When my plane approached Auckland, I happened to be sitting at a window on the left hand side, and while the captain announced the weather was not as good as he expected, through the clouds I could see a dramatic coastline with huge waves approaching a rocky shore with black sand beaches, and I at once decided I wanted to go there. Once I had arranged a car (which sounds easy but is a story in itself!), I woke up very early two days later, and drove to the west of Auckland. Quite soon, I took a turnoff to drive the Laingholm road, skirting the coast here and there, with some empty beaches. More strikingly, I could hear, and sometimes see, birds everywhere: it gave the impression like being in the jungle. Driving on to the west, I saw a spectacular rainbow near Huia; while watching it, it got closer - and then, it started to rain hard, so I continued west to the end at Whatipu. Parking the car, I did not really know what to expect; after I walked for a couple of minutes on a sandy trail, I reached the beach, and realized I had been wasting time earlier on. This was the wild coast I was looking for: rocky hills just off the beach on which powerful waves were breaking, intense black sand reflecting the surrounding landscape and making the foam of the waves look very white, birds everywhere, and otherwise: no one around. The tide was coming up, and the only footsteps on the beach were my own, at once giving a feeling of utter isolation.
I continued towards a rocky outcrop further away, called Ninepin Rock, and noticed another strangely shaped rock sticking its head out of the landscape on my right: Cutter Rock, so called because it continues to fall apart. The last big break occurred in 2007 when one third of the rock collapsed. I tried to climb to the small lighthouse on Ninepin Rock, but the stairs were firmly closed; from a small plateau on the rock, I had a great view anyway of the beach stretching out below me, with the wetlands for which this area is known and which explain the rich (bird)life here. Just behind, a flowering vegetation gave the landscape a green and yellow hue. When I reached the parking lot again, I decided to hike up the Gibbons Trail to get a better view of the area; just when I started out, the sun finally made it through the layers of clouds. It was a while before I finally got a good view of the wild coast and the wetlands below me; I decided to turn around to have time for other parts of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. The information office proved to be capable of giving individual advice; I turned around the order so that I would do the hikes in the forest with the sun high in the sky, and finish off at the coast to see the sun set on the Tasman Sea. So, I drove north and hiked the Auckland City Walk, a loop through the thick rainforest with a huge variety of trees and plants. What looked like an easy hike to a waterfall ended up with a scramble over slippery rocks, with the sound of a powerful waterfall seemingly close; but whatever I tried, I could eventually only see the lower part of the waterfall. Plenty of explanation is provided about the vegetation around and over the City Walk, with the impressive kauri tree at over a thousand years old as the clear king of the forest.
Driving to Piha allowed for a first view of the famous beach with the characteristic Lion head rock as the protagonist of the scene. After a quick lunch at Piha, I hiked up to Kitekite falls, an easy walk through yet more rainforest, with a great view of the tallest falls of the Waitakere Ranges area graciously tumbling into the pool below. Jumping over the rocks in the river running down from the pool, I was back to the rainforest on the other side, and again surrounded by the loud singing of birds that I could not spot most of the time. After a short drive, I parked at the northern side of Piha beach, walked back, and then up the mountain. I calculated I did not have that much time left, so I speeded up, through some muddy parts, and walked fast down to Anawhata beach. Here again, as the guy in the visitor centre had told me, I found solitude: a wide, black beach covered with a thin layer of sun water reflecting the surrounding landscape. To my left, I at once noticed Keyhole Rock, a spectacular formation pointing straight to heaven out of the surf of the wild Tasman Sea. I walked towards the end of the beach, when I began to wonder if the guy at the visitor centre had told me I could actually walk back over the rocks, instead of heading back the official trail. I decided to give it a shot, and clambered over the rocks in the surf, which were not even slippery. The wind was not strong, but still, the waves crashing on the rocky shore sent a spray up in the air in which the rocks seemed to be floating. As I progressed, I realized that Keyhole Rock actually had an opening inside that was not directly visible from Anawhata beach: its shape seemed to change with every step I took. After passing the next bay, I reached a point where it was a little more difficult to continue; but then, I found a trail and thought I was good. I had been happy too early: after a few more minutes, the trail ended high above the waves, and it was instantly clear that it was impossible to reach Piha beach. I started to worry: it was only 45 minutes to sunset, tide was coming up, and going back to Anawhata would take some time. Fortunately, a small trail was going up steeply, and I decided to try. Quickly gaining altitude, I had fantastic, sweeping views of the rugged, wild coastline I had come to see. I had to cut through huge plants, but made it to Whites beach, from there, I knew I was OK. I made a quick detour to a viewpoint, just could see orange light on Piha beach and its surrounding rocky landscape. When I reach the beach for the sunset I had hoped to see, though, the sun disappeared; while it had been shining brightly for many hours, a layer of clouds had formed at the horizon, and the sunlight was just squeezed out of the sky without any fireworks. I was still happy after an intense day at Waitakere Ranges with its spectacular and varied landscape.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Waitakere Ranges Regional Park (New Zealand). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Read more about this site.