Ancient forests and waterfalls are all part of a short trek through the Waitakeres, writes Danielle Wright.
There are 250km of walking tracks in the Waitakere Ranges - from 20-minute strolls to full day hikes. We've chosen one of the most well-trodden, the Auckland City Walk - a loop of 1.5km through the Cascade Kauri area off Bethells Rd.
It's an easy track and you're likely to meet walkers from every generation on the well-maintained paths. We see families with dogs, new parents with babies in prams, a group of octogenarians and fit people walking with tramping poles.
Cascade Kauri is just 25km from the CBD, yet hectic urban life is a world away as pheasant, tui and the native North Island robin (back after a 100-year absence) greet us on the way down the steep hill to the entrance.
An initiative called Ark in the Park is working to create an Open Sanctuary in the park to restore its natural glory and reintroduce species of birds, plants and insects that once thrived here.
A spray and brush of our shoes before we head into the forest to get rid of any boot-borne diseases is a small ask in return for the appearance of more wildlife in the park.
Our walk through the ancient bush takes us up and down steep and curved rocky slopes with plenty to hold our interest: from Maori pou whenua to giant kauri and small rushing waterfalls.
Yet there's always a certain point along the track when the thought, "I don't remember it being this long last time," rears its familiar head.
It's then that we think of the Waitakere Golf Club at the edge of the park. Cheap and cheerful, it has spectacular views over the ranges to await the thirsty, tired walker.
The golf course clubrooms have to be the most down-to-earth of their kind in Auckland. They're like a friendly RSA club and the atmosphere, though full of "proud to be Westie" regulars, is welcoming of new people.
The clubrooms have recently had some upgrades, including removing the beds in the bathrooms, which we always thought were pretty unusual and must have been for over-eager golfers (or drinkers) who got tired.
"Nah, they were for weddings - a 'safe area'," says Stewart, the barman. I'm left wondering what a safe area at a wedding might be - maybe to provide a few minutes peace from over-enthusiastic relatives?
I buy five soft drinks for the price of two in town, and head over to the cafe end of the club - which is a bit like an indoor food caravan. It sells hot chips, milkshakes, hamburgers, icecream sundaes and the like, all offered with a no-fuss approach.
In a few years it's bound to be replaced by a gastro pub or something similar, but for now it's a link to days gone by.
After our brisk bushwalk, the Waitakere Golf Club was the best place to relax and plot the next 248.5km of Waitakere bush trails we had left to explore.
* To find out more about the Auckland City Walk, the Cascade Kauri area, and other walks in the Waitakeres, visit arc.govt.nz or the Arataki Visitor Centre on Scenic Drive.
* Waitakere Golf Club has Wednesday night twilight golf - just $10 for nine holes. See waitakeregolf.co.nz or drop into the club at Falls Rd, Waitakere.