Five surprising things noted about Cape Brett Track

Cape Brett Track is a 16km one-way bush-and-cliff affair in the Bay Of Islands, with a DOC hut and lighthouse perched at the peninsula end, near the factually-named ‘ Hole In The Rock’. I recently took on this monster tramp with maps guy Scoot and my sister Sarah. Back when we were roasting in all that heat, we packed-up and trekked out to the hut for a night and returned next day.

Here’s five surprising things I noted about Cape Brett Track:

– So much forest! Bloody trees, obscuring all the ocean views. I thought the pioneers cut them all down for houses and masts?
– There’s no boot cleaning stations, despite some tracks leading to kauri. Help slow kauri dieback and clean your boots elsewhere before you go. Trees are good!
– How many climbs there are and how steep some of those climbs are. The coast is supposed to be flat!
– The time needed for those last “3km”. “Seriously, we’re going down there to come up again?”. I suspect it was more like 3.5km, maybe 3.6…
– We saw lots of people walking AWAY from the hut into the forest at the end of the day. Ghosts?

Top tramp, expect to be challenged, book before you go

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!

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

Five amazing New Zealand experiences

Pararaha Valley as the sun rises over the hills

I arrived fresh off the train and plane in New Zealand on 10th September 2008. Since then, I have had some amazing experiences – some of which simply couldn’t have happened in hometown London, the UK, or even Europe for that matter (no money!).

Here are my five most amazing New Zealand experiences, all of which can be done for little or no money:

1. The time I kipped in a rainforest

In 99% of rain forests, I reckon camping on the floor would be a bit hazardous. I’m not a rainforest risk assessor by trade, but I do reckon this.

Camping in Pararaha Valley, Waitakere Ranges - an amazing New Zealand experience
Pitching tent under a massive rock can protect you from the elements, unless those elements are falling rocks

Due to the New Zealand Land Mammal Predators Act of 1656AD there isn’t much on the land of Aotearoa that can hurt you. Sure, a good friend of mine once got bitten by a grub while hanging from a tree, and there are a lot of road deaths around public holidays, but out in the bush you are only really at the mercy of the elements.

Taking these facts in to account, I packed some things and went tramping off in to the ranges. And slept. Then I woke up and walked back.

Cost: NZ$6


2. The time we took an inflatable palm tree onto a glacier

Inflatable palm tree on Fox Glacier - an amazing New Zealand experience
If you take an inflatable palm tree on to a glacier, probably don’t wear a shellsuit.

Tourists will do anything for a good photo. When my friend Scoot announced at Fox Glacier that he had with him an inflatable palm tree and that he intended to bring it “up the glacier” with us, that is exactly what happened.

He doesn’t beat about the bush, that Scoot, and he certainly doesn’t slip about the glacier.

Try pulling that stunt in Devon!

Cost: NZ$100 approx for Fox Glacier tour (glacier can be accessed for free if you have proper crampons and other gear)


3. The time I drove a car on a beach

The Land Transport Act of 1250AD dictates that all beaches are classified as public roads in New Zealand, unless otherwise stated. That means that a quiet walk up the beach can be interrupted by a 4X4 hurtling along at 100kph. But this never happens.

The longest uninterrupted beach here is called Ninety Mile Beach; it is about 88km long. Back in the day, before anyone had walked it pushing a metre stick, they used “the distance a horse could walk in a day” as a measure. Failing to take in to account a slowed horse due to the thick sand, the distance was presumed to be 90 miles. It is not.

Toyota RAV4 parked on Ninety Mile Beach - an amazing New Zealand experience
Once on the beach, keep moving at a steady pace. Do not stop. Do not stop and pose for photographs.

Situated in the far north, Eighty Eight Kilometre Beach is that long sticky out bit at the top left of the map of NZ. People use the beach as a relatively fast route to Cape Reinga (Te Reinga), which is the very top of the North Island. This is where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. It is here that Maori believe the spirits of the deceased enter the underworld. There are also some mean public toilets here.

A couple of hours after high tide is the best time to drive it, giving you ample time until the next high tide should anything bad happen. Look out for buses. In scenes similar to Needles and his gang at the end of Back To The Future Part III, young boguns will drive up alongside you in their dad’s SUVs and challenge you to a race. Just say “NO!” Or ignore the little shits.

Cost: NZ$50 fuel plus vehicle hire


4. The times we ate Christmas dinner outdoors

Unless you live on or near the equatorial Northern Hemisphere, or downunder, you’d have to be a few charcoals short of a full barbie to consider eating Christmas dinner outdoors.

I have done this twice in the three Christmasses I have spent in New Zealand. It is quite nice. The food still tastes the same, but you feel like you’re outdoors while eating it.

Cost: What are you having?


5. The time I bathed in a hot stream

People bathing in Kerosene Creek - an amazing New Zealand experience
Once a private hotspot, now a well-known hotspot.

Once a secret reserved for locals only, the small, hot stream several kilometres south of Rotorua is probably only one ice cream stall short of charging an entrance fee.

The place, which I shalln’t name because there is no point, has become so overrun with tourists in recent years that any literature about it now carries a thief warning for travellers who leave their vehicles at the end of the road.

I have never seen a thief there. I once saw a runaway dog there. But never a thief. Bit probably don’t let your guard down on my account.

Anyway, once in, the water is lush warm, like a bath. Don’t drink it, though, as it’s full of chemicals that are only good for the skin.

Don’t pee it in either: It is said that the chemical combination is explosive and extremely dangerous!

Cost: NZ$0 (for now)


New Zealand is amazing

There you have it! Five amazing things I have done in Aotearoa New Zealand during my time living here. Amazing!