The dense bush spills down the steep cliffs to a jagged shoreline where waves crash onto rocks. The majestic blue Pacific Ocean stretches out forever with an occasional smudge of an island off in the distance. There are no signs of civilization. Indeed, this is what the land and sea must have looked like before man arrived.
I am walking on a coastal track far above the breaking waves. The trail winds in and out of inlets providing constant varying views in both directions and occasionally descending to white-sand beaches. Located about 50 km north of where we live in Tauranga, this is the trail connecting Waihi Beach and Homunga Bay.
Waihi Beach is a famed New Zealand beach, particularly popular among Aucklanders who travel down for holiday or for a long weekend. Despite it being early when I start, it is already hot and humid. Already a smattering of sunbathers lie on the beach while farther out, morning surfers ride the well-formed, rolling waves. The trail starts at the north end of the beach just past a rope swing, then gently climbs and meanders above the shoreline. After about thirty minutes it drops down to Orokawa Beach, a beautiful stretch of beach shaded by giant spreading pohutukawa trees. Piles of small rocks and shells on the beach jangle like windchimes as the waves recede.
It takes about ten minutes to traverse the length of Orokawa beach, then a sign warns of the trail becoming more steep and arduous on the way to Homunga Bay. This is a less-traveled trail.
There is evidence of a fair number of old slips—that’s what they call small landslides in New Zealand—along the trail. You can see where huge chunks of landscape have slid down the hillsides presumably during the rainy months leaving huge bare swaths of land, with the trail now being redirected across or around these areas. For the first thirty minutes I see no one else on the trail despite it being a fine summer day.
The track crosses a fenceline and then passes an old backpacking hut that someone has named the Homunga Hilton.
Now the trail becomes steeper winding along the cliff edge itself with long drops down to the sea. Finally, almost two hours after starting I reach Homunga Bay, a pristine stretch of sand on the wild coastline. As if that weren’t enough, a waterfall cascades down from a cliff onto the beach.
For those interested, there is another way to access Homunga Bay via a 40 minute hike down from Ngatitangata Road.
I rest in the shade by the waterfall and eat a lazy lunch watching seabirds and enjoying the tranquility before starting back. Just before reaching Orokawa Beach is a turnoff for William Wright Falls, an additional 30 minute hike each way. I don’t know what the falls are like but it sounds interesting so I take the trail. The trail follows a streambed crossing and re-crossing it numerous times
Fortunately the water is low, so I manage to keep my shoes relatively dry hopping from rock to rock. Large orange DOC signs mark the way. Again I see no one else on the trail.
Expecting to see some tiny insignificant waterfall, instead I am surprised to see a stunningly beautiful, delicate waterfall cascading down barren rock. A small pool is at the bottom. By this time, I am terribly hot and put on my bathing suit and cool off for long minutes under the falls before heading homeward.