It pays to know what you’re doing in the Waitakeres. Even though we’re less than an hour from the city, this chain of hills runs for 25 kms and is covered in dense native bush. To the west, the ranges slope down to the much loved black sand beaches of Karekare, Piha, Te Henga (Bethells), Muriwai and the turbulent Tasman Sea. To the east, suburban Auckland finally acknowledges defeat and houses give way to trees. In between, over 16 000 hectares of native rainforest is criss- crossed by over 200 kms of walking tracks.
There are, in fact, 147 tracks marked on the map of the Waitakere Ranges and my tramping companion has done all but a handful of them. He has made comments on his map describing the muddiness and steepness of the tracks and I’m quietly relieved to see that the tracks he’s chosen for us today are annotation-free.
Although I live in Auckland, I haven’t been into the Waitakeres for many years but as soon as we leave the car park I’m immediately reminded of how lucky we are to have such a magnificent area of nature to explore, and how I should not take this for granted.
We set off on the Auckland City Walk – an hour long loop walk on very well maintained tracks which conveniently passes close to one of the biggest kauri trees in the area. This is an ideal introduction to bush walking suitable for all abilities and ages but we are made of sterner stuff so we set off on a bigger loop made up of several tracks that my experienced companion knows well. We climb through bush thick with regenerating kauri and enjoy stillness that is only occasionally broken by a fluttering fantail or the slow beating wings of the NZ pigeon. In some places young kauri are so close together that it can only end badly for some. Only the fittest will survive and only if they escape the fatal fungus known as kauri dieback disease which is slowly scarring trees throughout this area.
Our route follows tracks that are aptly described by their names – Upper Kauri track, Long Road and Fence Line track – and we reach the Waitakere Dam just in time for lunch. It’s a peaceful spot with fabulous views and today we have it to ourselves. Then we’re off again, following the Waitakere Tramline which was built to enable the construction of the Dam and the pipeline that carries water to the thirsty city. At the weekend, a train still runs along the track crossing bridges and viaducts and passing through tunnels, giving easy access to the Dam for those who don’t want to walk.
It’s fair to say that the Waitakeres receive their fair share of rain and this can wreak havoc with the tracks. However, a lot of work has been done to upgrade paths and build graded steps on the steepest sections which makes tramping safer (and more enjoyable).
There is evidence all around of the care being taken of this land. At regular intervals, cleaning stations are provided so that boots can be scrubbed and disinfected to limit the spread of the kauri dieback fungus. An extensive grid of bait stations is marked with little pink plastic triangles nailed to tree trunks. Bait is laid to control rats, mice and possums and traps are laid for weasels, stoats and ferrets. This is the work of Ark in the Park, a joint initiative of the Auckland Council and Forest and Bird, to control non-native pests and predators so that birds can flourish in their natural environment. Boardwalks have been built to stop the damage to tree roots from and everywhere the message is clear: come and enjoy this magnificent environment but do no harm.
By the time we return to the carpark we’ve been walking for 3.5 hours. We’ve played spot-the-biggest-kauri, tip- toed across sparkling streams and remained relatively mud-free and I’ve resolved to explore more of this incredible natural resource that sits on my doorstep.
Things to know before you go:
- The Department of Conservation website has information on tracks and walks in the Waitakeres (www.doc.govt.nz)
- Be well prepared for any tramping expedition by following the Outdoor Safety Code (tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return; check the weather forecast; know your limits and take sufficient supplies and equipment)
- If you would like to get involved with Ark in the Park contact www.arkinthepark.org.nz
- For more information on kauri dieback disease www.kauridieback.co.nz
- The timetable for the Dam Tram and other information can be found here. www.waitakeretramline.org.nz
Categories: New Zealand