This loop gives runners a taste of all the best of the Waitakeres. From muddy scrambling on remote and beautifully forested trails to climbs up coastal bluffs with stunning views to the impressive and rugged black sand beaches, this run has a lot to offer.
From the Whatipū car park, the Gibbons Track
starts in a grassy easement next to a field. Don’t get too used to the flat terrain as a short and steep climb is soon to follow. This climb is a necessary evil to get you up to the top of the coastal bluffs overlooking the Whatipū Scientific Reserves and the beautiful black sand beaches and aquamarine waters of the Tasman Sea. Be sure to take a breather at the viewpoints along the way!
Once up this initial climb, the trail levels out, and the going is mostly easy with a few sections that can be muddy or wet. As part of the Sir Edmund Hilary Trail, most of the track is well-maintained with boardwalks over boggy sections and the addition of gravel for the more muddy areas. You may still be doing some mud running though if there has been a recent rain.
The trail gradually heads inland, and you trade views of the coast for views of the stunning hills of the Waitakeres. The landscape here is dramatic with plunging ravines and incredibly steep hills all covered with dense native bush that is a deep, vibrant, evergreen. On a humid or rainy day, you may even be treated to a rainbow to top it all off. The sunlight on these hills in the morning or evening is magic as the land lies draped in a golden mist from the morning or evening dew.
Eventually, the Gibbons Track
comes to a 3-way intersection with the Muir Track
and the Walker Ridge Track
. Walker Ridge Track
heads northeast further into the heart of the Waitakeres. From the outset, you'll notice that this trail is different as you are immediately transported from the wide, gravel doubletrack of Gibbons and Muir to a decidedly more rugged singletrack complete with mud, muddy water, muddy roots, and, did I mention, mud? This only adds to the enjoyment of this trail as you slip and slide along an undulating ridge, weaving through trees that are only filled with the sounds of birdsong and rainfall.
For the most part, the climbs and descents on Walker Ridge aren’t too strenuous, but they are a bit more challenging the more muddy the track is. You would do well to mind your footing and take your time on a couple of the downhill sections, and you may find that your run up certain hills is more of crawl or scramble as you utilize nearby trees to pull your way up through the slippery, clay-like mud. Interspersed with the muddy sections is some truly enjoyable running. The trail levels out and winds through lovely Rimu and Kauri groves, and the mud lets up to a soft, springy trail surface. Eventually, you'll come to Orange Peel Corner where the Odlin Timber Track
branches to the northwest. Head to the right to continue onto the next trail junction with the Huia Ridge Track and the Donald McLean Track
The Donald McLean Track
is a short connector. It can be muddy in spots but it isn’t quite as technical or challenging as some of the more remote trails in the area. You'll still have some roots and mud to navigate but nothing that presents too much of a challenge. From here you'll connect to the Puriri Ridge Track
which is a good option to avoid having to run on the road. The trail itself heads through some nice woods and has a few rolling hills.
Next up in is the Omanawanui Track
which packs a lot into a relative short distance. With two intimidating climbs and two stunning viewpoints, this trail is one you won’t forget. The track starts mellow enough with an easy climb from Whatipū Road. Soon enough, you'll trade this gradual climb for a really serious ascent on a steep and sheer ridgeline. One section even has an iron chain to aid your ascent along the rocky hillside.
The climb does reward you with impressive views, and take a moment to enjoy them before you start the descent. This is very steep, and if there has been recent rain (which most likely there has been) the clay-like surface is incredibly slippery and you'll be hard-pressed to find some traction on the way down. The trail descends along very narrow spine of the coastal ridge. Take your time on the technical sections as the drop on the right-hand side is impressive (and a bit unnerving if you don't care for heights). Eventually, you'll end back at the parking lot where you started.