This is an other-worldly landscape with black sand, swamps and lagoons abutting the vertical cliffs around Mount Gillies (293 metres). The orange tufts of pingao and the numerous rhizomes of hay-coloured spinifex contrast markedly with the glittering black sands. Meanwhile the thundering roar of the treacherous and confused waters at the mouth of the Maunkau Harbour accompany the scenes.
The start of the track is signposted over the Company Stream bridge at the carpark behind Karekare Beach.
A signpost indicates the way to Whatipu from Pararaha Valley at the end of the Zion Hill Track.
From Pararaha Valley follow the boardwalk, then get wet feet over the marshy reed beds. Climb the dunes for a lookout of where you are heading and walk towards the coast.
Don’t try a shortcut through the lagoons, which are marshy and impassable.
You will need to follow the low dunes around the sands of the jet black sandspit to the mouth of the Maunkau Harbour, then follow the well-trodden tracks to the carpark at Whatipu from near Paratutae Island.
Since 1940, 600 hectares of sand have been added around the shoreline near Cutter Rock. The sand has been deposited because of the convergence of the Westland Current to the south and the West Auckland Current to the north. There has always been a tradition of changing sands in the area.
Lagoons of sparkling shallow waters, dried beds decorated with a sprinkling of tuatua shells, swamps of orange, purple and red parched reeds inhabit the ripples between successive waves of dunes. In the winter months, these freshwater wetlands are flooded streams and in the dry summer, they turn to lush herbfields.
The rare Eleocharis neozelandica, which only occurs in Wanganui, Wellington and Whatipu grows to 3 centimetres tall and is prevalent in the vegetation communities.
Dark green crowns of pohutukawa, occasional sprouts of ponga and nikau and hardy clumps of flax inhabit the available space on the cliffs, where the gradient isn’t too steep.
The area is the ancestral land of the Te Kawerau a Maki and was protected by four pa near the harbour entrance.
In 1863 HMS Orpheus struck Paratutae Rock at the mouth of the Manukau Harbour with the loss of 189 lives.
In 1867 Ebenezer Gibbons built a mill serviced by rolling roads, log chutes, dams and a wooden tramline. The mill at Pararaha Valley operated from1870 until 1886 and cut up to 80,000 feet per week.
North Island ▷ Auckland Region ▷ Auckland
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