When in Doubt….

… go to Piha.

I knew I had a busy day planned today, so I headed out to Piha first thing in the morning, as the sun was still climbing up to peek over the mountains,and through the clouds.

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And, my favorite one from this morning – completely sums up Auckland’s weather – at least two seasons in one day.



And, for the record’s sake, at Piha I walked 3.4km or approximately 7,000 steps.  But at Piha, it’s never about the walking.  It’s the soul of the place.


For the sake of getting out there

At the start of today, I knew I did not have a lot of time to fit a walk in. 

However, from my past experience – read: yesterday – I also knew that I didn’t want break what little momentum I had going, and miss a day, albeit for a very valid and understandable reason.  

I decided to try to tackle Arataki Nature Trail, not surprisingly (given the name) starting at Arataki Visitor Centre. Despite the closeness, and the fact I’d literally walked right past it a few times when visiting the centre, and the fact it’s designed as someone of an introduction to walking in the Waitakeres… I hadn’t done this trail.  Possibly because it seemed so… deliberate, almost to the point of being artificial.  The plant ID markers along the way certainly help to remind you that you’re not in the middle of nowhere, and although the track quality is excellent, it’s also wide and noticeably man-made.  



The other reason, which I find harder to admit to myself but yet is no less valid, is the people. 

I don’t really like walking a well-travelled path, particularly a “touristy” path. 

Now, I have nothing against tourists.  Indeed, tourism is a large and needed industry for New Zealand, and my wee corner of New Zealand is not exempt from that.  But a lot of the time I go on my walks to get away.  From people, from society, from modern life, from myself.  Obviously I’m not going and getting lost in the wilderness for days on end, so there are some limits to how ‘away’ I can truly be.  But walking a path and passing lots of different groups of people also walking the path almost puts me off.  Particularly when the people on the path don’t seem to have the same reverent, quiet, introspective attitude that I usually have – and of course, most people don’t.  One way or another, I find it hard to settle into a meditative and peaceful frame of mind if jarred by a group of backpackers chattering back and forth, or the echoes of voices bouncing around the mountains / woods, or trying to figure out exactly what European language the group in front of me is conversing in.   All the people, tourists or not, are very valid users of the parks and tracks.  And in fact, the ones flouting the rules (most commonly with dogs) are almost always the locals, not the tourists.  But large numbers of people in general on the tracks that I’m on at any given time is something I don’t particularly seek out, as I find it harder to get into the zone so to speak.  It’s also perhaps why I will choose bush walks or out of the way tracks in the mountains somewhere, that require forward planning and driving to get to, rather than just wandering around our (admittedly walking-unfriendly) neighborhood, or going to the nearest place with proper footpaths for a walk – which is still closer than the nearest bush walk. 

This being summer, and school holidays…. people are everywhere.  Particularly at visitor centres designed to show off everything the Waitakere Ranges have to offer. 



As it was, I was short enough of time that I only did the Lower Loop section of the Arataki Nature Trail – quite a short walk for me, only 1.2km in total length and a leisurely 30 minutes (including photo stops etc).  (And yet, I still met three different groups on the trail in that time). On the upside… I have a reason to come back and revisit the trail, if only to do the whole thing.  Further, I got out there – I did a walk, on a day I was fairly convinced I didn’t have any time to go for a walk.  It wasn’t long, and my daily step count is still pretty abysmal, but I made an effort.  Effort, in this case, is everything, especially for the mentality of building up the habit. 

I don’t remember it being this hard

After my walk yesterday, I was a little surprised how sore, tired, and generally achy I was.  The walk I did really was quite easy after all.  Sure, it wasn’t completely flat, but little around here is.  But the grades were gentle, the track tame and well maintained, and I didn’t even clock 10,000 steps yesterday – maxing out just a smidgen over 8,000 steps.  Compared to what I was doing just a couple weeks ago, that’s child’s play.

Following on from that, I found it hard to drag myself out for a walk today.  Conditions were perfect – sunny with a light breeze, some humidity but not enough to feel like you’re drowning with every breath.  In general, today was a glorious sunny summer Auckland day.

