Tag Archives: Waitakere Ranges

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!

Auckland’s Wild West Coast

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.

Piha Beach
Piha Beach

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.

 

The Waitakere Ranges National Park

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)

The Waitakere Ranges National Park
The Waitakere Ranges National Park

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.