Hamilton is only an hour and a half south of Auckland. As we still had a day left we went north into Auckland, but immediately swung across to the west coast. The North Island is very thin around Auckland, with the city sprawling from the east coast inwards. On the west side the Waitakere ranges are a forested mountainous area protected as a regional park. The drive through the park was lovely, native bush at both sides of the road and it was easy to forget that we were so close to the city. We stopped at the Arataki information centre to have a look from the viewpoint, a 360 degree panorama of Auckland and it’s surrounds.
The view of the coast which broke through the bush on the road to Piha was fantastic. A stunning blue sea with Lion Rock just off the beach. The beaches of this part of the west coast are covered in black sand, a remnant of past volcanic activity. The sand sparkles as sunlight reflects from minerals in it. This looks lovely, but the wet sand stuck to people doesn’t look so nice. The surfies were out in force taking advantage of the weekend sunshine.
There isn’t a road which hugs the coast, meaning that we had to double back on ourselves several times during the day. Our next stop was Te Henga, or Bethells Beach, another nice spot, where a little trailer based store does a cracking coffee. Again, the car park was full of people pulling out boards and heading onto the beach. We laughed at a dog racing across the beach to chase a kite.
We made a quick wine tasting stop at the Matua winery and took away a bottle for that evening. About 10km away was our final stop, another stretch of black sand at Muriwai Beach. We booked into the camp site, a lovely spaced out site with loads of interesting mature trees. Muriwai Beach is also the home of a colony of gannets. We took a walk up to the colony, where several lookout platforms sit above the gannets. Below us on the rocks a fisherman cast into the sea as waves washed over the ledge he was standing on. It all looked a little precarious.
In the morning we packed our stuff up into our bags and made our way into Auckland. We had already pre-booked a hotel near the Ezy depot, so checked straight in after dropping off the van. It was a wet Sunday afternoon when we ventured out in search of food. As we walked the rain got harder so, fearing a complete drenching, we bought bowl noodles and sandwiches from a corner shop and went back to our room.
The weather had abated the next day, so after check-out we put our luggage in storage and walked into Auckland centre. Neither of us were in the mood for it and so maybe did the place a disservice. It just seemed so similar to other cities and we felt a little disheartened. Perhaps we were sad because we had enjoyed our time in New Zealand so much, with all it’s natural splendour, and our last glimpse of it was a fairly ordinary, fairly busy city centre. At the airport we had to deal with a very snotty bloke on the Air New Zealand customer service desk who charged us $25 apiece to re-validate our tickets. We weren’t happy.