Pararaha Valley campground and history

My impending move back to Britannia means the New Zealand bucket list is on and I’m making no pretence as to how many weekends I have left. Last night, I slept in the Pararaha Valley. It’s a place I’ve long been drawn to, partly due to its fascinating history and partly due to it being a stunning place to stop off for a night in the Waitakere Ranges.

Pararaha Valley as sun rises
Pararaha Valley: If it looks like this when you arrive, then you are in the right place
Three of us set off from Karekare Beach, where I spent the 2011-12 season as a Surf Lifeguard (and last season as an unofficial one due to injury). We headed south along the beach to Whatipu, which is itself an incredible place, then returned north along Gibbons Track, which takes you high up in to the ranges. The views are to be seen to be believed.

At full pelt, we made Pararaha Valley in around 90 minutes from Whatipu and I bid my mates farewell. I wasn’t alone, however, although I was expecting to be.

Pararaha Valley history

Pararaha Valley once held a population, with the Kauri timbers of the Waitakere Ranges proving too lucrative a lure for settlers, as is well-documented at Arc In The Park and other points on various trails. What isn’t so widely known is the presence of communities, along with a fair amount of infrastructure, residing well off the beaten track.

Visit Whatipu today and you won’t find the wharf, but there once was one at the entrance to the Manukau Harbour, a stretch of water known for its currents and swells. You can still find some of the wooden piles, driven in to the sand, on the north side of Paratutae Island. As for Karekare, you’d be hard-pushed to find any remains of the timber mill, since it burnt down in 1886.

What does remain, however, are signs of the tramway that ran between the two, via Parahaha Valley. Built by Charles Murdoch, who owned the Pararaha mill, it seems that it originally ran from Pararaha to Whatipu, but received its extension northwards after Murdoch bought the Karekare mill – a purchase prompted by the destructive fire at his own mill in 1881.

Large rusting steam boiler outside Tunnel Point tunnel
Leave it to rust: this boiler was too big to fit through the tramway tunnel, so was just left to rust.
The tramway on the beach was always going to face issues from the water, salt and sand, and by all accounts the maintenance was an ongoing project. It continued operating until at least 1916.

You can see a really obvious section of tramway embankment on the approach to Tunnel Point campground. Pass the through the tunnel and you will see an old boiler, left behind by workmen as it failed to fit through the tunnel.

Pararaha Valley campground

We dropped in to the Pararaha Valley by following Gibbons Track to Muir Track then on to the steep decline down Pararaha Track. Take note: Pararaha Track features several steep edges and at one point there is a rock face crossing with rope line for stability. Ensure your small children are adventurous!

The track brings you out by the handy hexagonal cooking shelter (never underestimate the use of these on rainy evenings!) and the campsite is nestled in the grassy flats, adjacent to the Pararaha Stream.

Toilet facilities are the ever-popular bio-composting loo, with paper provided, but always carry some just in case. Water must be taken from the stream and boiled, but it tasted great.

Pararaha Valley as the sun rises over the hills
As you take the trail out of Pararaha Valley to the beach, turn back for this view
Pararaha Valley is a truly enchanting place. The way the tall rocks tower over you as night sets is unique; the stream gently flushing past you all through the night.

The west coast’s sunset is only a 20 minute walk out of the valley, so if you have camp set up in time, it’s well worth a wander. Just remember to take a torch to get back!

In what seemed like an effort to continue Pararaha’s populous, it was a busy! A large, loud and proud group of young Māori, who I later heard were doing their Duke Of Edinburgh award, greeted us at the shelter. In Te Reo.

On parking my backpack down in a flat-ish camping spot, I said hello to two ladies sharing a tent, and there was one father-young-son expedition nearby too. As darkness fell, a lone tramper we’d overtaken earlier in the day arrived, unrolled a sleeping bag and slept on the grass, followed by another father-young-son expedition. We had a full-house in the valley!

Pararaha Valley campground costs $6 per night and is bookable through Auckland Council