Wild Trip: Zion Hill and Tunnel Point Loop

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Auckland

Caught in the ever-consuming spiral of urban living, I’d almost forgotten about the windswept wildernesses of the Waitakere Regional Park. Yet, 40 minutes from my very own doorstep lay 16,000ha of stunning rainforest and world-class walking tracks just begging to be explored.

No excuse for my neglect of the outdoors, I jump into my car seeking a much-needed respite from the city. Window down, I head west and descend the narrow road into Karekare, where dense native forest closes behind me in the rearview mirror. I’m greeted by a midweek empty carpark and sprint down to the beach knowing not a soul is in sight. Sea spray mists my view and pounding surf threatens to obliterate anything in its way.

Choosing to walk to Tunnel Point first, I venture beneath decadent forested cliff tops that shadow the blackened beach. A spring sun glimmers through the clouds and black iron sands are illuminated to guide me through a maze of sand dunes and tidal lakes. Water here is trapped between the changing sands, tides and forests, leaving mirror smooth surfaces in which skimming stones is a must. I lob in a few for good measure before cutting through the hillside from Cowan Bay to Tunnel Point via the old tramway Tunnel.

Historically, this area and the surrounding Pararaha Valley was a lucrative spot for those milling Kauri timbers and a community existed here far from the beaten paths. All that’s left now however are the remnants of the tramway, which ran between the valley and nearby Whatipu.

Pohutakawas drape themselves around the tunnel entrance heavy with the weight of winter rains, and I begin to imagine how stunning this area must be at Christmas time. I make a mental note to return shortly, bringing my tent and setting up a temporary home in the Tunnel Point Campground.

From here I navigate unique coastal wetlands that are like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else in New Zealand. Native flora is paired with an array of cabbage trees that line the Pararaha Track. A wooden boardwalk makes the area navigable year-round despite the over-flooding of surrounding rivers, and it’s evident as I squelch my way onwards that this was a necessity. To my left I can see one of many waterfalls in the region in full flood, standing regal against the kaleidoscope of green. Numerous river crossings are to follow.

Reaching the end of the boardwalk I turn left at the T intersection onto Buck Taylor Track. I’m faced with a steep muddy ascent towards Zion Hill, which takes me from sea level to 273m in one breathless go. Crossing paths with a bunch of tourists wearing only soggy tennis shoes I’m thankful for my hiking boots and a pair of dry socks in the car. It’s a slippery uphill slog here, but the views are worth it.

Reflecting on the journey I remind myself that wilderness and adventure doesn’t need to be so inaccessible or remote – sometimes these places are on your very own doorstep.

Fast Facts:

  • 4 hours loop including lunch stop.
  • Distance = 9.86km
  • GPS Coordinates for Zion Hill viewing point = S 37° 0′ 33.2454″ E 174° 29′ 57.573″
  • Grade = Moderate. Track can be extremely muddy in the winter.

Notes:

    • To start the walk, head back onto the road from the Karekare Beach carpark and turn right, following the road until you reach a grass clearing 50 meters up the road. Turn right and follow this towards the beach.
    • From here, follow the Hillary Trail markers when travelling along the beach between Karekare and Tunnel Point.