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Whatipu, with its dark sand dunes is a favourite for sand dune surfing. Riders using planks of wood, tea towels, a borrowed plastic lid or simply nothing at all throw themselves into the black avalanche of sand. The sand is very fine black powder which coats everything a shimmering gray. And it is warm, you are wrapped in the reflected warmth of iron heated by the day. There is a surprising amount of energy required to climb to the top of the dune with weighted black sand slipping and sliding you back to where you came from. The trudging steps up are matched with the exhiberation of the rapid descent. Raging seas in winter are elemental shows of wind whipped cold pounding surf. The treacherous conditions contributed to the worst shipping disaster in New Zealand’s history took place in 1863 when the HMS Orpheus sank, with a loss of 190 lives. Huia Settlers Museum has artefacts and ships mast from the wreck on display.

There was a wharf at Whatipu, in the days of timber logging. The Piha tramway, from Anawhata to Whatipu is a picturesque reminder of what it would be like to work here in winter. The iron spikes create a photo moment for beachgoers.Then there are the caves, once a dance hall. From around 1900 Te Ana Ru cave had a kauri ballroom dance floor. Explore the base of the cliff faces for the number of caves. From the Whatipu car park you walk the fence line towards a small bridge up into some native bush. The section can be muddy and slippery. Follow the track around the cliff with views over the swamp land towards the black sand of Whatipu. Watch for rock fall and loose stones. Whatipu really is a spot most visitors bypass. On a windy day, Whatipu can impress you purely with the force of the wind, screaming through the windy cliffs into the Manukau harbour.

The Whatipu area, now a scientific reserve owned by DoC and managed on behalf of the Auckland Regional Council, is untouched wilderness and there are many walks in the area ranging from the ¼-hour Signal House Track to the 2 ¼-hour Omanawanui Track. These tracks have been closed since 2018 to inhibit the spread of kauri dieback disease.

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