Take a car-less adventure into Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges

My first solo mission into the Waitakere Ranges was around Easter 2010, but I lived on the border of the park. Since then, and since moving closer to the city, I’ve undertaken two more trips to sleep in Auckland’s stunning native bush.

Taking the train from the city to Swanson (this tends to speed things up to allow an overnight trip), the start of the ranges and their walking tracks is only a couple of kilometres from the train station. Here, I began two overnight adventures into the park, staying at both Opanuku Pipeline and Pae O te Rangi campgrounds.

1. Opanuku Pipeline Campground

In the winter month of June, I walked Swanson Pipeline Track through the tunnel and joined Opanuku Pipeline Track at the Watercare station, camping the night at Opanuku Pipeline Campground. It’s around 90-120 minutes walk over a mostly easy track, with some occasional testing gradients. Occupying the site where a couple of streams converge, the campsite’s small and flat, slightly damp, but perfect for an overnight stay, away from the gross grey grind of the central city. Here you can lay your head next to the sound of running water, take a walk along the track to the sounds of the bush at night and, if you rise early enough, make the walk on the other side of Mountain Road to Fairy Falls.

Campground facilities stretch as far as a chemical toilet, and tiny information board. Water must be obtained from the stream and boiled before use. There is nothing else here, so don’t show up expecting cafe and dairy.

The following day, I packed up and walked the track back to Christian Road. For a change in route, I took the road back to Swanson. The train had me back in the city in under 24 hours.

Campsite: Opanuku Pipeline Campground
Cost: $8 per person, per night (at time of writing, check Auckland Regional Parks site for latest prices and bookings)
Nearest station: Swanson
Do: take stove, gas and supplies for the duration of your stay. Pack in rubbish and carry it out
Watch: some of the slippy mud and steep grades on Swanson Pipeline Track

2. Pae o te Rangi Campground

The lighter evenings of spring increase one’s walking range, so you can reach further into the park for a camp. Instead of heading through the tunnel on Pipeline, I took the right fork and headed up Peripatus Track. A long and tough ascent awaits those wearing a heavy pack, but the steepest sections are stepped and boardwalked. It can get muddy in the wetter months, so be prepared to trek through some soggy and slippy sections before you reach Scenic Drive at the summit.

On the road, I opted to take a right, for approximately 1km to Pukematekeo for a view back towards the city. Pukematekeo Track then descends the western side of the ranges, through more slippy mud, towards Waitakere Golf Course and car park of the park’s Cascades area. From there it’s under an hour along Whatitiri Track, featuring stream crossings and beaut waterside views, until you reach the Pae o te Rangi camping area. Be careful not to miss the start of Whatitiri Track – if you’re on the Auckland City Walk, you’ve missed it and need to head back to the car park.

Again, this is a basic campground, with toilet and boil-first taps, though also offers some wooden picnic benches and makeshift seating. There’s also, amusingly, a Frisbee/Disc Golf Course right next to the campsite.

To return next morning, I trotted down through the Frisbee Golf Course and farm and out onto Te Henga Road at the car park. From there, I threw a right up Bethells Road, over the bridge and up the hill towards Waitakere. At Waitakere Station, an hourly (on weekends) bus returned me to Swanson Station, where a train delivered me back to the city, again all in under 24 hours!

Campsite: Pae o te Rangi Campground
Cost: $8 per person, per night (at time of writing, check Auckland Regional Parks site for latest prices and bookings)
Nearest station: Swanson (Waitakere will be if ever trains return there!)
Do: take stove, gas and supplies for the duration of your stay. Pack in rubbish and carry it out
Watch: Pukematekeo Track has some incredibly steep and muddy sections in the wetter months, take care with that heavy pack on your back!

These trips require everything need to be carried in a pack: tent, sleeping bag, stove, dinner and all the luxuries (energy snacks) you can muster. Walking fully packed requires a reasonable level of fitness, but that level can be acquired fairly quickly after you first start out. Comfort is key: if anything rubs or digs into an unusual spot, you could be left aching or feeling quite sore, so be sure you have the right fitting gear before you depart.

Although a rigorous experience to the inexperienced, the train service to Swanson really shows the Waitakere Ranges can be enjoyed if you don’t own a car. Sure, Piha and the other west coast beauty spots are further away and unreachable on foot in a day, but breathtaking scenery and lush bush lurks much nearer than you might think. Go explore and have fun!

Dunc’s Big Bike Ride – new map

Dunc's Big Bike Ride Map

When I set off from Mission Bay on ‘the big one’, I didn’t know about the certain intricacies involved with my Samsung (never again!) phone and getting it to record accurate GPS data (tip: some Shamsung models require you to have wifi on, as well as location/GPS settings, to accurately record – who knew?). Luckily I was paying attention where I was going each day and logged each trip manually, using Map My Run (MMR). This gave me fairly accurate distance data and is how I know it’s about 11,000km right around the islands.

The only trouble is downloading MMR’s data to sit on my bike ride map – apparently it really isn’t easy, since it doesn’t include the ‘time’ info. The map’s creators Scoot and Simon tried to simplify a way of plugging MMR files into the original map, but it’s proved faster for me to download these files, run it through Google Earth and chuck it onto my own Google Maps creation. Which is what I bring you here. For the very first time, a complete bicycle circumnavigation of New Zealand, in map form, warts and (some) mistakes and all!

It’s still a work in progress, I might get round to adding stage information and a few pics at some point as well. Enjoy!

Living car-less in Auckland

Opanuku Pipeline Campground

It turns out I’ve been car-less for over three years now. Don’t get me wrong, aside from the eight month bike adventure, I’ve had the use of a mate’s car (almost) whenever needed. But I haven’t owned one. I haven’t commuted in a car, I haven’t needlessly blocked up a car park trying to turn a giant car around and I haven’t run over anyone’s toes with a car. Just some of the things I don’t miss there.

I’m not anti-automobile, aside from their emissions. I can’t support the part of vehicles that literally pipes poisonous gas into the air and chokes school children. No matter how many wallies Amazon chuck on the internet to tell me that choking school children is a necessary cost to which the benefits far outweigh, I’ll never succumb to the exhaust pipe’s tantalising ways. I’m just not that way inclined.

However, I do see the benefit of the little metal pods. When driven respectfully and treated as a privilege, cars help us go many times our normal daily walking range. Far away ends of the country can be accessed in a matter of hours; a journey that would have once taken weeks. When adequately equipped and driven in the right direction, they can save lives. And I’m not going to deny that I made use of several vehicles during my monster bike ride. When the bike inevitably broke down, old el motorist was there to ferry me to the nearest bike shop and back. I’d still be out there somewhere if they hadn’t.

The truth, though, is a lot of us don’t need one. We’ve become accustomed to them, convinced we need one. Our very dependence on them drives us towards a deeper dependence on them, as inactivity leads to poor fitness which leads to poor health and heightened auto-dependency, the circle continues. Break the chain, if you can, when you can.

It’s actually not as difficult as you might think, either. Firstly, try to patiently walk yourself through the mindful removal of yourself from the driver’s seat. Think of your body and consider all it was capable of before we began down the evolutionary path of motoring. Then try to envisage what your strengths might be, if sagging into a springy seat for a few hours after work wasn’t how you travelled; climbing, running, swimming? Our muscles long to be used. Reconnect with yourself, appreciate your body and start dropping in little actions to show it.

While out walking the streets, I often notice the long lines of slow-moving vehicles. Cars are ideal for people who love queuing. Do people love queuing, though? Honestly? I find it funny when motorists complain about an “empty cycle lane”, while failing to see the greater problems a “full road” creates. The cyclists on the cycle lane have arrived already. Try distancing yourself from your habitual tendencies and see if there’s ‘another way’. Perhaps there’s a short journey you often make that you could sub-in a new form of transport for?

It’s unrealistic to suggest everyone gets rid of their car and to expect it happens overnight, but I believe a shift towards more thoughtful motoring is possible. A culture that considers driving as a privilege, not a right, stands to gain more collectively. Thinking outside the box before taking a journey can enlighten and result in some surprising and memorable adventures. You also see more, absorb more and learn more when travelling below 100km/h.

