Hunua Ranges Regional Park rises from the peripheral towns of Auckland’s south-east, a bush-covered range of hills mirroring the Waitakere Ranges that overlook the north-west of the city. Barely half an hour’s drive from Manukau and through the satellite towns of Papakura and Clevedon, we turned a corner and laid eyes on the spectacularly inviting turquoise waters and chalky white coral sand beaches that edge the Firth of Thames. The weather had improved, and compared with the rugged wind-battered coast of Muriwai and Piha, the body of water in Kawakawa Bay was a millpond, protected from the open Pacific by the spinal peaks of the Coramandel Pensinsula on the horizon. We followed the coastline round, finding more empty picture-perfect beaches, and after traversing winding climbs and descents worthy of the Tour de France, we eventually came across a tiny campsite beside the sea, Tapapakanga.
Auckland’s regional parks are home to an abundance of little campsites littered amongst the hills and bays. Council-run, they cost $5 - $10 per night and are marvellous little escapist idylls. They’re not manned and maintained like a private holiday park, and the facilities are rarely beyond a long-drop and a tap for drinking water, but for small cost we had a beachfront campsite all to ourselves, barely seeing another soul for two days. An information board and phone with a direct line to a central office allow you to make your bookings, before a park ranger does their rounds late in the evening to ensure visitors have paid for the privilege. People pay thousands – even millions – on a private beach. We got ours for under £10. Tapakanga beach was long and white, a thin strip with shallow, clear blue waters one side and bright red, crumbling cliffs on the other. Giant ancient trees twisted their way into the rock face, clinging on for dear life, while the bleached skeletal remains of those trees unlucky to have already collapsed into the sea made the shoreline look Jurassic. We were in blissful solitude, sharing the beautiful surroundings with only each other, or so we thought…
Of all the things we left in the van while she was repaired, there is one item I bitterly regret forgetting: insect repellent. The local critters decided to make us acutely aware that we were not alone. After a few days amidst the wilderness, my feet had amassed a brutal collection of bites. Little black Sandflies had decimated my lower legs, while mosquitos made short work of making their presence known. All in all, I had over thirty bites. My blotchy, swollen feet looked like I was in suffering a bout of syphilis unfortunately coinciding with elephantiasis. If any of you reading this take only one lesson home from this entry, let it be this one: Sunscreen will save your life; Insect repellent will save your sanity. I’ve been itching non-stop since.
Sadly, I’d missed out on the travel writer opportunity in Napier, but I wasn’t resentful. We had no commitments again, so after a moment of deliberation we decided our next stop should be the steamy thermal town of Rotorua, and finally hit the road.