How is it you can be pushing 40, consider yourself outdoorsy, have lived in the same city roughly three-quarters of your life, and still find jaw-dropping walks you haven’t even heard of, let alone done? Well firstly, I’m grateful that’s the case given seemingly all I want to do these days is discover new walks where I can bung little Riley Roxy (11 months old) in the backpack.
And secondly, it’s a reminder that the mantra I adopted a few years back – that just because you haven’t heard of something in your backyard doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing – has proven itself over and over again to be true.
That mantra is really a bit of misplaced arrogance combined with humility. How arrogant to even consider the possibility that only the things you’ve heard of could be amazing! How humble to know this is indeed not the case!
Preamble out of the way, everyone in Auckland knows about Piha Beach on the city’s west coast, but how many know about the incredible little walk that sits on the ridge-line high above it?*
Being out the other side of New Zealand’s full Covid-19 lockdown has had me and my wife Aimee looking for places beyond our immediate neighbourhood to take baby Riley, and a bit of haphazard Googling led us to the Mercer Bay Loop Track. I say “haphazard” because irrespective of Kauri dieback having temporarily closed off so many great Auckland bush walks, it can be frustratingly hard finding the right information online about the best walks still on offer. Official websites are often bland in their assessment of stunning trails, while private blogs (like my own) can be out of date.
Not to mention the fact that walks that link with other tracks are not always clearly identified online as being part of larger trails, making planning a walk difficult without firsthand knowledge or a verbal recommendation from a friend. And I haven’t even mentioned walk-time estimates that are often waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out!
That second preamble out of the way, here’s what you need to know about the Mercer Bay Loop Track:
Firstly, do it. You like wow-level scenery don’t you? Good! Secondly, it’s kind of shameful to have been a repeat visitor to Piha without having done this walk. The loop itself is literally only about 45-minutes, though it can be extended by taking the Comans Track to Karekare Beach. This extension is roughly an extra hour one way and requires a small amount of chain-rope-assisted clambering over rocks so it’s not entirely recommended if you’ve got a baby in a backpack, but my wife and I found doing part of the Comans Track hugely rewarding.
What’s probably best is the old two-car trick with one car in Piha and the other in Karekare, allowing you to walk between the two destinations without a dreaded double-back. Hate the double-back! As it stands, the full Mercer Bay Loop (complete with detour to a lookout) is 2.7-kilometres on its own, and if you just add to it the part of the Comans Track up to the rock where you may need the chain-rope to pull you up before turning back, this gives you another kilometre to your total walk.
Due to the steepness of some of the trail, once you’ve returned to the carpark you’ll feel like you’ve achieved much more than the just-under four-kilometres your app tells you you’ve done.
Given it’s a loop, you can choose either clockwise or anti-clockwise, but most people recommend doing the track in a clockwise direction to maximise the photo opportunities and minimise the stress to your thighs. Either way, the clifftop views over the crashing waves of the Tasman Sea some 200-metres below are spectacular. The lookout is also a historic former Maori pa site with a striking carved sculpture (or ‘pou’).
Speaking of those clifftop views, the Mercer Bay Loop is not for those with even mild vertigo and nor is it really suitable for parents with young children. Babies in backpacks are a little easier to control and dogs on leashes are permitted.
Piha is a 45-minute drive from downtown Auckland. Just before Piha Rd begins its winding descent down to the beach, turn left onto Te Ahuahu Rd before veering right onto Log Race Rd. The latter becomes narrow and unsealed, but it’s not long until you reach a circular carpark. There are entries/exits to the Mercer Bay Loop Track to the north and south of the carpark with the southern entrance the easier on the legs.
*The Mercer Bay Loop Track is certainly known to Piha residents and serious trampers, in part because its sheer cliffs are regarded as dangerous – even fatal – if people stray from the trails.