The Wonders of the Waitakeres

The Waitakere Ranges are the eroded remnants of an ancient volcano that erupted over 20 million years ago.  Today they dominate the western skyline of Auckland City, rising up to 474m at the highest point.  This stunning region covers more than 17,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastline – it’s where pristine bush, thriving native wildlife and rugged black sand surf beaches come together.   Although less than an hour’s drive from the city centre, the ‘wild west’ feels like another world away and is ready to share its natural treasures, highlights and hidden gems with you!

Have a look, select what appeals to you and include those in your Awesome Walks Itinerary.

Arataki Visitor Centre

The Arataki Visitor Centre is the official gateway to the Waitakere Ranges and all that the park has to offer. This informative stop offers breath-taking views looking east towards Auckland as well as numerous bushwalks which depart from the centre and explore the surrounding forest.

Inside the centre itself, visitors can get the latest trail info and  learn about the region’s history and unique flora and fauna. Plus there’s a really great little gift shop with a selection of local and New Zealand made products, the profits from the sale of which go back into helping look after the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park.

Ark in the Park

Ark in the Park is a partnership between Forest and Bird and the Auckland Council.

It is an eco-restoration project in the Cascade Kauri Park in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park that aims to control non-native pests and predators and thus help restore the ecology of the area to its natural state.

Although there are no physical barriers between the Ark in the Park and the surrounding forest, the continuous operation of predator control within its boundaries creates a “mainland island “of sanctuary compared to the risk- laden forest around, allowing the existing flora and fauna to recover.  In addition, a programme of species restoration has started, with successful reintroductions of whitehead, North Island robin, and kokako.

Birds and Native Plant Life

The Waitakere Ranges are botanically rich and diverse, containing 20% of all New Zealand’s flowering plant species and 60% of all native fern species.   The Ranges are home to:

  • 542 species of native plants (111 species of these being native ferns)
  • Many species of nationally threatened and regionally threatened plants
  • 50 species of native birds
  • 3 species of kauri snails (large land snail)
  • 11 species of native freshwater fish
  • 5 species of native reptiles
  • 1 native frog
  • 1 native mammal, a long-tailed bat

(Statistics drawn from a number of sources)

Golf

No matter what level of golf you play, you’ll find several options in the Waitakere Ranges, many nestled amongst truly magnificent native bush surrounds with breath-taking views. With beautiful courses adjacent to the Cascades Kauri Park Reserve and in Titirangi and Swanson, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

The Hillary Trail

The Hillary Trail is a spectacular multi-day tramping trip through native forest and along the wild coast of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Located an hour north-west of metropolitan Auckland, this self-guided 76km trail is a challenging adventure.  It passes through a wide range of environments – regenerating rainforest, stands of mature kauri, coastal forest, rocky shores and black-sand beaches.

The inspiration behind the trail is New Zealand’s great mountaineer and explorer, Sir Edmund Hillary, who came to the rugged hills of the Waitakere Ranges to prepare for his great expeditions

Magnificent Kauri

Sadly, only a small part of the present day Waitakere vegetation is not markedly modified by past felling or burning for about a century from the 1940’s.  Thankfully some individual original giant kauri specimens can be found on many of the walks and tracks, and there are also some stands of the beautiful giants that weren’t prey to loggers:

  • Kauri Grove Track in the Kitekite Valley runs through a stand of kauri set aside as a private reserve when forest around it was being cleared.
  • The Cascade Park kauris in the Waitakere catchment were saved when acquired from the Kauri Timber Company by Auckland City Council in 1926.

Especially for Kids

Arataki Nature Trail

A beautiful introduction for young (and not-so-young!) people to the flora and fauna of the Waitakere Ranges! The track is really a network of three gravelled loop walks – the Identification Loop is short and level, while the upper and lower loops contain graded descents and ascents. The kauri knoll at the end of the lower track is recommended as a great example of remnant Kauri forest.

