Oases of civilisation in the Waitakere Ranges

For all its wild, deserted coastline and its vast, untamed and uninterrupted bush, the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park has some picturesque and equally appealing oases of civilisation.

Carving at the Arataki Visitor Centre
Carving at the Arataki Visitor Centre

Firstly, there’s Titirangi. Once a service town for the farmers and bushmen who worked in the region in the early days, for over half a century it has been an enclave for artists, craftspeople, writers and musicians. It is a pretty little village, with lovely and beautifully restored old buildings, from quaint colonial to sleek art deco cinema. Nestled deep in the bush between the hills, in a truly inspirational setting and blessed nowadays with some great cafes, restaurants and shops, it’s a great spot to limp into after a great day out in the bush and on the beach.

Then there’s the Arataki Visitor Centre. Arataki means pathway to learning. At the centre visitors of every age can learn the story of Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa and Te Kawarau o Maki, the tangata whenua, or original people of the area. They can learn about the park’s flora and fauna, out its history and its future. Here Park staff offer help planning tours of the region and advice on how to get the best out of all it has to offer, safely. Designed by the local, Karekare architect, Harry Turbott, the building is a fine example of a modern, truly bi-cultural New Zealand architecture. It features a large pou (post) at the entrance and stunning interior whakairo (carvings). Fashioned out of two giant kauri from the surrounding forest, they depict the ancestors of Te Kawarau o Maki. The sweeping decks on the outside of the building offer panoramic views over the park and a great vantage point from which the less intrepid and capable can enjoy its vast and rugged splendor.

Finally, there’s Elevation. Hidden just under the brow of one of the Waitakere’s highest hills and 361 metres above sea level, this restaurant is worth visiting for the view alone. Look back and you take in the city of sails one side to the other and the Auckland region from coast to coast – the 28 volcanoes, the flats of South Auckland, the beaches, the parks – the lot. Look ahead and you take in forest as far as the eye can see. It’s breathtaking.  Elevation also serves up some really mean cuisine!