Lake Wainamu, Waitakere Ranges- Auckland

I’m not a New Zealander. I’ve spent enough time here to grasp some of it’s quirks though, and having a Kiwi partner for many years has meant that I’m lucky enough to now live here and have visited multiple times in the past. I’ve seen a lot of the country and walked through spectacular scenery. One thing that never gets old for me, though, is the sheer quantity and diversity of the landscapes within this cluster of islands in the South Pacific. Nature seems to be on steroids in this part of the world. You don’t have to travel for long before you’re confronted with some sort of mountain, gorge, volcano, beach, lake, cove, glacier, fiord, hot spring or waterfall. My recent trip to a popular and relatively local walk recently reminded me of this.

Although much of the walking tracks west of Auckland are closed due to Kauri Dieback, I thought that I’d still make the most of the tracks that are still open. One such track that has remained open is Lake Wainamu. Less than 40 mins from Auckland CBD, it was an obvious choice for a relaxed day walk.

A real contrasting landscape of different textures and colours. It would be the second time I’d visited the Lake- the first time nearly 5 years ago. I remembered the expanse of black sand dunes and impressive lake, but at the time I didn’t know about the track that skirts the edge of the water. So, Elishea and I would do the route that would take us over sand dunes and around the lake’s edge.

Piwakawaka (Fantail) introducing us to the area

Parking at the car park on Bethells Road, we were pleased to see spaces and that the walk would be relatively quiet. From the car park, we followed the stream for a short while before beginning the section across the dunes.

These dunes are seriously big. Created over the last 4500 years, they have gradually hemmed in a series of lakes, of which Wainamu is one. It’s an interesting landscape that you don’t come across everyday. In the centre of these dunes you’d be excused for thinking you were in a desert. They have the rolling wave-like look of the arabian deserts in films. Although, once we made our way over the crest of a large dune, the lake came into view. The stark black sand is in complete contrast with the other sides of the water. All around the lake is a vivid green, made up of nikau palm, kanuka and manuka bushes, while the direction from which we came is void of colour.

Once we’d walked to the lake’s shore, we began the track that leads around it’s edge. It’s a nice and easy amble along a fairly well maintained path. Every now and then, glimpses of the lake are framed by foliage.

I was expecting the rest of the walk to be similar until we reached the sand dunes again. But, because this is New Zealand, the walk would have another trick up it’s sleeve. Once we arrived at the opposite end of the lake, we were greeted to a waterfall that I hadn’t clocked on the map. Waitohi falls is a series of cascades, that after much rain I can imagine are quite impressive. Our visit, being after a particularly dry spell, meant the falls were modest, yet still relaxing and a lovely quiet spot to stop for a while.

Overlooking the falls is a Maori pou- a beautifully carved post that portrays the ancestor Kowhatukiteuru. Kowhatukiteuru was a skilled pa (fort) builder, who belonged to the Te Kawerau a Maki, the iwi of this area. He built some of the last remaining examples stone pa that sit above Lake Wainamu.

We ate our lunch in the good company of Kowhatukiteuru overlooking the falls. With lighter backpacks we said farewell and continued our circumnavigation of Wainamu. More manuka and fragrant kanuka trees were lining the sides of the path back to the dunes.

Once we approached the dunes we could see them from a different angle. No longer on top of them, from this perspective, walking towards them was like heading towards a giant tsunami of sand. A wave frozen in time just before it breaks.

Back at the dunes edge, with the wall of sand towering over us, we decided to follow the river back to the car instead of heading up and over. What a good decision it was. Following the river really accentuates the contrasting colours and textures that sit side by side. The river creates the border where sand stops, and grass and trees begin. On our left, a formidable wall of sand. On our right, a small farm surrounded by bush. To the left sand. To the right green. The only thing separating them, the small river bed we walked along.

It’s not long before the river led us back to where we began our walk. A walk of contrasts, colours, history and natural beauty. A walk where elements meet and make vivid distinctions. A walk that surely could only be done in Aotearoa.

