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.
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.
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.
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.
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.