West Auckland: Walk the Hillary way

By Sarah Daniell

To follow in the footsteps of our most famous explorer, just head west, writes Sarah Ell
The vistas along the Hillary Trail are magnificent.
The vistas along the Hillary Trail are magnificent.

The Hillary Trail offers action and adventure on Auckland's back doorstep - and it's accessible by public transport.

The trail was set up in the late 2000s by the then Auckland Regional Council, bringing a network of tracks through the Waitakere Ranges into a cohesive pathway.

The entire trail is 77km long and is designed to take four to six days, but walkers can take on sections as day tramps, or just have a single night away in the bush.

The trail is named after Hillary as he used to go to the rugged hills and beaches of the Waitakere Ranges to plan and prepare for his great overseas expeditions.

Hillary's father-in-law Jim Rose built a bach at Anawhata in the 1920s, and five generations of the family have come to Auckland's west coast to walk and explore.

The official start of the trail is the Arataki Visitor Centre on Scenic Drive, and it ends at Muriwai Beach.

Along the way trampers encounter a wide range of environments, from regenerating rainforest and stands of mature kauri and coastal forest to rocky shores and black-sand beaches.

For multi-day trampers there is a network of back-country campsites maintained by Auckland Council - and private accommodation options for those who want a more pampered night's sleep.

Ranger Stuart Leighton says what makes the trail special is its proximity to the city. "The fact it's so close is definitely a big thing, and that you can get there using public transport.

Looking south from the Te  Henga Walkway above O'Neills beach.
Looking south from the Te Henga Walkway above O'Neills beach.

"There's also the fact you can tailor it to how much time you face, your fitness level, and what sort of challenge you want - it's really adaptable."

Leighton says people do the trail in "all sorts of ways - people run it, there are people who do the whole thing in one go, or people who come out and do one section at a time. Or they might come back and do a favourite bit, or just walk to a spot where there's an amazing view. There's no one way of doing it."

In its entirety, the trail runs from Arataki first to Huia, just inside the entrance to the Manukau Harbour. Trampers can spend a night at the Karamatura Valley campground before heading for the west coast at Whatipu - just a 10km section of track, but with many steep ascents and descents, and stunning views.

The third section follows the cliff-line from Whatipu to Karekare, then the trail heads on to Piha. Again, the way is sometimes steep but walkers are rewarded with coastal vistas north and south along this iconic coastline.

The trail is well signposted.
The trail is well signposted.

The final sections lead from Piha to Anawhata, then on to Bethells/Te Henga, past Lake Wainamu, before the final clifftop tramp and descent to Muriwai. From Te Henga, trampers can also take the alternate route out to Swanson, and public transport.

Leighton says there is a range of campsites along the trail, all with basic back-country facilities, in such special spots as the Whatipu Caves, Pararaha Valley and the Craw Homestead campground at Anawhata, developed particularly for Hillary Trail walkers.

He's hard-pressed to pick a favourite spot, but says he loves the descent into the Pararaha site - "there are amazing views up the valley" - and the trail sections along the coastal cliffs, such as Mercer Bay between Karekare and Piha. "Looking north along the coast, that's an iconic view for me."

Need to know

Click here for more information, including an interactive map and advice on planning you trip.
• There is no charge to use the trail, but Auckland Council campsites and baches must be booked in advance. Contact Auckland Council, 09 366 2000.
• The trail is no walk in the park - tracks can be steep, rutted, tree-rooty and slippery, and you may be up to your ankles in mud. There are unbridged stream crossings which may include water above the knee.
• Auckland Council recommends always taking adequate water and food with you and letting someone know where you are going. It's also a good idea to take a map, warm clothing, a first-aid kit, a charged mobile phone and a whistle.

Other back-country camping experiences in Auckland's regional parks:

• Waitakere Ranges: Odlins campground via Odlin Timber Track; Opanuku Pipeline campground at Cascade Kauri; Pae O Te Rangi campground via Whatitiri Track.
• Mahurangi Regional Park: Te Muri Beach campground, accessible by crossing Te Muri Estuary at low tide; Mita Bay campground, accessible by foot at low tide from Opahi Bay Rd.
• Hunua Ranges Regional Park: Adam's Lookout campground via Kohukohunui Track; Lower Mangatawhiri campground via Moumoukai Valley Rd; Mangatangi Trig campground via Mangatangi Trig Track; Piggots campground via Lilburne Rd; Repeater campground via Wairoa Loop Track; Thousand Acres campground via Waharau Ridge Track; Workman campground via Whakatiwai Track.

- Weekend magazine

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