On the first day of Spring here in the Southern Hemisphere, a few friends and I took a hike out to Whatipu, Auckland’s most far-flung West Coast beach at the northern entrance to the Manakau harbour. Even the drive out to Whatipu is special and this day even more so as we were treated to the sighting of a pod of orca at Little Huia. They were a little way off and we only saw their dorsal fins but it was so special just to know they were out there, almost heralding Spring. Some fisherman will have had wonderful close encounters.
Unlike Muriwai, Piha and Bethell’s Beach, Whatipu has no settlement and is accessed by gravel road. The only dwelling here is the Whatipu Lodge built in 1860. Today it’s managed by the Auckland Regional Council and can accommodate up to 37 people. I plan an overnight trip soon.
I find Whatipu particularly special, I feel the land has a special quality, the hills feel protective. It’s a place where the history is almost tangible. It was settled early by maori and was home for a long time evidenced by five pa sites, terraces for housing and shell middens (rubbish dumps for cooking waste). It’s romantic, achingly beautiful and searingly harsh and bleak all at the same time. In February 1963 the Australian navy ship HMS Orpheus sank at Whatipu while on a mission to deliver supplies and troop reinforcements during the New Zealand land wars. 189 out of the 259 on board died making it New Zealand’s worst shipping disaster. Although the weather was clear and sunny, the ship came to grief on the dangerous sand bars off Whatipu Beach.
Any walk you can do in this area at any time of the year will be memorable. The diversity of vegetation brings a depth of texture and colour to the landscape that will delight anyone with a vaguely artistic eye. We took the Omanawanui track which starts just off the dirt road before you head down to the lodge. There is space for parking around five cars. The tracks wends its way along the cliffs towards Whatipu with some steep inclines and descents. Finally you land on Whatipu Beach which is well worth exploring if you have time. This day we crossed the road at the bottom and headed back up to the car via the Kura Track which winds its way along a river and then climbs through native bush, a lovely contrast to the ocean side descent.
Following pictures are taken by Josie Stanford. Click to enlarge and view as slideshow.