The Hillary Trail – Waitakere Regional Park

Section 1: Arataki to Huia 4th March

CaptureI guess we have done most of this in bits and pieces, but we had never done the stretch from Arataki to Huia in one go and there looked to be a decent stretch of bush in the middle. One Sunday, we drove one car to Hui and then the other to Arataki and set off along the track.

The Waitakeres are a summer playground. In winter they are damp and muddy. This trail is doubly hard as you squelch through the mud.

It is a well-formed track for most of the way and the first section takes you down a steep but gravelled track through the bush and across the railway line. The pipeline track keeps going down and trampers walking up it were finding it hard going. Eventually, the track levels out and you take a right turn along the dam road.

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Another km or so and the road ends in a small clearing. The track heads off to the right and climbs incrementally up to a saddle through some lovely bush. There is a wonderful grove of kauri trees halfway along and the track has boardwalk around them to save them from kauri dieback. This section of the walk is wonderful as you wander through dense bush, with a huge selection of bird and insect life to keep you company. The sun was out and the hundreds of variations of green were visible all around.

We took a break at the saddle. The summit track, which is closed now, crosses here, and it was amazing to see how quickly this had gone back to nature. You could hardly see where it had left the saddle even if you followed the signposts.

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From here the track takes you down tothe Huia dam along an easy track, with a brief stop for a view over the dam and out to the Manakau Heads. The final section is a couple of km along the dam road back to Hui and, of course, a nice cream at the cafe. It took us about three and a half hours including a stop for lunch.

Section 2 : Huia to Whatipu

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Anyone walking the trail as a whole will either camp at Karamatura and then Whatipu (which makes tow short days) or plough on to Whatipu to make one long day. Either way, this section is a delight.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Karamatura campsite there is a lovely stretch along the side of the stream until a steep climb, just after crossing a gully. This is only a 100m or so but it seems more before you level out in some wonderful bush with kauri and rata trees all around. A crossroads is quickly reached where you turn left and head for Mt Donald. This is a good viewpoint for Manakau harbour and is often busy as a car can get within a few minutes of the summit.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAA gentle stretch along a well-formed path (Puriri Ridge Track) lands you on the gravel road to Whatipu. The trail crosses the road and heads downhill towards the beach. The first stretch is a little drab but soon the track leaves the road and heads for a roller coaster ride down the ridge. This is a simply gorgeous hour or so, with a couple of steep climbs, some chains on a rocky section and a lovely seat to sit on at the top of the last bump. Take a breath or two and enjoy the sweeping views of the harbour, the Manakau Heads and the coastline stretching north and south.

The final stretch down to Whatipu is easy enough and the campsite is lovely. Pitch your tent and head to the beach for a well-earned swim. If you walk to the left-hand side of the beach at mid to low tide you can hop over some rocks and find a lovely swim away from all the surf and rips. If you also have a fishing rod you should be able to catch your supper as well.

Section 3 :  Whatipu to Piha

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The remainder of the trail is pretty much northwards and follows the coast, with a few ins and out when the Waikatere tracks do not go quite in the right direction.

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The first section heads across the campsite and climbs onto the cliffs. If you have time, walk along the base of the cliffs to the cave, and imagine the dances that the local community used to hold here once a year. The track is a good one and you are quickly at the highest point and can wander along the top towards the Parahara Valley. There is a tricky rocky section as you head down to the valley, Once there the campsite is a lovely spot to have a break.

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From here the trail heads down-stream and onto the beach. The tracks are not well marked and it is easy to lose the right one as you wander amongst the dunes. One track heads straight out to sea for those who want to loop back along the beach to Whatipu, but the trail heads north to Karekare. This is a superb beach and a great spot for a swim. The river needs a ford, and a deep one at that, before you can head back to the cliff tops and down to Piha.

Photo0044The trail does some odd things to avoid the road here. When you do hit the road turn right (not the obvious left) and find a series of tracks that will take you down past the waterfalls and into Glen Esk. Piha has a great campsite as well as several cafes for food. The beach is patrolled by the lifeguards in the summer so you could easily take your time and swim before putting up the tent.

Section 4 Piha to Muriwai

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From Piha you head north along the beach before climbing up into the bush to meet Anawhata Road. If you have time this road leads down to Anawhata beach which is a great little place. It is beautiful and far less busy than all the other Auckland West Coast beaches, mainly because the access is down a long gravel road.

The trail skirts the edge of the regional park before heading down to Lake Wainamu. You can walk either side of this and the western side is probably more fun than the eastern side which the Hillary trail follows. The eastern side takes you into and over some huge black sand dunes, great fun if you have a body board or even a plastic bag to slide on.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThe final section is, for me at any rate, a sad one. A great friend spent a few months at Bethell’s Beach before succumbing to cancer. One day we walked with him along the last section of this trail to Muriwai and this is how I remember him. John was a big strong man and he strode along the Te Henga walkway, revelling in the surf crashing into the cliffs below us. It is a lovely walk, much of it along a terrace sandwiched between the beach and the cliff tops.

A couple of hours after Bethells you land on the road: we were met by John’s wife who took us down to the Muriwai cafe by car, but those doing the thing properly will walk down instead.

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Alternative finish: Piha to Swanson

This is a good bet for those without friends to help out with transport. To start the trail you can bus to Titirangi and then walk along Scenic Drive, Exhibition Drive and the Beveridge Track to Arataki. This adds an hour or so, but is worth the effort and works well if you are camping near Huia.

The fourth day then becomes a walk to the train at Swanston station. The two tracks fork before Lake Wainamu, and this variant heads along the Smyth Ridge track before joining the Upper Kauri Track which takes you down to the golf course. This is easy walking and the golf club house is worth a stop for a drink and maybe something to eat.

The final few kilometers are an easy dawdle through the bush with suburbia gradually encroaching on the trail. At the end, drop your packs and hop on a train back to Auckland. The two variants are about the same distance, but this is far easier. The cliff walk along the Te Henga walkway can be a challenge on the fourth day.