Intended to be walked over four days with 3 night stops the Hillary rail is 70km long. Rather than doing it as outlined in the Auckland Regional Council booklet using campsites we carried full packs but slept in beds at Whatipu Lodge , Piha Lodge and Ara-Station at Bethells Beach.
We started on May 1, 2013 and were blessed with fine weather; doing the trail in poor weather would have been a completely different experience as most of the trail is clay based, rooty and slippery.
The Hillary Trail is a very mixed bag, it is however very well signposted and it would be hard to miss your way.
If you live locally or have the luxury of a support driver, or if there are two couples who could walk in opposite directions to collect a car, I think it would be better done as a series of day walks. Some of the sections used to link together the more rewarding parts of the track are very arduous and boring and offer no views whatsoever. Unless you simply want the sense of achievement of being able to say you have done the whole trail, I suggest you miss them out.
The hard slog up the Karamatura track to Karamutura Forks is a viewless gut buster that then simply brings you back down Puriri Ridge which offers just a few views right at the end before it rejoins the road. The gradient (though not the length) of the uphill slog at times reminded me of the Humpridge track which would have been fine if the rewards at the top had been comparable or even discernable!
There is an option to climb to the summit of Mt Donald McLean, but it is possible to drive to the car park to take that option which makes the climb you have done seem rather pointless.
Now for some positive remarks! I really enjoyed the section from Arataki visitor centre to Huia. At that stage I was really excited about what lay ahead and thought the track might have the charm of the Queen Charlotte track. There have been considerable recent upgrades to this part of the track and it is certainly a lovely day walk.
Similarly we enjoyed the walk from Whatipu to Karakare and then from Karakare to Piha on our second day. We noted very little bird song on the trail but there was noticeably more heading down into Karekare where there seems to be a big investment in pest control with traps situated at close intervals.
Piha to Anawhata Road was pleasant enough but a car to then take you to Bethells would be ideal, then you could play on the black sands dunes for the afternoon. The Kuataiki track and Houghton track, which take you from Anawhata Road to Lake Wainamu track, is a section of the trail that, in my opinion, is definitely not worth bothering with. The only view to be had on that whole stretch of track is at the trig point, and that view was nothing special. It is however a tough walk.
On the last day the walk to the far end of O’Neills Beach is lovely but with the benefit of hindsight (and especially if there were children in the party) I would retrace my steps to Bethells as the track deteriorates and you get very scratched with gorse.
If you do continue, the final nice little touch on Te Henga walkway is the 235 brand spanking new steps up to Constable Rd. Such fun!
Our first day took 8.5 hours the second and third took 7.5 hours each and we took 5 hours to get from Bethell's Beach to Constable road where we were picked up rather than do the 3 hour road walk to Muriwai.
I heard about this trail on the Jim Mora programme on National Radio and read an account on the internet suggesting the trail lacked promotion and should become classified as a Great Walk. I have done the Great Walks many times as well as several other excellent walks. I believe the Hillary Trail needs a lot more improvement before it is promoted to tourists and I can’t see it ever reaching the Great Walk status.
The Waitakere Ranges are clearly a pleasant weekend escape into the outdoors for people who live in Auckland, but as a Dunedinite I have to say that we have special places close to the city that more than rival the best that the Hillary Trail has to offer.