We had some free time on Sunday so we decided to go out to the west coast. Auckland is nestled between the Waitemata Harbour coming in from the east and the Manakau Harbour coming in from the west, but it's mainly built up along the east coast. It's always fun to take a drive out west, across the Waitakere hills (a very large and lovely regional park) to the west coast beaches. Due to their relative remoteness and the pounding of the Tasman Sea, these beaches have a wild character that is very refreshing. (The move THE PIANO had a memorable scene of a settler's piano being dumped on a beach --- it was filmed at one of these beaches.) Although these beaches seem remote they're only about an hour's drive from the city (depending on how fast you can take the narrow winding roads through the hills!).
Whatipu itself is a huge sandy area just north of the entrance to the Manakau harbour --- windswept, barren and with very little development. The only access is an unsealed road around the southern edge of the Waitakeres. Although it's winter, it was a clear warm day and there were a couple of dozen cars parked at the end of the road by the time we got there about 3pm. We had a lovely walk along the black ironsand paths, through the wetlands to the beach. The tide was very high so there was no way to walk around to the largest part of the beach, but it was great just to stand there and feel the wind, the sun and the sea, watch the waves break on sandbars and admire the fortitude of the fishing-boat crews as they punched their way out to sea.
It's definitely one of my favourite places. There are a lot of bush walks on that side of the Waitakere hills and I hope we can go out there again to do some of them. But the trip also whetted my appetite to go in other directions. It's easy to live our daily lives here in the city and forget the wonders on our doorstep. In particular I hope we can soon get away for a weekend in the central North Island, which has always fascinated me with its lakes, mighty volcanoes and geothermal displays.
Update! I'm told that the rock at the entrance to the Manukau harbour is called the Ninepin Rock. The object on it is a navigation light, number 4107. 4 white flashes every 30 seconds. And it used to be serviced by my grandfather when he worked for the Auckland Harbour Board!