Waitakere Ranges with its rugged west coast beaches, bush walks and panoramic views is just magnificent. Whether you love long walks on the beach or hiking this 30 thousand acres of land got’s you covered. The destinations that we are going to talk about in this post are no more than 40 – 60 min drive from Auckland downtown. Alternatively, if you are a bit loco there is also a 4-6 day walking trail which goes through all these destination. To take this 77 km long hike follow the Hillary Trail (the same trail with pictures).
Auckland City Lookout
Before you head out to discover the southern and western end of Waitakere Ranges, don’t forget to make a stop at the Auckland City Lookout on Scenic Drive. Take a look over Waitakere Ranges valleys and native forest, with Auckland city, Harbour Bridge and Rangitoto island on the background.
If this lookout is too busy, then 1km further, next to a transmission tower is the Parkinson Lookout.This obeservation point has a proper car park, some picnic tables and an actual lookout platform. It takes about 2 minutes to get from the car park to the lookout.
Once you have said your goodbyes to the city, it’s time to start discovering the rest of the Waitakere Ranges.
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About 7 km from the lookout or 30 min drive from Auckland downtown is Arataki Visitor Centre. If you haven’t had a chance to visit this place yet then make sure to add this educational place to your bucket list.
Beside the breathtaking views this information centre also has a gallery, souvenir shop and a occational ice cream truck.
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Nihotupu Dam in Waitakere Ranges
Before you take off to discover the coastal beaches and peninsulas make sure to also stop at either the upper or lower Nihotupu Dam. While we recommend visiting both dam’s, the Lower Nihotupu Dam is more easily accessible. The car park is literally in front of the dam so you would have to make just few steps to enjoy the glazing waters.
While the lower dam doesn’t involve much walking, the upper dam is reachable with 30-40 min walk. That said, if you choose to visit the upper dam then on that same trail you’ll also find a few small waterfalls and the Nihotupu Falls.
For those who would like to have a picnic in the area, then another 5 minutes walk from the dam is an outdoor BBQ facility with undercover picnik area.
On the right side of the picnic area you will also find the historic bush tram lines which is being used since 1907 for building and maintaining the dam and water pipeline. Up until 2014 is was also used by Rainforest Express for tourist excursions.
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Not far (11km) from Lower Nihotupu Dam is Cornwallis Peninsula. This narrow and small peninsula has a long beach, some bays, number of short walking tracks, picnic tables and a monument at the very end of the peninsula. One of the first spots we checked out was the beach. It is a safe, shallow swimming beach without large waves. Also it’s not that popular so ideal spot for a quiet picnic with family and/or friends.
A km further from the first beach access is the Cornwallis Wharf and a boat ramp. The boat ramp is suitable for small boats, jet skis and kayaks. The wharf is very popular spot for fishing among the local and neighboring communities. Although the wharf might look empty on the picture below, we can promise that on the far end of the wharf there were at least 40 people.
Another kilometre from the wharf is the McLachlan Monument. You can drive half way up with your car and then for the last 500 meters you have to climb a gradually raising hill. Once you reach the top you can enjoy views over Cornwallis Beach as well as Manukau Heads and the Paratatue Island on the west.
PS! Don’t expect to see 360 degree views from the McLachlan Monument. The nature has taken over the views and although some trees have been taken down for better views it hasn’t helped much 😉 Nevertheless it’s worth the hike.
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Kakamatua Inlet and Kaitarakihi Beach
Near (1 km) Cornwallis Peninsula is Kakamatua Inlet. This little inlet is reachable within a short 10 min walk from the car park. If you manage to visit the place during low tide then you can walk all the way up to the cliff side.
Before you decide whether to visit this place you should know that this place is very popular among dog owners. When we visited this place there were at least 20 dogs with their owners on the beach. Also, unfortunately not all the dog owners bother picking up their dogs sh*#t from the trail so watch your step aye 😉
If sharing a beach with dogs is not your cup of tea, then a further 1 km from the inlet is a beautiful Kaitarakihi Beach.
With views towards the Manukau Heads, this beach has a much nicer scenery. Beside the better views, it also has tranquil water, nice sandy beach, grass area for BBQs, picnic tables and public toilets.
