The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is a 30-minute drive west of downtown Auckland. The 39,500 acres (15,985 hectares) of native forest are bordered by beaches to the west and the city to the east.
Explore the artistic hamlet of Titirangi, which has galleries and cafés, before continuing into the ranges to the Arataki Visitor Centre. Located on a ridge and guarded by an imposing Maori carving, the center is the gateway to this arresting landscape and a good place to get the latest information on guided tours, activities such as canyoning and horseback riding, and walking trail conditions.
The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park has trails for all fitness levels, from short walks dotted with information panels, to four-hour-long trails that wind their way through tranquil, birdsong-filled environments.
For the really adventurous, the Hillary Trail is a 47-mile (75-kilometer), four-day hike, with camping facilities dotted along the way. The trail is something of a pilgrimage for hiking enthusiasts. It starts at Arataki and winds down the coast to Huia Bay, before curving north to take in the stunning black sand beaches of the west coast.
Karekare was the beach featured in the 1993 film The Piano. Piha Beach is a popular surfing spot, but rips can make the beach unsafe for swimming, so it’s important to check with local surf clubs before venturing into the water.
A small railway, the Rain Forest Express, takes guided tours from Swanston on the edge of the ranges to a picnic area at Upper Nihotupu Dam. Keep an eye out for glowworms and weta (nocturnal insects) as you pass through caves and pipeline tunnels.
Take a wine-tasting tour around several vineyards in the Henderson Valley to try local wines and ports, and sample gourmet flavors in a winery restaurant.
The ranges are easily accessible by car. Come as a day trip from Auckland or spend the night at one of the bed-and-breakfasts, beach houses or hotels dotted along the coast and Scenic Drive.