such as kahikatea. Tangling vines, beards of lichen and spiky perching plants create the prehistoric feel of intact native bush.
The walk whets the appetite. Families with adventurous older children - aged eight and older - might try the three-hour Cossey-Massey Loop, in which you ford a stream and walk through kauri forest. There are also mountain bike tracks throughout Hunua Regional Park. The waterfall may be the big ticket item, but there's no shortage here of authentic nature encounters.
NEED TO KNOW
Hunua Falls: Hunua Regional Park is 60km from Auckland's CBD. Drive toward Clevedon. Just before the village, turn right on to White Rd, then right into Falls Rd, which will take you to the Hunua Falls. Summer gate opening hours are 8am-9pm, although pedestrian access is 24 hours. The Wairoa River is considered safe for swimming, but the waterfall pool is not.
Kauri dieback disease poses a risk to the park's healthy kauri forest. Footwear should be clean before entering forests and tracks adhered to.
Clevedon Farmers' Market: The Clevedon Village Farmers' Market is held each Sunday from 8.30am-12pm. The market site is at the new A&P stock yards and exhibition hall, Clevedon Showgrounds, Monument Rd (Gate 6, The Munro Entrance).
Clevedon Village Craft Market: Every Sunday, 9am-2pm. Clevedon Community Hall, Clevedon Rd. In January, a holiday market replaces the village market at the same venue (hours extended to 3pm).
Clevedon Co-op: 31 Clevedon-Papakura Rd. Open seven days, 9.30am-5pm Ph (09) 292 3091.