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Published on 11 June 2017

The Hillary Trail

The Hillary Trail is a stunning multi-day hike across the Waitekere Ranges regional park. Featuring native forest and coastal landscapes, the Hillary is probably the best and most strenuous walk in the Auckland area. It sounded like the perfect plan for this Queen's Birthday long weekend so I decided to give it a shot.

The trail is named after Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the most well-known New Zealanders, who became one of the first two men to summit Sagarmāthā, also known as Mount Everest, along with Nepali sherpa mountaineer Tenzig Norgay. The official website contains all the information you need to know about the track. The recommended length is 4-5 days but it can be done in less time than that, especially during summer where days are longer and the track is less muddy. There's even an ultra-trail event where runners have to cover the whole distance (80km) in a single day. I must admit I was not expecting such a difficult tramp, but in winter and just by yourself it can become a challenging one in some of the sections.

This is a video I made with some of the highlights of the whole trail. Below you can find a more detailed description of the days I spent on the trail and some of the best shots I took.

First day, Arataki to Pararaha

I started the hike from the Arataki Visitors Centre, around 8h. It rained a lot during the previous days so the bush was quite wet and the track was muddy. The sky started to clear at the same time I started to walk, always a good sign. Between Arataki and Huia I crossed an old tram line (apparently still being used), some nice Kauri forest and a couple of streams. Once you get out of the bush you start getting nice views of Huia and the Manukau Harbour.

After going through the water reservoir I arrived to Huia, a nice little coastal village in the Manukau Harbour. During low tide the trail goes along the beach where you get to see a lot of coastal birds. The trail goes flat until you get to the park's office, where it becomes steep again. I think this where I thought, "this looks where the real deal starts". Mud, roots and steep slopes are the trend until you reach the road that heads to Whatipu. Now this is one the best sections of the trail. After crossing the road you join the Omanawanui track. A series of ups and downs that will punish your legs but will regard you with amazing views from the bush and the surrounding waters.

After refilling my water bottles at Whatipu I decided I would push it a bit further and make it to the Pararaha campsite, since I still had a good couple of hours until the sunset. Gibbons track was quite easy since it looked like it got heaps of gravel recently. Great views of the Whatipu scientific reserve and the ocean until you start descending to the Pararaha Valley, where I had to spend the first night.

This is probably my favorite campsite in the Waitakeres. I was lucky enough to had the whole place for myself, it was full moon and the weather was calm and nice. Amazing place really.

After setting up the tent I prepared dinner and got into bed quite early. I started reading "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau but I felt asleep after a couple of pages. After doing around 30km I was quite finished. I think I slept about 10h :)

Second day, Pararaha to Anawhata farm

I woke up to a glorious day and after preparing breakfast and packing my stuff I hit the trail. Only after a hundred meters I had to take my boots off since the Pararaha stream was quite full and I had water up to my knees. Once you get out of the valley you get into these wetlands heading into the beach. Heaps of birds around and nice views of the surrounding cliffs, the walk from here to Kare Kare is a nice and easy way to start the day.

After a quick visit to the Kare Kare waterfalls, I got into serious business going up hill towards Piha. Breathtaking views but heaps of mud until I joined the Mercer's Bay loop track. Being a Sunday and on Queen's birthday I was bound to encounter plenty of people and boy I did. I have never seen so many people on a single trail around the Waitakeres since I moved here. It was a bit shocking to get to see so many people after spending a very quiet night and morning in Paraha but I guess this is what you have to go through when crossing tourist spots such as Kare Kare and Piha.

After the end of Mercer's Bay loop track I had to join the road for a couple of km which probably make the worst section of trail. Nothing interesting to tell, I was just walking as fast as possible so I could re-join a tramping track again and get away from the noisy and busy road.

Easy way going down to Piha where I got to see the Kite Kite waterfalls. Again, the place was too busy so I left after taking a couple of pictures. It was lunch time when I got to the Piha Store. I had been thinking about coffee and cake since morning and my wishes came true! After the break I put on my boots and head into the bush. The way up to Anawhata is a gentle slope with nice views of the bush and the beach until you get to Anawhata Road. I stayed at the Craw campsite, just one or two km after joining Anawhata Road.

This campsite is not as beautiful or quiet as the previous one. It's really accessible so don't expect to be there by yourself, at least not on a weekend.

Third day, Anawhata to Muriwai

I woke up and my whole body hurted. I felt miserable as I opened the tent and felt the cold rain running down my face. Nothing I could really do about it so I packed my stuff, ate breakfast and put on all my waterproof gear so I could keep going.

After leaving Anawhata Road I joined the Kuataika track. Poor me, I didn't know what was coming. Steep slippery slopes and heaps of mud until I finally made it to the Wainamu lake. This was for sure one of hardest sections of the trail, especially the Houghton track. I was already tired but still had a long way ahead. The rain finally stopped and I managed to have a nice and early lunch by the waterfalls. In Bethells I joined the Te Henga walkway, a stunning coastal walk that finishes near Muriwai.

This part felt definitely longer to what it seemed in the map but at least the scenery was breathtaking. Luckily the sun was shining again and there was little wind. I imagine that doing this section with wild weather must interesting, to say the least.

At the end of the The Henga walkway I went through some killer steep staircases that end up on Constable road. This is the end of the tramping part of the trail, as from here onwards you're supposed to walk on the side of the road until Muriwai beach, where the Gannet colony is and where the Hillary officially ends. I decided to skip the last couple of km since I had visited Muriwai plenty of times and the Gannets are not nesting at this time of the year. But if you have never been there you should totally check it out.

Overall, I strongly recommend the Hillary. Next time I'll probably do it in four days, especially if it's during summer as there are plenty of swim spots and good places to chill ;)

I don't think many Aucklanders are aware of what en epic trail they have on their doorstep, but well, maybe it is for the best.

For those who like the numbers, the total distance was about 78 km and 3500 m of elevation. The daily Strava tracking info: