So, after umpteen decades and no end of planning, the Auckland Regional Council has managed to establish a four day 70km “long trail” in the Waitakere ranges, an iconic forest in west Auckland. It’s named after and dedicated to Ed Hillary, New Zealand’s most famous mountaineer. Ed had close connections to the Waitakeres, and much of his adventuring spirit was developed at a family home at Anawhata. Part of this land was gifted to the city, and now forms part of the trail.

Needless to say, the prospect of being one of the first to run the trail on it’s official opening day was too hard to resist. Now, 70km over rugged hilly trails is a bit more than I can manage in just one day. So I did it in two. The first 32km section on Sunday started at the top of the Te Henga trail in Muriwai, at the far end of the Hillary trail. This is a 10km, 1.5 hour section along the coast, with stunning views out over the cliffs. I met up with a friend, Jo, at the end of this section, and we continued up a stream that flows near a large sand dune. After a short detour to see a waterfall at the stream head, it was into the first serious uphill section. The bush offered a pleasant respite from the heat, but the trail was slow going. At the top of the ridge we made a wrong turn, and ended up adding a 4km loop onto the day. Oh well. We eventually got back to the forks, where the trail led down and up a series of steep gullies. It then emerged at Anawhata, where we had to endure a short road section before heading along White’s trail to Piha, our destination for the day.

Monday was the official opening day of the trail, and one of the groups I have done some runs with (known as “Girls on Top” — don’t ask…) has Sarah Hillary as a member. She decided to organise a relay covering the whole trail as part of the opening ceremony, and by some good fortune I managed to get invited to take part. Eight of us were given the 42km leg from the beginning of the trail at Arataki to finish in Piha. The start was scheduled for 8:30am, but by the time the various speeches and photographs were taken it was 9am before we got underway. The first 1.5 hour section is mostly down hill, ending at a campsite at Karamatura. Then it’s a 40 minute slog uphill on a rough trail to the Karamatura forks, followed by a another fast down hill section to where the trail crosses the Whatipu road. The next section is the Omanawainui track, a steep series of hills overlooking the head of the Manukau harbour. By the time we reached the top of the track, it was clear that we were falling behind the required pace, and drink breaks were kept to a minimum. It was also becoming clear to me that running for over 5 hours the previous day had taken it’s toll, and I was going to struggle to keep up with the group for the three remaining hill sections. I dug deep to get up the Gibbons track, and was able to keep in touch with the group on the down hill Muir track to Pararaha. No way this was going to last, so I departed from main group and took the stunningly beautiful route along the Whatipu marshes rather than ascending Zion hill. The idea was to regroup at the top of the Coman’s track, which I expected to manage with the 10-15 minutes I would have gained by avoiding Zion. What I didn’t know is that the rest of the group decided to skip Coman’s and take the shorter AhuAhu trail, and they overtook me well before the summit without my seeing them. In the end, they arrived at the rendezvous with the group running in from Muriwai without me, and I missed being greeted by assorted dignitaries and children waiving flags and fern fronds (I kid you not!). Still, it was a stunning (if long — 7hour) day out, and I’m pretty stoked at having run the whole trail.

I’ve got one or two more runs planned before I return to Glasgow at the start of March. Hoping to catch up with you all again soon!

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