The Awhitu Peninsula and Manukau Heads

We’d never been up to the Manukau Heads before, and we’d lived in Auckland for twelve years. Somehow though, I don’t think we’re alone in that.

After spending the weekend around Waiuku, we thought it would be an ideal time to finally go.

We checked out places to stay and settled on Short’s POP at Graham’s Beach (#1264) at the top of the Peninsula.

It’s across the road from the beach and reserve, which has a playground and is an ideal picnic spot.

It’s on the flight path for Auckland International Airport so there are lots of planes flying over.

And we found it a great place to explore the area from.

From Waiuku, the road to the top of the Peninsula travels through some very hilly farmland with spectacular views, as it runs along a ridge a lot of the way.

We stopped in Matakawau for lunch, where there’s a gas station, Bhana’s Foodmarket and Takeaways, a community hall, and the Awhitu District school.

While we were parked outside the hall, a Westpac Rescue helicopter arrived and landed in the school grounds opposite.

We watched and waited, hoping it wasn’t anything serious, but it appeared all was well. After about half an hour, the medics came out without a patient, and left as they had come. Crisis averted, whatever it was.

We were constantly struck, while on the Awhitu Peninsula, how close we were to the craziness of Auckland City just across the harbour, and yet it was so quiet, unspoiled, and unpopulated.

We could see the Sky Tower, One Tree Hill and other landmarks and clusters of buildings. So close, and yet so far.

The hills in many places are still covered in native bush and undeveloped, with some of the side roads unsealed.

The Awhitu Regional Park on the harbour side, has a huge wetland area that has been reclaimed from farmland … … to revert to its former state.

I’m sad to learn that ninety percent of New Zealand’s original wetlands have disappeared due to draining for farm, urban and commercial development. Wetlands are Taonga (treasure) we need to protect.

The wetland sits alongside a beautiful shelly beach …

Part of the Auckland Regional Parks network, there are camping spots here, and walks to enjoy the wetlands and coastal area.

There is also a golf course located near the park.

Manukau Heads Lighthouse

The rebuild in 2006 was the vision of Betsy Robinson, who recognised it’s historical significance, and this plaque acknowledges that. It is now a prime attraction on the Peninsula.

Being able to go inside and climb up to the viewing deck …

… and see the original 1870s dome and prisms up close …

It’s a unique experience.

The deck extends right around and affords amazing views of the Manukau Harbour with Auckland City landmarks …

… the Manukau Heads harbour entrance …

… and the Waitakere Ranges across the harbour…

Somewhere under those cliffs lies the wreck of the HMS Orpheus, a Royal Naval vessel, which on February 7th 1863, was wrecked on the Manukau Bar, with the loss of 189 lives. It remains New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. Only 69 people survived. The average age of the crew was 22.

We look back along the road in …

… and to the Signal Box Station Platform which looks straight out to the entrance of the harbour, the treacherous Manukau Bar.

The signal box platform was erected here two years after the HMS Orpheus disaster, replacing the one on the opposite (north) side of the entrance which was in operation at the time of the wreck.

These days VHS radio is used to communicate with commercial vessels coming into the Onehunga Port, operated from a tower in the signalman’s house just below this platform. It is also equipped with radar, radio gear, warning lights and software capable of reading the conditions of the Bar.

Vastly different to the old days when the signalman stood on this platform and used semaphore signals, and ball or diamond shapes raised on 60 ft iron masts to communicate with vessels.

Winds can reach 210 kms/hr (115 knots) here!

On the short drive back to Graham’s Beach from the lighthouse, we took a side road to check out pretty Orua Bay.

There are some lovely beach houses here and I can see why. It’s beautiful.

You can walk around the beach to either Wattle Bay or Big Bay from here, and we were told by a lady we met that some of the holiday homes can only be accessed at low tide.

We took another side road to Big Bay, just around the point.

There are more homes here, and a boat ramp.

With stunning views from the hilly farmland behind these beaches, it’s a world away from the city across the harbour.

We can’t help feeling like we’ve discovered a real gem in the Awhitu Peninsula, and so close to Auckland.

I know we’re not the first, it’s just that as yet it’s still relatively unknown, and so, unspoiled.

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