Walking the Waitakere Ranges

By Lee-anne Parore, Alison Dench

Writer Alison Dench and outdoor instructor Lee-anne Parore have found new walks to update their popular Walking the Waitakere Ranges book. From half-hour family rambles to full-day tramps, explore Auckland's finest green space. Here they tell us about some of the newer walks.

The Waitakere Ranges have an extensive network of walking and tramping tracks, as well as dozens of lookout points. Photo / Jim Eagles
The Waitakere Ranges have an extensive network of walking and tramping tracks, as well as dozens of lookout points. Photo / Jim Eagles

Wild surf. Rugged bush-clad hills. Delicately beautiful waterfalls. Resonating bird song. Primeval kauri forest. Endless black-sand beaches. Swampy wetlands inhabited by rare wildlife. Historic sites. Breathtaking views. And an extensive network of walking and tramping tracks to enjoy them from, all within 50 minutes' drive of central Auckland.

Really, what more could you ask for?

At the beaches and in the forests, in the wetlands and on the cliff-tops, there are dozens of lookouts with stunning views, picnic areas, and, for those keen to stay longer there are campsites and lodges.

Whether you come to experience the raw power of the west coast beaches, the tranquillity of the inland forests, the swimming holes of the hill streams or the enchantment of the wilderness areas, remember one thing: slow down. Relax, you're not in the city now.

1. Oaia Walkway

Track length: 2km (loop)
Walking time: 45 minutes
Dogs: On leash

Although not strictly part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, this delightful loop walk takes in a new walkway at Muriwai, a lookout and a bush track named after the man who made Muriwai Regional Park possible. The last track in the loop commemorates Sir Edwin Mitchelson, timber merchant, ship builder and government minister. who created Motutara Domain, the core of Muriwai Regional Park, in 1909.

The top of Oaia Walkway is marked by a walkway symbol between 231 and 235 Oaia Rd (park in the layby opposite No. 229). A million-dollar view is available, free, just a few level paces away, then the solid staircase flows down the hill like so many waterfall drops. The bottom of the wooden cascade brings you to the end of Domain Cres. Look left for another walkway sign, and proceed along the driveway of 127 Domain Cres, dipping into another staircase just before reaching the house.

The steps emerge lower down the road. Turn left on Domain Cres and walk to No. 39 to pick up Lookout Track. Go past the turn-off to Quarry Track, and at the next junction turn left on to Edwin Mitchelson Track to return to the ridge. This gravel road, carpeted with lacebark leaves, puriri flowers and pine needles, winds gently around the hillside. Once you emerge back at Oaia Rd, your car is just a few paces to the left.

2. Karamatura Loop Walk

Track length: 2.4km
Walking time: 1 hour
Dogs: On leash
Access: 16.2km along Huia Rd, then Whatipu Rd from Titirangi.

The easy Karamatura Loop Walk is a well-graded track to lookout platforms and seats. Stroll up the valley for about 15 minutes. Pass the turn-off to Fletcher Track, and shortly after the place where the loop rejoins. Walking the loop in an anti-clockwise direction seems easier, so stay right. At the second sign for the loop walk turn left, and make the steady climb through puriri, rata, nikau and tree ferns to a wooden lookout with excellent views across the valley. From the lookout, continue downhill on the track and several sets of steps, keeping an eye out for some excellent examples of young kauri. At the next junction steer right and follow the signs back to the car park.

3. Karekare Falls

Track length: 2km (loop)
Walking time: 1 hour
Track quality: Good
Walk difficulty: Moderate (mostly uphill or downhill walking)
Highlights: Waterfalls, taraire groves, views to Karekare Beach
Dogs: On leash
Access: Park at the car park at the bottom of Karekare Rd. Cross the wooden bridge on to Lone Kauri Rd, go 100m up the hill to a sign on the left-hand side of the road directing you to the falls.

This short walk is a great adjunct to a day at the beach. It offers a good workout as it loops up and down the hillsides through beautiful and rare taraire groves, with waterfalls, pretty streams and subtropical rainforest.

