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

Edit: this article pre-dates the rāhui placed on the Waitakere Forest area by Te Kawerau-ā-Maki. Please respect the rāhui.

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!