Hiking the Hillary Trail
by Shane Boocock
The spectacular Hillary Trail is a new edition to the self-guided walking tracks that dot the coastal landscape around the Auckland regions. This challenging four day hike and camping adventure through native forest and the wild west coast is one that can easily be accomplished in summer, but is also one you will find much more demanding in other seasons due to shorter days and cooler weather, with mud and slippery underfoot tracks that need to be traversed.
It’s envisaged that The Hillary Trail will encourage families and people of all ages to comprehend and experience the great outdoors. It was of course named after Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand’s pre-eminent mountaineer and explorer, whose family had a great association with the west coast beaches, dating back to 1925 when Sir Edmund’s father-in-law Jim Rose built a bach at Anawhata. In the intervening years five generations of the Hillary family have often chosen to visit, walk and explore this dramatic promontory region.
The trail is 70km long and connects an existing network of tracks and back-country campsites. This back-to-basics tramping experience offers you the chance to discover some of Auckland’s finest headlands, forest, fauna, wildlife and picturesque black volcanic beaches. No matter what time of year you travel, you’ll need to be prepared and have the right equipment. Take into account the season, weather, daylight hours, safety concerns, stream crossings, swimming abilities and your physical condition. ??You can choose to visit the trail in sections and at your own pace, as opposed to completing it in one go.
The Hillary Trail begins at the Arataki Visitor Centre in the Waitakere Ranges. The first day is an easy 11km section to Karamatura, which will take you between 4-5 hours to complete. Along the way are strands of dense nikau, the world’s southernmost palm. In amongst this forest there are also large kauri trees that soar skyward and pierce the forest canopy. ??Eventually you’ll reach the Huia Dam. As you walk down the sealed road it will bring you to the harbour at Huia.
At the Huia bridge on the edge of Huia Bay the trail continues south along the shoreline to the entrance to Karamatua valley. The driveway to Karamatura farm is where there are signs that direct you to the Karamatura campground. If you take the shore route to the outlet of the Karamatura Stream, you can then visit the superb community-owned Huia Settlers Museum which is usually open on weekends, especially in summer – it gives a fascinating insight into the region and the people that lived hereabouts.
The second day will take you from Karamatura to Pararaha, a good muscle-aching 14.5km or about 8-9 hours of walking. There are also side trips for the ardent tramper to the 389m summit of Mt Donald Mclean, a 1.5km addition to your day’s hike. During the journey there are impressive panoramic views over the mouth of Manukau Harbour, Whatipu, to South Head and beyond – the exertion and effort will be well rewarded.
From the Gibbons Track take the Muir Track, which at times requires you Pararaha Campground is on the edge of the Pararaha Stream in the lee of the hill you have just descended. ??Draw your breath and prepare for day three, a 17km ramble that will take about 9 hours unless you are a super fit hiker. This section follows the black-beach coastland as it bisects Karekare, Piha and North Piha. After wading across a stream, follow the track through wetlands before a long uphill climb through a variety of forest habitats.
Then your first descent of the day is down to Karekare. Here there is an excellent side trip to Karekare Falls which adds about 500m to your journey. ??On the way to Piha via Comans Track you’ll soon reach the top end of the cliffs which affords more dramatic views south down the coastline. Following a number of other well marked tracks will bring you to the base of Kitekite Falls, before crossing another stream and heading down the valley via Kitekite Track. In Piha is the Piha Surf Lifesaving Club which was founded back in 1934. There’s also a store in Piha to replenish supplies and refill water bottles, as well as a café and the Piha Post Office where, in 1953, a telegram was received telling the Rose family that Hillary had reached the summit of Everest. This is your opportunity to have a coffee, go for a swim or climb Lion Rock which is a 20-minute return journey.
From the end of North Piha follow the approach to lead you through to Les Waygood Park and onto Marawhara Walk and the White Track. At Anawhata Road turn right and walk 1.5km to the campground at the old Craw Homestead. If you think day three was tough, then this stretch of track will test you mentally and physically. This is your last day and you’ll need to make an early start as the trip is 27km long and may take up to 12 hours to complete. You will also need an additional supply of drinking water as there is only untreated water available until you reach Muriwai Beach.
When you reach the junction of the Smyth Ridge Track, it’s time to assess your strength, the conditions and your energy reserves before making a committed decision to proceed further on the Hillary Trail all the way to Bethells Beach and Murawai. The alternative is to turn inland and head up the Smyth Ridge where you’ll reach roads that will take you to Swanson. It will reduce the day’s distance from 27km to 18.5km, or about eight hours of walking.??By the time you reach Muriwai you will have walked 70km along some of the wildest, most scenic coastline in New Zealand, and you can be certain Sir Edmund would have been proud of you.
ARC campgrounds are $5 a night and must be booked and paid for in advance. www.arc.govt.nz
Go to the Arataki visitor centre to pick up a Hillary Trail Track Map, t 09 817 0077
Huia Settlers Museum, open 1.30pm-4.30pm Saturday and Sunday
Piha Domain Motor Camp, www.pihabeach.co.nz, t 09 812 8815
Muriwai Beach Motor Camp, www.muriwaimotorcamp.co.nz, t 09 411 9262
Bethells Beach Cottages, www.bethellsbeach.com, t 09 810 9581