The 9 Best Walks in the Waitakere Ranges

aerial shot of beach with breaking waves and cliffs

David Marano Photography / Getty Images

Auckland is New Zealand's biggest city, but it's not all a concrete jungle. In the west of the city's boundaries are the Waitakere Ranges, a mountainous area covered in forest that reaches down to the sea. It's a popular weekend getaway with city-dwelling Aucklanders. As well as the rugged black-sand beaches (which are generally better for experienced surfers than casual swimmers), there are many short walks and longer hikes within the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and beyond the park's boundaries along the coastline. Here are a few of the best.

Note: In recent years, several trails and areas of the Waitakere Ranges have been closed to visitors due to the threat of kauri dieback disease to the native kauri tree. This disease has been a problem throughout New Zealand but nowhere more so than in the Waitakere Ranges. It's crucial to check up-to-date information about trail closures before setting off on a hike. Some closures are temporary, while others have been long-lasting. Even where trails are open, it's essential to thoroughly clean your shoes before embarking on a hike because the disease is transported through the soil. If you see shoe-washing stations at the entrances to tracks, make sure to use them.

01 of 09

Te Henga Walkway

Wide shot of Bethells Beach

TripSavvy / Maria Ligaya

301 Bethells Road, Waitākere, Muriwai 0781, New Zealand
Phone +64 9 301 0101

Te Henga is the te reo Maori name for Bethells Beach, one of the most popular of West Auckland's beaches and just northwest of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. The Te Henga Walkway is a 6.5-mile (one way) trail that connects Bethells Beach and Muriwai Beach (a famous gannet breeding spot). Most of the cliffside trail is classified as easy, whereas some sections are intermediate and slippery and steep. The trail offers excellent views of the coastline as it remains relatively high for most of the walk. It can be started at Bethells Beach or Muriwai Beach, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) recommends allowing about 3.5 hours to complete the one-way track.

02 of 09

Upper Huia Dam via Huia Dam Road

aerial shot of a dammed lake surrounded by forest and a thin waterfall

 WAIL / Getty Images

Upper Huia Reservoir, Tāmaki-makau-rau, New Zealand

There are several dams and reservoirs within the Waitakere Ranges, and each offers different hiking experiences. In the southern part of the ranges, the Upper Huia Dam track via Huia Dam Road is a 7.5-mile trail mostly along a sealed road. If you're looking for a shorter hike, the Huia Lookout track is an easy half-mile walk, or the Waitakere Dam walk in the north of the park is an easy 2 miles.

03 of 09

Whatipu Caves Track

Huia, Auckland 0604, New Zealand
Phone +64 9 301 0101

The Whatipu Caves, at the southern tip of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, are a scenic place to hike to, and their history is pretty interesting, too. The sea caves in the cliffs were used as shelters for centuries, and in the late 19th century, a kauri-wood ballroom dance floor was housed in one of them (it's mostly buried now). Party-goers would trek along the rugged coast with their finest clothes for a bit of fun. Imagine that as you trudge along a muddy path with waterproof boots! Nowadays, the Whatipu Caves are a two-mile walk from the Whatipu Carpark. The trail passes wetlands and native bush and can be muddy at times, hence the need for sturdy footwear.

04 of 09

Mercer Bay Loop Track

aerial shot of steep cliffs and sheltered beach with breaking waves

 Oliver Strewe / Getty Images

Log Race Road, Piha 0772, New Zealand
Phone +64 9 301 0101

The easy Mercer Bay Loop Track is a good option for travelers with kids. Not only is it relatively short, at about 1.5 miles long, but it starts at Piha Beach, a famous black-sand beach with accommodation, cafes, and surf schools in summer. There are plenty of caves, rockpools, and inlets at Piha to keep curious kids occupied. The loop track itself goes high along the coastline, so it has excellent views but keep kids close.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Kitekite Falls Path

waterfalls flowing into plunge pool with mossy rocks around

Kristina Parchomchuk / Getty Images

Piha 0772, New Zealand
Phone +64 9 301 0101

Among the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand (and it has a lot of competition!), Kitekite Falls is a great hiking destination if you like a reward at the end of your hikes. Walking tracks to the 131-foot-high falls start from Glenesk Road, east of Piha, and pass through the rainforest. It takes about half an hour. You can swim in the pools when it's warm, which may be a safer option than swimming at treacherous Piha Beach. You can take a different trail on the way back for variety.

06 of 09

Hike to the Arataki Visitor's Centre

fenced boardwalk overlooking a view of lake, hills, forest and sea

 EAGiven / Getty Images

300 Scenic Drive, Oratia, Waitakere 0604, New Zealand
Phone +64 9 817 0077

The Arataki Visitor's Centre is at the eastern entrance to the park, where many travelers from Auckland arrive. It's an excellent place to gather more information about the Waitakere Ranges if you don't already have a fixed plan, and there are great views from the boardwalk, too. There are several ways to hike to, from, or around the center.

  • The Exhibition Drive to Arataki Centre walk is a 6.5-mile return hike that's not too challenging and passes through lovely forest.
  • The 3.7-mile Slip, Pipeline, and Beveridge Track Loop starts at the Arataki Centre. It's a moderate trail that passes through kauri forests and past several water pipelines. It's also possible to ride a mountain bike on the Beveridge Track, which isn't possible everywhere in the Waitakeres.
  • The Arataki Nature Trail is an easy 1-mile trail along the boardwalk and paved path. There are great views of the forested hills, a reservoir, and the sea from this walk.
07 of 09

Anawhata and Whites Beach Loop

aerial shot of cliffs and breaking waves over a beach

Nazar Abbas Photography / Getty Images

Anawhata Beach is north of Piha, surrounded by tall cliffs that amplify the sound of the crashing waves. The 7.5-mile Anawhata and Whites Beach Loop is a moderate trail that offers some fantastic views, even if some of them from cliff-top lookouts aren't great for vertigo sufferers. As it's a loop track rather than an in-and-out, you can enjoy new views the whole way, although the trail after Whites Beach includes some roadside walking.

08 of 09

Mt. Donald McLean Track

Mount Donald McLean Road, Huia, Auckland 0604, New Zealand

Mt. Donald McLean is a 1,289-foot peak in the south of the Waitakere Ranges, and while this height hardly compares with the mountains in the South Island, it's still a great spot to work up a sweat and admire the views of the Manukau Harbour. The in-and-out trail up the mountain is 3 miles long and rated as moderate. It's a well-maintained trail with boardwalks in parts and is good for bird watching, so bring your binoculars.

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Karamatura to Mt. Donald McLean

If you like the sound of the Mt. Donald McLean track but are after more of a challenge, combine it with the Karamatura Track. The 7.2-mile hike is classified as difficult as it includes thousands of steps, particularly over the first 2.5 miles. It's great for fitness but shouldn't be underestimated. There's a waterfall to see along the way, where you can take a rest from all those steps. The sweeping views from the top might make the climb worthwhile.

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The 9 Best Walks in the Waitakere Ranges