Whatipu: Wild, wild west

By Cate Foster

The scenery - as well as the wind - will blow you away when you head out to Auckland's west coast.

Whatipu, at the tip of the Manukau Heads, offers some jaw-dropping scenery. Photo / Martin Sykes
Whatipu, at the tip of the Manukau Heads, offers some jaw-dropping scenery. Photo / Martin Sykes

My visitors are fresh from the boulevards of Paris. I decide to upset their preconceptions that only the South Island does wild scenery, and take them to the far reaches of Auckland's west coast.

I wait until we have a wild westerly. Even inner Auckland is being buffeted so I know Whatipu, on the tip of the Manukau Heads, will be spectacular.

"Oh, I do like drives in the country," coos Melanie, little knowing that her city notions of a benign countryside, filled with frolicking lambs and well-groomed hillsides, are about to be to be well and truly overturned.

We set off mid-morning. Although it is shorter to go through Titirangi, I take them via Swanson and along Scenic Drive to show them real New Zealand bush. They had never seen tree ferns before, and neither had the busload of tourists grimacing in front of them as they photograph each other in the wind.

Time did not allow us to stop off at one of the many signposted walks we passed, but already Melanie was begging to come back another day.

Turning right off Scenic Drive, we wound our way downhill until we reached Huia. Here we just had to stop at the world-famous-in-Auckland Huia Store where we enjoyed old-fashioned toasted sandwiches, gazing out on a landscape that looks as though not much has changed since the 1950s.

Of course the road is now sealed, but somehow the mood is one of gentle nostalgia, even though on this day the sheltered bay of water was whipped into little waves by the westerly whistling down over the hills.

Further on we stretched our legs at Little Huia, and then crossed a ford and headed over the hill on a last stretch of windy, gravel road.

Once at the Whatipu carpark, the now unfettered westerly was telling us what it was capable of, and we could hear the sea booming from where we stood. Blown and buffeted we strode down the ironsand path to the shore with Melanie and Cedric exclaiming at the drama of the landscape around us.

I'd forgotten that the carpark is almost a kilometre from the beach and felt sorry when I watched a couple with a baby buggy struggling to push it through the shallow drifts of windblown sand. Our calf muscles strained through it, while the wind whipped words from our mouths.

Once on the open beach we found the sea far out at low tide, allowing us to stagger, bracing against the wind, towards Paratutae Island at the treacherous mouth of the Manukau. Huge waves were breaking in the distance and I could imagine why this area was so dangerous to shipping in colonial days.

Snatching photos and yelling with the excitement generated by such forces of nature, we dashed back towards the protection of the sand dunes and the car.

It was hard to believe that all this grandeur is a mere hour from the cafes of the CBD - it could be light years away.

Go - rain, hail or shine, you won't be disappointed.

DRIVE TIME

* Whatipu is 50km from Auckland's CBD via Titirangi, or an hour and a quarter via Scenic Drive.

* Be aware that the last 9km is a windy gravel road.

* Refresh at the Huia Store, 1194 Huia Rd, ph (09) 811 8809.

- Herald on Sunday

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