Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hillary Trail - Wellington Anniversary Weekend

The opportunity arose to be in Auckland over Wellington Anniversary Weekend this year so I scouted around to see what we could do with that time. I stumbled across the Hillary Trail which is a 70km, 3-night walk from the Arataki Visitor Centre to Murawai.We only had three days (2 nights) available so arranged to leave the trail early at Piha Beach. Information on the trail was readily available on the internet but warned that the walk was a hard, long walk.

Day 1 - Arataki Visitor Centre to Whatipu

We fronted up to the Visitor Centre at about 11am on the Saturday morning and set off to Karamaratura (just past Huia) which was a 10km walk.

This part of the trail had warnings about the boggy nature of the track and was expected to take 4-5 hours to get to the campground. The track itself was fine. Slightly boggy in places but certainly better than some areas of the Tararuas as far as mud went. After an enjoyable walk we arrived at the campsite at 2pm - it only took us 3 hours to get there. We stopped at the campground for lunch and then figured we may as well keep walking for a few more hours (another 10kms) and head to Whatipu for our first night.

Part of the track between Karamaratura and Whatipu

Trying to get phone reception on the hill above Whatipu (a little windy up there)
Picture looking towards Whatipu and the entrance to Manukau Harbour
We arrived at Whatipu late afternoon and set up camp at Cave campsite. This was a very small camp ground that provided a small number of tentsites and a toilet. There was fresh water available about 15 minutes walk away at the main Whatipu campsite. There were a number of people already at Cave campsite when we got there so it was a little tricky finding some flat ground to set up camp for the night.

Just enough room for a small tent at Cave campsite
We got that sorted and then had dinner just before the sun went down. A very enjoyable first day on the Hillary Trail.
Sun setting at Cave campsite

Day 2 - Whatipu to Craw campground

 Day 2 dawned a little wet and miserable so we packed up our tent and headed into one of the caves nearby to have breakfast.
Breakfast spot in the cave
From here our destination was Craw campground just north of Piha, a walk of 21.5kms. Today would be a mix of walking in the bush and then on the beach to Karakare before enjoying a with a little bit of civilisation at Piha. Luckily the weather cleared up and the day turned out warm and sunny. After a little while we reached Pararaha campground which is where we had intended to camp on our second night. Clearly we were walking the trail a little quicker than the signposted times. We managed to get within cell range to change our plans of leaving the trail early and sort out a pickup from Murawai instead of Piha. Along the way we walked through the Tunnel Grove campground. This was an awesome spot and, if we'd known about it, we would have arranged our walk to stay there.
Tunnel Grove campground
The tunnel by the campsite complete with the abandoned boiler which didn't fit through the tunnel

From that campsite the walk continued along the beach all the way to Karekare. Rather hard work walking in sand with a pack on. At Karekare we climbed a small hill to where the Hillary Trail continued and sat and had lunch in the sun.

Beach at Karekare
View from our lunch spot at Karekare
After lunch at Karekare we headed back into the hills and came across Mercer Bay. We noticed a group of guys ziplining across the top of this bay so we stopped to watch them for a while.

Mercer Bay
From Mercer Bay we carried on towards Piha where the trail winds its way past the Kitekite Falls.This was a popular spot for families swimming.
Kitekite Falls at Piha
After a brief photo stop we headed into Piha where we had a well-deserved icy cold cider before carrying on to Craw campground.
Beach at Piha - Lion Rock in the middle of the photo
Campsite at Craw campground
There were a couple of guys camped here who were also doing the Hillary Trail. They had decided to exit early though and not do the final day through to Murawai. We had a pleasant night here with an early start the next morning. The information on the trail said that the walk from Craw to Murawai would take 11-12 hours. With a 5:30pm pickup from Murawai organised we figured we should get an early start so headed off at about 7am.

Day 3 - Craw campground to Murawai

From the campground we headed over farmland for a while before the trail went back into the bush heading away from the coast for a while. After a long descent we walked alongside Lake Waimanu and then some huge sand dunes to Bethells Beach (Te Henga).

Lake Wainamu
At Bethells Beach we continued on the trail but had a great view down to the beach where some filming was taking place. Not sure what the film is but there were horses and what looked like Roman soldiers involved.

Bethells Beach - Te  Henga
After a short climb over the hill by Bethells Beach we stopped for a swim at O'Neills beach. The sea looked a little treacherous here but it was great to have a dip and wash off some of the accumulated sweat and dirt from the previous two days.
Te Henga Walkway - O'Neill Bay
After our refreshing swim we carried on. We were now on the Te Henga walkway to Murawai.
Te Henga Walkway - from Bethells Beach to Murawai
Te Henga Walkway - from Bethells Beach to Murawai
Somewhere towards the end of the walkway we stopped on the side of the track for a lunch break. We were making good time so were confident we would easily get to Murawai in time for our pickup at 5:30pm. After lunch we carried on to the end of the Te Henga trail - the last part of the trail to the road into Murawai climbs a series of wooden steps. Not the sight you want to see after having walked a decent distance already. Once we finished climbing the steps we were onto a mix of road walking (boring and hard on the legs) and trails through the bush. This took us through to the gannet colony and then onto the beach at Murawai. We celebrated our arrival with a swim in the surf there. It felt great! Once we were suitably refreshed we made our way to a cafe for a cold drink while we waited for our ride. All up the day had taken us about 9 hours - including stopping for a swim and a relaxed lunch break as well as numerous photo stops along the way.

Small part of the gannet colony at Murawai


We enjoyed our three days walking the Hillary Trail. From our perspective, the numerous warnings about how rough, tough and long it was were overstated. The track was pretty dry when we walked it so I can imagine after (or during) rain progress could be a little slower. There are certainly improvements that could be made to the trail and the literature. Signage was either over the top with Hillary Trail markers very close together to non-existent where no Hillary Trail markers could be seen and no other useful signage to indicate the start of tracks. Carrying the detailed brochure as well as a detailed map for the area assisted us in a few places where the route was unclear. The estimated times were overstated for the pace we were walking. Given that we were carrying reasonably heavy packs with camping and cooking gear, etc I don't think we were walking particularly fast.The maps for the trail show the route between Pararaha to Karekare is in the hills but the markers have that section walking along the beach. There was no information provided on that change and no mention of it at the visitor centre at the beginning of the trail. It would be good to have more information in the brochure about some of the other campsites and maybe a breakdown of the times between different sections of the walk. And my last point was to not take much notice of the profile map in brochure. The profile for the whole 70kms is printed across the page resulting in an unhelpful profile that doesn't show any details. It would be much better for the profile to be split for each section of the trail and to be printed in landscape.

1 comment:

  1. did you ever get in touch with the people who administrate the walk about their directions/lack of?

    Good pics and lovely scenery. Oznan