To the West of Auckland, little more than an hour’s drive from the CBD is the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, or Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa (the great forest of Tiriwa)
700 years ago, the Tangata Whenua (people of the land) Te Kawarau o Maki, hunted and gathered here in a forest rich with berries and birds and along a coastline rich with seafood. With the arrival of the pakeha, the area became the domain of farming and forestry. Dams were built to float logs downstream and mills were set up to log them. Thousands of hectares of bush were destroyed.
Fortunately much of it survived. Nowadays, Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa is a giant playground, which includes more than 16,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastline. There are 250 kilometres of walking tracks, dotted with stunning, secluded spots for fishing, swimming and surfing, picnicking and camping.
Within the park are some of the country’s oldest and tallest kauri trees, as well as other precious natives, like rimu and kahikatea. Indigenous birds, like pipiwhaurauroa or the shining cuckoo, tui, kereru and piwakawaka, or fantail thrive here. Te Wao nui o Tiriwa is also home to Kauri snails, pupu rangi, pepeke (Hochsetter’s frog) and pekapeka ( long-tailed bat). At dusk, titiwai or glow-worms light the bush darkness.
Thanks to Operation Forest Save, a campaign by the Auckland Regional Council, large areas of bush have regenerated and larger numbers of native birds have returned. However, many pests continue to threaten the area, most particularly possums which devour 20 tonnes of vegetation in the Waitakere Ranges every night.
Also located in this great forest and fed by the abundant rains it attracts, are the huge reservoirs, built between 1910 and 1970, that Auckland city’s water.
Many bush loving, brave and ingenious refugees from the big smoke make their homes in the Waitakere. Often, they’re harder to spot than the timid bush-dwelling birds. Letter boxes and the beginnings of driveways hint at habitation, but few rooftops break the line of the bush. By law here, you cannot displace a tree. If a tree stands where you plan to build your house, then the tree must remain and you must build around it. The bush is sacrosanct.