I did, however, push myself out the door to fulfill a nagging (but desired!) task.  I wanted to pop by the Arataki Visitor centre and get a proper map, as to date I’ve been primarily working off of the free, but somewhat incomplete, brochures with key tracks given a brief description, others merely noted on the map, and still others either on an adjoining map / brochure, or not at all.  New as I am to outdoor pursuits, I hadn’t actually realised there’d be a wider, comprehensive maps with all the tracks on it – but of course there is!  It’s not available for free, but it’s not expensive either and it’s well worth the money.   I knew it’d be available at Arataki Visitor Centre.  Although I’ve visited Arataki several times, I’ve never stopped to talk to the rangers there (I’m shy, I don’t like approaching people, even people there for that specific purpose)  nor had I ever really looked at the items for sale. Maybe simply because I’m not a tourist, I’d written off that part of the visitor centre as “tourist fodder”.   (For anyone wanting tourist fodder, there certainly is some – though what they do have is kept appropriate to the location, mostly locally made, and quite nice really.  Which I found out today, when I bothered to look.)  Arataki Visitor Centre closes at 5pm, however, and that’s often about the same time I’m only just heading out the door to contemplate a walk, as the weather starts getting slightly more bearable after the heat of the day.  (I’m not just a wimp on hills, I also don’t cope too well in the heat.)

I did make it there in time today – and found the “Recreational Area Map” right away, and it is indeed exactly what I’ve been after.  (So much so, that I’m tempted to go and get another one, so I have one in my car and/or bag, and one at home for route contemplating when not actively on the go.)  Right next to the maps, they had a proper book – Walking the Waitakere Ranges – which, being as that’s exactly what I’m doing, I also bought without hesitation. I’m always interested in other people’s experience of the tracks, both to get a feel of what I might be getting into beforehand, but also to compare my experiences to theirs once I’ve finished.

Having got out the door (which is usually the hardest part), I figured I may as well go for an actual walk now – I’m even armed with map and book! Inspired by yesterday’s walk and the tease of meeting up with Auckland City Walk, I decided to head directly to Auckland City Walk today, and possibly take the Fence Line track as far as the Dam (but not tackle the entire Montana Trail).   About halfway through my drive from the Visitor Centre to the start of the walk, I realised – I’d taken the car I haven’t been using much for these, and it no longer had my spare bottles of water in it.  Neither, for that matter, did my bag, as I’d drunk the one in there during yesterday’s walk.  So much for my motto of always being prepared with water and a snack.  Maybe I wouldn’t do the Fence Line track offshoot, after all.

Now I was faced with doing a walk I’ve already done (and been a touch ambivalent about at the time), ill prepared to make it a long journey with offshoots, when I was feeling more obligated than eager to walk in the first place.  Not the best frame of mind to start a walk in.  But, I was mostly there – might as well just do it.  Even a shortish walk is more than I would have done if I’d just stayed home.

Auckland City Walk2

Auckland City Walk, take 2, actually ended up being quite a bit different than my first experience.  This is now the second time I’ve repeated a track, and during my walk today I had a realisation.  To borrow a phrase from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, I’m calling it my First Splendid Truth of Walking.  The experience of the walk is only half due to the track itself – the other half is what I bring, mentally and physically, on any given day.  This time, I started from the other end of the loop (not quite a contradiction – the loop technically both starts and ends on Falls Road, but 100m or so apart) and thus went the other way around.  The way I went this time I think is the more common way – the main parking lot is at the very end of the road, whilst last time I parked in a parking bay near the other entrance to the track.  Although it’s not much of a difference, the 100m or so is on a hill, so ending at the “bottom” means a brief uphill walk at the very end, and I hate ending on a steady uphill section.   Starting at the bottom entrance to the track means that although the route is still pretty much the same, I’d finish on a downhill instead of an uphill, which sounds ever so much more appealing.

My experience of the track this time was nearly entirely different than previously.  For one thing, due to the direction I was traveling in, I completely missed the off-shoot to the Cascade Falls last time.


I was more than keen to do a small off-shoot, and I always like seeing waterfalls, so there was little question about whether I’d take the detour.

What I hadn’t realised when I went in search of the falls, however, is that the Cascade Falls are also known as the “Hidden Falls”.  I dutifully followed the track all the way to the end, and met pile of large and imposing boulders, next to the stream.  I could hear the roar of the falls, and what I assumed was people swimming in the pool at the bottom, but I could see nothing of the sort – just the giant cliffs on either side, one of which the falls tumble down.  When I got home and looked up the Cascade Falls, I found out what I suspected at the time – to actually get a glimpse of the waterfall, one has to climb the rocks, which are permanently slippery.  I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m not terribly surefooted, and I’m also not very confident.  Today, I contented myself with hearing the falls, if not seeing.  However, for the views of the cliffs and rocks alone, the brief detour was well worth it.