On Foot

Route

Map Used: NZTopo50-BA30 Helensville

History of the Te Kawerau a Maki Iwi

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Rangitoto Island, Auckland- Summit and Coastal Track

Late one evening, a couple begin to argue. No ordinary couple, they are children of the Fire Gods and ‘Tapua’ (supernatural of sorts). In their frustration they curse Mahuika, the Fire Goddess. Once Mahuika gets wind of this, she goes to Mataoho, the God of Earthquakes and Volcanoes. She asks him to punish the couple for their cursing by destroying their mainland home in Auckland- a bit harsh if you ask me. So, Mataoho gets to work and swallows up the couples home and creates what is now Lake Pupuke on Auckland’s North Shore. In turn, from all the eruptions, Rangitoto Island is born. An island worthy of the dramatic myths that surround it.

I remember seeing the island for the first time and thinking that it looked like the lair of a super villain in a hollywood film. Unique and instantly recognizable by it’s perfectly conical shape, it’s a landscape that stirs the imagination. Rangitoto’s history is rich, and in geological terms, it’s recent.

View of Auckland City from Rangitoto

It was with childish excitement that Elishea (my partner) and I stepped off the ferry from downtown Auckland and headed out for a day of walking, bird-watching and exploring on Rangitoto Island. The plan for the day was to head directly from the wharf and up to the summit of the island. Then, we’d descend the eastern side of Rangitoto, eventually following the coastal path around the island’s perimeter and back to the wharf for the ferry home. This meant as soon as we got off the ferry, a reasonably steep track for a few kilometres.

Rangitoto is a volcano. A new arrival in geological terms too. It came into being only 600 years ago through a series of eruptions, making it the youngest island in the Hauraki Gulf. A landscape of lava fields and strange vegetation make for an otherworldly island escape only 25 mins ferry from Auckland City. It’s this lava rock that made for a hot ramble to the summit. The sharp black volcanic rock makes a home for an interesting array of specially adapted plants- that expertly cope with the hot, heat absorbing rock. Our ability to deal with the heat was somewhat less expertly and the climb to the summit was particularly warm as the heat radiated from the ground.

Fields of lava close to the base of Rangitoto

After passing through the sparsely vegetated and rugged lava fields at the base of the island, more and more tree cover appeared as we climbed higher towards the summit. Eventually, the tree cover got so thick you could call it bush. With the denser tree cover came birdsong. A lot of it too.

Angry-looking Fantail

Rangitoto is a pest free island. It means that rare and endangered birds like the saddleback and the curious kaka can live without fear of predation. It also means that people like myself can step on a ferry and within half an hour have the chance to see some beautiful and rare birdlife. That’s exactly what happened. We stopped in a cool and shady spot to enjoy lunch when a cacophony of birdsong began. Some recognizable, like Tui and Fantails, and other not so much. One of the voices that I didn’t recognize was that of the saddleback. A beautiful song by a beautiful bird. I wish I could have gotten a photo, but just to have seen three of them through binoculars made the trip worthwhile alone.

Tui

With lunch gone and sore necks from staring at the canopy, we made our way along the last section of track to the summit. Its an impressive sight. A huge bowl carpeted with all manner of trees. Another interesting fact about Rangitoto (of which there are many!) is that it has the largest Pohutukawa forest in the world! The bright-red flowered tree seems to love the coastal and arid environment of the island and their numbers are huge and cover much of Rangitoto.

Summit crater

The crater has a walking track going right around the rim. After taking in views across the crater, we walked around the rim to follow our route that would eventually lead us down the eastern side of Rangitoto.

As we descended from the summit, the landscape changed. Gone was the dense bush from nearer the top, replaced with the rocky, dry lava fields like the beginning of the walk. The track at this point was a wide unsealed road. Like much of the infrastructure on Rangitoto, this road was built by prisoner labour during the 1930’s.

