Piha to Muriwai and Waimauku Road Trip

auckland muriwai gannet colony

The next morning, fired up from his successful fishing expedition, Bob announces that it’s a good day to surf. Because Auckland’s West Coast beaches are notoriously dangerous I suggest that perhaps he’s a little rusty and may benefit from a quick refresher at Muriwai’s acclaimed surf school. Besides, I say, cementing the deal, I want to go horse riding on Muriwai beach.

We set off from Piha and complete the final leg of Scenic Drive, then drive through pretty countryside to Muriwai village. A sign outside the surf shop states there’s a 3-5ft swell and an onshore breeze. “It’s all good,” says Bob (an expression picked up from yesterday’s redhead), as I leave and drive along to the horse park to meet up with the crew at Muriwai Beach Horse Treks. As a beginner, I’m carefully matched with my mount: a gentle yet tough station-bred horse named Sherman, who plods sedately along the long black beach and back through the iron-rich dunes.

The sand is the result of eroded rock, rich in iron ore spewed from Mt Taranaki and washed north by strong currents. Light as dust, it sticks like glue to your skin and can sometimes be found for days after a visit to the beach. Brushing it off as best I can I return to collect Bob from the Surf School.

“He’s a bit of a legend on the Malibu,” says the young instructor, giving me a wink as we leave. Over a burger lunch at Muriwai’s casual Waterfront Café we exchange notes before heading up the hill to visit the Takapu Gannet Colony.

Here these magnificent birds nest on large rocky plateaus in the cliffs and we wander along cliff top tracks where informative display boards describe the gannets’ lifestyle including their feeding habits and rearing of young. The colony, which has grown steadily since the 1970s, boasts hundreds of birds and we watch as they take off using strong updrafts to help them aloft on wings spanning up to two metres.

We then drive to Waimauku to enjoy a wine tasting at Matua Valley Winery, where the Spence brothers pioneered New Zealand’s first Sauvignon Blanc. Their wide range of distinctive wines includes many award winning Sauvignon Blanc vintages.

During our relaxed yet informed tasting, Bob chats with Bill Spence about the best surfcasting possies on the west coast. Much to my amusement, last night’s catch grows substantially larger as we work through the wines on offer.

Tired yet strangely refreshed from our adventurous day, we decide to stay at Vineyard Cottages. We check in early and spend the remainder of the afternoon relaxing on the verandah beneath a roof of thick grapevines.

Later, armed with a torch, we make our way through the vineyard to dine at The Hunting Lodge restaurant, housed inside a 130-year-old cottage. I enjoy a thick game broth, followed by seared ostrich; Bob indulges in scallops followed by a juicy venison steak. Wearily we return to our cottage and turn in; Bob dreams of catching an immense fish, while I soar like a gannet above thunderous surf.

PLEASE NOTE: Matua Valley Wines no longer operates a vineyard at Waimauku, but The Hunting Lodge restaurant is still open for dinner and wine tastings and offer their own Hunting Lodge brand of wines. Vineyard Cottages are also under different ownership and is a popular destination for those wanting to have an Auckland staycation or romantic night away.