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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Rapaki Track- Port Hills, Christchurch

My first walk back in N.Z. Something I’d been dreaming about for a while. Its strange when you’ve been thinking about a forthcoming event for such a long time, that when it finally happens you’re in a bit of a daze. It was in such a daze that I left my girlfriend’s mum’s house and headed out for my walk. Full of jet-lag and anticipation. I’d planned this walk even before I’d landed after the 24 hour flight.

I started from the Christchurch suburb of Beckenham and would head for the hills! The Port Hills to be precise. A range of hills that separate Christchurch City from the port of Lyttelton, popular with locals and tourists alike. My plan would be to head to the top of Mt Vernon via the Rapaki Track and back in time for lunch.

After walking through the quietness of suburbia, my walk would really start at the Mount Vernon Valley Track Car Park- at the end of Hillsborough Road. This would then lead me on the gradual northern slopes of the Port Hills. The accessibility of the track is superb, which is why it’s such a popular walking, cycling and running track in Christchurch. Within 15 mins from the front door, I was walking through the car park and at the trailhead.

Bell Bird singing away

Straight away I was immersed in native bush. The sounds that had once become so familiar when I’d lived in New Zealand were filling my ears again. Bell bird, Fantail and Tui all producing their strange calls over the hum of cicadas.

Quickly after starting, I realised I wasn’t quite on the right track and needed to head to the other side of the steep valley. This was easily rectified by taking a track called ‘Roger’s Seat’ that I saw would connect up with the Rapaki Track. Passing a beautifully positioned bench that faced the city (Roger’s Seat), I was soon on the main track.

The Rapaki Track isn’t a hidden gem or Christchurch’s best kept secret. Its well known to the locals. But, it’s still a fantastic route by any stretch. Bikes and fellow pedestrians use this track for recreation now, but the current track follows the route Maori once used to get to the small settlement of Rapaki from Otautahi (Christchurch).

View of Christchurch from the track

The well maintained track and the gradual ascent made for a leisurely walk, giving me time to take in the fantastic views of Christchurch. The Southern Alps providing a beautiful backdrop to the city.

The Rapaki Track stretches out in front as you climb. Bush quickly gives way to the parched grassy slopes and gnarled, weathered tips of the hills. The slopes on which I was walking are part of a volcano that would have been very active some 6 million years ago, but now (thankfully) extinct and showing its age through wind blown scars and tors.

With one last, slightly steeper section, the path hits the crest of the hill. Now, I don’t know what I was expecting, but, I had a pretty big shock when I reached the road at the top of the track. The view towards Banks Peninsula was incredible. Maybe for the people that live around there and have grown up with it, it’s not so impressive. But for me, someone who hasn’t, it was spectacular. In fact, I’m sure any Cantabrian would still find it one hell of a view.

I sat on a rock to take in the view for a while. Lyttelton Harbour looked so serene in the early morning sun, with the water as calm as a mill pond. Sat on this little perch overlooking the harbour, I was introduced to more of New Zealand’s residents. Swallows flew just above the grass looking for insects and sitting on barbed wire just asking me to take photos of them.

Then, perhaps New Zealand’s most famous resident (after the Kiwi and Frodo of course) made itself known. Yes, the sheep! I think for my first walk back in N.Z it was appropriate to see some wooly jumpers.

After a short rest, it was time to do the last climb up to the summit of Mount Vernon. This just meant following the road slightly west and then heading up the ‘Crater Rim Walkway’ signposted to the summit. At only 462m, it’s not exactly the tallest lump. However, the views from the top were panoramic. From here you could see a huge swathe of the Southern Alps and the beautiful Banks Peninsula. A few snaps and a swig of water later, I was heading back down Mt Vernon and towards the direction I had come.

View of Banks Peninsula from the Summit

Back onto the Rapaki Track, but with a slight variation. On the return journey, I decided to vere off the Rapaki Track and take the Valley Track which runs parallel to the Rapaki- but on the other side of the Valley. I actually somewhat preferred the return journey. It was quieter on the Valley Track, just a small single path hugging the bottom of the Valley.

Wax Eye/Silver Eye

Once again, the track went back into the bush. This gave me the chance to stop for a while and take some photos of the array of birds that were present. Fantails whizzed around my head almost constantly. Saying ‘Haha, you can’t get a photo of me!’. Well, eventually one stayed still long enough for me to get a quick snap.

Curious Fantail

The path then led me back to the car park where I started the trail. I sat for a while to contemplate about the last few hours and think about how to blog about it.

After having looked forward to this walk for such a long time, it didn’t disappoint. Not that it ever could. This walk was just a reminder of what N.Z has to offer the walker. From a quiet suburb to a breathtaking view and back again, all in one morning. I’m just itching to get out and explore as much as I can of this country. I know there is so much out there to see, and a whole lot to learn!

On Foot Notes

Map Needed: Topo50 map BX24

Rapaki Track/Mount Vernon Tracks- Christchurch City Council

More info on the history and also for volunteering opportunities in the Port Hills- Summit Road Society