On the map, Shakespear Regional Park, on the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula, looks like a giant lollipop on top of a stick.
The lollipop is a hilly 555 hectares of regional park and open sanctuary, which, with the completion of a predator-proof fence and a pest extermination programme in 2011, is predator-free. Since then, there’s been an increase in bird species and numbers (including endangered dotterels, kiwi, white heads, and bellbirds).
Little ground-dwelling creatures, such as skinks and geckos, have also happily responded to the enemy-free environment. The park has three divine bays and two DOC camping grounds. Army Bay faces north, Okoromai Bay faces south, and over a hill, crescent-shaped Te Haruhi Bay—a bite out of that lollipop—is my favourite. There is plenty of scope for swimming, kite boarding, and beaching but we were there for walking.
The big loop
Most of the Tiritiri Track is through farmland with bush in the gullies. It was a gentle but long uphill hike and worth it to get to the lookout on top of the highest hill. The views over Hauraki Gulf are all-encompassing with, to the south, Auckland’s cityscape and conical Rangitoto. A cruise ship seemed to be pulled by an invisible string across the picture and yachts in full white sail headed home to Auckland’s marinas.
The blue-sea horizon to the east is edged by bumpy stretches of land; Moehau, on the Coromandel Peninsula, and Great Barrier Island. Then swivelling to the north, we admire cloud-capped Little Barrier, Kawau, and the islands of the Mahurangi.
After the lookout, instead of going directly back to Te Haruhi Bay, we added a loop along the ridge and then down past the heritage (1865) woolshed adding another half hour to the two-hour walk.
As most of this walk is through farmland, we didn’t see many of the birds the park is famous for, except for numerous pukeko grazing alongside sheep. The reward was the views. The park is in the middle of Hauraki Gulf and its extraordinary beauty spreads all around. Having lived in or near Auckland most of my life, it’s easy to take the gulf for granted. This was a wake-up-and-notice call of the best kind.
In Waterfall Gully, the path follows a stream as it weaves through bush. Spring is the best time of the year for bush walks. The ponga are luscious, the puriri trees are in full flower, dropping their pretty shiraz blooms onto the path, clematis is bright white, as is the manuka, and kowhai hangs in big bunches of sunshine yellow.
The bush is where the birds are. Big, fat kereru eat kowhai blossom and bellbirds and tui compete with each other to see which species can trill and chime most flamboyantly and loudest.
The waterfall the gully is named after is not huge or especially spectacular but it has its own cool and pretty dell, is surrounded by fern, and arched over by giant pururi trees with twisted gnarly trunks. It has such a sweet magic that you might even imagine fairies to be hiding among the undergrowth.
- Shakespear Regional Park is an approximately 60 minutes’ drive from Auckland’s city centre. Take the Silverdale motorway exit and drive to the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula. There are numerous walking and cycling tracks within the park as well as three gorgeous beaches on which to picnic and play.
- If you wish to stay over, there are two camping grounds in Te Haruhi Bay. Motorhomes and caravans with self-containment certificates can stay in one for up to three nights. The other one, at the eastern end of the bay, is an all-modes camping ground where you can stay for up to seven nights. No dogs or other pets allowed.
Find out more at regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz.