Ceana Priest rounds up a handful of short nature walks to tempt the family outdoors.
Spring family walks are unpredictable affairs. Rustling up the troops while keeping an eye on the weather can take some juggling. Luckily there are plenty of short walks in nature to keep youngsters enthused about exploring during the chillier months. Marvel at mighty kauri trees, or explore a historic redoubt – all within minutes of the car park. Here are five strolls worth getting rugged up for between Auckland and further south at Karangahake Gorge and Pirongia, perfect for easy adventures as soon as alert levels allow.
Large Kauri WalkWaiatarua, Auckland
No surprises here - this aptly named adventure delivers an impressive mighty kauri for you to marvel at. It's such a treat to see one of the world's longest-living trees with so little effort. This kauri is one of the biggest in the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park and is worth a quick stop if you're driving past.
The 30m-long trail deposits you at a viewing platform where you can peer skyward into the kauri, with branches laden with thriving epiphytes. Early European Bushmen called the big clumps "Widowmakers" because they often fell from milled trees, and it was not life-extending to be under a massive specimen as it plummeted to the ground.
The Waitākere Ranges was teeming with these mighty natives until kauri timber fever swept the nation in the late 1700s to 1800s. The timber was used in ship masts and building materials, while varnish manufacturers used the kauri gum.
Information: 600 Scenic Drive, Waiatarua. Only suitable for walking. No dogs allowed. Take care crossing the road on the blind corner.
Miranda Bird Hide Track Firth of Thames
Become a bird twitcher for a few hours and scout for the remarkable kuaka/bar-tailed godwits which return from the Arctic tundra each year in September. To make the most of your visit, pop into the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre on East Coast Rd and hire binoculars or a telescope. Then, drive two kilometres south to the 400m-long Bird Hide Track located within Robert Findlay Wildlife Reserve.
This internationally recognised wetland covers 8500 hectares of intertidal mudflat and has hides that provide the perfect spot to spy on thousands of wading birds. The best bird viewing times are two hours on either side of high tide. Interpretation signs helpfully assist with bird identification.
If the weather is looking grim, you can often make a cup of tea, have your lunch at the centre, and chat with the volunteers about what birds are roosting.
Information: East Coast Rd, Pūkorokoro. Only suitable for walking. No dogs allowed.
Owharoa FallsKarangahanke Gorge
This little adventure is a meagre two-minute stroll from the car park, making it ideal for newly minted explorers. The multi-tiered waterfall has three cascading falls and is beside the main road winding through Karangahake Gorge.
The six-metre waterfall has a flat viewing area to admire the cascading falls – ideal for a picnic. While this is a popular swimming spot in summer with locals, take care of plenty of hazards and strong currents.
Information: Turn off Karangahake Gorge (SH2) onto Waitawheta Rd, Waikino. There is limited parking available immediately after the bridge. Only suitable for walking. Dogs on leads.
Make a detour for this well-preserved redoubt tucked behind the small settlement of Pirongia. The redoubt was constructed in 1872 and named after the small township's former name. Local settlers had urged officials to provide the redoubt in case Māori, forced south after the Government seized tribal land, returned to claim their homelands. Similar fortifications were built across the district, but this is the most well-preserved example of military earthworks remaining.
From the redoubt, you can see the Pūniu River, which marked the border of the King Country, the region of exile. Cross the small footbridge over the fortification ditch into the main area, which once housed barracks and a flagstaff. Take a peek over the footbridge, it's two metres from the base of the ditch floor to the top of the escarpment.
Take care not to walk on the escarpment walls. There's an excellent Waikato War Driving Tour audio tour available at thewaikatowar.co.nz.
Information: Bellot St, Pirongia. Only suitable for walking. No dogs allowed.
Old Thorp's Quarry WaterfallClevedon
This leisurely stroll leads to a small moss-draped waterfall spilling over the rim of a disused quarry. The quarry's heydays were during the early 1900s when the extracted rock helped build roads and footpaths within the region.
Native forest and swampland covered Clevedon before the 13th century and despite periods of intensive logging and burning for pasture, the Reserve has retained valuable ecological stands of lowland and riparian broadleaf forest. Keep an eye out for taraire, pūriri, rimu and kahikatea as you wander along, then relax on the seats and soak up the views.
Information: Thorps Quarry Rd, Clevedon. Only suitable for walking. Dogs on leads.
Ceana Priest is the author of family-friendly Outdoor Kid guidebooks. outdoorkid.co.nz