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

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

Leg lifts and hernias

Dunc Wilson is a hernia survivor and New Zealand adventurer – follow his Facebook page here

Leg lifts and hernias – I have recently been diagnosed with a right-side inguinal hernia.

The cause? Leg lifts.

Leg lifts and hernias

Before we go any further, I need to say this: If you think you’re suffering from any type of hernia, go get yourself checked out by a doctor. Your doc is the only person who can assess you and get you the treatment you need to put you right. If you need any!

Besides, too much self-diagnosis on the internet, especially when it comes to hernias, can be quite traumatic and lead to you viewing some quite disturbing things. Trust me on this one!

Anyway, you’re probably reading this because you want to know whether performing leg lifts, leg raises or leg lowers as part of your exercise routine can cause a hernia.

The answer is yes they can.

I know this because that’s how I got my very own inguinal hernia. An inguinal hernia is where a moment of immense pressure inside the stomach causes the thin, weak stomach muscle lining to tear. This part of the body’s function is to hold our insides in.

It is quite possible that a breathing error during just one leg raise (or lowering) caused the hernia, which is what makes correct form and breathing during any exercise so important. Don’t be fooled that hernias are just for older, overweight or unfit people – they can be accidentally achieved at any age.

Legs lifts and hernias

If you suspect you have given yourself a hernia during exercise the important thing is not to panic. Hernias are common, particularly among men, and inguinal hernias are the commonest of he male hernias. Depending on what your doctor is like, a trip regarding a hernia can be the calmest trip to the doctor you ever make.

There is a small risk of a hernia becoming strangulated, severe pain in the area of the hernia will indicate this, but other than that, “people can live for years with them” I was told recently at a hospital. As such, practitioners remain calm about a hernia and take time to assess them properly when deciding on required treatment.

I have found my doctor one of the more calming influences on me since being diagnosed with my inguinal hernia, I hope you experience the same.

If you are embarking on a program of exercise, I have a couple of tips that could hopefully steer you clear of hernia-land.

Firstly, when participating in any exercise, it is important to maintain breathing concentration at all times. That is to remain 100% focused on what your body is doing regarding air in and out-take. It sounds obvious, but a moment’s concentration slip and you can potentially damage yourself.

My second piece of advice is not to participate in any routines that involve “big number ability increases”. The internet is flooded with plans that can see you achieve huge targets like “this amazing number of chin-ups within six weeks” and so on.

We all grow strength and muscle differently and at different paces. Where one of these plans keeps a promise to 100 people, it could be breaking it to 1000. Failing to reach a particular number of reps in a work-out plan may cause a psychological stress that becomes stored and accumulates.

Determination is a powerful thing and the lengths it can make us push our bodies to, sometimes beyond sense, is incredible. These are the times when damage to the body is most likely to occur. My advice is to stay away from these sorts of plans altogether, particularly if you know don’t put on muscle or increase strength as fast as the plan promises – the “magic workout plan” won’t change it.

What does an inguinal hernia feel like?

What does an inguinal hernia feel like? – Having been diagnosed with an inguinal hernia, I thought I should write about my experiences over the first month since diagnosis.

Although an extremely common ailment, inguinal hernias can be somewhat debilitating, painful and distressing affairs.

Despite suffering with an inguinal hernia at time of writing, I should make it clear that I am in no way a medical professional. What I write below is based on my own feeling following my diagnosis of an inguinal hernia by my doctor.

My first advice for you if you think you may be suffering from any type of hernia is to see a doctor as soon as you can. Hernias are extremely common and the experts are the only people able to rehabilitate you back to health and fitness.

What does an inguinal hernia feel like?

I first spotted my inguinal hernia after performing a set of leg raises. Leg raises or leg lifts are an exercise touted by many as a better form of abdominal exercise. I was performing the variation where you lower one leg down at a time, 10 times, then crunch your abdominal upwards while pushing on the leg you just finished dropping for 10 seconds.

It was on one of the initial leg movements that my hernia arrived, in the form of a sudden, sharp pain in my groin. It was there, and it wasn’t going away.

The first thing I noticed was a small bulge or lump around the top of the pubic hairline. It just stuck out more on my right side than on my left side.

How it felt depended on the position I was in. Standing up for extended periods of time resulted in the bulge extending outwards, the lump on my groin getting tighter. Initially the tightness would be accompanied with the feeling of extreme dread, which would simply result in me sitting or lying down for a bit. Even at work!

Inguinal hernias come with pain. The amount of which will vary from person to person. I found mine extremely painful at first. The nerves in the surrounding area seem only too pleased to get caught up in the mess that’s going on down there. Add to that the trauma of having a hole inside you, and you have a pretty good idea how I was feeling.

I ain’t gonna lie: The first week or two were hell. I went from being a perfectly able-bodied, healthy, capable-of-anything 30-year-old to someone coming to terms with the fact they’re not going to be going about their usual routine for a while.

As I’ve posted before, I am into health and fitness in a big way. My weekly cardio routine used to consist of several runs, a number of bicycle rides to and from work and a swim or two depending on the tides. I’d also take on three sessions of resistance training a week.

For now, at least, I am relegated to an occasional swim and the odd walk round the block. Don’t get me wrong – there are far worse things human beings are going through around the planet – but the sudden change brought about by these limitations took its mental toll.

As the first month has progressed, I have come to terms with my injury. My trauma levels are way down compared with where they were. I have moved on from the initial feeling of regret over the incident that caused it: As one friend put it “all of us are unlucky with our exercise at some point”.

I am heading to the doctor’s next week to discuss with him what exercises I can do while I wait for my repair surgery. I’ll post an update soon.