As anyone who is constantly on the move knows, even if you don’t have to worry about a mortgage or rent any more, you still need to watch your budget. In four years of adventuring, we haven’t seen too many Kiwi motorhomers – if any – queuing up for a bungy jump, helicopter ride or other expensive ‘experience’. What we do know how to do really well, however, is to find the best and most memorable free things to do in this beloved country of ours, and we are lucky to have a never-ending source.
Even so, when we were told recently by Whangaparaoa locals that Shakespear Regional Park was a ‘must-see’, we didn’t expect to be hugely blown away. After all, we have seen a LOT of beautiful places – from Kapiti Island and Zealandia to Orokonui and many more.
How wrong we were.
This place is alive!
We arrived early on a clear and sunny morning as we wanted to make the most of the promised view from the lookout. From the moment we entered the double gates, the air was filled with a cacophony of bird noise, louder than any we had ever heard.We were soon engaged in a game of ‘hide and seek’ with the playful tui and other birds who gleefully swooped right over our heads before darting into the thick forest canopy. It felt as though my eyes were everywhere, trying to keep up with the constant beating of wings, determined to get a peek of their owners! Not everyone was in such a hurry, however, such as a couple of very rotund wood pigeons who regarded us casually from their low-hanging branches. A pair of rosellas also stopped for a while and we sat and watched them in delight as they surveyed their forest home. It was lovely to see the wildlife so unperturbed by the presence of humans.
We stopped again at the picturesque waterfall, which varies in size depending on the time of year and rainfall, but on this particular day it was a pretty display and a lovely spot to just sit and take in the surroundings.
A regional gem
No less than 500 hectares of the Regional Park is an open sanctuary – a pest-free haven for native species, and local council and organisations work tirelessly to keep it that way. The park is just a few kilometres out of Whangaparaoa and is loved by locals and visitors alike.
There are several walks you can do, one favourite being the Lookout Track. The bush was so beautiful I didn’t want to leave, but the sun was shining brilliantly as we emerged into open farmland. What a dramatic difference! Sheep grazed peacefully with their lambs in tow, pheasants ‘crowed’ close by, king shers flew overhead, and pukeko and quail happily trotted back and forth in front of our path.
As we reached the lookout, we were treated to a stunning 360 degree view as far as the eye could see, taking in the Auckland skyline and Sky Tower, the islands of the Hauraki Gulf and Wenderholm and Mahurangi regional parks. It was here the tui finally decided to come out of hiding, and they were close enough to touch as they fed from the bright orange flax which surrounded us, chattering to one another all the while.
From here, the track meandered down across more farmland, following the Pink Beach coastline until we descended more steeply down onto Te Haruhi Bay.
By this time, more walkers and sun lovers were starting to appear and families were playing on the beach and fishing off the rocks. A small school group were making their way along the Heritage Track, under the watchful eye of their teachers. With so much to do, it’s no wonder this place is so popular with locals and visitors alike.
Behind the idyllic bay is a large camping and recreational area – perfect for picnics, to park up for a day or to stay overnight. There are separate sites for both tents and self-contained vehicles, with toilets and changing rooms available, as well as barbecues. You can stay in the self-contained area for up to three nights all year round, or up to seven nights at the all modes campground. While we were only here for the day, it looked like a very pleasant place to stay and we added it to our ‘revisit’ list. There is also a YMCA Lodge for larger groups, making it the perfect venue for celebrating special occasions and get-togethers at the beach.
A whole lot of history
Eventually we made our way back onto the track, this time joining the Heritage Trail, where the tui once again played hide-and-seek among the flowering cabbage trees. Every so often we’d see a rustle on the track near our feet and spot one of the many skinks which inhabit the park. The track through all parts of the Regional Park is extremely well maintained. Along we went, past the historic Old Woolshed and the Pillbox (machine gun emplacement), one of 11 constructed and utilised on the land during World War 2. The end of the peninsula was an important defence site and the Ministry of Defence continues to use the adjacent land at Army Bay.
At least we reached the ‘big picture frame’ (another park ‘must-do) and rejoined the road leading back to the carpark.
When it comes to diversity of scenery, wildlife and activities, Shakespear Regional Park is hard to beat. We were so glad we went – and best of all, this amazing place is right on our doorstep! Yes, you read right, we have a new place to call home. Like many people, 2020 has been a year of enormous change for us and we are hugely fortunate that many of those changes have been good. I look forward to telling you all about our beautiful new region. But I’ll save that story for another time.
Know before you go
If you want to really see the wildlife at its best, set out from the Waterfall Gully carpark early in the morning, preferably on a week day. The less people around, the more you will see. We were there by 8am and couldn’t have wished for better. Otherwise, if you want to see glow worms in the gully, time your walk for the end of the day.
Mountain bikes are welcome in the park but not permitted on the bush tracks.
Dogs are not permitted at all in the open sanctuary or foreshore areas. They are also not permitted at the camping areas. However they are allowed on the grass areas at Army Bay and at Okoromai Bay. For full details and further information on the park, visit aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
If you’re huge nature lovers like us, while you’re in the area you can also get a ferry out to Tiritiri Matangi island and immerse yourself even more! Check out tiritirimatangi.org.nz for more details.
Check out Jackie’s video below: