A Norwegian friend (whom I affectionately refer – and defer – to as the “Socialist Dictator”) recently alerted me to this article entitled “Why you should travel young“.

If you are looking for a delightfully introspective, relatively insightful, and genuinely motivating article on the virtues of travel then I’d encourage you to read this article. Why? Because it makes points that have been resonating in my bones for a while now, but been unable to articulate. For my part, the pleasure I derive from travel relates to its ability to simultaneously make you feel more aware of both yourself and the world around you.

Having read the article I was then sufficiently motivated to add some of my own biofuel to the travel fire started by Patrick’s post on his recent trip to Antartica. The destination for my own recent travels were nowhere near as glamorous, although it was probably more sustainable and definitely more readily reached (at least for those of you whom reside in Auckland). So I’d like to ask you to join me for destination “Waitakere Ranges.”

Now I know what most of you are probably thinking: “Been there done that”. But, if I may be so bold as to have a follow up question: Have you ever walked the Hillary Trail? If you have, then well done; you may want to read on for nostalgia’s sake. If you have not, then you should read on to find out why a four day, three night hike is something that all Aucklanders with a love for travel and a reasonable degree of fitness and knowledge of the outdoors should do.

Before we get onto the trail itself, I wanted to answer the question of “how does one get there?” A question to which my emphatic response is: The Western Line. That’s right, you can “hop” on the train right to Glen Eden, from where a short (and fast) taxi ride will take you right to the start of the track (Arataki Visitor centre), as shown below.

Getting to the start of the track

But that begs another question: “why would you take the train rather than drive?” Well, for me the main reason is that I don’t actually own one of these so-called “private automobiles”. But for those of you who are burdened by a car there’s another good reason to leave the car at home: The Hillary Trail is not a loop track. Thus, unless you want to leave vehicles at both ends, or spend time getting someone to drop you back to the start once you’ve finished, then a combination of public transport and taxi is actually a fairly good option. In the photo below I provide a demonstration of the correct posture to use when one is trying to “tag on” to the start of a hiking trip wearing a pack.

Tagging on to a hike

Once the logistics of getting to the start of the track have been sorted then all you really need to do is walk. 70km in fact, as per the route map shown below. The Hillary Trail route takes you from Arataki Visitor Centre to the Karamatura, Pararaha, and finally Craw Campgrounds on the first, second, and third nights respectively. On the final day (which is a long one!) you walk out to finish at Muriwai Beach, where an icecream and a swim provides a fitting end to an awesome hike.

route map

Now I realise that sounds like a lot of effort. And it is: The Hillary Trail is not without its challenging sections. But the “pay-off”, as they say, is huge: Even though I have lived in Auckland for all my years and been in the Waitakeres on a good many occasions, I found that there was nothing like hiking the Waitakeres from top to bottom to get you a more connected sense of how it’s various coves, beaches, and ranges fit together.

It also really rams home the extraordinary biodiversity that Auckland has sitting on it’s western door-step. That’s enough talking from me; to finish I’d just like to share some of my many photos taken from from the Hillary Trail itself. I’d suggest you do it while you’re still young :). No ifs, no buts.

P.s. My random “travel highlight” was wandering out to the public reserve at Whatipu only to be showered in freshly baked scones that were leftover from a gathering of the Orpheus Society (NB: The Orpheus is the name of a ship that sank entering the Manukau Harbour and has the unfortunate honour of being New Zealand’s most deadly maritime disaster). Then, to cap it off, Mr Bob Harvey himself – one of the instigators of the Hillary Trail concept when he was Mayor of Waitakere – wanders over to have a chat about life in general. Viva!

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Day #1: Settling in for the night at the Karamatura Campground
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Day#2: Close to Whatipu, looking west towards the northern shore of the entrance to the Manukau Harbour.
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Day #2: Looking east along the northern edge of the Manukau Harbour
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Day #2: Volcanic peaks around Pararaha Campground
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Day #3: Hiking north along the beach towards Anawhata
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Day #3: Isolated and inaccessible beach (Mercer’s Bay), just south of Piha
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Day #3: Nikau groves just north of Piha
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Day #4: Lake Wainamu, just south of Bethells Beach
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Day #4: Looking south over Te Henga and Bethells Beach
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  1. An alternative PT option to access the start of the Hillary Trail is to catch one of the fairly frequent buses to Titirangi. From here it is a 1km walk along (the very quiet) Kohu Rd to get to Exhibition Drive which, together with the Beveridge Track, is a pleasant 5km bush track to Arataki. This will add about an hour to an hour and a half to your first day’s walk.