In front of us, as we walked, was the view of Motutapu Island. Motutapu couldn’t be more different to Rangitoto. While Rangitoto is the newest island in the Hauraki Gulf, Motutapu its neighbour, is the oldest. They sit so close to each other that there is a small causeway between the two islands. It’s believed by archeologists that there were Maori living on Motutapu during Rangitoto’s eruptions 600 years ago. We neared our turning point at Islington bay, just before the track heading over to Motutapu.

We then followed the coastal track around Rangitoto, all the way back to the wharf. The coastal track led us past the beautiful Yankee wharf, where several boats bobbed in the shelter of Islington Bay. It provided great views across to Motutapu as we walked along the edge of the island. Then, the coastal route began to be… well… not very coastal.

View over Islington Bay towards Motutapu

The track cuts slightly inland and you begin to follow a winding and more demanding track than the rest of the walk. It’s nothing too crazy, but at the end of a long walk in the heat, it was more work than we expected. I’d definitely say that it requires decent footwear and good concentration to watch where you are putting your feet. The track continued to wind its way through some patches of trees and then spots of more arid open ground before arriving at the small bay where the wharf is.

It’s not a good sign when you see the ferry at the end of the wharf loading the last few passengers and you’re still at the other side of the bay. It was the penultimate ferry that we were trying to catch, but as we got to the wharf, the ferry pulled away. Feeling slightly disheartened at missing the ferry we sat down to decide on what to do for the last hour before the next one.

It turned out that missing that ferry was the best thing that could have happened. The island’s very kind DoC (Department of Conservation) ranger, seeing that we missed the ferry by seconds, took pity on us and offered us a cup of tea and gave us a list of things to do while we waited! This included going for a swim and having a look at the historic ‘baches’ just around the corner from the wharf.

Bach 38 Museum

If we hadn’t have missed that ferry I wouldn’t have got the chance to look around the Bach 38 Museum. This is a small and beautifully kept bach that’s laid out just as it would have been after its completion in 1927. The interior gave a real feel for what these 1920’s and 30’s recreational escapes would have been like. People from the city would make their way over on weekends to escape the hussle and bussle. They may not be the oldest buildings in the world, but the museum paints a very vivid picture about domestic life at that time. I’d recommend spending a few minutes to have a look around the museum if you’re over on the island.

Oystercatcher on the wharf

After a quick swim, it was soon time to get the last ferry. Be aware that if you miss the last ferry back (5 o’clock), it’s a lonely night or a long swim back to the city.

Rangitoto is a real treasure trove. It has an odd but relatively recent history and boasts an array of wildlife and strange landscapes. At $36 each from Auckland City, it’s a day walk for great value if you consider everything you can see in just a day. Remember, there aren’t any shops on the island so you need to bring food and water for the day. Also, do keep a track of the time, as the ferry will leave without you if you’re running late!

Lastly, Rangitoto stays a pest-free island from the hard work by DoC and volunteers. Such a fragile and special place can be severely damaged by any introduction of pests. Please do as the ferry staff say and check your bags and footwear thoroughly. There are also no bins on the island either, so take your litter home too.

On Foot Note

Route

Map used: NZtopo50- BA32- Auckland

Ferry timetables and fares

Bach 38 Museum

Rangitoto DoC

Goldie Bush Walkway and Mokoroa Stream Track- Waitakere Ranges, Auckland

A waterfall is a bit of a staple for a walk in NZ. With over 280 named waterfalls and rapids, it’s hard to pick a walk that doesn’t come across some form of tumbling H2O. Luckily, living in Auckland, there are quite a few just within an hours drive- some even in the city! It may rain a wee bit in NZ, but it has it’s up sides.

A waterfall that I’d yet to visit was Mokoroa Falls. At the Northern edge of the Waitakere Ranges, this waterfall and track (unlike many of its neighbours), was open after a closure period due to Kauri Dieback. DoC (Department of Conservation), who manage the Goldie Bush Scenic Reserve in which the falls sits, have reopened it after they improved the tracks to stop the spread of the disease.

