The spectacular, densely-clustered, thickly forested hills of the Waitakere ranges are bordered by a stunning coastline of soaring cliffs, dramatic black sand beaches and wild surf.
Turning off the main highway, we wind down a perilously narrow road. The bush crowds in on either side. Huge ponga trees fan overhead. There is no sign of civilization – no glimpse of a house between the trees, no passing car. The road flattens beneath us and the bush thins. We reach the wild, west coast at Karekare Beach. It’s a movie set land and seascape. On one side is the lonely windswept beach with its black sand and wild unruly surf, which formed the spectacular back-drop to scenes in Jane Campion’s The Piano. On the other side, steep cliffs soar skywards, their feet in thick bush. A sm of white water cascades down a strip of dark rock.
We leave the car and follow a steep narrow path through the bush to a crystal clear pool at the foot of the falls. Everything here seems larger and brighter than life; the tall pukapuka trees, with their soft broad leaves, (known to the locals as the Maori toilet paper!) the harakeke (flax) of Jurassic Park proportions. Even the delicate silver fern, our national emblem seems twice its usual size.
Back in the car we press on to Piha, another star beach, this time of the TV series Surf Rescue. One of New Zealand’s best surfing spots, it is also and one of its most dangerous beaches. The wind whips the iron sand off the beach and hurls it in our faces. A cold drizzle sets in and the black cliffs look dark and gloomy. The beach is deserted. But this, our guide assures us, is when Piha is at its most beautiful and powerful.
There’s a small square of weather-beaten of houses on the flat stretch of land just back from the beach. A few more cling precariously to the hillsides. It’s a wild and savagely beautiful place. There’s a feeling here that civilization is tenuous and that at any moment, nature could sweep it all away.