The Waitakeres Ranges is a 16,000-hectare parkland of outstanding beauty. The one-hour scenic drive through the Ranges is studded with tree ferns, giant Kauri trees and spectacular views.
It’s easy to fall in love with the soft romantic waterfalls, misty bays and birdlife. If you prefer beaches, then at the doorstep of the Ranges are the wild, rugged, black sand dramatic beachscapes of Piha, Murawai, Whatipu, Karekare and Bethells.
The discovery of the Waitakeres starts at Titirangi, the main township, which is more like a village. Titirangi has much to offer visitors, including a monthly craft market, arty cafes and a vibrant eclectic atmosphere where you can really soak up the local community spirit.
As Titirangi is so close to Auckland, it’s a great meeting place that attracts an interesting crowd, who sometimes come just to catch the latest art exhibition at the local Lopdell House Art Gallery.
To continue on your trip simply take the road marked “Waitakere Scenic Drive (Route 24)”, which leads out of Titirangi. The Drive is ranked one of the finest in New Zealand. Overhangs of giant ferns brush the car windows on your left while the dramatic towering heights of the Ranges are visible on your right. This is a world of pristine nature, full of rich smells of an earthy forest and the endless calls of native birdlife. All this can be achieved from your vehicle before even stepping out to take one of the 146 forest trials offered in the parkland.
Only 10 minutes from Titirangi is the Arataki Visitors Centre. From the centre there are over 250 kilometers of walking trails each clearly signposted; with map in hand you have everything you need for a weekend of discovery.
The views from the Centre give an early insight into what awaits. A spectacular lookout across the forested valley stretches out to the Manukau Harbour and several far reaching beaches. The displays at the Centre give you a wonderful overview of the multitude of bird and animal life that abound in this region. The small side trail that starts at the centre takes you to the Kauri Cathedral Grove – a walk not to be missed.
If you love waterfalls, the next port of call must be the Fairy Falls. A delightful easy rainforest walk of just 30 minutes one way leads to a series of pools and a giant drop. As you pad your way across the small wooden bridge you get to experience life at the top of the falls. From here you can watch the water cascade over the escarpment.
From this point you have access to a variety of west coast beaches. Karekare, the dramatic beach where the film The Piano was shot is nearby, as is Piha, which is famous for its surf.
Bethells Beach – a personal favourite – is a desolate black sand beach that conveys the perfect sense of mother nature at her wildest. It is often windswept and after a long walk along the beach, you can treat yourself to a piping-hot cappacino and a home-baked muffin dusted with pure-white icing sugar, from the mobile caravan café. Sit under a local straw-thatched umbrella or take a possie (seat) next to the hitching post, where the locals tie their horses and listen to the wind dance through the toetoe grass.
The Waitakeres is the sort of place that, once discovered, provides the promise of many return visits. The rediscovery is always as good as the romance of falling in love with the place for the first time.
Titirangi Village – Gateway to the Waitakere Ranges only 30 mins from Auckland City or Auckland Airport.
French Bay – charming
Cornwallis Beach – beautiful winter beach walk
Kaitarakihi Beach – Manukau Harbour great picnic spot
Karekare – (next to Piha Beach) –filming location for The Piano
Bethells Beach – filming location for Xena Warrior
Murawai Beach – visit the gannet colonyBethells Beach – Filming location for Xena: Warrier Princess
KitiKiti Waterfall Track at Piha
Titirangi Book and Writers Festival in September
Titirangi Music festival at Easter
Craft market Titirangi Library car park – last Sunday of every month
Lopdell House Art Gallery – various exhibitions
Annual horse races at KareKare Beach
Chalet in The Ferns – Bed and Breakfast self-contained chalet offering seclusion and privacy www.theferns.co.nz
Photos by David Metcalf