Whoa Studios

Creating a million smiles, Whoa Studios is undoubtedly the most exciting new family destination in Auckland.  The Urban Playground is truly a one of its kind – featuring movie-set quality attractions and the Whoa Web, New Zealand’s only crochet play-net that will delight and exercise your kids.

Their state-of-the-art main stage will immerse everyone in an unforgettable live show experience with advanced digital projection and a sound system to shake the walls!

Local Markets

Oratia Farmers Market

This authentic farmer market (and the only one in Auckland that is actually on a farm!) takes place every Saturday morning in the all-weather permanent marketplace.  It specialises in fresh quality food produce and products and aims to be a one-stop shop for customers’ fresh goods and artisan food.  Great coffee and breakfast is available and there is live music.

Titirangi Village Market

Taking place on the last Sunday of each month from February to November and twice in December, the Titirangi Village Market is an integral part of the heart and soul of Titirangi culture. Indoor and outdoor and come rain or shine, it features over 130 stalls of arts, crafts, produce and information, live music, café food and organic coffee.  Proceeds to the Titirangi Rudolf Steiner School.

Te Atatu Peninsula Artisan & Handmade Market

Nestled in the heart of Te Atatu Peninsula township, this small, friendly and unique market celebrates Kiwi creativity and talent one Saturday per month.  Each market day it features an ever-changing smorgasbord of artisan and handmade products by talented artists and craftspeople who love what they do. Proceeds support Hospice West Auckland.

Montana Heritage Trail

This 8km loop trail in the Cascades Kauri Park is the result of a partnership between the Auckland Regional Council and Montana Wines Limited and has become an iconic Waitakere Ranges walk and a great way to see the results that the Ark in the Park project has achieved. Enjoy a quiet time in ancient and regenerating forest, a hidden cascading waterfall, spectacular views, bountiful birdlife, some special picnic spots and interpretive panels for more information on the trail along the way.
This trail can be incorporated into an Awesome Walks itinerary.

Muriwai Gannet Colony

Muriwai’s gannet colony is a treat for bird lovers. There is an accessible, close viewing platform above the main colony area and, out to sea, the colony continues on two vertical-sided islands. About 1,200 pairs of gannets nest here from August to March each year – during this time it is hugely entertaining to watch the comings and goings of this busy colony.

The nests are just centimetres apart. It’s an air traffic controller’s nightmare, but somehow the birds have it under control. Those coming in to land must glide over the squawking raised beaks of their neighbours – so getting it wrong can be painful. These two-and-a-half kilogram birds have a wingspan of two metres, and their mastery of the onshore updrafts is impressive to say the least.

Piha Radar Station

The strategic advantage of the commanding view from Hikurangi, the high hill at the southern end of Piha was identified by the defence forces protecting New Zealand from attack during World War 2 and was a logical location for the then new weaponry of radar.

Hikurangi thus became the home of Radar Unit Number 4, a cluster of buildings housing the sophisticated equipment run by air force personnel and, towering above, the huge revolving aerial which scanned the skies and seas for signs of enemy presence.

Whilst most of the buildings have since been relocated, the concrete foundations and a marine beacon mark this dramatic site and a well-crafted series of interpretive boards recount its history.

(Source: On the Radar by Sandra Coney)

Walking Tracks

The ranges are a wonderful place to explore on foot, surrounded by spectacular scenery. With over 250 kilometres of walking tracks, there are options to match your available time, level of experience and stamina.  Awesome Walks itineraries combine many of the favourites.

Waterfalls

On many short walks deep into the ranges you’ll discover spectacular waterfalls and their associated streams, pools and scenery. Some of the best known include the Kitekite Falls, Fairy Falls, Karekare Falls, Karamatura Falls.

Wild Surf

At the base of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park you’ll find the wonderfully wild and beautiful west coast black-sand surf beaches of Whatipu, Karekare, Piha, Te Henga (Bethells),  Muriwai and Karioitahi.

Several life-saving clubs protect the lives of those who visit these beaches – whilst lifesaving is their foremost concern, many also have teams of athletes who successfully compete in surf sports regionally, nationally and internationally.

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