Seven Reasons to Keep the Waitakere Ranges a Secret

Today we are featuring Michelle Teillon, an avid traveler and active FlipKey member.

Whenever I travel, I ask “the locals” to recommend their favorite spots. During a recent trip to New Zealand, I met a couple from Auckland who raved about the Waitakere Ranges with rugged beaches, rainforests, and native bush.  Though only a 45-minute drive from Auckland, this area is less frequented by foreigners compared to other Auckland-area attractions. In fact, the only “tourists” I met during my April visit were Auckland day trippers.

Key Attractions:

1. Scenic Drive (Auckland) twists its way 17 miles from the small bohemian town of Titrangi (population ~3,300) to the even smaller Swanson (population ~2,400). The road is engulfed in lush vegetation of several shades of green, with periodic breaks for spectacular views of Auckland, Manuakau Harbour, and valleys dotted with grapevines and farms.

2. The Arataki Visitor Centre presents exhibits for both adults and children about Maori legends as well as local flora, fauna, and geology. There are several short walks from the Centre, and the on-site ranger can recommend tramps along the 150+ miles of trails in the Waitakere Ranges.

3. Stunning beaches on the Tasman Sea,including Karekare and Piha, live up to expectations with their glistening black sand, wild waves, and imposing rock formations and cliffs. Enjoy long beach walks, swimming, and fabulous sunsets. And for the more adventurous, there is surfing.

Karekare Beach was made famous by scenes from the Oscar winning movie The Piano. Another piece of trivia – one of New Zealand’s most popular pop exports, Crowded House, recorded most of Together Alone in Karekare. In its honor, the first song on the soundtrack is entitled Kare Kare.  Despite the notoriety, Karekare Beach still draws nominal crowds. This is probably because it is somewhat isolated; one needs to walk about ¼ mile from the car park, often requiring getting one’s feet wet in a small sea stream. Also, it is probably somewhat by design; the small parking lot maybe accommodates 30 cars. And there is no town center to speak off, just the Surf Patrol and a handful of homes.

Piha Beach is more frequented. It is more accessible than Karekare Beach and is known as one of the best surf beaches in New Zealand. In calmer seas, the surf is good for all levels; but when swells exceed six feet, it is best for experienced surfers only. There are a few surf shops for rentals: Piha Beachstay, Piha Surf, and The Lion Rock Surf Shop.

4. The Hillary Trail is a 40+ mile track named for Sir Edmund Hillary, who frequently visited the area when planning expeditions. Completed in 2010, the track strategically links several trails and campgrounds to offer a four-day, three-night tramp. Day hikes incorporating a section of the Hillary Trail are also possible. Trailheads from Karekare and Piha lead to two-to-four hour loops, and offer breathtaking vistas (ask for the map with Karekare and Piha area tramps at the Arataki Visitor Centre).

5. West Coast Gallery features frequent exhibitions and affordable artwork for sale from Waitakere artists including paintings, photography, and ceramics. My trip “souvenir’ was a piece entitled “Paisley Dreams” by Ruby Oakley, a New Zealand artist specializing in multi-media paintings and printmaking.

6. Piha Café is just what a beach café should be. The vibe is laid-back (bare feet encouraged!) and the food outstanding - sumptuous breakfasts and coffee in the a.m., and gourmet pizzas (like Moroccan pizza with spicy lamb and olives) in the p.m. Plus they have great take-away if you want to picnic on the beach.

7. Home rentals give you the chance to settle in and feel like a local. I stayed at the stunning “Treehouse”, aptly named as the 3 mod buildings (kitchen/living/dining, bedroom, and bath) are nestled on a hill amongst the trees. Here is another beautiful Karekare home.

Now that the secret is out, add the Waitakere Ranges to your itinerary if planning a trip to New Zealand!