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Huia Point Lookout
Before heading off to the west coast beaches of Waitakere Ranges, make sure to make a stop at the Huia Point Lookout. This peaceful lookout offers spectacular views over Manukau Harbour, Awhitu sand dunes and Huia.
To get to the lookout you would need to drive few km on a gravel road. Once you get to the Huia Point car park, it’s an easy 2 min walk to the lookout.
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Whatipu Beach in Waitakere Ranges
You know how they say that sometimes you can only reach a beautiful place by taking the worst roads. Well, Whatipu is definitely one of those places. To get to Whatipu Beach, you need to drive through a 5.5 km long rugged graveled road. Once you get to the car park you’ll be walking through a seemingly endless valley to one of the most scenic beach in Auckland. In my opinion Whatipu Beach is Piha on steroids.
Depending on what time of the year you visit this unpolished beach it can be serene on a nice summer day or wild and fascinating during winter months.
Whatipu Beach doesn’t probably have the safest waters, so we wouldn’t suggest going for a swim if you are not a strong swimmer. Instead we recommend taking an adventurous walk along the beach or even better a bushy walk to the famous Te Ana Ru Cave.
PS! If you are adventurous, then a 5 km walk along the old tramway and tunnel will take you to our next beach on this list. That said, if you haven’t organized anyone to pick you up from there then you’d need to walk all the way back…hopefully before the tide comes in 😉
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Next beach up north from Whatipu is Karekare Beach. This, not so popular beach is awesome if you’re searching for a wild, low key beach. When we visited this beach during summer months, it seemed almost abandoned.
Probably the most popular beach in Auckland’s West Coast is Piha Beach. It has a long stretch of black volcanic sand and lots of rock formations. This awesome beach is great for those who would like to fly a kite, surf or participate in other activities that require wind. If you would like to visit Piha to swim, be aware that the sea conditions in Piha can change quickly and the riptides can be strong and sneaky. That said, during summer months Piha Beach is being patrolled by the Surf Life Saving Patrol that keeps it as safe as possible.
Bethells Beach (Te Henga)
Bethells Beach also known as Te Heng is a stunning black-sand beach with heaps exploration options. To start, Te Henga is great for swimming and surfing. As it is a fairly popular beach and the swells can get quite rough the ladies and gents from Life Saving Patrol are present during summer months. If waves are not your thing then the nearby Lake Wainamu is one of the nicest lakes to swim in the entire country 😉
When you get bored of swimming or the weather is not suitable for it go for a walk along the beach. A 20 min walk toward northern end will take you to the beautiful O’Neills Bay which is quite popular among surfers. If this doesn’t interest you then go explore sea caves and rock pools at the southern end of Bethells Beach.
Bethells is also known for it’s great walks. Among others there is the Te Henga Walkway and Lake Wainamu and sand dunes track. While Te Henga Walkway is a long 6 hour return walk, sand dunes and lake track can be completed within 30 minutes.
These black sand dunes are seemingly endless and offer great sand-boarding for those who have brought their body/sand-boards. Alternatively you can also concur the dunes like a bad ass with an ATV or dune buggy 😛
As Estralians are not big on hiking we chose not to do the Te Henga walkway. If you are brave enough we encourage you to give it a shot.
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Muriwai Beach and Gannet Colony
Muriwai Beach and its surrounding area is ideal for surfing, swimming, kiting, fishing, golf, horse trekking(has one of the top five horse treks in New Zealand), mountain biking, beach walks and much more. It’s probably the best beach for family as during the summer months, Life Saving Patrol keeps everyone safely between the flags. Also, being quite long (from the patrolled area, it extends on towards the north for around 60 km) you can be sure that there is room for all kinds of water sports lovers.
Another thing that you could and probably should do in Muriwai is visiting the Gannet Colony Lookout. Beside the spectacular views over Motutara Island and Tasman Sea there are thousands of Australasian Gannets nesting here. The nests are spread around on two cliff sides as well as on the Motutara Island. If you visit this place during summer months, prepare to see huge crowd of Gannets in all sizes from eggs to mature birds.
PS! Gannets nest in the colony only from August to March. During autumn and winter they are completely absent.
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#GETLOST. Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.