Gems of the West
These are gems of the northern side of the Manukau harbour, at the narrow part near the entrance to the Tasman sea. About 100kms return, Auckland CBD to Whatipu. Twisty roads with only the last 11kms on the Whatipu road being gravel and quite corrugated at the moment. The west and Waitakere Ranges in general can be very wet so it is definitely worth paying attention to forcasts. The Manukau is also a very tidal harbour and with its narrow entrance, strong currents are generated with the running tide and appropriate care is needed if swimming or boating. The strong tides also leave mangrove mudflats exposed at low tide so these times are less attractive than when the water is virtually lapping at the road edge.
The pretty town of Titirangi can be a stop for coffee at the famous Hardware cafe and a visit to the art centre at Lopdell House which is currently being restored and added to. Lopdell first opened it's doors as a hotel in 1930. No liquor license saw it named the 'Pub with no beer'. Its most enduring incarnation was as a school for the deaf until in the early 1980s it was purchased by the Waitemata Council to become a regional art centre.
At the roundabout past Lopdell House turn left on the Huia/Cornwallis road, continuing on until a left at Victory road leads down to Laingholm and Parau. Laingholm itself is very pretty little bay with the tide in and being very sheltered, only a few low ripples on the day we visit. A few scattered dwellings and a Fishermen's club house.
Armour and Mill Bays are next, both having extensive, well maintained council parks extending down to the waters edge. Lovely pohutukawas provide shade over neatly mown grass which borders the narrow sandy beach. With the tide high there is about 1.5 metres of beach with no mudflat visible at all. Mill Bay is so beautiful today that we choose to have our lunch here. Of course our 4 legged constant companion, Tammy is here too, and she loves it.
Cornwallis beach comes next with its long wharf and many fishermen trying their luck. None look very active so I think the fishing may be disappointing. As we drive up and over the hill towards Huia a little road to the left takes us to Huia Point from where we can see out west to the Manukau bar (harbour entrance) and back east towards the airport and Onehunga. Clearly visible too is the Awhitu peninsula - the south Manukau head and its iconic restored lighthouse high up on the headland. The breakers (white horses) on the bar are easily seen, although quite mild today, in a westerly storm the Manukau entrance can be treacherous, claiming many ships over the years, the most infamous being the 1863 foundering of HMS Orpheus, a Royal Navy corvette with the loss of 189 men.
Huia itself is a horseshoe bay with the road running right alongside the beach. Very tidal and with the water half out now a huge expanse of mudflat is exposed. The quaint Huia shop, on the right, can make a very good espresso and offers quality lunch or snack food. We have 2 espressos and a giant salt and peanut cookie - very tasty. On our way again, through Little Huia then onto the 11 kms of gravel road which steeply rises to Mt Donald McLean then falls, equally steeply down to Whatipu. On a day like today the beach is a beautiful curving sweep of dark sand from the Manukau entrance and almost up the coast to KareKare. The first landmark we notice is Cutter Rock which looks uncannily like a brooding gorilla. The light reflections through the thin layer of water over the sand are quite magical. Walking is the way to see Whatipu with plenty of scope to the north but don't get caught out by the tide. We don't venture too far as we have our mate waiting in the California parked in a shady spot. We take our leave of Whatipu quite awed by its majesty and naturalness. So remote yet so close to home. Winding back up the hill we take a lefthand turn onto the Donald McLean lookout road - after about 2 kms there is a small turning and parking area from where we take the 30 minute return walk to the lookout. This is a great highpoint of the area and gives extensive views to the north back over Auckland city, Rangitoto, and south over the Manukau entrance. Today is calm but it would be very exposed on a windy day. We always enjoy the west with its wonderful wildness and natural beachscapes and seriously recommend these gems of the west to anyone who only has a few days in Auckland yet wants to experience true, unspoilt native New Zealand bush and beaches.
Soon on the seal again at Little Huia we are back in the city about 1 hour later.