Day 2 – black sand and surf
If you want to see the stunning and deserted beaches of the west coast of the north island, you’re going to need to rent a car …despite the curious prevalence of tv public service announcements questioning the intelligence of allowing tourists access to cars. It’s definitely worth the drive (and the honks, bird-flips and dirty looks you may receive on your way). Just remember to circle left at that roundabout.
First stop is the famous (and curiously abandoned) KareKare Beach. A 45 minute drive west from Aukland over the Waitakere Range, this dramatic, black sand beach provided the location for the 1993 film The Piano. (try googling the beach scene on Youtube- it’s very atmospheric) Surrounded by lush, dense rainforest and spectacular waterfalls, the wide beach is a short windswept hike from the small parking area. You’ll need to wade through some shallow pools to get to the beach, so be ready to kick off your shoes.
The beach is vast, desolate and hauntingly beautiful, ringed with rock formations and lush green jungle.
About a half a mile from the beach is the KareKare waterfall- an easy hike to make for a big payoff. The walk will take you through tangled forest and giant ferns , but there is no missing the waterfall. You’ll hear it long before you come upon it. Make your way up to the base of the falls to get a sense of the height and a refreshing mist to re-invigorate you for the drive to the next beach.
Next stop is Phio Beach which lies just north of KareKare- this epic black sand beach is a storied surf destination that sits in the looming shadow of Lion Rock. Rock climbing is big here and there are some Maori carvings to see if you brave the climb to the top.
Walking on beaches, scaling rocks and hiking to waterfalls will generate a powerful appetite (and thirst), so a stop at the Piha Cafe for a late lunch, a beer or a pefect cappuccino is a definite must. The salads, sandwiches and baked goods are made fresh daily with local and mostly organic ingredients, and the vibe and design is surfer laid-back.
Head back to Aukland for a late dinner and a walk around the lively harbor. Day three – wine and olive oil tasting on Waiheke Island.