It’s been pretty damp lately, with flooding across Auckland and multiple tropical storms blasting through. (I’m talking about the weather, does that make me old?)
Most recently we were warned of, former cyclone, now the extra-tropical storm, Cook. And so they were shutting workplaces sending people home, cancelling Easter holiday plans. Mine included.
The storm blew past and my laundry didn’t even blow off the line.
SO! I ignored all the warnings of heavy rain, quickly got some gear together for myself and my girlfriend. Told some people where we were headed (safety first). And off we went into the Waitaks!
I should probably have done this as multiple posts, and it’s pretty long. SO BUCKLE UP KIDS, AND ENJOY THE RIDE
Now the Hillary Trail runs from the suburb of Titirangi, through the Waitakere ranges, and up the wild west coast of Auckland.
Because of my incredible organisational skills, impeccable planning, and foresight, I hadn’t arranged anything. Luckily the fantastic Auckland Regional parks set us up with a very good map and helped us book the appropriate campsites. However, due to heavy rain in the past and forecast, a number of the campsites were closed. By the time we had this all figured out, the afternoon was getting away on us, and we left the trail head asap.
Luckily the first leg of our trip just takes us to the coastal town of Huia, a gentle walk with a few rolling hills to get you into the swing of things. This Leg is rated at about 5 hours and is approximately 12km long.
- Crossing under your first waterfall of the trail
- A massive dam with a rather scary water inlet
- The Arataki visitor center at the trailhead itself.
So we rolled into town with the tide receding and chose to walk through the bay, making the most of the setting sun. But… where the F#*& is the campsite? After wandering around till it started to get a little too close to dark, we made camp in a local park, knowing we were close to the campsite and could find it in the morning. It was literally across the road…
On our second day, I had originally planned to camp in one of the closer sites, only to be told they were closed, and booked into McCreadies Paddock, on the northern side of Karekare. Making it a rather long day! Turns out, it wasn’t just the most challenging due to distance, it also had the most aggressive climbs of the journey. Which at least lent itself to some beautiful photographs. After a break and some food at Whatipu, we head off again, up the Gibbons track, onto the Muir Track, and down Pararaha Valley with its imposing cliffs. Here we were supposed to cross a small stream. But it had obviously swollen very high recently, luckily it was only knee height by this point. We crossed it very cautiously. And finally admited to ourselves, our feet are going to be very wet. Out of the valley into the lagoons, they council has constructed boardwalks, protecting the lagoons from you, and you from the lagoons. THEY WERE ALMOST UNDERWATER! The closed campsites making more sense now.
Sadly we aren’t as fit as we would like to think, and for the second night in a row, we didn’t make it to our intended campsite. Instead, staying at one of the “closed” campsites, Tunnel Point, just south of Karekare.
- Views up the Manukau Harbour, and out to the open ocean.
- Feeling accomplished as you summit a massive peak.
- Feeling discouraged as you realise the higher one in front of you is next.
We have no idea how far we went, or even how far we were supposed to go, but we were about 2 km short of our goal and I made the decision that Tunnel Point was the safer option for the night, while the lagoons nearby made me a little uncomfortable, the large cliffs at our back made for some interesting acoustics with the wildlife.
After another night of staying where we weren’t supposed to, we set off full of energy and enthusiasm. Till Mahalia had to get her feet wet again. Up the beach and into the hills above Karekare we went. Sadly I was struggling this morning, a very poor sleep had me lagging behind a little. But once I’d had a bite to eat we were up and moving again. We were in some of the most popular tracks of the Waitakeres this day, and with it being a public holiday, there was plenty of activity on the trails. Doing part of the Mercer Bay loop, and crossing above and below the Kitekite falls, we even found some of Auckland’s traffic, which I had even less patience for out in the bush.
- Mercer Bay loop, with the weather turning a little wild, it had some awesome views
- Kitekite Falls of course, with all the heavy rain they weren’t as calm or clear as usual, but I kinda like it that way.
- Piha beach (embarrassingly as a westie, I had never actually been to Piha)
- Interrupting the couple getting down in their van next to the trail
- Views from above north Piha and Anawhata. Incredible.
- MAKING IT TO OUR DESIGNATED CAMPSITE
Such a good day, we really got into the rhythm, even though there were some challenges, we just kept on trucking and made excellent time. There’s a little bit of road walking in this section, which was probably to our advantage!
We spent the night at Craw Farm, just off Anawhata road. What a beautiful place.
Technically we should be walking our longest day. With 2 choices for end points, Swanson or Muriwai. BUUUUT we kinda cheated. My Dad was going to be out at Bethells just after midday, and with little other choices we decided this was going to be the end of the Hillary trail for us, but with the caveat that we would go and do the Tehenga walkway to Muriwai another time.
With our destination in sight and our bellies heavier, packs lighter, we set off. Downhill, and down, and down. Then up, the longest up I could imagine, thighs burning, sweat dripping off us. Each bend in the track just revealing another hill to climb. Kuataika track is described on the Auckland council website as “…descends steeply through bush to cross Anawhata Stream. The track then climbs very steeply to open ridge which it follows down to Kuataika Stream. From here, the track climbs continuously…” DOESNT CAPTURE HALF OF IT. It was truly challenging, but if it wasn’t, there would be no reward. Near the top, the track split, so we dropped our packs and wandered up to the Kuataika summit and trig a few minutes away. Once back on the trail we followed the ridge down to the Wainamu junction, where you can continue up the coast, or turn inland towards Swanson. From here we went down Houghtons Gully. I though the hill before went on forever, but compared to this it was a breeze, the heavy rain had washed out most of the track leaving it a slick clay face for me to skate down. Luckily while my balance was tested, I kept my feet the whole way down, while Mahalia laughed at me.
From here we quickly skirted Bethell’s lake, an amazing swimming spot in summer, surrounded by towering sand dunes. ASAP we kicked our shoes off and wandered up the stream to the carpark where our way home was waiting.
What an amazing trip, a great eye opener about my gear, my fitness, and the way I hike.
All of the photos have been taken with my Sony NEX-3n, no post processing at all. I’m not a photographer and barely know which end of the camera to hold.
Shout outs to Merrel for hooking me up with an amazing fleece, it’s super warm, light weight and packs down small. Along with some shoes, sadly the ones they sent me just wouldn’t fit my feet properly, luckily they have a huge range of styles built off the same MOAB platform and the mid-ankle option eliminated all the heel slip trouble I was having.
THANKS FOR READING ALL THE WAY DOWN HERE! HIGH FIVE! Enoy this picture of us as reward!