Work under way to turn quiet headland with explosives factory into top Auckland adventure playground.
Aucklanders have a pleasant surprise in store next summer holidays when "no trespassing" signs come down at a secluded coastal industrial complex and its gates open on a new life as a public recreational park.
Those working on the transformation of the Waitawa headland in a quiet backwater between Clevedon and Kawakawa Bay predict it will scrub up to be the Cinderella of the Auckland Regional Parks network.
Auckland Council principal ranger for southern regional parks, Tony Oliver, took the Herald on a preview of development at the site, which has strictly controlled access because it houses an explosives factory.
"It looks fairly industrial at the moment but it will have so much to offer for recreation," said the 38-year veteran, who has seen a growing demand in parks for mountain biking and horse riding.
Trails for these activities are in a five-year development plan for Waitawa. But about $2 million needs to be spent over two years to open the park with basic facilities.
Waitawa had the credentials for an exclusive resort, with its 188ha of sunny slopes down to two beaches in beautiful bays, elevated views of the Hauraki Gulf, a wharf in a deep water channel and situated only 50km from downtown Auckland.
Instead, the former Auckland Regional Council saw it as a place to absorb pressure for active recreation in other parks.
In 2004, it bought Waitawa for $15 million and the next year went on to pay $19.25 million for 178ha at Pakiri, on the region's northeast coast, including land bought from boxer David Tua.
While some of the charms of the Pakiri parkland can be seen from a public road, Waitawa's potential is hidden by a hill.
A condition of the sale was that the council lease the land back to Orica Mining Services until it had prepared another site for its importing and manufacturing of quarry and mining explosives.
Orica moves out in October, having reduced its operations enough to allow the rest of the land to be brought into the regional farm park network and start earning its keep.
Mr Oliver said fencing, water troughs and clearing noxious weeds to establish pasture was essential for farming.
About 28ha of 50-year-old pine trees were removed, with a lofty stand gripping the Koherurahi Pa removed by helicopter to avoid damaging archaeological features.
Fencing has isolated slopes where 70,000 trees will be planted and wetland gullies where a rare bird, the spotless crake, will be encouraged.
Mr Oliver said he would like to see the park open by early December and offering water supply, self-contained wastewater system, flushing toilets, carpark and single-lane roads with passing bays.
A big drawcard for the expected 20,000 visitors a year is a legacy of Waitawa's role since 1958 in the explosives business - a concrete T-shaped wharf for ships carrying dangerous cargoes.
Mr Oliver said the wharf needed safety handrails and maintenance work to give it another 50 years' service. Apart from providing good fishing at all tides, the wharf may be useful for ferries.
Campsites for backpackers, sea kayak cruisers and self-contained campervans are likely to be available.
Less active day trippers can enjoy views over Tamaki Strait to Waiheke Island and the beach and bush of the Whakanewha Regional Park and eastwards to the Coromandel hills.
The Orica factory office has million-dollar sea views. It will be converted to a bach, which can be booked.
Waitawa Regional Park
Size & location: 188ha farm park on the Waitawa Peninsula, between Clevedon and Kawakawa Bay, on Auckland's southeast coast.
Activities: Swimming, mountain biking, horse riding, kayaking, walking, wharf fishing, farm animals.
Features: Koherurahi Pa, Pawhetau Pa, wharf, two beaches, backpack campsite and campervan campsite, historic walk, bach for rent, proposed marine education centre. Views across Tamaki Strait to Waiheke Island, Ponui Island, Kawakawa Bay, Coromandel Ranges.
Other southeastern regional parks:
Omana (Maraetai), Duder (off Maraetai-Clevedon Rd); Tawhitokino Beach (off Kawakawa Bay Coast Rd); Tapapakanga (East Coast Rd, Orere Pt), Waharau (East Coast Rd, Kaiaua).