Cave Rock Track, a steep climb that starts at the picnic area next to the carpark, is a possible addition to this walk. Te Kawerau a Maki built palisades to defend this cave high above Karekare and used it as a refuge from raiding parties from other tribes. The cave, called Wharengarahi, was last used in 1826 when Ngapuhi came skirmishing down the coast.

4. Slip, Pipeline and Incline Tracks

Track length: 5km (one-way with car shuttle)
Walking time: 1-2 hours
Track quality: Varied (some steep clay sections)
Walk difficulty: Moderate
Highlights: Industrial history, tramline, large kauri, views
Dogs: On leash
Shortcuts: For a flat 2km stroll suitable for small children and those who abhor hills, start at the Incline Track end and walk as far as the large kauri tree, then return the way you came
Access: Leave one car on Scenic Dr at the Arataki Visitor Centre, 5.5km from the Titirangi roundabout. Leave a second car at the start of Incline Track 1.6 km west of the visitor centre.

This is a walk of extremes. The track goes steeply downhill, along a gravel road, and steeply up again on a slimy clay track. There is a range of distractions, including three water pipelines, one old tramline and a very impressive ancient kauri tree.

The Nihotupu Pipeline takes water from the Upper Nihotupu Dam to Titirangi. Beside it runs a tramline used in the construction of the dam, which was completed in 1923. Most of the tramline is off-limits to walkers, but the Incline Track travels over close to 1km of it. You can check out the whole tramline by taking a ride on the Rainforest Express, which runs on weekends and during school holidays (Watercare Services, (09) 302 8028).

5. Kauri Grove Loop

Track length: 8.7km (loop)
Walking time: 4 hours
Track quality: Mostly rugged, can be very muddy
Walk difficulty: Hard
Highlights: Coastal views, grand trees, swimming holes, view from top of waterfall
Dogs: On leash
Access: Look for car park on Piha Rd 2.8km beyond the Anawhata Rd turn-off

This loop walk is a demanding trip, long and on some rough tracks, but that just means you really feel you are heading into the wilderness. The forest is dense and in some places the crowns of fabulous mature kauri seem close enough to touch. You can take a cool dip in a pool with an awesome view off the top of Kitekite Falls, or save yourself for a post-walk swim at the beach.

A variation of this walk uses the Lucy Cranwell Track instead of the upper part of Kauri Grove Track. The result is a narrow, off-camber track through very thick forest. It is technical walking, unforgiving of a wrong foot-placement. So why would you take this option? Well, you will feel as though you are walking through the treetops - and you will get a sense of achievement just by completing the track safely.

6. Parau Track Loop

Track length: 10.5km (loop)
Walking time: 5 hours
Track quality: Mostly good
Walk difficulty: Hard
Highlights: Views over bush and harbour, a true bush-walking experience
Dogs: On leash
Sidetrack: Walking the fairly rough-and-ready Nihotupu Ridge Track instead of Parau Track will add about one hour and 1.5km
Access: From Titirangi follow Woodlands Park Rd then Huia Rd for 11km. About 500m beyond Pine Ave there is a small parking area on the right. The start of Panto Track is about 200m further on.

This enjoyable longer walk passes through a range of terrain, making it a good trip for those wanting to test their legs. It's a walk for proper tramping boots and it is long and fairly remote, so you will need to make sure you take a full pack with food, water, warm clothing, waterproofs and so on. More obviously on the plus side, the walk offers splendid views, passes through a variety of bush, including some regenerating kauri forest, and encounters some pretty streams.

FURTHER INFORMATION

* The Arataki Visitor Centre, Scenic Dr, is the gateway to the Waitakere Ranges and is open daily (except Christmas Day). Here you can learn about the natural and cultural heritage of the Waitakere Ranges, get the latest information on track conditions, weather or tides and find out about activities in the area. Operated by Auckland Council, the centre's winter hours are 10am-4pm weekdays and 9am-5pm weekends. Ph (09) 817 0077 or see aucklandcouncil.govt.nz for more information.

- NZ Herald

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