The best places are often discovered by accident. Take Whitireia Park, in Porirua, for example. Initially, we had planned to walk a stretch of the Te Araroa Trail, but upon researching the Ara Harakeke section we decided to go in search of somewhere less urban and settled instead upon Whitireia Park. Don’t be fooled by the tame-sounding name; this ‘park’ is anything but. It’s a rare, hidden gem that will take your breath away and make you feel glad to be alive.
Blow off the cobwebs
There are a couple of ways you can access the park. The main entrance is via Whitireia Road in Tītahi Bay. While you can drive there, we had read several reviews warning drivers of the steep and narrow road and besides, we were there to hike. We set off from Richard Street instead and almost immediately found ourselves heading sharply upwards in a vertical climb along the headlands.
For someone like me, who has a phobia of heights, this came as quite a shock and was a huge deal. We were higher than the radio tower. The wind was fierce, too, which made the going a little more challenging and less comfortable. But, oh, the views made it all worthwhile. They were so magnificent, I almost forgot to be terrified.
Just a short way out in front of us was Mana Island and, in the distance, we could clearly see the South Island with its snow-capped mountains. Despite the wind, the day was clear and sunny and everything looked so vibrant, from the ocean resplendent in blue and green to the pink and yellow daisies that smothered the clifftops. Seagulls circled, swallows dived - it was almost too perfect.
Eye on the prize
The park is 180ha of predominantly open grasslands but from the moment we spotted the tiny beach at the end of a rocky point far below, we were determined to make it down there to explore. This took a fair bit of time and effort as we scrambled over jagged rocks and hopped across hidden pools rich with kina.
It felt as if we were Jurassic explorers, and the rock formations were like nothing we’d ever seen. Fortunately, they were relatively safe and easy to climb, even for an uncoordinated soul like me, and eventually we were rewarded with a little piece of beach paradise, all to ourselves.
I could have stayed there forever, beachcombing and looking out at the crystal clear water, while Gareth busied himself climbing yet more rocks. I swear he must be part mountain goat. Eventually we moved on, somewhat reluctantly, and re-joined civilisation at Onehunga Bay, just around the corner.
This is a popular recreational area for dog walkers, picnickers and families. There are no rubbish bins here, so take your rubbish away with you. But there are clean public toilets and changing sheds. We were amused to see silverbeet growing right there on the beach. After the challenging hills and varied terrain of the morning, it was pleasant to have some respite in the form of an easy, well-maintained walkway.
Coastal or bush? The choice is yours
Once you reach the car park at Onehunga Bay, you can meander at your leisure. The track takes you alongside the harbour and is a popular route for walkers and runners. From here, decide whether you want to keep following the Te Onepoto Loop Track around the coast and venture back through town, or head inland and rejoin the path back the way you came.
Both options are just under 5km in distance. We chose the latter and strolled the lesser-used trail through hills and valleys, thick with native bush and plantings, until we came out once again at Onehunga Bay, now ready to tackle the clifftop walk a second time.
From this direction, we could see first-hand how narrow the road really is and we were glad not to have taken our van down. Although well sealed, the descent is steep and there is little room to negotiate oncoming vehicles. As is often the case, it’s other drivers you have to watch out for, travelling too fast and not keeping to their side of the road on corners.
On the plus side, there are many parking spaces once you reach the bottom, but we definitely wouldn’t advise trying to get a large motorhome down the road. Upon reaching the top, there was nothing for it but to cross the windy headlands again. However, after walking most of the day, this time round we were thankful for the cooling breeze.
The view was no less spectacular the second time around, and we kept a relaxed pace, taking time to stop, sit and admire the many vantage points. I was no longer quite as afraid of heights as I had been at the start of the day - although my stomach still lurched whenever I stood close to the edge and saw the rocks directly below.
But life is about challenging yourself and overcoming fears and I was so glad I had been able to do so on this occasion. Most of all, we were happy to have taken the time to explore a lesser-known spot rather than the usual tourism norms. Although much loved by locals, Whitireia Park remains one of Tītahi Bay’s best-kept secrets.
While no camping is permitted, you can easily spend a whole day there. There is plenty to do for everyone of all ages, from fishing to snorkelling. As one reviewer says, “Take your camera, your pooches, your baby strollers, your bikes and enjoy yourself. It is a little bit of paradise.” Never a truer word spoken and I like to think that in years to come we will return here and enjoy it every bit as much.
Whitireia Park is a must-visit for anyone travelling to or through Porirua. Here are some of our tips for making the day especially enjoyable:
Wear suitable shoes
Although the Onehunga Bay and Te Onepoto tracks are flat and well maintained, if you are planning to walk across the headland or down to the beach from the cliffs, sturdy non-slip footwear is vital.
Hunt for Maungaroa
At Onehunga Bay, seek out the anchor stone of the legendary Māori explorer Kupe, left to mark the spot where his canoe beached. It is believed the stone lay in the park for hundreds of years before being moved to Te Papa. Today, a replica now takes its place.
Don’t forget to slip, slop, slap
When hiking the cliffs, be sure to apply sunscreen no matter the weather. Even if you’re not likely to get sunburned, it’s exposed up on those ridges and you can easily get windburned. Don’t learn the hard way as we did.
Dogs are permitted
The park and surrounds are a wonderful playground for four-legged friends and they are welcome all year round as long as they are kept under control. Big thumbs up to the Greater Wellington Regional Council for providing a place that caters so well to all members of the family.