As surprising as it may sound, you will find, only 45 minutes away from Auckland, one of the wildest regions – and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful – of New Zealand. The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is a chain of volcanic hills marking a natural separation between Auckland in the east and the Tasman Sea in the west. There, you will discover long windswept and wave-battered black sand beaches and cliffs, along with the steep relief that shelters a dense rain forest and some beautiful waterfalls.
The most famous place in the region is Piha, a popular seaside village among Aucklanders. Surfers love it for its powerful waves. In the middle of the beach, the Lion Rock – an impressive rock that has the shape of a lion – stands proudly and separates the north beach from the south beach. The panorama from the road down to the beach is spectacular. Swimming is possible and supervised in summer, but watch out for dangerous currents. These are so powerful that there is even a TV program dedicated to local rescuers and their exploits in the area. Away from the coastline, don't miss the Kitekite Falls, an easy 30-minute walk leading to a beautiful 40-meter waterfall and its freshwater pool.
A little further south is Karekare, a long black sand beach made famous by the movie The Piano, by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion. The green hills in the background create a surprising tropical atmosphere. The Comans Track, which runs north along the cliff, offers memorable views. A little behind the beach you will find another very beautiful waterfall, the Karekare Falls, which is 30 meters high.
Bethells Beach is the most secluded, but perhaps also the most beautiful and wildest beach in the region. If you walk along the beach towards its southern end, you will reach a deep hole in the cliff that is accessible at low tide. Another spectacular site, only three hundred meters before reaching the main car park, a hidden path leads to the Giant Dune, a huge sand dune invisible from the road. It is a hidden gem, very little known to tourists and even to locals!
Further north, Muriwai, is the most accessible beach in the region. A pleasant coastal walk leads to a large gannet colony. About 1,200 specimens gather from August to March on the same rock. The vast beach stretches north as far as the eye can see.
After 7 years in Auckland and many weekends spent in the Waitakere Ranges, I will never get enough of walking on its gorgeous black sand beaches, in its luxuriant vegetation, or to admire the view at the top of its cliffs. As long as you know where to go, the region will certainly amaze you.
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