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On the Wild Side — Auckland’s West Coast Lifeguards don’t sit in a Tower…

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Justine Tyerman finds high drama and spectacular landscapes at Auckland’s West Coast beaches.

Piha and Auckland’s wild West Coast beaches

Lifeguards at Piha Beach don’t sit in a tower – these guys stand knee deep in the water with their IRBs (inflatable rescue boats) and rescue tubes at the ready, on high alert, constantly scanning the surf.

Lifeguards at Karekare Beach

Lifeguards at Karekare Beach

The Watchman island off Karekare Beach. © Auckland Council

The Watchman island off Karekare Beach. © Auckland Council

Piha Beach reflections. Picture by Luke Harvey, Auckland Council

Piha Beach reflections. Picture by Luke Harvey, Auckland Council

We were wandering along the beach after a day’s hiking when the sirens rang out. The lifeguards leapt into their IRBs, gunned the engines and got airborne off the mountainous waves as they roared out to rescue a swimmer in distress.

They hauled a youngster out of the sea and thundered back to shore where they worked frantically to resuscitate the figure sprawled motionless on the sand. Emergency services were soon on hand and the ambulance sped off. Conditions were so unpredictable that day, the lifeguards lowered the flags and ordered everyone out of the water. This was our introduction to Piha and Auckland’s wild West Coast beaches.

Having watched the television series, Piha Rescue which features the courageous deeds of the local lifeguards, we knew we were in for an adventure but what we did not bargain on was being transported to a place of such drama and spectacle, we were sensorially overloaded the whole time we were there.

Rescue services at Piha Beach

Rescue services at Piha Beach

The lifeguard's vehicle at Karekare Beach

The lifeguard’s vehicle at Karekare Beach

The landscapes confront the senses – the ferocity of the waves; the texture and colour of the black pearl sands; the staggering height of the cliffs and rocky headlands; the beauty of the waterfalls; the cool, verdancy of the nikau palm forests; the vast, empty expanse of the Tasman Sea; the dark, misty Waitakere Ranges; and the dazzling fire of the West Coast sunsets . . . such a novelty for East Coasters who, by virtue of geography, specialise in sunrises over the ocean. The people are different too – super-friendly, relaxed and slightly eccentric.

View of Karekare Beach from Coman's Track © Auckland Council

View of Karekare Beach from Coman’s Track © Auckland Council

The view from Lion Rock showing Taitomo Island

The view from Lion Rock showing Taitomo Island

The view from Lion Rock showing North Piha

The view from Lion Rock showing North Piha

Silver surf and black sands at Karekare Beach

Silver surf and black sands at Karekare Beach

Sunset over the Tasman Sea with Taitomo Island on the left

Sunset over the Tasman Sea with Taitomo Island on the left

Hiking the Hillary Trail

We spent our days hiking sectors of the magnificent 76km Hillary Trail that runs from the Arataki Visitor Centre in the Waitakere Ranges to Muriwai Beach. The trail is named in honour of Sir Edmund Hillary who came to the rugged Waitakere Ranges to prepare for his Everest expeditions. His family have had a holiday bach at beautiful Anawhata Beach since 1925.

In four days, we chocked up a sizeable chunk of the trail, all the way from Whatipu to Anawhata.

In the past, we’ve lugged ridiculously-heavy packs around back country huts but this time we did it the cruisy way, returning to a luxurious home-base every night and a fridge stocked with delectable food and wine.

I was never brave enough to wade more than knee-deep in the turbulent surf at Piha but we found the perfect alternative. The Blue Pool at The Gap, a deep sandy, swimming hole sheltered from the sea by rocky headlands, was replenished every day by the tide and provided a delightful, safe spot to cool off after a long day of hiking in the heat.

Heading up the Zion Hill Track

Heading up the Zion Hill Track

View of The Gap and Blue Pool from the Tasman Lookout Track

View of The Gap and Blue Pool from the Tasman Lookout Track

Taitomo Island from Lion Rock

Taitomo Island from Lion Rock

View of Nun Rock from the Marawhara Track

View of Nun Rock from the Marawhara Track

Walking back along the beach after Marawhara-White-Laird Thomson circuit

Walking back along the beach after Marawhara-White-Laird Thomson circuit

View of Piha Beach en route to the Tasman Lookout

View of Piha Beach en route to the Tasman Lookout

Mercer Bay from the Hillary Trail walkway

Mercer Bay from the Hillary Trail walkway

Karekare Beach and the Watchman island off the coast

Karekare Beach and the Watchman island off the coast

FACTBOX

Justine Tyerman stayed at Dave and Emma’s Love Home Swap property. Visit Love Home Swap to view over 100,000 properties in 150 countries!

Getting there from Auckland, New Zealand: JUCY Rentals.

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About Author

Justine Tyerman is an award-winning New Zealand journalist, travel writer and sub-editor with 18 years' experience in newspaper and freelance work. She has worked as a news reporter, feature writer, designer of an award-winning Newspapers in Education programme and sub-editor on local, national, business, education and international desks.

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