Hillary Trail

Whatipu Valley to Ocean

A 77 km single trail on the rugged West Coast of NZ with a variety of forest, ridge and coastal trail as the journey follows the seaside boundary of the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland.

It was a hot and humid summer day in the Waitakere Ranges and my Camelbak Marathoner running pack is shining blue out of the box thanks to my Christmas stocking, however the grip on my trail shoes grip have seen too many miles. The goal for the day is to run about half of the Hillary Trail from Huia village to the coastal settlement of Piha.

I left the carpark feeling good,  quickstepping over a narrow stream to the hard packed trail hoping to keep my socks dry and found that the sub tropical forest offers immediate sanctuary from the blazing sun.

After a steep ascent and the heart pumping, endorphins were flowing as I ascended the first ridge and headed due west towards the ocean, stopping at a view point looking down a broad dark green forested valley toward the curve of the Whatipu sand bar and the white breakers in the distance.  The hint of a sea breeze encouraged me on along the ridge.

Unexpectedly I come across a visitor to NZ, armed with a Lonely Planet guide, she said she had been bush bashing after losing her way and asked about a trail nearby. Grateful for a new course to return her to her starting point, we parted ways.

With glimpses of the Manukau Harbour to my left and the Waitakere Ranges stretching to my right I arrive at lands end, stopping to watch a lone boat leaving the harbour entrance for deep fishing water and then looked north to the Hillary Trail route across the valley heading up Gibbons Track to Pararaha Valley.

After a rapid descent into Whakipu settlement, I was soon grinding a little too slowly up the ridge line opposite, on hard packed trail over root systems. Taking it easy over Christmas was taking its toll.  I could hear the ocean crashing waves in the distance and the breeze blowing up the valleys was definitely a welcome relief as the humidity must have been over 90 percent in the forest.

After an hour or so felt like I had arrived somewhere special so I stopped for lunch in the Pararaha Valley. Deep green forest draped over precipitous cliffs that formed more of a canyon than a valley. A light warm rain fell as I contentedly sat eating my peanut butter and homemade plum jam sandwiches.  The distance roar of a Jet liner briefly shattered my nirvana moment and I realized a million people were only a couple of hours away in the metropolis of Auckland, working in air conditioned offices and commuting in heavy traffic .

Overcast conditions provided some relief as I burst out of Parata Valley onto a coastal section toward Karekare beach.  Running well again, I crossed long boardwalks over wetlands filled with bird life, and onto dunes and grasslands.

Old railway tunnel

I raced through a short tunnel left over from NZ wood felling pioneering history and made good time across Karekare Beach. My 2 litres of water in my running pack was all but gone and I felt a bit out of place jogging on soft sand past lifeguards and folks enjoying the beach who had walked the short distance from Karekare Road end.

In no time I scrambled up a grassy knoll and back onto the Hillary Trail, using local knowledge to avoid a short section of sealed road.

I wished I was better hydrated as I climbed to Ahuahu Road via Comans Track. It was absolutely gorgeous running near the cliff edge, with unreachable black sand beaches below, but my pacedropped to a fast walk on the steep sections.

I got much needed relief from my thirst by some generous tourists enjoying an early dinner overlooking the bay at the end of Ahuahu Road who shared some water.

The end was in sight though, I jog a sealed road section and reversed my cap to protect my neck from the baking late afternoon sun before re-entering the shady forest of Piha valley.
 I flew down the trails with dappled sunlight making for a great section of trail running, enthusiastic that I was only minutes away from the Kitakita Falls, a place I first visited as a boy.

kitekite falls.jpg

Kitakita Falls are a delightful 25 minute stroll from a road end but I approached from above, scrambling over uneven ground, before popping out at the Falls. I briefly gazed upwards, watching the water cascading over 3 sections before churning into the water hole. . My body temperature was high and I quickly striped off my running pack and running shirt and plunged into the cold but refreshing water with my running shoes still on!

It was hard to leave and I returned more than once for more, enjoying treading water under the falls.  My enthusiasm was infectious to a small group of tourists who arrived and were shifting around in the shallows, but soon they were in the deep, laughing and splashing around, enjoying themselves.

I was not bothered by my squelching shoes as I knocked out the 25 minute walk in 10 minutes to the road end with my mind firmly on what was waiting for me in the fridge at my Piha accommodation.

I jogged the last few minutes knowing that I had a great afternoon and a wry smile crossed my face as my cellphone chirped repeatedly as texts arrived to my mobile phone reminding me that I had completed a true off trail experience and my mind begins to wander, planning doing the second half of the Hillary Trail and other adventures in New Zealand.