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The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is a unique national treasure on the West Coast of Auckland, New Zealand. The regional park is known for its rugged coastlines and smooth black-sand beaches such as Piha and Muriwai. Beautiful walks in the forests, hidden waterfalls and sacred rainforest paint the perfect picture of the Waitakere Ranges.

As you may have known already, many tracks and trails in the Waitakere Ranges are still closed today to stop the spread of Kauri dieback. You can learn about Kauri dieback and the updates of the open tracks here.

In this post, we’ll cover the top attractions and things to do in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and share with you some of the places we explored before parts of Waitakere Ranges were closed.

We’ll take you up to the iconic Lion Rock at Piha Beach, explore local beaches like Karekare beach and Bethells beach, go deep inside the regional park and find hidden gem waterfalls such as Karekare falls. Last but not least, we will soak in the unique landscape and nature of Muriwai beach and its gannet colony.

Top Things To Do in Waitakere Ranges Family with Kids Travel Blog Featured

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Top Things To Do in Waitakere Ranges

You can find four of the most popular black-sand beaches in the Waitakere Ranges – Karekare, Piha, Bethells and Muriwai Beach. There are also about a dozen waterfalls in the regional park. We will introduce two of the most family-friendly waterfalls in this post – Karekare Falls and Kitekite Falls, as we’re travelling with a toddler.

One of the best multi-day hikes in this region is the Hillary Trail. It’s a 77km trail stretching from Arataki Visitor Centre to Muriwai. Unfortunately, parts of the trail are closed, again because of Kauri dieback.

Nonetheless, Waitakere Ranges still has many pockets of hidden gems that are worth discovering, such as the family-friendly Cornwallis Beach & Wharf and Nihotupu Reservoir (Dam).

Before we dive into details on the top attractions in Waitakere Ranges, if you prefer guided tours with a local and explore Waitakere Ranges in a group, we can recommend these popular tours below.

1. Arataki Visitor Centre

The first stop to get the most updated information and open tracks in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is Arataki Visitor Centre. This information centre is not the boring old centre to collect travel brochures.

As soon as you step out of the car park, the Golden Frame offers the perfect photo opportunity with beautiful backdrop of the Waitakere Ranges. Then, walk up to the lookout and enjoy the inspiring view of the Waitakere Ranges.

Arataki Visitor Centre Lookout View Waitakere Ranges
View of Waitakere Ranges from Arataki Visitor Centre

© Photos by Kida

Inside the visitor centre, there’s a little museum that’s great for kids. It teaches you a little about the regional park and the wildlife here. Learn about New Zealand native Kauri trees, check out the souvenirs, and treat yourself to an ice cream on a warm sunny day. There’s an AV room on the ground floor that plays short films about the area too. Don’t be shy and have a chat with one of the friendly staff.

The visitor centre in my opinion, is a point of interest on its own in the Waitakere Ranges.

Arataki Visitor Centre Vlog

2. Piha Beach

Piha Beach is the most well-known black sand surf beach in New Zealand. Nestled inside the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park on the West Coast of Auckland, this stunning one-of-its-kind beach attracts thousands of tourists each day during the summer months.

Be warned, the black sand at Piha Beach absorbs heat on a hot day and the beach becomes scorching hot.

© Photos by Kida

People flock here for a beautiful day tanning on Piha Beach, but one of the must-do things here is to climb up Lion Rock and watch the roaring waves from the top. If you can stay until sunset, the views over Piha Beach are absolutely amazing.

While you’re here, try some raw fish salad or mussel fritter at The Murray.

© Photos by Kida

Climbing up Lion Rock #Shorts

3. KareKare Beach

Karekare Beach is another beach with roaring waves loved by surfers. Feel the smooth black sand between your toes, and take a stroll along the dunes.

Karekare Beach

© Photos by Kida

For families with kids, there’s always a little lagoon at Karekare Beach that’s great for the kids to play in.

© Photos by Kida

Karekare Beach Day Family Vlog

4. Karekare Falls

For some odd reason, our family has been chasing waterfalls in New Zealand ever since we moved here. Karekare Falls was close to our first home, so it’s been one of our favourite places to take our toddler for a day out exploring in nature.

Karekare waterfall is a very small waterfall just 10 minutes of easy walk from the car park. I would recommend using a baby carrier to explore this little hidden gem. It’s very shallow here and makes a great swimming hole on a good day.

Exploring Karekare Falls Vlog

5. Kitekite Falls

Update: We went back there again a week later and learned this trail had become the most disease-affected trail in New Zealand. I believe this trail is now closed, but definitely keep an eye out on the council’s website for the re-opening date.

