Since I’m back in New Zealand for six months, I’m going to make the best of it. This means going out for a hike in the middle of winter, even if my feet are slightly numb and I have to wear three layers of pants. The heat in Dubai appears to have made me a little soft, but I’m not going to let it beat me. However, I decided to start off with an easy grade track for my re-introduction to hike New Zealand.
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places in the world to hike. There are thousands of tracks throughout the country, graded from easy to challenging. There are also tracks of all lengths. Many tracks offer multiple different routes you can take dependent on your ability (or desire for a challenge!), and this is also great for turning back if the weather takes a sudden chill. In New Zealand, this tends to happen pretty often.
My friend Nicki and I weren’t looking for too much of a challenge at 8am on a Sunday morning. It was three degrees outside, and getting out of bed was a big enough of a test for me. We therefore decided to visit the Hemi Matenga Memorial Park Scenic Reserve, a protected area of kohekohe forest. We opted for the Parata Track, which starts in Tui Crescent, Waikanae. There was plenty of road parking at the base of the track. The other options were the Kohekohe loop – an easy half hour walk for all levels of fitness – and the more challenging Te Au track.
The Parata track usually takes about 1 – 2 hours to complete, but we took our time climbing up through the forest, taking lots of photographs. The track was fairly damp underfoot, but there were only a few slightly tricky spots to climb up. We started by walking past a few small waterfalls and traversing some easy bridges. The climb to the top of the track was about 400m, and while not super steep, there are still some long areas of climbing to work through. It was definitely leg day – my phone told me we had climbed the equivalent of 76 floors during the climb!
While we didn’t see much birdlife, the entire track is lush, dense bush. There aren’t any markers once you get going, except for a solitary ’15 mins’ sign near the top. This gave us a bit of hope, and we soon reached a clearing which offered lovely views of Kapiti. A kindly hiker advised us we could walk for another few minutes and come across a lookout, which offered views over the rolling farmland and over to Kapiti Island and the South Island.
The track itself doesn’t have many distinctive features, so it’s quite hard to figure how hard you have to go on the way down! However, it probably only took us about 35 minutes to get down. Some people were running the track, but I don’t think that would have been much fun, given its muddiness.
Compared to my recent hike in the Azores, the track wasn’t as well formed or marked. This is pretty common in New Zealand, and is often something that catches international visitors out. It’s always a good idea to make a copy of the map you are following, or to take it on your phone. For example, we walked a good five minutes past the lookout, not realising we had actually reached the top of the track. We started on the loop to the Te Au track before we decided to turn back – it got pretty darn steep. If you want to continue onto Te Au, you must be wearing hiking boots!
Another thing that tends to catch out hikers in New Zealand is not wearing appropriate clothing. Have you ever heard the Crowded House song Four Seasons in One Day? It’s accurate. It can be raining when you leave, then sunny as you return. The temperature can drop 10 degrees, or a huge wind can come out of nowhere. You need to make sure you take the right clothing to stay protected and warm, and layers to peel off if it gets hot. If you’re going on a longer day walk, you should also make sure you have sunscreen, a hat, spare socks and sunglasses, along with a waterproof jacket. Regardless of the length of your planned walk, always take water and some food!
Given we were hiking in winter, it was pretty muddy underfoot. In New Zealand, you usually see people out in running shoes or trainers on tracks. I always wear hiking boots. Yes, it might look like a bit of overkill. However, hiking boots with good ankle support have helped me to avoid many rolled ankles over the year. My hiking boots are also pretty much the comfiest shoes I own. I’d wear them to work if I could.
At the traffic lights in Waikanae turn inland following the sign to Reikorangi. About 600 metres up Elizabeth Street turn left on to Winara Ave. Then either turn right in to Kakariki Grove or on to Tui Crescent. There are signs to “Bushwalk” which will bring you to the front of the Tui Crescent track starting point.