1. Whitford has seen many changes since the first European settlers arrived in 1843 but retains its rustic charm. It is a service centre for the surrounding farms and equestrian activities. Whitford is also a focus for an emerging local arts and crafts cottage industry.
In pre-European times, Mâori used the waterways in this area as transport routes to access various settlements and resources. Behind the township, the wharf on Turanga Creek, now a favorite fishing spot with local children, was once a bustling hive of activity. A regular passenger boat service and mail delivery from Auckland operated from 1848 to 1927 until better roads put an end to this more leisurely mode of transport and commerce.
Opposite the hall, on the corner of Wharf and Whitford Roads, is the village's former general store built in 1910. Since ceasing business as a store in 1965, the building has been at various times, a private residence, an art and craft shop, saddlery and, since 1986, a licensed restaurant. Why not take the time to enjoy a meal here?
2. A short detour down Whitford Park Road takes you to the Whitford Country Club where visitors may play the 18 hole golf course and enjoy the club's other sporting and restaurant facilities. Green fees are required and equipment is available for hire but it is advisable to check with the club by phoning 09 530 8823. The area occupied by the club was originally an ostrich farm which operated successfully for more than 45 years from 1887. In 1898, under the guidance of the Nathan family, the farm supported more than 300 ostriches. But changing fashions and a lack of demand for feathers finally led to its closure in 1932.
In Whitford, you're definitely in horse country with thoroughbreds' studs, pony clubs, and training stables situated within a stone's throw of the trail. Note the distinctive horse bridge and the flourishing pony club on the outskirts of the township as you travel along Whitford - Maraetai Road.
3. On the hill, overlooking the pony club, you can view the site of the Granger Chimney - a remnant of Granger's Brick and Tile Works. Founded in the 1870s, the works prospered for 50 years thanks to the abundance of local clay. Rising shipping charges eventually made them uncompetitive. Bricks made here were used for many Auckland landmarks, including the Royal Foundation for the Blind premises, Parnell, and the waterfront Ferry Buildings.
4. A left turn into Clifton Road and then another left turn into Potts Road will bring you to the coast. From here you may be lucky to spot one of the world's rarest birds, the New Zealand Dotterel, one of many species of coastal wading birds that use the shell-banks of the 500ha Cockle Bay estuary as a high tide roosting site. Other species to look out for include ducks, shags and godwits. A left turn from Clifton Road into Henson Road will take you back to the Whitford-Maraetai Road.
As you continue east enjoy the beautiful stands of native trees and splendid views of the Firth of Thames, the inshore islands of the Hauraki Gulf and distant Coromandel Peninsula. Before the arrival of Europeans, this area was intensely settled by Mâori.
5. A few kilometers on brings you to Jack Lachlan Drive, the main access road to the Pine Harbour Marina complex. The marina has berths for 555 craft and lies just a short cruising distance from sheltered bays on nearby Waiheke and Ponui Islands, the resort island of Pakatoa and the Coromandel Peninsula. For landlubbers, a short coastal pathway to the north provides access to a sandy beach and, at low tide, to Whitford four kilometers away. In the opposite direction, also at low tide, walkers can reach the nearby township of Beachlands.
6. Adjacent to Pine Harbour is the seaside town of Beachlands with its several secluded beaches. The lookout at the end of Puriri Road provides spectacular views of the marina and the Gulf. Around the coast at Sunkist Bay you can swim in safe waters or take a short walk across to Motukaraka Island and enjoy unobstructed, panoramic views of the entire southern gulf. Motukaraka (Flat Island) was once a Mâori pâ (fortified village) of traditional importance where a fine crop of kumara was grown. Other traditional crops cultivated by the Mâori were bracken fern (rauaruhe), taro gourd (hue), yam, ti hore (edible cabbage tree), karaka, poroporo, parafern and renga renga. Kai moana (food from the sea) was a mainstay for people living along the coast, particularly the Mâori, and fishing remains a popular recreational activity today. Have a go at fishing of Snapper Rock or, if you prefer a more secluded spot, try View Bay or Shelly Bay off Pohutukawa Road.
7. More chances to explore the foreshore and to experience some magnificent scenery are offered just around the coast at Omana Regional Park. Omana is one of a city wide network of parks which provide locals and visitors with a multitude of outdoor options. Here, park features include a beach bordered by grassy picnic grounds, a model farm and a Mâori pâ site on the bluff. In a good state of preservation, the pâ is of a type not normally found in these parts as it is defended on three sides by a ring ditch with the cliff's edge forming the fourth side. Camping is permitted at the park all year round. Contact the Auckland Regional Parks Office, telephone 09 366 2000 for more details.
8. Approaching Maraetai Beach, near the present day Campbell Road, is the site of the first mission station in the area. The mission was established in 1837 by William Thomas Fairburn of the Church Missionary Society. Fairburn along with other CMS missionaries tried to keep the peace between Ngati Paoa, Ngati Tamatera and other Waikato iwi and to introduce Christianity into the area. Although in 1836 Fairburn believed he had purchased 40,000 acres in the Howick, Pakuranga, Whitford and Maraetai area in the interest of peace, these purchases were subject to a number of controversies. On his death Fairburn essentially held only 5495 acres with the rest being appropriated by the Crown.
9. To the Mâori people Maraetai means "meeting place by the sea." The township has been well named and many families still flock to this beautiful part of the Pohutukawa Coast to swim, picnic or enjoy a day's boating. The first permanent European inhabitant in the area, Thomas Maxwell, settled at Maraetai in 1817. A trader, Maxwell married Te Ngeungeu, daughter of Tara Te Irirangi, the then paramount Mâori Chief of this area.
10. From Maraetai the trail hugs the shoreline for several kilometres of splendid unspoilt coastal scenery until it reaches Umupuia, also known as Duders Beach. The Duder family has farmed in this area since 1866. The original homestead, Rozel, is named after a house on the Channel Island of Guernsey, where Mrs Duder had lived as a child. Umupuia is the heartland of Ngai Tai, the tangata whenua (indigenous people) of this part of the Pohutukawa Coast. An iwi of the Tainui waka (canoe), Ngai Tai named their whare nui (meeting house) here Harata Kingi after a daughter of one of their chiefs. The meeting house is still in regular use today.
Along the coast many of the once plentiful Ngai Tai pâ and settlement sites are still visible. On the eastern headland at Umupuia is the traditionally significant pâ, Wharekaiwhara. One pâ is visible on the next southern headland.
The Pohutukawa Coast Trail ends at Umupuia. But follow the road inland along North Road for another ten minutes and you will reach Clevedon, one of the oldest settlements in south east Auckland and another centre of great historic interest, colonial charm, and scenic beauty.