Kitekite falls was a very popular waterfall for a cool summer swim. It was about a 25 minutes walk through the rainforest, where the last 5 minutes can be steep and slippery after a rainy day.

At the time of our visit, a park ranger advised us of Kauri tree disease at the entrance. To help protect these historic giant Kauri trees, there was a protocol in place where we must clean our shoes before and after entering the forest and stay on the path while we were inside the forest.

I had Kyra on my back this time, in the rain. The hike seemed a little longer than I expected, and Kyra didn’t like being covered up and wrapped up. So with a fussy baby, I decided to turn back after getting a glimpse of the waterfall from the lookout platform. This was the view.

Kitekite Falls

© Photos by Kida

6. Bethells Beach – Te Henga

Bethells Beach is another long stretch of iron-rich black-sand beach in the Waitakere Ranges. We went for a long walk on the beach all the way to the cave. It was a soul-healing beach walk listening to the waves pounding the shore.

© Photos by Kida

The West Coast beaches are blessed with smooth, soft black sands, and this area is so well preserved that you may see native birds on the beach. But remember to keep off of fenced areas to help protect their eggs!

Bethells Beach Protect bird
Keep an eye out for signs like this

© Photos by Kida

Tides come up quickly, so beware of the tides when you’re near the cave. Bethells Beach is locals’ favourite to exercise and walk their dogs. There is very weak to no signal around here, so take it as an opportunity to switch off and reconnect with nature.

Bethells Beach Cave

© Photos by Kida

7. Muriwai Beach

In summer, Muriwai Beach is packed with people and tour groups, that parking sometimes can be a pain. To be honest, we prefer smaller beaches that are less crowded. However, Muriwai is one of our favourite places to visit on the North Island, but we come for the Gannet Colony and the sweeping view of the ocean, not so much the beach.

© Photos by Kida

8. Muriwai Gannet Colony

Muriwai Gannet Colony is one of my favourite places on the North Island of New Zealand. Watching these gannets go about their lives on the clifftop is like watching something extraordinary happening out of David Attenborough’s documentaries.

© Photos by Kida

Muriwai Gannet Colony

The scenery of the rugged coastline is spectacular at Muriwai. We recommend visiting during the mating season between August – March. In the video below, we came in January and we could see glimpses of baby gannets within arms reach. (~00:53)

Muriwai Gannet Colony
Muriwai Gannet Colony

© Photos by Kida

9. Cornwallis Wharf

Cornwallis is a hidden gem in the Waitakere Ranges. You can go fishing at Cornwallis Wharf and have a picnic at the sheltered beach. The calm water makes it a great beach to bring the kids.

Cornwallis Beach

© Photos by Kida

Kyra on the other hand much preferred putting on her Santa hat and spreading the Christmas spirit!

Cornwallis Wharf & Beach

10. Lower Nihotupu Reservoir

The Nihotupu Reservoir is worth a stopover. We drove past Lower Nihotupu Reservoir and took our toddler to admire one of the five dams in the Waitakere Ranges that supply water to Auckland.

© Photos by Kida

Waitakere Ranges Accommodation

Waitakere Ranges is so vast that you may consider staying overnight or even a couple of nights so you can take your time to explore this beautiful regional park.

If you’re travelling with family, we highly recommend browsing through the unique holiday homes from BookABach. It’s the New Zealand version of Airbnb or Stayz. Alternatively, you can use the Booking search form below.

We will also list some of the top recommended accommodation in each point of interest.


Bethells Beach

Near Titirangi

To sum it up

What to do in Waitakere Ranges with kids?

1. Soak in the view of Waitakere Ranges and learn about the regional park at Arataki Visitor Centre.
2. Go for a walk and watch surfers at Piha Beach, climb up Lion Rock for a spectacular view of Piha.
3. Turn your toes black at Karekare Beach.
4. Explore Karekare Falls, an easy walk from the car park.
5. Go for a dip at Kitekite Falls. Check Council’s website to see if it’s open!
6. Take a walk on Bethells Beach all the way to the cave and see if you can spot any native rare birds.
7. Enjoy a hot summer day at Muriwai Beach.
8. Walk to Muriwai Gannet Colony for a breathtaking view of the rugged coastline and watch thousands of gannets mate.
9. Spend a relaxing day at Cornwallis Wharf and Beach with the kids.
10. Admire the enormous dam at Nihotupu Reservoir.


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