Auckland: Hiking the Hillary Trail – Piha to Karekare leg

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The Hillary Trail is named after New Zealand’s most famous mountaineer – Sir Edmund Hillary. The trail extends through the beautiful native bush of the Waitakere ranges to the spectacular and rugged West Coast. The entire trail can be done in 4 days (3 nights), staying at basic camping grounds or you can choose to do different sections at your leisure. We have just walked the Piha to Karere (return) leg and absolutely loved it.

This was the third time I have walked this leg. I have walked it with friends several years ago, when it was raining and then yesterday I walked it with all my camera gear. Today I got to really enjoy the scenery and natural beauty the West Coast of Auckland offers.

Hike through dense native New Zealand bush

Hike through dense native New Zealand bush

There are two paths you can hike to Karekare. The easiest is the Ahu Ahu Track which can be accessed from Te Ahuahu Road or Log Race Road (take the Mercer Bay Loop trail). Now when I say easy, be warned that the return leg is quite steep in places and a reasonable level of fitness is required. Dress appropriately eg. good footwear and take plenty of water! Allow two hours plus whatever time you spend at the beautiful Karekare Beach – film location of Jane Campion’s “The Piano”.

The second and more rugged option is the Comans Track. This trail runs closer to the coast and is for the more experienced hiker. I hiked this trail the first time I visited. A good option is to take the Comans Track one way and the Ahuahu Track for the return.

The first point of interest is the coastal lookout(s) near at the north end of Mercer Bay. Steep granite cliffs plunge into the wild surf. They are truly spectacular and my photos do not do them justice in terms of their sheer scale.

Sheer cliff faces plunge into the wild ocean below

Sheer cliff faces plunge into the wild ocean below

This area is overlooked by a magnificent carving or pou. The carved pou symbolises the manawhenua, or spiritual guardianship of Te Kawerau a Maki, the local Tangata Whenua. It relates specifically to an early Tupuna, Hinerangi who suffered the tragic loss of her husband while fishing. Hinerangi died of a broken heart and legend says that her face can still be see etched into the rock face of the headland where she sat, longing for her husbands return.

The magnificient carved Hinerangi guards the headland

The magnificient carved Hinerangi guards the headland

Even without the guardianship of Hinerangi, you can tell that this is a spiritual spot. Take at least a few minutes here to take in the views and breath in the fresh coastal air. The views here are worth the 45 minute drive from Auckland alone.

The trail then heads south, hugging the coastline of Mercer Bay. At the time of writing, the Pohutukawa trees are in full bloom, the Flax bushes are in flower and Toi Toi dance in the wind. This makes the view looking down to Mercer Bay unforgettable and quintessentially New Zealand.

The magnificent view looking towards Mercer Bay

The magnificent view looking towards Mercer Bay

As you get closer to Karekare, the trail steepens downwards through quite dense native bush. Lookout for the plump and colourful Kererú (Wood Pigeon) feeding on seeds and berries.

Toi Toi dance to rhythm of the coastal breeze

Toi Toi dance to rhythm of the coastal breeze

The Pohutukawa is New Zealand's Christmas Tree

The Pohutukawa is New Zealand’s Christmas Tree

Both trails end at the Watchmans Road carpark. It is then an easy 2 minute walk along the Karekare stream to the beach where you can catch your breath and replenish yourself for the return journey.

You can find out more about this leg and the rest of the Hillary Trail at http://www.aucklandnz.com/discover/hillary-trail-waitakere-ranges.

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