On my car-less journey, I’ve been on some incredible adventures in New Zealand, both in Auckland and beyond. Auckland’s Regional Parks are accessible by public transport, bike and on foot. And some of the national coach services allow you to travel in far greater luxury than your 1990 Speedwagon. From short camping treks in the Waitakere Ranges to a weekend cycle trip to Shakespear Regional Park and a full blown mini-break in Russell, it’s public and clean and healthy transport for the win.

We’re all at different points in our addiction, but as humans, we can all appreciate similar things. Saving money, better health, less stress, hassle-free parking, improved time-management and discovering new local spots are just some of the benefits you’ll stumble across once you begin the weaning process. Start planning that one kilometre walk that you’d normally drive today.

Three exciting day walks you can do within two hours of Auckland

Whatipu Beach sand dunes

I was asked recently to recommend some day walks you can do within a couple of hours of central Aucklandia / Tāmaki Makaurau / Akarana. I wrote quite a long email in response, so I figured I should also share it here.

1. Whatipu to Pararaha Valley, return
Drive time: 1 hour

Did you know the Waitakere Ranges used to have little logging settlements within it, and a tram line running along the beach from Piha to Whatipu?


Park at Whatipu Beach and take Gibbons Track up into the ranges for some stunning views to the north and of the beach below. At the Muir Track junction, take the left fork and descend the fairly steep (but fine if you’re sensible track) into the Pararaha Valley. There’s a small campground by the stream, with basic toilets, shelter and tap (which I wouldn’t drink from, unless in an emergency). Follow the track along the river (through it) and out to the boardwalk junction, where you turn left and cross the marshes, onto the dunes. Follow the widened dune track out to the beach, noting that you want to head south (left) down the beach once you find the coast. This is the longest section of the trip, since you’re walking on sand, but it’s a stunning beach, so enjoy what the Tasman has turned up. Once you reach Ninepin Rock (with small lighthouse on it), you’re nearly back at the car park and the beach will have curved slightly, so you’re now walking east. Check out the headland just beyond, where you can see remnants of the old wharf and pieces of old tram track stuck in the sand. Take the beach path back to the car park. Good day out, extend with a trip up the hill on Omanawanui Track if you have time – amazing views of the Manukau Harbour and Awhitu on a clear day!

2. Mt. Auckland / Atuanui
Drive time: 1 hour

Yes, there’s a Mount Auckland and it’s barely inside Auckland. But I recommend it, just because it’s called Mt Auckland.

Access either from Silverdale, take Pine Valley Rd, right on Kahikatea Road then right on SH16 at Kaukapakapa, or you can take SH16 all the way there. I recommend parking at the Kaipara Hills Road end and walking to the summit up the Mount Auckland Walkway from there. It’s a mixture of farmland and native bush, with some steep sections, but not a long walk overall. The lookout offers stunning views of the Kaipara Harbour, one of the largest harbours in the world! Once at the top, you can either head back the way you came, or descend down through the farm to SH16 and walk back along the roads and to the oddly named Glorit and up Kaipara Hills Road. Great day out, some cafes on the drive to/from it and at Helensville too.

3. Karangahake Gorge
Drive time: 1.5 hours

Karangahake Gorge is an old gold mining valley, full of tunnels, rusting equipment, running river, swing bridges and even a cafe or two in the valley.

Park at the Crown Hill Road car park, just over the crazy road bridge which used to have a railway running over the top (turn right off SH2). From there, get up onto that very bridge and enter the tunnel (torch/flashlight/cell phone light recommended!). Once out the tunnel and over the river, turn right along the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (KGHW), then left on The Windows Walk. Follow that for several kilometres, until you find yourself on the other side of the river and at Dubbo 96 Track, which you can either follow back to the KGHW, or head up the 544m hill known as Karangahake for a view, if you have the stamina and the time! If that’s too much, there’s tracks to suit your ability and time all over the place here, so just create a loop that you like.

Remember to always take adequate safety precautions when going out into the wild. Water & lunch are obvious, but have you got a map and a first aid kit? Is your cellphone charged? Who knows what your plans are? Even the most experienced trampers I’ve met have become lost at some point, it can happen to anyone. Drop the “she’ll be right” attitude and tell someone where you’re going. Kia kaha.

Always keen to hear your favourite walks in the wider Auckland region, or anywhere really! Follow and tweet me @djduncwilson