Muriwai Beach and the Gannets

December 31, 2021
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Muriwai is to Auckland as Bondi is to Sydney: the city’s most iconic beach. Arriving at the carpark, I couldn't wait to hit the sand!

A carpark at Muriwai Beach

Muriwai Beach

Like Bondi, Muriwai has a famous surf-lifesaving tradition.

The lifesavers' lookout

Looking northward on Muriwai Beach. The beach goes for miles, but the safe area between the red and yellow lifesaving flags is quite short.

The modern surf club and café

'Saved from Drowning' (1927), in the surf club

Old Muriwai Lifesaver costumes, in the surf club

Female lifesavers at Muriwai, 1983

It’s further away and harder to get to, of course. And more rough. But that’s New Zealand for you, where everything is a bit wild and remote.

Famous artists like Colin McCahon used to come to this wild western shore for inspiration.

Colin McCahon information panel

Muriwai means a place where the journeys of water come to an end: a lagoon at the mouth of a river, or a confluence of streams. A place your thoughts grow still as you lie back and listen to the pounding surf.

These days, Muriwai is at the northern end of the Hillary Trail, the great trail through the Waitākere Ranges west of Auckland, which has just lately also acquired the Māori name of Te Ara Tūhura, the path of discovery.

The trail, or path of discovery, comes out on a local road just inland from Muriwai Beach called Constable Road.

At the southern end of Muriwai Beach, there’s another attraction: a teeming gannet colony, far more accessible than the one at the end of remote Cape Kidnappers/Te-Kauwae-a-Māui on the east coast.

Muriwai Gannet Colony

Another view of the same scene.

Gannets catching the wind. See, also, the lookout in the background.

You can get to the gannet colony by way of the Ōtakamiro Trail, which isn't very far. Here is a map, and some publicity about the trail, all from local information signboards.

Map of Muriwai, from a local Auckland Council billboard. North is toward the right. The Ōtakamiro Trail is shown on this map as the Takapu (Tākapu) Refuge Walk and its side trails. Tākapu is Māori  for gannet. The species that nests in Aotearoa is the Australasian gannet, Morus serrator.

Ōtakamiro Trail information

More details from the Ōtakamiro Trail billboard

The gannets don’t seem to mind onlookers. There are a couple of lookouts where you can stand and watch the gannets, as well as a path with a railing through the colony.

Muriwai gannet colony lookout and railings

I revisited the place just before Christmas. It’s a good time, because the gannets are breeding at this time of year. And it’s summer, as well.

I just love these chicks, they’re so amazing! You can see lots of them in the video I've embedded a little further below.

Feeding a baby. NB this really is how close you can get, even while still behind the railing.

A little further south still is Maukatia Bay. It is in easy walking distance of Muriwai as well.

Maukatia Bay, with Ōtakamiro Point at the right

A lot of the coast south of Muriwai Beach is impassable at high tide.

Here is the promised video! The first scene in which I talk about being at the other end is Maukatia Bay. The second is the gannet colony. By 'other', I mean the southern end of a beach that stretches for miles to the north, even though the area between the lifesaving flags is quite short.

Right now, there seems to be a state of complete and total confusion as to what parts of the Hillary Trail are open and what parts aren’t.

Unfortunately, the council website I linked to last week isn’t all that reliable as to the latest openings.

Based on council information, I drove to the northern end of the trail on Constable Road, supposedly open for hiking to Te Henga (Bethells Beach) past a section of tidal coast. But it was closed.

The sign right at the start did not say anything about the trail being closed, either

Full of optimism, I took a selfie in some forest.

Walking toward a closed gate

Oh, right

The council site even calls the trail Te Ara Hillary in Māori instead of the more poetic and official Te Ara Tūhura, as if the content on the website isn’t quite the final version!

Perhaps the latest Covid lockdown has stuffed up the council’s website updating. That’s probably it. Though you’d think a web page that exists for the purpose of providing up to date information would still be—well—up to date, whatever the current emergency. The same goes for out-of-date track signs.

Luckily, I’ve discovered more reliable information on Facebook, of all places. It’s posted by the founder of the Feet First hiking meetup group, Stephen French.

According to a post by Stephen on the 27th of December 2021,

Soon you'll be able to walk or run from Bethells at Lake Wainamu to Piha Beach and Karekare. [A]nd further south.....when Auckland Council reopen [Houghton] and Kuataika Tracks to Anawhata Rd by the farm.
 You'll also be able to walk bush tracks from Karekare Beach to Pararaha Valley via Zion Hill and Lower Buck Taylor Tracks.
 Contractors are resuming work in January 2022.
 Also Whatipu Beach Road reopens in February after a huge road slip..
 And Gibbons and Muir Tracks to Pararaha Valley are not far away from opening ..
Now if we can only return to Goldies Bush and Mokoroa Waterfalls soon.. I'd be really grateful.. and happier..


As I mentioned last week, the upgrading of the Hillary Trail/Te Ara Tūhura (not Te Ara Hillary!) means that there’s a chance it will be gazetted as one of Aotearoa’s official Great Walks, shoulder to shoulder with currently better-known hikes like the Milford and the Routeburn!

That would really be something that Aucklanders could be proud of, a Great Walk in their own backyard!

Next week, I press on to Te Henga, by another route . . .

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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