A West Coast Winter Weekend

Rochelle Sewell Published 08:39, Jun 25 2020

There’s no such thing as winter on Auckland’s West Coast. Unpredictable swells and stormy weather over the Tasman Sea can roll in year round.

Whatipu, Karekare, Piha, Te Hēnga, and Muriwai form Auckland’s spectacular chain of iron-sand beaches. Each are unpredictable and notorious. Whatipu tō Te Hēnga sit against the backdrop of the Waitakere Rainforest. Muriwai to the north has a more rural setting. It’s surrounded by gentler contours of neighbouring farmland and plantation pine forest owned by Ngā Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara.

With its surf beach and forest playground, Muriwai is a perfect winter weekend getaway.

A winter playground just 40 minutes from Auckland’s CBD.
ROCHELLE SEWELL A winter playground just 40 minutes from Auckland’s CBD.

The endless beach is a playground for surfers from near and far, especially when perfect conditions arrive at Maukatia-Māori Bay. Swimming is usually safe, although only the hardy will swim in winter without being clad head-to-toe in neoprene.

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Maukatia-Māori Bay is separated from the long 60km stretch of main beach by a jutted headland and Motutara Island, home to thousands of nesting gannets between August and March each year. But even when the gannets aren’t in residence, the walk to the colony lookout is magic. This track forms the final part of the breath-taking Hilary Trail. Colin McCahon captured this view in many of his works and was so inspired that his ashes were spread over the headland.

Travel a short distance north of the main beach carpark and visitors will find an area humming with activity. The clink of balls on steel at the picturesque 18-hole Muriwai golf links are coupled with the sound of four-wheel drive vehicles and dirt bikes. There’s vehicle access to the beach and the sand becomes a 30kmh legal road. But for those wanting to enjoy a more serene experience, there are plenty of options.

Muriwai Horse Treks have 11 horses in their herd (nine members in their human herd) and give riders of all abilities an incredible one or two-hour horse trek experience. Rides begin along a stretch of vast black sand where crunching waves meet the horizon.

Next comes the crossing over the Okiritoto Stream and into the forest trails. The deadwood remains of the pine harvest leave riders feeling like they’ve entered Narnia through the wardrobe. This is a great spot for walkers and a network of dedicated mountain bike trails can be found further north.

Riding on Muriwai's endless beach.
MURIWAI HORSE TREKS/FACEBOOK Riding on Muriwai’s endless beach.

The Muriwai Beach Campground is set within the 380-hectare Muriwai Regional Park. They offer sites for tents and vans, and even hire caravans and cabins for those who want to stay without bringing it all with them. The campground is perfectly positioned next to the new surf lifesaving club and is sheltered from onshore breeze in its hollow behind the dunes.

For the less hardy, there’s plenty of local houses available for short stays and the Only Fools and Horses backpackers is up the road.

The north-west of Auckland is known for its vineyards. Some have morphed into boutique restaurants, and there are now popular taverns and an independent brewery in the area. These are all well worth a visit on the way out or return from the coast. The beach itself is catered by the Sand Dunz café, popular for fish and chips, ice-creams and toasted sandwiches. You won’t go hungry!

A West Coast winter sunset.
ROCHELLE SEWELL A West Coast winter sunset.

Muriwai is just 40 minutes from Auckland’s CBD, but it’s a world away from the city. A great weekend escape at any time of year.

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