Te Ara Tūhura: The Hillary Trail Gets an Upgrade. Part 1 — Huia to Whatipu via Ōmanawanui

December 24, 2021
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IN 2020, I put up a blog post called Auckland's Western Wilds. In that post, I talked about the amazing forested wilderness to the west of the city of Auckland and the Hillary Trail that ran through it, and how the Hillary Trail was one of Auckland's "best kept secrets." Unfortunately, though, the area was being threatened by kauri dieback disease, and its forest trails were being closed down.

Well, fortunately, perhaps the most scenic section of all, the Ōmanawanui Track north of the heads of the Manukau Harbour was reopened on the 21st of February 2021, with steps and boardwalk sections so that you don't step on the vulnerable kauri roots.

The Hillary Trail and its Environs. The Ōmanawanui Track is the section that hikes south-westward from Huia, opposite the Āwhitu Peninsula, to the southernmost part of the trail. (Based on NASA Earth Observatory jpeg image Auckland_17_2002239). NB this is no substitute for a proper trail map. North at top.

There are seven sections in total. Section 7, the northernmost part, which runs along the beach from Te Henga to Muriwai, was the only section to remain open through the shut-down, as there are no kauri on that part of the trail.

Hillary Trail track information sign: now out of date as the Ōmanawanui Track, which is another section of the trail, has re-opened

So, a week before Christmas 2021, I went to the Arataki Visitor Centre of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, where they have a visitor centre and lookout, and then on to the coastal cafe village of Huia where the upgraded Ōmanawanui Track begins.

The Arataki Visitor Centre is strongly Māori-themed, with wood and stone carvings by master artisans.

You get amazing views from both lookouts!

Video of lookout balcony views: Arataki, followed by Huia

At Arataki Visitor Centre, they have empty frames that make it look as though the landscape is a painting.

You can drive to Huia, and in normal times all the way to Whatipu on the west coast, where there is an amazing coastal wetland.

The Coast at Whatipu

Unfortunately, just right now, the road to Whatipu is closed by slips. You can still hike the Ōmanawanui Track, which takes you to Whatipu as well.

The Ōmanawanui Track begins at Karamatura, just slightly west of Huia and on the same bay. There are loop walks at Arataki and also at Karamatura for anyone who does not want to go for a long distance.

From a signboard at Karamatura

One thing that caught my eye at Huia was the local settlers' museum, which holds relics salvaged from the wreck of HMS Orpheus, New Zealand's worst-ever shipwreck, which happened just off the heads of the Manukau Harbour in 1863.

The Orpheus was a steam corvette with a crew of 259, stationed in Sydney. It had been sent to New Zealand to intimidate the local Māori, some of whom were engaged in armed conflict with the settlers at the time. However, on arriving in New Zealand waters, the captain decided to enter the Manukau Harbour, Auckland's western harbour, which is far more treacherous than the east-facing Waitematā Harbour. However, the channel at the mouth had shifted since the captain's charts were printed, and the crew failed to heed warning signals from shore. The Orpheus then foundered on the bar with the loss of 189 of its complement, as only one lifeboat made it to shore.

'The Wreck of HMS Orpheus' by Richard Brydges Beechey, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to being New Zealand's worst maritime disaster, the sinking of the Orpheus accounted for the greatest loss of life in a single day in the 1860s New Zealand Wars. And the incredible thing was, it all happened little more than a stone's throw from land.

On a less sombre note, there are beautiful lush green Nīkau palm forests in the more low-lying areas, plus campsites at Karamatura, as you can see on the signboard above.

Nīkau palm forest

Karamatura was an important place for shark fishing, and also has the name Kaingamaturi, meaning dwelling place of the deaf. This name refers to two lovers, a young chief and a chief's daughter from another tribe, who hid together behind the local waterfall because the girl was betrothed to another. When found, they had been temporarily deafened by the waterfall's noise. The families agreed to their union, since it was clear that they were inseparable. The incident is commemorated in ceramic tiles and also in a pou whenua, or totem pole, near the carpark.

With all its massive upgrades to keep people off the kauri roots, including a new lookout at the highest point on the Ōmanawanui Track and the re-routing of the track past the historic Ōmanawanui Pā, the quality of the Hillary Trail, also now called Te Ara Tūhura (the path of discovery), must be approaching the point where it would be a candidate for becoming one of New Zealand's handful of officially-designated Great Walks, along with such famous hikes as the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track. People have said already that it should be, but before the recent upgrades, the tracks were too rough to qualify.

The best source of up-to-date information both about Te Ara Tūhura/The Hillary Trail in general, and also about which sections are open, is to be found on this Auckland Council link. If you are around locally, you can also visit the park rangers at Arataki Visitor Centre, or call them on 09-817-0077.

Special thanks goes to Nicki Botica Williams, who took the photo of the coast at Whatipu.

Did you like this post? If so, check out my new book The Neglected North Island: New Zealand's other half, available on this website.


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