Mercer Bay -The best, authentic Kiwi beach adventure
August 25, 2016
What can I say, we Kiwis love our adventures and our nature and this hike to Mercer bay is a perfect mixture of both, as long as you’re ok with heights that is….
Tena koutou katoa, ko Waitakere toku maunga.
(Today I am feeling nostalgic this is a small part of a mihi, a formal introduction in Maori. You identify your mountain, tribe, family etc as a way of identifying who you are and where you come from. Above is a small part only it reads “Greetings to you all, Waitakere is my mountain.” The first line of my personal introduction.)
Just round the corner from Auckland’s famous Piha surf beach, is a less known spot where you can escape the tourists and experience a local adventure, the way I did in my childhood. Mercer Bay has been preserved from the hordes of tourists and hikers by one simple fact, it’s a serious scramble off the beaten track to get in and out but boy is it worth the climb. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Waitakere Ranges and this kind of little adventure brings me back to my youth and what being a Kiwi means to me.
In a little gravel parking lot, past Karekare but before the majestic views of Piha capture you, I met up with a group of friends and their family’s to do one of my favourite local walks - the climb down to Mercer Bay. We headed down the Mercer Bay loop track, an easy and accessible walk, with stunning views of the highest sea cliffs in New Zealand.
The adventure really began when we went off track, scaling the boundary fence to follow a side-track created by locals. The views of the rugged green bush and pounding surf make an amazing backdrop to the climb, drop being the operative word. If heights give you the collywobbles this is not the adventure for you!
We followed a rough path down the cliff-side, with ropes fixed to help you scramble down the steepest parts. Many jokes were made about my fear of heights but apart from a dirty bum and hands sore from clinging on for dear life, I made the descend without too much trouble. You definitely want to be physically confident to try this - in saying that, my friends 8 years old managed it no problem.
I would suggest you time your visit with low tide. There is still plenty to explore at high tide, with rock pools teeming with starfish and even the occasional seal but at low tide, the sliver of beach waxes and the retreating water reveals the entry to the sea caves like a doorway to Narnia.
(Safety warning; make sure you bring a torch and don’t attempt the sea caves if the tide is coming in and you’re unsure of the timings. My childhood was full of the buzz of the rescue helicopter heading overhead towards Piha. The surf in this region is not forgiving!)
If you do have the timing right, however, you get to enter into the otherworldly passageways that are one of the longest sea caves in the world. Following twisting passages, some dry, some knee-deep in water (even at low tide), you can explore this labyrinth of gnarled corridors carved out by the sea. Opening eventually into a huge cavern, where an opening in the roof shines a beam of sunlight in like a message from heaven.
After an hour or two exploring, pretending you’re to be the king of a mythical race of cave dwellers and otherwise chasing each other with seaweed (at least some of the previous was the children in our party). It was time to make the most of the other bounty this untouched bay has for us, mussels! Allllll of the mussels. In the mouth of the caves are boulders covered in nature’s bounty. It’s as easy as wandering around with a bag and prizing loose shellfish till you have enough for dinner.
We took our loot and headed back to the main beach, where after much horsing around we built a campfire and prepared our mussels. My friends, who were much more organised than me produced a pot, some cream and white wine to create a sauce for our freshest of dinners
(make sure you take out everything you bring in and keep Mercer Bay the slice of paradise it is).
Sitting around a campfire on the beach with my mates, eating fresh shellfish that we had gathered ourselves and watching the sun slowly set over the most breath taking scenery you can imagine. While we shared the last of the wine with not another soul in site, is an experience that I can’t do justice. The wild beauty of Auckland West Coast, the day of exploring and the achievement of having gathered your own kai is a feeling that I associate with home and happiness and a very kiwi connection to the past and land. Sand between your toes, campfire warming you and good friends who agree this is the best place on earth.
Packing up to head home I am always slightly wistful but the climb up the cliffs in the dark soon cures that. Though it would come under what we call “hard yakka” without the view to inspire a fear of falling off the world, it passed surprisingly quickly (this could be helped by the rest of the wine we consumed with our dinner). In no time we were back in the parking lot and heading back towards town, lone headlights through the night the end of a perfect day in Kiwi land.