The Complete Guide to New Zealand's Waitakere Ranges

View over O'Neills and Bethells Beaches from the Hillary Trail in the Waitakere Ranges west of Auckland
Mark Meredith / Getty Images
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Waitakere Ranges

Address
Waitakere Ranges, Auckland 0772, New Zealand

Auckland is a city of volcanoes, but travelers looking for a different kind of mountain experience should look no further than the Waitakere Ranges. Located within the city's boundaries, west of central Auckland, the mountains are a popular yet still rugged getaway for locals and visitors who want to hike, hang out on wild beaches, spot birds, and visit spectacular waterfalls. The Waitakere Ranges are easy to visit on a day trip from Auckland, or can be a destination in their own right. Here's what you need to know about traveling to the Waitakere Ranges.

Hiking Trails

There are 150 miles of trails within the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, offering a variety of options for those wanting to hike one of the park's more popular trails, and for adventure seekers looking to get off-the-beaten path.

Day-trippers can enjoy a couple of short walks to lovely waterfalls in the Waitakere Ranges. Kitekite Falls, east of the popular Piha beach, are 131 feet high, and are especially worth visiting on a hot day since you can swim in the pool at the bottom. The trail starts at Glenesk Road near Piha, and passes through rainforest. The hike is not steep for the most part, and can be done in one to two hours roundtrip. Another great trail takes you to Karekare Falls, also near Piha. The walk from the parking lot is short and easy, but there are stairs, so this is not suitable for wheelchair users. For more of a challenge, you can also hike up to the top of the falls, which takes about 30 minutes.

Travelers looking for a multi-day trek should check out the Hillary Trail. It was named after New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first climbers to summit Mt. Everest, who trained here for his mountain expeditions. The four-day/three-night journey covers 46 miles, following the coast and passing through forest from Titirangi to Muriwai. It is a challenging trail with a variety of terrain—including steep, muddy, and overgrown patches—and the final day requires an 11-hour hike. The trek can also be undertaken in shorter sections for those who don't want to do the whole thing.

Please note that for several years now, New Zealand's native kauri tree has been suffering from the devastating kauri dieback disease, which threatens to decimate the species. In an effort to prevent the spread of the disease, some hiking trails within the Waitakere Ranges (as well as elsewhere in New Zealand) have been closed, temporarily or more longer term. Check local sources, such as the Department of Conservation website or the Arataki Visitor Centre, for up-to-date information about track closures before your visit. Even when trails are open, you can do your bit to prevent the spread of the disease by making sure your hiking boots are totally clean before you hike, and using any shoe-washing stations you may come across.

cliffs beside a black sand beach at Piha
Elen Turner

West Auckland Beaches

Along the length of New Zealand, the east coast features white sand beaches best suited for swimming, while the west coast is known for its black volcanic sand and rugged surf conditions. The beaches of West Auckland, at the foot of the Waitakere Ranges, epitomize this.

Whatipu, Karekare, Piha, Bethells, and Muriwai are all great beaches for lounging around on a hot summer day, as well as exploring rock pools and interesting rock formations such as pillow lava structures. Experienced surfers flock to Piha in particular, and with surf schools operating out of here, it attracts beginners, too. Be cautious about swimming in West Auckland, though. Currents can be strong and treacherous, so always heed warning signs and stay out of the water if advised. In the summer, many New Zealand beaches are patrolled by lifeguards; if you see red and yellow flags on the beach, swimming is permitted, but stay between the flags.

Birdwatching

In the northern parts of the Waitakeres, Muriwai Beach is a paradise for bird-watchers. Between August and March, around 1,200 gannet couples nest on the cliffs at Muriwai Beach after having flown all the way from Australia. The large, sleek seabirds are white with a yellow head. Above the clifftop colony, a viewing platform offers a great vantage point of the whole sweep of coastline, along with information boards sharing details about these interesting and beautiful birds. It can get very windy up here, so be sure to pack a jacket.

How to Get There

Less than an hour's drive from central Auckland, the easiest way to reach the Waitakere Ranges is to drive yourself. If that's not possible, many guided tours to the area leave from central Auckland, and often revolve around a theme such as birdwatching.

From Auckland, head west through the suburbs of Point Chevalier and Henderson to reach Piha, or southwest through Avondale and Blockhouse Bay to reach the southern parts of the Waitakere Ranges. Though the roads through the ranges are quite steep and winding, they are well-developed.

Many visitors to the Waitakere Ranges stop at the Arataki Visitor Centre en route from Auckland. As well as being a source of local information, the center has indoor exhibits about New Zealand culture and nature, in addition to boardwalks passing through the rainforest outside.

If you're planning to stay overnight, there are a few small settlements in the Waitakere Ranges area with accommodation and camping options, particularly around Piha and Muriwai.

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The Complete Guide to New Zealand's Waitakere Ranges