We had often about how nice Mangawhai Heads was, an area an hour and half north of Auckland, and had driven past it multiple times. After reading about a nice coastal hike in the area, we finally decided to visit and see what all the hype was about.
Mangawhai Cliffs Walk
The Mangawhai Cliffs Walk walk starts from the Mangawhai Surf Life Saving Club, where there are quite a few parking spaces and restrooms nearby. You’ll walk left as you face the surf club along the beach, where you should notice a mix of tan sand with jet black sand more typical of the west coast of the north island than the east, where this hike is. Please make sure to check what time the tide will be out as the beauty of this walk reveals itself even more after the turn around point, which leads you down a bunch of stairs and back onto the beach to finish in a loop instead of an out and back. You can complete the loop on 3 hours either side of low tide, so plan to get half way within that time frame.
As we walked along the beach we noticed a few stunning homes on the hills to our left and a couple set on the beach. The sand looks like the volcanic black sand is being taken over by the more common tan sand of the east coast, with a clear line dividing the two. Lots of the rocks on the beach look like they must have come from a violent upheaval, coming from the volcanic past of the area.
After 20 minutes or so we came across a sign leading us up a set of stairs, and off the beach. This is the only semi tough part of the walk and may increase your heart rate a bit, but isn’t anything too strenuous. Up on top of the cliffs, which weren’t really a sheer drop so felt more like tall hills, we had magnificent views of the beautiful beach and coastline below.
The walk on top of the hills consisted of grass, trees, and great views. Meandering across the hillsides, this bit of the walk is pretty flat and easy going. Some sites say the walkway is closed due to lamb season from the 1st of September to the 1st of October, however we didn’t see anything posted to that effect, but we were there in June. Passing through a grove of palm trees and under a tree growing in an archway over the path, we reached the stairs that descended to the beach an hour and a half or so after starting the walk.
After descending quite a few stairs we came to the beach and were met by a jagged outcropping of rocks. This is the part of the hike that you need to time properly, or else it’s time to head back up the stairs and the way you came, missing out on what we saw next, which is a large rock archway.
Before approaching the archway I was a bit more infatuated with the jagged rock that stuck straight up out of the beach to its left. I climbed part way up the rock, but held off going to the pointed top as I’d need to be a slightly better climber to be able to worry less about slipping and falling into the ocean. In the pools of water surrounding the rock I noticed bright purple rocks, which looked really cool, and avoided the tons of tiny black snails on the rocks to get to the archway.
During high tide water still flows through the arch, but when we went it was about two and a half hours until low tide and was perfectly dry. The arch is a bit bigger than it looked in pictures we had seen online, with Sissy being a size reference in the above picture. Beyond the arch were loads of tide pools, which I ran off plenty of times to explore. Crabs ran in terror as I approached, and I’d imagine more than a few fish caught in the pools went into hiding as well. I was intent on tracking down a rogue octopus, but it wasn’t meant to be that day.
About half way back to the start point we came across some large basalt columns sticking out of the hillside, which looked as man made as any natural occurring rocks I’d seen.
The sand as we got closer to the start of the walk turned from tan to a peachy pink color from the tons of shells that wash up along the beach. We came across a stretch of beach with as many whole shells as we’ve ever seen in such a small area, with so many shells we couldn’t walk without stepping on and damaging tons of them.
Before long we were walking on the same stretch of beach we had started on. Walking through streams that ran down the beach, we noticed black sand flowing out across the tan sand and into the ocean.
The walk was about two and a half hours long for us including some climbing around and searching through tide pools, and made a great half day walk. If you’re in the area definitely check out Waipu Caves for another incredible half day adventure and Piroa Falls, which is also nearby.