Great walks and Kiwi birds in Tawharanui Regional Park
Settled in the tiny village of Matakana for nearly a week in New Zealand’s early springtime, I relaxed, walked, ran, explored, tasted wine – and took a day to visit the amazing Tāwharanui Regional Park.
Hardly much more than a skip north of downtown Auckland at 85 kilometers (53 miles), this area east of Warkworth is worth much more than a slam-bang day trip. The Tāwharanui (“taff-raw-new-ee”) Regional Park alone demands an entire day for hiking, picnicking and wildlife education.
Without a car, I decided to rent a bike for the day, despite the locals’ eyes bugging out a bit: You do know it’s about 24 kilometers, don’t you? Each way? You do realize the last six kilometers are on unpaved, potholed roads? Yes, yes and yes, I reassured them all. Not wanting to miss a moment of the day, I showed up at the Matakana Bicycle Hire Ltd shop at 8 a.m. sharp when it opened to find the owner’s toddler daughter playing with dolls in the living room – and nobody else in sight. I finally tracked down the owner and got my wheeled steed and helmet (NZ $40 for the day, approximately USD $34). With a pack full of munchies and water, off I went.
Tāwharanui Regional Park is one of Auckland Council’s 26 regional parks, but it is more than a pretty green space. The 588-hectare (1,453-acre) peninsula in fact is the council’s first integrated open sanctuary where farming, recreation and conservation of native species co-habitat. The vision for the land, which was acquired in 1973, was for an area free of non-native pests where native creatures, flora and fauna could survive and thrive. That includes the little Kiwi bird that New Zealand is known for. One of the most amazing features is a high, 2.5-kilometer fence that literally separates the finger of land from the mainland, from waterline to waterline, and protects it from invading pests such as rodents. The fence has a snail-like curl at each end so any creature trying to invade, wanders in and gets disoriented, finally making its way into one of many traps.
There is even an electronic gate that cars, bikes and people trigger to open, allowing visitors to enter, but shutting automatically behind them to keep out pests. Warnings abound to check your car and camping gear for marauders.
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Aside from camping, picnicking, barbequing, watching lambs being herded and learning all about native species and their protection, the sanctuary has about 33km (nearly 21 miles) of tracks of varying levels that can be combined in many ways. They cover high lookouts, open viewpoints, deeply forested glens, ocean-side sand dunes (the entire northern ocean border is a marine sanctuary too) and bluffs where you can just breathe deeply. I spent about six hours on the tracks (note, they are extremely well-signed, as is typical throughout New Zealand). She highly recommends Maori Bay Coast Walk, as well as getting out to “land’s end” at Tokatū Point. A map can be downloaded from the parks homepage here.
The sanctuary is so careful not to cross-contaminate that a few forested tracks have gates equipped with a cleaning station with water hose and nozzle, grate and brushes to clean your footwear on the way in and out.
The birds have definitely made themselves at home, strutting freely around the trails and lagoons. So boldly, you can almost imagine them standing on their side of the fence at night sticking out their little bird tongues at rodents with a loud “neener, neener, neener.”