Beautiful Koru

The plan was, for myself and my partner (Elishea), to head to the Goldie Bush Car Park, then take the Goldie Bush Walkway and the Mokoroa Stream Track to the waterfall. Then, just a short ramble along the Mokoroa Falls Track back to the car. It looked to be a fairly short, but varied route. 6 km in total. It turned out to be constantly interesting, engaging and beautiful.

From the car park, the work that DoC have done in the area is evident. An extensive Kauri Dieback cleaning station and lots of information for visitors to learn about their role in preventing the spread. After cleaning our boots, Elishea and I began walking down a shaded and well laid track. On such a hot day, we were grateful for the cover of the bush from the sun. A real diverse and interesting mix of plant life passed by as we walked.

Rimu and kauri trees gave way to nikau and ponga, and then back again. Every now and then, there were stick insects making their way across the track in their awkward and comical way. It was just great to see and hear a place so alive. Tuis called above in the canopy, but barely audible over the deafening cicadas.

Before long, we’d come to the end of our section on the Goldie Bush Walkway and were ready to switch to the Mokoroa Stream Track instead. To signal this change, there was another NZ staple. The swingbridge. Suspended high over the Mokoroa Stream, we made our way across and down to the stream and began heading almost back on ourselves. The swingbridge is always a great addition to any walk. It gives you an excuse to stop for a while and a platform to take it all in from. Also, being above the canopy, a different and higher perspective too.

So, after the swingbridge we dropped down to the stream, where we would follow it upstream to Mokoroa Falls. The track is easily followed, but you do need to keep an eye out for the orange markers that point where to go next. As with any walking track, there are places where people have either taken a wrong turn, or tried a short-cut. These all leave their trace and it’s important to not make the same mistake as others and look ahead to where the orange markers are.

There are a couple of things to mention about this track. One, you are most definitely going to get your feet wet! The track crosses the stream many times on the way to the waterfall and try as you might, you’re not going to make it all the way without getting soggy toes. That being said, it’s advised not to do the track after periods of heavy rain as the stream may be too fast flowing. The final thing is that the track does require a good level of fitness. There are small scrambles up and slippery rocks to manoeuvre. DoC describe it as an ‘Experienced tramper’s track’, so just be sensible.

After many crossings of the stream, seeing a kingfisher or two and some stunningly serene pools, we arrived at Mokoroa Falls. Not just a dribble, this is beautiful cascade measures nearly 11m high. Although we’d had some very dry weather just recently, it was still quite a sight.

A great place to stop, have some lunch and empty some of the stream out of our boots. Ahead of us was still a short walk back to the car which involved climbing a set of steps up to a viewing platform.

A lone shag that was feeding in the pool below the falls

Fueled up and ready for the last leg, we ascended the steps to the platform. From the edge of the viewing platform the view was even more impressive. It showed the lush valley in which the stream sits and the full extent of the falls. Eventually though, we had to tear ourselves from this watery scene and make our way along the Mokoroa Falls Track, back to the car.

It was a short amble back to the car from the falls. I can honestly say, I didn’t want it to end. It was one of the most diverse, engaging and exciting walks I’d been on in a long time. A real feast for the senses. For a hot day, I can’t think of a better walk than the one we did. Shaded by bush while cooling off in the stream. Also, with a waterfall, swingbridge, a few scrambles and a bundle of wildlife- all in under 7 km!

All of this, only 38 mins from our front door in Auckland City. The Waitakere Ranges have done it again. Auckland’s wild west proving that you don’t have to go too far to get in touch with nature or have a little adventure.

On Foot Note

Map Used: NZtopo50- BA30- Helensville

Route

DoC Track Update
Goldie Bush Walkway
Mokoroa Stream Track

Kauri Dieback Information