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Destination: Waitakere

Walk Out West

Danielle Wright
03 January 2011

Ancient forests, giant Kauris and lost children: all part of a day’s walk out west.

The sound of insects and rushing water from the stream compete with shoes slipping on stony slopes. Families with dogs, newborns in prams, the elderly and fit people walking with tramping poles pass in the other direction as our leisurely stroll becomes a fast-paced jog to keep up with a racy two-year-old.

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Photo courtesy of planmyday.co.nz

We are 25km from downtown and walking through Cascade Kauri on the 1.5km Auckland City Walk. Hectic urban life is a world away as a pheasant and her offspring blow past in the wind and Tuis flap overhead.

An initiative called Ark in the Park is working to create an Open Sanctuary in the park to restore its natural glory and reintroduce species of birds, plants and insects that once thrived here.

It’s working and the Native North Island Robin is back here after a 100 year absence. A spray and brush of our shoes before we head into the forest is a small ask in return.

We walk over the ‘shaky shaky bridge’ and bounce it up and down. A family is racing paper boats in the stream underneath as a nine-year-old boy on his own runs past us with a Cheshire Cat grin.

A Polynesian in basketball gear jogs past joyfully. “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s up the hill we go,” he sings as a red-faced man slides down in the opposite direction.

“Have you seen a boy, so high?” he pants. We point in the direction of the Cheshire Cat and a few minutes later we meet a woman with a baby in a pram, looking at us warily.

“We’ve seen your husband and he’s almost caught up with your son,” we reassure her.

“You’ve seen him then?” She is relieved and her face relaxes “You imagine all sorts”. She hurries on her way. It’s a safe family walk but a mother’s worry is never over-cautious.

The walk through ancient forests takes us up and down steep and curved rocky slopes with plenty to hold our interest: from Maori pou whenua to giant Kauris and rushing waterfalls.

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Photo courtesy of NZ Golf Course

But what keeps the kids going the most is the promise of an ice cream sundae at the Waitakere Golf Club at the edge of the park.

The Golf Club has to be the most down-to-earth golf club there is. Its interior is like a friendly RSA club and the atmosphere, though most of the regulars know each other, is welcoming of new people.

The land was originally owned by two farming families, the Walter Sisam family and the William Meikle family. The club started life at Bastion Point in 1936 as the Orakei Golf Club.

It’s recently had some upgrades, including removing the beds in the bathrooms, which I always thought were pretty unusual and must have been for over-eager golfers (or drinkers) who got tired.

“Nah, they were for weddings, a ‘safe area’”, says Stewart, the barman.

I wonder what a safe area at a wedding could be for - maybe to get away from Auntie Doris and her matchmaking or a place of retreat for the bride in between kisses and congratulations?

As we drive off, we pass the Cheshire Cat and his family, now happily reunited. They wave and point to their son, with an obligatory: “We’ll kill him now we’ve caught him.” The kind of thing that’s always said when a danger has just passed.

Although a walk in the forest is thought of as a retreat from the world, it’s the people you meet along the way that make as much of an impact as the scenery, people you might not have noticed had you met on a crowded street.

Traveller’s Tips

For a Free Eco-Treasure Hunt at Cascade Kauri see www.ecoevents.org.nz

Cascade Kauri is a popular stop for campervans and offers overnight parking options in beautiful surroundings - though the dense canopy can bring on the darkness earlier in the evening than expected

Head to Arataki Visitor Centre to find out about the 250km of tracks on offer in the Waitakere Ranges

Waitakere Golf Club has Wednesday night twilight golf - just $10 for nine-holes

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