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Throughout the whole walk, and especially the end – by which time my feet hurt, and I was glistening with sweat, despite it being an “easy” track – I found myself marveling at how much harder the walk was this time, compared to my memories of last time.   I’d only stopped my daily walks for about two weeks, maybe three if you factor in the hit-and-miss period shortly before my ‘holiday’.  Now, though, I’m left feeling more unfit that when I first started walking regularly.  Both yesterday, and today, I’ve only just barely walked 8,000 steps – which is shy of my 10,000 step goal, and also well under what I had been in the habit of walking, before my break.  Now though, even 8,000 steps feels like a marathon.  I’m amazed at how quickly the fitness went away.  My husband, who used to regularly cycle commute, assures me that after the first week or so I’ll be right back into it.  I certainly hope so – at this point, it’d be all to easy to give up, and put the whole project into the ‘too hard basket’.  Mind you, I have no intention of actually doing so – but I can feel the temptation, and it’s strong.

No excuses

I’ve had a lovely Christmas break – although it wasn’t an intentional break, it just sort of happened.

Getting back on with getting back out there has proven a lot harder than I first thought it would be.

Admittedly, the weather hasn’t been entirely helpful.  However, the weather has been entirely typical for this region and this time of year.  By which I mean – it’s extremely changeable, and rains frequently with predictable lack of predictability.

There were several days when I looked up the weather at the start of the day, with a walk in mind, to read “Showers developing” or “Rain” – only for it to end up being a lovely, hot, sunny, and most of all, dry, day.

Lesson – don’t trust the weather forecasts.

Today, we’d already had both sun, rain, and hail, before I made up my mind to just do it and get out for a walk.

Because it had been raining, I wanted something that wasn’t merely a dirt track.  On clear and dry days, I love the dirt tracks – probably best of all – because it feels most natural.  In the rain, however, dirt tracks become mud tracks, and I am not a fan of mud.

So I decided to do Waitakere Dam Walk.

Waitakere Dam Walk

This walk starts at Scenic Drive, with a lovely parking area by the start of the walk, and is a paved walk down to Waitakere Dam.

The sign at the start was almost off-putting, for hill-adverse me.



However, the view from the start was a gently sloping road, fully paved, and clearly it was set up for vehicle access (albeit only authorised vehicles).  So, seeing as I was already there (and that’s half the battle) I decided to just go for it.  I had plenty of time, and was not against stopping for breath if I needed to on the way back.

There were a couple short off-shoots from the path that I didn’t expect.  I figured the Waitakere Dam Walk was really primarily a worker’s access way to the dam, and they were merely nice enough to allow (or realistic enough to not bother to prevent) people walking along it.  However, with the off-shoots, and the frequent benches along the way (clearly for hill-adverse people like me) it had a much more park-like, deliberate feel to it.  One of these off shoots lead to a large Kauri tree, with a 7m girth.

Large Kauri


As with most dam walks, I was expecting a good view, and was not disappointed.  The journey to the dam was, other than the Large Kauri offshoot, fairly unremarkable and unspectacular.  The road is wide enough that you don’t really get that “bush walking” feeling, even if you are at least away from the noise and hustle and bustle of the city.  But the views are great, and I actually like the ‘feel’ of the dam itself a lot better than the Upper Nihotupu Dam that I’ve also done (pre-blogging days, but sure to be repeated).

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What I hadn’t realised before starting the track (in part, I guess, because I didn’t look it up beforehand) was that Waitakere Dam Track meets up with quite a number of other tracks, although it’s not specifically part of any one of them.   Notably, it meets up with the Montana Heritage Trail, by way of Fence Line Track (i.e., Fence Line Track is part of the greater Montana Heritage Trail), so therefore one could also connect the Waitakere Dam Walk to the Auckland City Walk, or any other number of trails in the wider Cascade Kauri Regional Park.  I was sorely tempted to head off towards the Auckland City Walk, as I know from experience it’s a pleasant one, I wasn’t feeling tired at that point, and I was keen to experience the track that connects the two together (Fence Line track).  However, by this time it was 6pm, the weather was still highly suspect (it hadn’t rained yet, but there were some pretty dark clouds in the sky overhead – patchy, but there) and the wind felt like it was picking up enough that if I had a long walk back – specifically, if I was sodden and having a long walk back – it might not be that pleasant of an experience.  Plus I wasn’t really prepared for a longer walk.  Therefore, with a small sigh, I turned back to head to the car.

I did, however, meet this wee blackbird.  The bird was more friendly than most, and as long as I kept a couple meters away, didn’t mind my prescience at all – rather he/she seemed as equally curious about me as I was keen to watch (and photo!).