Auckland’s black sand beaches and lush rainforests – visiting Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
We had heard that West Auckland’s beaches are very different from all the eastern ones we have been enjoying the past one month. In addition, as much as we loved all the sea activities we did- kayaking, fishing and swimming – we felt it was time to explore some of the other natural wonders, particularly the coastal rainforests that New Zealand is also famous for.
I had seen plenty of ‘bush and beach’ day tours advertised in all the Auckland guide books, but we prefered exploring on our own and it was just great knowing we had rainforests within an hours drive from central Auckland. There were two main options for a local one hour day trip from Auckland – Hunua Ranges and Waitakere Ranges regional park. We chose the latter for this trip as we also wanted to catch a glimpse of one of the famous black sand beaches popular with surfers at the end of our day hiking through the rainforest.
Waitakere Ranges Regional Park covers more than 16,000 hectares of native forest and coastline. The park includes 250km of walking and tramping tracks, beaches, stunning views, waterfalls and cliffs. This was our first time so we went to the Arataki Visitor Centre which is the gateway to Auckland’s coastal rainforest. As soon as you arrive, the first thing you notice is th stunning panoramic views from the wooden decks, of the Tasman Sea all the way out to the Pacific Ocean.
At the visitor centre you can see the magnificent traditional Maori carvings that stand guard there. The centre was rich in information about the area and supplied helpful details on tramps and trails one can go on. The Hillary Trail begins here which consists of a self-guided four day tramp through 77km of native forest and along the wild coast. Would love to do parts of this another day! On this day, we just did the short (1.6 km) nature trail and learnt all about the different flora and fauna of this native coastal rainforest area through different stages of regenerating rainforest. We had done several long hikes through forests in different parts of Europe and some in North America. The kids did their first proper hike (7k) when they were 3 and 5 in Black Forest, Germany. Longer ones when we could carry them on our backs as babies! But it was a very different experience here with new plants that we had never encountered before. It was more of a fun learning experience than real ‘hiking’ – walking through giant tree ferns growing alongside the mighty Kauri trees; learning all the native names, learning about the ecology of the forest. I am glad we didn’t come across the native Weta.
After our short hike we drove to Piha Beach, which is New Zealand’s most famous surf beach and also impressive for its soft black volcanic sand. We were blown away by the sheer power of the scenery when we got here! It was just so dramatic, the waves crashing onto the beach, the surfers riding the waves, the rocks nearby and of course the powdery soft black sand. We had never seen anything like it and after the lovely calm sea on the eastern side, it’s hard to imagine how just one hour west, the coast can be so very different. The surfers were amazing to watch, made me want to take up surfing!
The waves were too powerful to swim in the water, atleast we didn’t feel it was safe with the kids. So to deter them from swimming out to sea, we told Shama to try her other outdoor passions – rock climbing. She was quite impressive and got really far using bare hands and feet. Maybe it’s time to invest in a safety helmet!
I feel we just had a lovely glimpse of this region and we look forward to being back to do some proper hiking along some of the routes we saw at the Waitakere ranges national park visitor centre. We didn’t even see any of the waterfalls this time and hardly any of the birdlife. But it was a wonderful experience nonetheless, was a refreshing change from the beach bums that we have become! Piha beach was really impressive though and we definitely plan to be back here over the next one year we are travelling around New Zealand. Who knows, maybe surfing will be the next water sport we take up now that we are starting to get comfortable with our new sea kayaks 🙂
This post is linked to Our World Tuesday, Weekly Photo Challenge – Motion Nature’s Notes #weeklypostcard hosted by Travel Notes and Beyond #wkendtravelinspiration hosted by Reflections Enroute and Forces of Nature