Cascades Walk, Pt. 1

Ahh, the Waitakere Ranges. Less than an hour out of Auckland, but home to beautiful beaches, clear streams, majestic waterfalls, and kilometers and kilometers of walking trails.

On this particular warm Fall day, Taylor and I took a trip out to the Cascades Walk. As you can see from the map, there’s plenty of trails (and plenty of trail closures) running throughout the area.

(Note: do not get confused, as I was at first, by the fact that North is pointing downward on this map. I got completely disoriented before realizing. Even better, the smaller map in the lower left is the opposite, with North facing up.)

You get to the trailhead by driving through a golf course, but do not be dismayed: this park is no country club. Cross the suspension bridge and you’re in the bush. (The sign says no more than 20 people, not 20 kph, in case you were worried about people driving on the bridge).

The trail is alongside — and occasionally across — the Cascades Stream and its various tributaries. Some of the crossings require either balance (which I have none of) or a willingness to get your feet wet.

The trail is quite typical for the Waitakeres, starting off with near-rainforest and as the elevation increases transitioning to more standard New Zealand forest.

There are also some large kauri trees along the trail. Some of the tracks are closed due to kauri dieback, which is sadly killing off these old giants.

You can see multiple waterfalls along the Cascades Walkway, which you doubtless already deduced from the name. The first one requires some small effort to get to.

(I like this photo because with few frames of reference you can’t quite tell if it’s looking forward at two vertical rock formations or looking downward at two horizontal ones. It’s the former, in case the direction of tree growth does not make that clear.)

Taylor demonstrates one technique for getting to the waterfall.

And here he is demonstrating another technique, requiring less physical skill but more balance.

The waterfall itself is tucked away in this little grotto. The angle and the lighting conditions make photography difficult.

Here’s a completely blown-out photo showing a bit more of the surrounding detail.

That whole area is a pretty cool place, and Taylor and I spent a while there climbing around and taking photos.

Moving on: the trail really starts to climb, offering fantastic views.

Any NZ hikers will recognize this bird; it’s a fantail, called piwakawaka by the Maori. They will fly in front of you and do aerobatics in the middle of the trail, flipping and diving and looking like they’re just having so much fun being a bird.

These birds are so spazzy it’s hard to get a clear shot of them, but here’s a blurry one demonstrating why they’re called fantails. Autofocus is fairly useless for shooting birds. If you want to get a good shot of a fantail you will need to be good with manual focus and a very quick shutter speed.

What I’m saying is, if you want blurry or out-of-focus shots of a fantail, let me know. I’ve got heaps.

Walk far enough, and the trail joins up with another which is practically a gravel road. And moving along, we see…a bridge? No! That’s a dam! The Waitakere Dam, in fact.

I love curved dams. So cool looking.

The Waitakere Dam is actually the smallest of the five dams in the Waitakere Ranges in terms of capacity. It was completed over 100 years ago and maintains a quite large reservoir.

On the South side of the dam (again, recall the wonky map orientation if you referred back to it and are confused) is the reservoir, looking quite pretty and also a bit low. Don’t worry, by the end of Winter I’m sure it will be fuller. Believe it or not, in the 1920s this reservoir actually overflowed the dam! While doing research, I saw pictures of the water right up to the spillway. So intense!

To the North, we see out along the valley (I believe this area is called the Waitakere Saddle).

I couldn’t find out exactly how high the dam is, but according to the water levels charts I discovered that the spill level is 20 meters (as I write this, the reservoir is 55% full and slowly increasing. Sadly, the site doesn’t allow me to check the historical levels to find out how full it was when we visited). The dam was actually raised by 4 meters many years ago! Much of the water used by Auckland comes from these reservoirs.

(Have I mentioned that I think dams are cool? I wasted so much time while writing this post doing research on the dams in the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges).

When the reservoir is full, this stump will be completely submerged.

For obvious reasons, swimming in the reservoir is highly discouraged.

In order to get to the tramway, the next part of our journey, we had to climb down the stairs on the other end of the dam. This took us down the North face.

The water flowing from the dam drops down into an amazing waterfall, but we won’t actually see those falls until later.

Unfortunately, the trail we wanted to take is currently in bad shape and blocked off. So we are going to have to go back up and around. But that will be for next time, because this has already gotten pretty long. I’ll see you then for the conclusion of our adventure!

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