I'm heading through New Zealand on a trip but will be landing in Auckland and only have a few days in the country, precluding the ability to get to the South Island and its spectacular scenery. I still want to experience the outdoors - is there anything near Auckland that's worth seeing?
It's true that the South Island is the landscape people think of when they imagine New Zealand: soaring snow-capped mountains, wild tussock-clad hills, forests of twisted beech trees and crystal-clear streams.
But don't write Auckland off. Just south west of the city are the Waitakeres, a range of modest-scaled mountains which make up for their lack of height with lush green fern-draped landscapes. A series of volcanic black-sand beaches can be found where the mountains plunge into the Pacific Ocean, which is more usually roaring and wild than pacific.
While the South Island will be familiar to movie buffs because it dominated the locations for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the Waitakeres will be familiar to a different kind of movie buff because it was the location for Jane Campion's Oscar-winning 1993 film, The Piano.
An excellent way to experience this area is via the relatively newly created Hillary Trail, which winds its way along the seafront slopes of the Waitakeres.
Sir Edmund Hillary was New Zealand's favourite son and had a beachside holiday home, accessible only by foot, in the area. After he died in 2008, one of the ways his life was commemorated was by creating a five-day, 70km-long route through the Waitakeres. You don't have to do the whole thing and can dip into sections.
A good one-day section is the Buck Taylor Track, just off Lone Kauri Road, down to the wild and unspoilt Pararaha Beach, along the Hillary Trail northwards and then back to your starting point via the Zion Ridge Track. It can be muddy and steep in places. For a rather more adventurous option, you can return via Pararaha Gorge.
Realistically, you'll need to hire a car to access this area but most of the global car rental companies are represented at Auckland airport. Don't forget to bring plenty of wet-weather gear because there is a good reason why the hills here look so green and lush.
While your focus is on the outdoors, don't completely overlook the urban offerings of the region. Reward yourself for your exercise at the Siren Cafe in Titirangi, a suburb that acts as a gateway to the Waitakeres.
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