Like every other good kiwi girl, I grew up watching Piha Rescue and wondering why on earth anyone would go there.
“I’ll never go there, mum,” I promised. “It’s just too dangerous, dad,” I said. “I’ll never take my children there,” I swore.
Last week Emmy & Me packed our tiny car with towels, food for 6, things to swim in, and enough fresh water to sustain a small east coast village, and off we went. To Piha.
I just had to know. I had to understand why year after year, summer after summer, season after season people flock in their thousands to lay on the black sands under the watchful eye of Lion Rock, and cool off in the deadly west coast currents. There had to be more of a reason than locality because it’s not exactly like Auckland is landlocked or without any other options – there had to be more.
We started our journey heading south west from our own little beach town – Mangawhai, and thanks to Google Maps made our way pretty quickly from the Northern Motorway across to the other motorway. I have no idea what it’s called – and I don’t think it will change my life if I do – so let’s just call it the Western Motorway and hope that no one uses this blog as a road map. We headed west and soon found ourselves at the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges.
I am a New Zealander – kiwi born and raised by kiwi born and raised parents. We grew up dairy farming, surrounded by fields of green, and hills of green, and cow pats of green, Green is a colour I am quite accustom to. Bot not like this. The Waitakare Ranges are thousands of acres of lush, green rolling mountains flocked with native bush, naturally formed and untouched waterways, and bird life that would even impress Sir David Attenborough. The whole area is almost prehistoric in it’s beauty and while we were driving through to our preplanned destinations for the day we passed so many tracks, paths and walkways that were just begging to be explored – that day will come, and soon I hope.
Before we arrived at Piha, we took a quick detour to Karekare Falls. There are carparks a little further up the road (as we discovered as we walked past them) but we parked in the main carpark at the bottom of the hill, checked the sign, and headed off. The walk in is very short – from the carpark to the waterfall is barely 10mins, but it is beautiful nonetheless. About half way down the track we passed this cool mini waterfall, complete with naturally formed waterslide and the coolest little “mermaid pool” at the base of the falls. This will be a popular spot come summer!
A little further down the track the sound of cascading water grew louder, closer, clearer. Then through the little Puriri lined clearing she appeared – simply stunning.Mother Nature does something that is incomparable to any other creator – she just exists, without competing, or asking. Karekare Falls is breathtaking. The pool at the bottom of the falls will also be a sweet cooling off spot in Summer – it’s pretty shallow around the edges and I’d happily let Em splash around on warmer days.
After a little wander around, a few too many selfies, a some funny chats with some fellow travellers, it was back in the car for a 5min drive to the main event: Piha!
As we came over the top of the hill overlooking Piha I was caught completely offguard – the combination of striking sun, salt spray, and the glistening black sands are pure New Zealand on a plate, and it’s fair to say I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the place from a clifftop carpark lookout. We quickly made our way down to the shoreline, parked in the relatively empty lot, and skipped down the sands to the foot of Lion Rock -this was our first task. I knew if we didn’t strike while the iron was hot Emmy would lose interest, fall in love with baking sand cakes, and we’d never get up – so off we went.
The first part of the track is steps cut into rock – Emmy is a bit of a seasoned adventure so she took off and comfortably completed this section herself. Be a bit weary with little ones though – there are some loose rocks and it’s a bit slippy underfoot.
From here the track is pretty safe for littlies, but do keep them within arms reach. The rest of the stairs are actual steps, and it’s only a quick wander to the top. Once there, the views towards both ends of the beach are incredible.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the rocks around the base of Lion Rock, playing in the little stream (there were some really deep sections so please keep an eye out on little ones around this stream), and enjoying the strange feeling of having such a sprawling space to ourselves. We have the luxury of being able to travel midweek so we’re usually a few days ahead of the crowds and it’s bliss.
I chatted with Michelle from Outdoorsy who spends a fair bit of time out west, and she let me know there are also some beautiful kid friendly walks up around the headland (she has a great blog about this too). We’ll be heading back in the next few weeks to explore a little more too.
Once we’d had our greedy fill of sand, sun, and uninterrupted views of the Atlantic, we sadly left our bum prints in the black sands, said our farewells to the sea, and set off for the final destination for the day Parakai Springs. A great way to relax and unwind – topped off by a pretty amazing group parachuting display overhead.
We went west – the west won.