Auckland has plenty of pretty beaches with scenic islands conveniently scattered through the Hauraki Gulf it lies within on its eastern coast, but drive 40 minutes in the other direction toward the setting sun, and its a completely different story. Here you enter the wild west coast!
Auckland's West Coast is the land of the kite surfer, the surfer, the blo-karter, the paraglider, the horse-rider, the canyoner, climber and abseiler, and the tramper (kiwi for hiker). Its famous black sand beaches are the playground of the adventurous, not the faint-hearted. However it can be enjoyed by all - there is nothing like a windswept 50 kilometer beach to blow the cobwebs out and to free the soul. The skies are large and ever-changing, the bush is gorgeous, the walks are plenty, and the birdsong and sounds of water keep you company wherever you go.
At Muriwai try your hand at blo-karting or surfing (hire / take lessons for both at the Surf school) or kitesurfing - lessons available for all and a 50 kilometer beach try out on. Additionally horsetrekking along the beach is available with a local company. If you just want to walk - go ahead - walk as far as you like - keep walking and camp the night somewhere along the beach. For something more gentle and close to home (or the car) there are a few bush walks around the township with great views as well. Finally walking around the headland from Muriwai to Maori beach takes you over rocks above the churning ocean where fishermen try their luck and up to one of NZ's two onshore gannet colonies. It can be an amusing time watching and listening to the cacophony of hundreds of these birds.
Te Henga or Bethel's beach on the other hand is somewhat more contained with rock headlands and islands carving the coast into more manageable sized beaches. Again it offers surfing for all as well as a myriad of walking tracks close to the beach. An added bonus is that there is an alternative swimming spot at the nearby Lake Wainamu - an easy walk from the car park which can be extended around the lake to make a nice hours stroll.
From Bethells, you can also take the Te Henga walkway back to Muriwai Beach - it will take a moderately fit person about 4 hours and is part of the larger four day Hillary Trail through the Waitakere Ranges, another draw-card to the area. The Hilary trail is a fairly tough 4 day / 3 night walk of approximately 75kms starting from Titirangi and finishing at Muriwai (or vice versa). Due to its coastal nature and the beach communities it passes through, there is anything from basic campsites through to luxury lodges to spend the nights in. Named after Sir Edmund Hilary it is one of New Zealand's newer tracks, only opened in 2010. You pass through lush forest, open ridges, some farmland, beautiful beaches, the very picturesque KiteKite falls and pool (stop for a cool down here) close to Piha Beach, and of course if you end at Muriwai and its gannet colony!
Piha Beach - probably the most famous (in NZ) of these wild surf beaches - both for its Lion Rock and for 'Piha Rescue' - the NZ version of Bondi rescue! A couple of rivers intersect the beach making safe swim and play areas for the little ones, while the rugged can once again hit the waves. You can climb up Lion Rock or set out on any of the walks nearby - bush and lakes and rivers - including the Hillary Trail of course. You can also try your hand at canyoning or abseiling the Piha canyon.
The best thing - its all just a quick drive from downtown Auckland city!
For more information on all the walks in the area, including the Hillary trail, check the Council site.