From Titirangi, drive along the winding Scenic Drive for about 6km and you'll find the attractive Arataki Visitor Centre nestled in the rainforest.
This well designed building has stood in the Waitakere Ranges since the early 1990s, offering views over the forest and dams.
Visitors keen to explore the ranges come here for directions and thousands of Auckland school children have come here for education programmes.
Council parks committee chair Christine Fletcher says Arataki is the gateway to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and a fantastic place to start exploring the west.
"Even on a rainy, wintery day, the views from the centre are breath-taking, reminding us
that we have wild coastline, stunning rainforest and an abundance of recreation opportunities, within a stone's throw of the city centre.
"The Waitakere Ranges is a unique part of Auckland's wilderness, with centuries-old forest, black-sand beaches and firmly established communities thriving within the bounds of the park.
"If planning a visit, I urge people to drop into Arataki and speak to the rangers and staff about the best tracks to walk; the best view points and perhaps some tips for safe exploring in the outdoors," she says.
The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park has more than 16,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastline. Its 250km of walking and tramping tracks provide access to beaches, breathtaking views, and spectacular rocky outcrops.
Visitor Centre staff can advise on ways to explore the ranges. There are tracks and trails suited to all levels of fitness and experience and they'll also tell you how best to prepare for tramping the famous Hillary Trail.
Visitors can also learn about the history of the ranges, from its volcanic history to the cultural significance of Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa (the great forest of Tiriwa) to Te Kawarau a Maki; see some of the wildlife that makes a home in the forest (including geckos and weta) and collect maps and brochures for further exploring the park.
Short walks showcasing the variety on offer in this wilderness area are close by, including:
* Exhibition Drive (¾ hour - 3.2 km) is one of the most popular tracks within the park.
Originally a section of the tramline used for transporting supplies to the Upper Nihotupu Dam site from near Lopdell House in Titirangi.
* Arataki Nature Trail is beautiful introduction to the flora and fauna of the Waitakere Ranges and a great addition to any visit to the Arataki Visitor Centre. The trail is a network of three gravelled loop walks.
* Beveridge Track (1 hour - 1.7 km) starts from Arataki Visitor Centre, then goes down a concrete path past the scenic picture frame. There is a gravel-surface short walk (slight uphill gradient) to a viewpoint of the Manukau and Waitemata Harbours.
Where: The Arataki Visitor Centre 300 Scenic Drive, Titirangi.
When: Winter opening hours are 10am-4pm Monday to Friday and 9am-5pm on Saturday and Sunday. In summer the visitor centre is open every day, 9am - 5pm (except Christmas).
On offer: Visitor Centre staff advise on useful, safe and enjoyable ways to explore the ranges.