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Pilgrimage to Piha

Posted in New Zealand, Piha by folkestonejack on March 29, 2013

A last minute decision to make a trip out to Piha, the birthplace of modern surfing in New Zealand, turned out to be the perfect way to spend Good Friday. A short spell in the surf, a hike up to the Kitekite falls and a walk up Lion Rock proved a great combination, if a little exhausting!

The drive out to the west coast took around an hour, taking the back roads on our way out of the city in order to avoid the inevitable snarl-up on the motorway as the Easter getaway began. On the way we stopped at a viewpoint close to the Arataki Visitor Centre (on Scenic Drive).

The view from Arataki framed

The view from Arataki framed

Auckland Regional Council have placed an empty picture frame in front of the view here that says everything that you need to know about the natural wonders on offer. Our onward route through the Waitakere Ranges continued to deliver glimpses of beautiful scenery before the crowning glory of the view over Piha beach unfolded in front of us. Having heard so much about this place I was pleased to finally see it for myself!

Piha Beach

Piha Beach

The tide at Piha was not due to peak until midday so there was still a window of two hours for surfing before the waters would start their retreat. I have never remotely contemplated surfing in any shape or form but was utterly fascinated by the skill involved as I watched surfers of all ages tackling the breaks. The thought that I might regret not having a go soon became impossible to ignore, which explains how I unexpectedly found myself wading into the water, waves crashing over the top of me as I fought against the tide with a board. Riding the waves back, albeit lying on a board, proved surprisingly exhilerating and it was not hard to see how compelling the sport could be.

A surfer takes on the waves at Piha

A surfer takes on the waves at Piha

Lifeguards in training

Lifeguards in training

The beach was busy but not too overcrowded, with most people congregating in the area that the lifeguards were monitoring between the flagposts. A TV crew were also around on the beach today filming the lifeguard training that was taking place. Indeed, Piha is also home to one of New Zealand’s most popular reality shows, Piha Rescue, which follows the lifeguards of Piha Surf Life Saving Club and this in turn has made the beach more popular.

Aside from its reputation as a surfer’s beach, Piha has much to offer any visitor with a number of walks starting at or near the beach. After a picnic lunch we took ourselves off on one of the many walks at Piha, heading up from the end of the Glen Esk Road to Kitekite falls.

Although the water levels were down to trickle, due to the ongoing drought, the falls still presented a picturesque sight. The pool at the base of the waterfall didn’t look quite as appealing a swim as the guide books suggested (again, probably the result of the drought) but this didn’t seem to bother a group of youths who were happily jumping in from the rocks. A short trek up the hillside took us to the top of the waterfall, with another pool to admire.

The waters at the top of the Kitekite falls

The waters at the top of the Kitekite falls

There are four large grooves at the top of the falls which mark the location of a dam that was originally intended to collect logs which could then be tipped over the edge, down to the mill. However, the first time the dam was tripped resulted in such a disastrous crushing of logs that this was never attempted again!

In the late afternoon I made the short climb up the remarkable landmark of Lion Rock, the eroded neck of a volcano, which has long been a popular attraction at Piha.

Lion Rock sits slap bang in the middle of the bay and is easily accessible on foot at low tide, although we saw people wading out to the rock long before this point. Today you can only climb partway up after a rockfall made the final part of the path too dangerous. Nevertheless, there have been some tragic tales of youngsters who have skirted the barricade to reach the top in recent times and met an untimely end.

Lion Rock

Lion Rock

On top of its obvious appeal to beachgoers, Lion Rock also serves as one of the most unusual war memorials that I have seen in my travels. Two panels have been inserted into the rockface to record the dead – the first for the employees of the State Sawmill, Piha Valley, who were killed or wounded between 1914-1918 and the second records the dead from 1939-45. Each year on Anzac day a procession out to the war memorial takes place at low tide which must be a rather remarkable sight to witness.

An unusual war memorial

An unusual war memorial

At the end of a surprisingly packed day at Piha I was not so surprised to see that I had taken hundreds of photographs, capturing everything from starfish clinging to the rocks in a concentration that I have never seen before through to the majesty of Lion Rock from umpteen different positions. It is probably just as well that there was no likelihood of an interesting sunset to photograph on this occasion!

Gallery

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