Get the kids off the couch these holidays and explore Auckland's west coast on foot. Diana Clement checks out the tracks around Karekare.
It's easy to forget when immersed in an urban life that we have 16,000ha of stunning rainforest in the Waitakere ranges.
Few tracks are more spectacular than those around Karekare, where I took a day out with the North Shore Tramping Club.
The best tracks are those hugging the coastline and we took a figure of eight route with two circuits, ending up each time at the main car park.
The first loop circuit heads north from the car park via Watchman's Road along the Comans track, part of the newly opened Hillary Trail.
The track skirts the clifftops with sheer drops below, passing several waterfalls, the Farley Point Headland and the secluded Mercer Bay, arriving at two viewing points on Te Ahua Point.
Looking north from one lookout are the steepest cliffs anywhere from Muriwai in the north to Whatipu in the south. It's a harsh but beautiful environment along this coast. Weather-beaten ti tree clings to life on the cliffs and hillsides for much of the route.
Around Te Ahua Point, flax is the dominant plant. Dotted with ti tree and cabbage tree, it covers entire hillsides.
The return trip dropped down the Ahu Ahu Track, a more typical Waitakere bush track returning us to our start point in just under two hours.
Next we headed south on the road for about 30 metres and turned off towards the beach through the Pohutukawa Glade Walk where we stopped for lunch.
The second loop offers a completely different experience. It starts with a 45-minute walk across the dunes towards Karekare point and then south along the beach, skirting dotterel breeding grounds.
After the second headland, Cowan point, the track turns inland off the beachfront and over the dunes to an area of wetland at the base of the sandstone cliffs. The track at this point follows an old tramline and then ducks through an old tunnel.
The notable aspect to this section of the walk is the series of pools and lakes lush with with reeds, canna lily, cabbage tree and other coastal wetland flora.
After a few hundred metres and just past Tiriwa Point we turned east where a series of boardwalks took us across a lake to join the inland tracks for our return journey. Less hardy walkers can return at this point and retrace their steps. For those going on, it's a 45-minute walk steeply up the Buck Taylor Track followed by Zion Hill Track to Mt Zion, taking you from sea level to 272 metres in one breathless go. It's a tough and sometimes muddy track, but worth the effort for the views. We re-joined the Hillary trail at Mt Zion and the newly upgraded track then drops steeply into the Morere Gully until it connects with the Pohutukawa Glade Walk for the last few hundred metres back to the car park.
If you need somewhere to take physically fit international visitors for the day, this is the tramp to choose.
Tips for trampers
* Tracks can be muddy. Wear good boots and bring a change of clothes
* Side trips to the Karekare waterfall and/or caves can be taken from the car park at the beginning or end of the tramp
* Our tramp took four and a half hours, but allow up to six if you like leisurely days
* Download information about the tracks from the ARC's website.
* Take a copy of Land Information's Waitakere map or download one using the ARC's GIS viewer online here.
* Stop for a coffee at Elevation Cafe on the way home. It boasts being higher than the Sky Tower and offers arguably the best cafe views over Auckland. 473 Scenic Drive, Waiatarua. Lush scenery and fresh air await on the walking tracks near Karekare.