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. The coastline is WILD!
Try to time your walk with an outgoing tide for the beach section. Karekare Point, at the southern end of Karekare Beach, may present problems on a high tide and especially with big swells.
The Zion Hill Track is best avoided in wet winter conditions as it can be very muddy.
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 Whatipu, park at the main carpark at the end of Whatipu Road. Cross the bridge and follow the campground fence past the information kiosk. Cross another small bridge and Gibbons Track heads up hill.
This description applies from Karekare and is an amalgamation of the Zion Hill Track, Pararaha Valley Track, Gibbons Track and then a return (tide permitting) along the beach from Whatipu back to Karekare.
The Zion Hill Track is unmarked but well-formed and signposted. It is best avoided in wet winter conditions as it can be very muddy.
It climbs steeply for 45 minutes to the summit of Mount Zion (272 metres) before meeting a junction with the Zion Ridge Track. Bear right and continue for 45 minutes as the track descends to Pararaha Valley.
You can then continue to Whatipu via the Pararaha Valley Track, Muir Track and Gibbons Track to near Whatipu Carpark.
Return via the beach. This is a long exposed section of coastline and is not for the faint hearted. You will need to head for Cutter Rock then Te Toka Tapu a Kupe/Ninepin Rock to access the beach. A shortcut through the lagoons will be wasted effort. Take plenty of water and a bucket of sunscreen.
As with all west coast beaches, swimming is very dangerous. Only get in the water if you have a death wish. And don’t tempt fate by getting close and dipping your toes in. Any rogue waves can wash you out to sea in an instant.
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 from 1870 until 1886 and cut up to 80,000 feet per week.
A sawmill was constructed in 1881 below the Opal Pools near Karekare and timber and logs were transported along a tramway to Whatipu. Karekare served as a staging post for logs moved from Piha. Little remains of the trestles or rails, except a 20-metre tunnel about 20 minutes walk south of Karekare Point.
The views from Zion Hill of the coastline south of Karekare towards Whatipu and the Pararaha Valley are ample reward for the climb.
In 1993 Jane Campion’s Oscar winning film The Piano was shot at Karekare. The beach was cleared of walkers and swept clean during the filming. Karekare subsequently became a popular location for fashion shoots, television commercials and music videos.
North Island ▷ Auckland Region ▷ Auckland
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