Forty kilometres west of Auckland, reached by an attractive winding road off SH16 through Waimauku, Muriwai Beach begins its yawning reach northward for 50km along the edge of the Tasman Sea. And, set behind the rounded dunes, is a large, council-owned camping ground that is extremely popular in the summer months but at other times can be almost deserted.
The extensive grounds, set within the 380-hectare Muriwai Regional Park, are tiered to form grassy platforms that are haphazardly divided by shady pōhutukawa trees. All the amenities have recently been upgraded and the service areas - the fully equipped kitchen, the toilets and shower blocks - are newly built, spotless and convenient. The Muriwai Beach Campground is now, arguably, the best place for RVers to stay on Auckland’s blustery west coast.
Managers Cheryll Beatty and Denise Mackle are cheerfully obliging and extend their welcome to dogs as long as they’re kept on a leash. A short drive away is the Muriwai Championship Golf Links, which welcomes both playing and non-playing visitors in the café, open every day.
I can recommend the generously filled homemade sandwiches and soup. The environment around the camping ground is compelling: the dramatic cliffs and vast stretches of dark sand; the monumental rocks; the great expanse of ocean; and, at night, the constant rumbling of the waves.
In winter, the beach seethes with wind and rain, its mood furious and exhilarating. When it’s in a calmer frame of mind, surfers pour out from the city to ride the breakers and, in the warmer months, the beach is popular with walkers and swimmers.
Taking to the waves here will charge your adrenalin, but it’s foolish to enter the ocean outside of the lifesavers’ flags because of its boisterous waves and powerful currents. I wouldn’t even think of it in winter. Waves hold no fear for the star attractions at Muriwai.
They soar above the sea and dive into its depths like small torpedoes. By late August, most of the gannets that have come home to breed on the Muriwai Cliffs have arrived from Australia. They’ve flown for 14 days covering 1700km of Tasman Sea, and the welcome they receive when they get here is not always warm.
Young unmarried birds first endure some tough love. Gannet lore decrees they must squat on the fringe of the colony until they find a mate. From August to January, these magnificent sea birds make a riveting spectacle as they mate, nest, hatch their eggs and bring up their young.
At the end of Muriwai Beach, steep steps lead up the cliff past a flat fishing rock, blowholes and sea caves to the gannet colony and, at the top, platforms allow humans to get a close-up, bird’s-eye view of all this domesticity without ruffling their feathers. An unruly wind might try to dislodge you on the way there, but there’s no moving the thousands of gannets that call their impossible perch home.
They hang in there through every trial and tempest, a moving tableau of landing, greeting, mating, bill-clashing, pecking bickering and keening. For those more attracted to another kind of birdie, the Muriwai Golf Links is one of the few courses in New Zealand that is in great condition all year round.
In winter it’s dry, and in summer the fairways remain green and soft. The only real challenge is the onshore wind, which can be powerful at times and put beginners off their game. The fairways run close to the beach and are separated by black dunes covered with toitoi, marine grasses and low bushes The views from the tees are inspiring; the greens stretching across an uninterrupted sky and the watery expanse of the sea.
Win two nights at the Muriwai Beach campground
Be in to win two nights’ accommodation at the Muriwai Beach Campground on a powered site.
Enter before 10 January 2020