Location: Mary Wilson Reserve, Kuakara Bay
Access: Car parking beside reserve
Length: ca. 5 km
Grade: Undulating with some steep sections; mix of informal paths, gravel tracks and country roads.
Status: on leash (with some off-leash sections)
Cafes and restaurants: none nearby
More information: http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/parksfacilities/walkingtracks/Pages/waihekewalkseries.aspx
Mary Wilson Reserve stands in a small inlet on the south side of the Te Whau peninsula, to the west of Rocky Bay (aka Whakanewha Bay). The beach here is shingly, and nothing special. But heading west, along the cliffs, is an interesting and varied walk.
It begins in front of the big house that nestles in the western corner of Kuakarau Bay. As we pass, it's worth looking out for the large pieces of artwork in the garden and on the patio. Steps lead us up to a narrow and zig-zaggy path through bush. As we climb, the path becomes narrow in places (sometimes no more than half a metre wide), and there's a steep and uninviting fall to the rocky shore below. Occasionally, though, we come out into an open glade, where the wind makes the grass lie flat, but from which we get views across to Auckland. And after a while we drop down onto a small gravelly beach, backed by a grassy terrace.
Three times this happens: up onto the headland, down to a beach. But then the route changes. The coastal path stops and the track turns abruptly right and shoots uphill. It's a long, steep climb as we follow the straight fenceline. Eventually, though, the track begins to level out, and just as our calves are beginninbg to recover we step out onto an open road.
Looking left, we can see the entrance to a winery and restaurant a hundred metres or so away. Our route, however, goes right along Te Whau Drive. This is not the best part of the walk, by any means: there's no pavement and the views that we initially get to south and north soon disappear as the bush closes in. But eventually, after a long two kilometres, and passing the junction with Vintage Land, we come to a grassy paddock on the right of the road, and at the far end of this there's a welcome green sign saying Kuakarau Forest - Route to Rocky Bay.
We take this gladly, and having crossed the paddock duck back down into the bush, following a path that's overhung by huge epiphytes. After about 500 metres this brings us out onto Wainau Road, where we go right, downhill and within a couple of hundred metres more, find ourselves back at the beach where we started.
As described here, this walk is about 5 km. Like other walks on Waiheke Island, it can easily be extended because it inevitably links with other dog-fdriuendly tracks. One option is to head off down Vintage Lane and do an extra clockwise loop via this and Margaret Reeve Lane, ultimately joining path down the eastern edge of Kuakarau Forest, back to Mary Wilson Reserve. This adds another 3.5-4 km to the length of the walk.