    This is an even better option for those starting at Muriwai and finishing in Titirangi as you will emerge from the bush to end your walk on the doorsteps of Titirangi’s cafes.

  2. How did you get back from Muriwai Stu?

    Also doesn’t this just show how awesome Auckland is. The fact that we have such stunning scenery not far from the centre of town is not something many cities can claim.

    1. I was initially planning to take a taxi to Westgate and then bus home from there, but as it happened my mum and dad decided they would come out and pick us up :).

    1. Yes, I guess you can access Mercer Bay via helicopter and/or boat and/or rope, which is inaccessible in my book ;).

      Pararaha was a lovely campground.

  3. Fantastic post! Aren’t we lucky here in Auckland? What a natural setting, now let’s bring the built environment up towards this high standard too; that’s the challenge.

    And we can start by halting the sprawl; a more compact city is better for keeping our more wild places more wild.

    1. Thanks Patrick, and yes we are lucky with our natural environment.

      Agree with the need to get our built environment up to scratch. Part of this is technical, i.e. getting trained and passionate people, and part of this is cultural, i.e. getting the general population to love their cities.

      Fortunately out west geography is limiting the sprawl for us – I love it how the western suburbs abut the Waitakeres, which in turn means that urban services go right to the edge of the ranges.

    1. Well-spotted – Glen Eden is the best destination for people coming from city; I went to New Lynn to see a friend first before heading to the start of the track from there.

    1. it was only launched 2 years ago I believe and they’ve (ARC and DoC) have been progressively upgrading the facilities since then. I believe this has the potential to be one of DoC’s “great walks” – at least insofar as visitor numbers go, mainly because it’s so rare to have such a wonderful natural environment located so close to a major urban centre.

      If they managed to build huts at the campgrounds then I’m sure the visitor numbers would boom.

      1. From memory, the old Waitakere city council wanted to do just that and make it so that commercial companies could offer services on the trail e.g. you drop your gear with them, walk to the first campground with a light pack where they are waiting with your heavier gear etc. The problem was that one of the agencies, or maybe even the ARC blocked it so it has had to stay as a self guided no hut walk.

        1. Here is something about it, ARC supported the route being able to be commercialised but had mostly negative submissions against it

          However, Mr Harvey said, the huge potential of the concept was locked up in regulations banning commercial concessions, because of a “small group opposed to intruders in the ranges”.

          Auckland Council parks forum chairwoman Sandra Coney said submissions to the 2010 parks management plan were heavily against “commercialisation of a wilderness experience” and making it an easy walk.

          “It’s always going to be a tough track and anybody who thinks 65-year-olds from America are going to be able to step off the plane and do the track are dreaming.

          “Bags and wine being carried for them and the dinner cooked goes against the Kiwi ethos of roughing it and feeling you have achieved something.”

      2. I suspect that (given sufficient funds) they could still build huts along the track? Building huts does not seem to equate to commercial operations, at least as far as I can tell.

  4. Great post, thanks for letting me know about this great walk. I also agree it’s very important to travel when you’re young (and by young I mean under 90)

  5. Good article Stu. The council map for the Hillary Trail doesn’t even show Glen Eden or Glen Eden Station, thereby depriving it of a fair opportunity to host tourists. Titirangi is repeatedly advertised as the gateway to the Waitakeres,with a disproportionate amount of funding pumped into Tits, while Glen Eden, equally accessible, is deprived of funding and industry. Why is Glen Eden being actively deprived of the tourist dollar. It really is the Waitakere Ranges Back Closet to the Titirangi Formal Sitting Room, and just shut the door on the suburb when guests arrive and shuffle them into the formal lounge. .

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