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Settled in the tiny village of Matakana for nearly a week in New Zealand’s early spring time, HI Travel Tales 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, HITT’s female half 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, she reassured them all. Not wanting to miss a moment of the day, she 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. HITT finally tracked down the owner and she got her wheeled steed and helmet (NZ $40 for the day, approximately USD $34). With a pack full of munchies and water, off she went.

HITT Tip: Ah, the biking: It’s not a short ride and the hills make it a relatively athletic adventure, but it’s worth it. Make sure to take plenty of food and water. There is literally nowhere along the way or at the park to replenish! We dashed back to return the bike by end of day, but consider keeping the bike overnight to make it a longer day (during the spring or summer when the gate is open until 9 p.m.) or consider making reservations to camp for the night.  More information on visiting, trails or camping is available on the park website.

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.

Tawharanui regional park coastal path through farmland.

Tāwharanui Regional Park is the Auckland Council’s first integrated open sanctuary where farming, recreation and conservation of native species co-habitat.

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.

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. HITT 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.

tawharanui regional park trail map

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.

Shoe washing station in Tāwharanui Regional Park.

Shoe washing station in Tāwharanui Regional Park.

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.”

HITT Tip: Cash is advised to pay for your bike rental. The owner couldn’t get reception on his credit card reader at this shop (he nonchalantly shrugged and said that happens sometimes) so we had to go stand nearly in the street as he waved it around for a signal. Mission finally accomplished so our intrepid explorer could find a well-deserved dinner and relaxing glass of wine! Cheers!
Heads up! This information on Tawharanui Regional Park was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). Please be sure to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, request for perfect weather during your entire visit, and any other important details before your adventure.

La Cigale French Market - Auckland

A visit to Auckland, New Zealand may mean partaking in bungee jumping and harbor tours but there is so much more to do and see, as anyone staying more than a few days will quickly discover. Foodies – especially Europhiles – won’t want to miss the Auckland French Market, La Cigale. It will make you dream of the street markets in France, with all the pastries, great coffees and other goodies that go with it.