Waiheke Walking Festival

Awaawaroa. Looking out to Mount Maunganui, Waiheke Island’s highest point at 230 metres. This is the beginning of a walk that winds through native bush including kauri and a huge puriri tree.

The Waiheke Walking Festival goes into its third season in 2012, as a nine-day event. This month it won the Event category in the Outdoors Awards hosted by Outdoors New Zealand. Gary Wilton, parks officer of the former Auckland Council, had a vision to encourage more Aucklanders to visit Waiheke to enjoy the island’s impressive network of over 80 kms of trails, and asked Jenness Reeve to co-ordinate it. This initiative has now made Waiheke Island, just 40 minutes by ferry from Auckland city, an international walking destination. This year the festival includes 40 walks to cater for about 2,500 walkers and runs from October 27 – November 4.

As a resident of Waiheke, I couldn’t think of a better way for visitors to experience what this stunning island has to offer. Waiheke will hold a place in your heart forever when you experience the panoramic views along its coastline, absorb the peace and serenity within native bush reserves, and take time to notice the changing patterns of shadows and sunlight over the leaves of native trees. It is hard to find such diversity of scenic beauty all in one place and in every direction you look, where numerous bush reserves and tranquil beaches can be found in the most unexpected places.

Added to the already extensive network of walking tracks, this year three private property owners have opened their land to the public to share their unique gems and glorious views. On one of these properties, Rorohara, there are three different walks along 10 km of tracks that criss-cross the property through stands of native trees such as kowhai, kauri, puriri, kanuka, pohutakawa and karaka. One of these walks takes you through leafy glades to see the twinkling display of newly discovered glow worms.

Another private property walk, Journey to the Lost Centre, is one which takes you into an undeveloped reserve that runs through a long swampy valley and into the heart of farming country at the east end of the island. This four-hour walk is for battle-hardened bush-whackers as there is no track! You will get your feet wet and muddy and your legs scratched, but if you want the exhilarating experience of adventure within the heart of Waiheke’s wild side, and then emerge to admire the beauty of its rolling green hills, this walk is for you.

For those who don’t mind a steep climb or scrambling from rock to rock along the coast, the Te Whau Tidal Trail offers diverse scenery and experiences from the heights of the Hitapa Track to discovering the coast at sea level and the colourful flora that grows between rocks.

Walkers are advised to bring a spare pair of socks as you might get your feet wet.

Overlooking Rocky Bay from the Hitapa Track

An easy walk is through the Atawhai Whenua Reserve, which you can enter almost from the ferry terminal. Your guide Janine James will entertain you with fascinating stories about its history and one man’s vision to restore the native flora on Waiheke Island. This is great fun for children and adults alike to explore. You can even view the bush through the holes in a kawakawa leaf.

For adventurers who like a bit of fun, there is a walk through the Forest and Bird Reserve at Onetangi at night with torches, aptly named Almost Midnight Madness.

Check out the stunning harbour view when you explore The Secret Life of Matiatia and find out more about the history of Auckland’s defence against naval invasion.

For the family, one of Waiheke’s best kept secrets in the summer is Shelly Beach. You are invited to bring sausages for a barbecue and explore this beautiful area to see what you can discover.

Although many of the walking tours are already booked, including the three walks on Rorohara, the above walks are still available as at the time of writing this article. Other available walks can be viewed and booked at the Waiheke Walking Festival web page.

I do recommend marking July in your calendar – when online registration for walks opens – to check out the 2013 Walking Festival so you can book early next year and don’t miss out on the popular walks. Better still, sign up to receive the Walking Festival’s news letters.

But you needn’t wait until next year to experience many of the walks offered at the festival, for you can enjoy most at your leisure at any time of the year. One of these walks begins as soon as you step off the ferry at Matiatia and turn right to walk along the beach at low tide, or the path, and follow the yellow and green signs to the headland. You can make this walk as short or long as you like. If you do not have much time to spend on Waiheke, but still want to see some of the stunning scenery along its coastline and across the harbour, I recommend this walk. See also Individual Walks on Waiheke or collect a Waiheke Island Walkways brochure at the ferry terminal or the information centre.

Overlooking Matiatia Wharf from the headland.

This headland will be the venue for the Headland Sculpture on the Gulf, where 30 new large-scale sculptures by emerging and established artists can be viewed along a 2.5 km walk. This is considered New Zealand’s premier contemporary outdoor sculpture exhibition. Viewing is free and the exhibition runs from January 25 – February 17, 2013.

Headland walk to Church Bay
A sculpture from the last Headland Sculpture Walk
Waiheke Walking Festival, 2014

November 11, 2014
Waiheke Island (just 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland) is holding its fifth annual Walking Festival beginning Saturday, November 15 through to Sunday, November 23. There are walks for all ages and stages of fitness. Many new and varied walks have been added this year, some crossing private land not normally accessible…

2013 Waiheke Walking Festival

25 October 2013
View the photos from the following featured walks: cross-island walk through Whakanewha Regional Park and other bush tracks; walk along Onetangi Beach; walk along the Esplanade to Blackpool Beach;  explore the Te Haahi Reserve; and Matiatia to Oneroa via Owhanake Bay.