The Hunua Ranges are one hours drive from Auckland CBD. Travel south on State Highway 1 (SH1) and take the Papakura exit. Follow Beach Road across Great South Road and along Settlement road. Turn right by Edmund Hilary School onto Hunua Road. Follow Hunua Road through the Hunua Gorge. Just before entering Hunua Village, turn left into White Road, then right into Falls Road and follow this road to the Hunua Falls carpark.
The park itself features bush clad ranges with streams, waterfalls and magnificent views, tramping tracks and mountain biking. The Hunua Ranges are also home to Auckland’s only mainland population of one of New Zealand’s rarest birds the Kokako and is a refuge for the native Hochstetter’s frog.
While parts of the Hunua Ranges are accessible to experienced trampers only, two key areas provide plenty of tracks, views and activities suitable for families. The first of these is in the west of the ranges and includes the popular Hunua Falls and Wairoa Reservoir. The other takes in the south and central part of the ranges around the Mangatangi and Magatawhiri reservoirs.
After recently visiting the Rainbow Falls up in KeriKeri, we decided to go in search of another waterfall closer to home. Nothing like finding out you can reach a waterfall with a wheelchair.
We found plenty of space to park. COVID-19 has given New Zealanders a reprieve from overseas visitors. Generally, spots like this would be a hive of activity. The carpark is well maintained with a flat tarmac terrain and designated mobility parking.
Entrance to Hunua Falls
Once you leave your car behind you will find a bridge board walk through bush taking you a short distance to view the Waterfall.
The walk continues into a sheltered picnic area along a concrete path. Finlay and I found a beautiful ornate sign to frame a photo together with the waterfall behind us.
The concrete path stops and then becomes compact gravel which has already begun to wear away.
The difficult part for us was when the hard-pack gravel turned into more of a dirt track and started to descend gradually. Because of the rainfall in the area you could see the track had experienced a washout. While heading back up with the Powerchair we got stuck in an area and had to retrace and try another way.
This last bit in a manual wheelchair would definitely need some assistance. We would advise lifting the caster wheels as they would certainly find it hard going.
Once at the water’s edge it’s a wonderful view. In the summer months this place is a very popular swimming spot amongst locals. However, it also poses dangers if you get too close to the force of the Falls. You will find floatation aides on hand if you come into difficulties.
As our Finlay took in the Waterfall the others in our party explored the rocks.
The public toilets to the side of the picnic area and carpark are clean, well maintained and spacious.
When travelling off the beaten track it is easy to find yourself with dirty tyres. We were delighted to discover the sinks had brushes available to clean off shoes and equipment. This certainly saves tracking mud back through the van.
Finlay’s little brother and support buddy got right into the job of scrubbing the mud off his tyres.
Hunua Falls Loop Walk – 20 minutes, 800m
Before entering the Hunua Falls Loop Walk you have to enter through the Cleaning Stations in order to clean your footwear or wheels to limit the spread of Kauri Die-Back disease to the native forest.
We tried to see if we could get Finlay’s Powerchair through the gates but his back wheels had trouble fitting around the width of the centre brushes. We decided to leave it in case we got stuck. In a manual chair this looks to be possible as the outside width itself wasn’t the issue. These cleaning stations differ from one Regional Park to the next so it’s hard to get an idea if one station fits all in terms of wheelchair access.
View of Waterfall on Loop Track
Once through the Cleaning Station you come to a bridge that takes you over the river flowing down from the waterfall. You get another view of the Falls downstream here. Unfortunately, just as you reach the other side there is a step to negotiate. If this step was removed it would be possible to take an easy wheel through the bush to view the Falls over on the other side of the river. However, just before the trail reaches the Falls you come across more steps. On our visit there was also a tree that had fallen blocking the way. This gives a good example of what can happen along any track or trail in our Regional Parks.
The Hunua Falls Lookout
The Loop Track taking in the Lookout isn’t accessible at all as it has a lot of steps, uneven paths, loose gravel and steep gradients. I took some photographs anyway so that you can make your mind up whether it’s accessible enough for you. I took photos of certain key problem areas.
Exiting through the Cleaning Station
After leaving the family friendly feature walks in the Hunua Ranges you will have to clean your wheels or shoes off once more.