Here at Tāmaki Makaurau we are very lucky to have the stunning Waitākere Ranges at our back door.
For the past four years, essential work has been carried out to improve the tracks and reduce the spread of the kauri dieback disease.
A number of these trails have now reopened, including the breathtaking Gibbons Track along the West Coast. As we begin to head into warmer weather, now is a great time to start planning a weekend outing with the whānau.
Part of the Te Ara o Hillary/Hillary Trail, the Gibbons Track between Whatipū and the Pararaha Valley takes you through peaceful native bushland and offers stunning views of Auckland’s west coast. Make sure you have a camera or phone handy to capture the scenery.
Crossing the terrain from the campsite, the first section is a short, steep climb to the top of a hill. But damn it’s worth burning the leg muscles briefly – the rest of the trail fades out and soon you’re presented with jaw-dropping views from the first Gibbons vantage point on the Manukau Heads, Whatipū Beach and Whatipū Science Reserve.
Managed by Auckland Council, it is an area of great natural beauty where sand dunes, wetlands and lakes are home to rare and endangered birds like dotterels.
As the trail heads inland, coastal views are traded for a landscape of dramatic hills, plunging ravines and dense, vibrant bush.
Eventually you come to an intersection of three tracks; taking a left along the Muir Track will take you on a steady descent, partly along the scenic Pararaha Stream, to the Pararaha Valley Track.
It takes you through ever-changing landscapes, such as swamps, sand dunes and steep cliffs, and the new boardwalks mean you don’t have to wade through marshes.
You can continue to Karekare Beach to finish, but you’ll need someone to pick you up. For a bigger challenge, head back along the dramatic black sands of Whatipū Beach, one of the most remote and scenic spots in the region. This loop is 14 km long and takes about five hours, so it is best to have a good physical condition (the track is considered medium/difficult and is not suitable for strollers or wheelchairs). Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to stop to take photos and soak up the scenery.
But this adventure is far from over: shortly before returning to your car, you will have the opportunity to visit the mysterious caves of Whatipū. These are also accessible directly from the campground (30-45 minute round trip) if you can’t do the full hike. Remember to take a torch and wear rubber boots if it is – or has been – wet as it can get muddy.
Don’t forget to take food, water, sunscreen and your phone – mobile coverage is spotty – but sorry, you’ll have to leave your dog at home. Always check the weather before you go and let someone know where you are going. Finally, don’t forget to check that the slopes are open before you leave the house.