The wild west coast is worth a day trip with a couple of stops along the way, writes Libby Nicholson-Moon.
If this Labour Weekend is not warm enough to spur you to take your first swim of the season, Piha is one beach destination that offers plenty of other things to do - mainly along the lines of walking and eating. Do one and you can justify the other.
There's a great 90-minute hike that starts opposite the North Piha Camping Club on Marine Parade, at the entrance to the Marawhara Stream. There are two walking tracks to choose from, with one track heading up to the old Anawhata Rd, and the other into the Marawhara Gorge. We took the former, and were led up through native bush only broken by breathtaking views of the Piha coastline. Calls by native birds mix with the sound of the ocean below.
On reaching the highest point, at Anawhata Rd, we began our descent, passing the cove of White's Beach and several lookouts complete with benches on which to rest and take in the views. The final descent toward the northernmost end of Piha is via the Laird Thomson Track. We then strolled back down the beach, past Lion Rock, to order hot chips and ice creams at Blair's on the Beach by the Piha Surf Life Saving Club.
The drive to Piha is only 40 minutes from central Auckland, but you can make a daytrip of it by stopping along the way. Take in some art at Lopdell Gallery in Titirangi Village, or time your run for the last Sunday of the month when a market is held in the Memorial Hall.
Further down the road on Scenic Drive is the Arataki Information Centre, perched on a ridge with jaw-dropping views across hillsides of bush to the Manukau Harbour. Here you can find out about the history and ecology of the Waitakeres and do a short warm-up walk around a 10-minute nature trail.
When you arrive at Piha make the Piha Cafe your first stop for a bracing coffee before your walk. The year-old cafe has been brilliantly designed, with an environmental edge in keeping with the beach and its surrounds, creating an eclectic and earthy atmosphere. This is a great spot to mix with locals and other visitors, while enjoying the delicious food and coffee, especially the "Piha Rescue" big breakfast.
Nearby is the West Coast Gallery, where you can check out local art, jewellery and sculpture.
A day at Piha wouldn't be complete without a visit to the RSA. Ask a member to sign you in so you can enjoy one of the meals served Tuesday though to Saturday from 5.30pm - hearty Kiwi kai, including the best fish 'n' chips I have ever tasted. You can have a game of pool, watch TV, or just sit on the deck and enjoy the view toward Lion Rock and contemplate that the next time you visit Piha, you might squeeze in a swim as well.
Blair's on the Beach: 25 Marine Parade, South Piha.
Piha Cafe: 20 Seaview Rd. Open daily 8am-3pm. Ph (09) 812 8808.
West Coast Gallery: The Old Fire Station. Open Wed-Sun 10am-4pm. Ph (09) 8128 029.
The Piha RSA: 3 Beach Rd. Open Tues-Sat from 5.30pm. Ph (09) 812 8138.