40km west of Auckland is a bay that doesn’t want to be accessed by mere mortals. Mercer Bay sits between Piha and Karekare on the west coast of Auckland.

Mercer Bay and Whatipu from Mercer Bay loop track
Mercer Bay and Whatipu from Mercer Bay loop track

We went on an amazing early autumn day. The sea was a gently rippling cape edged in white lace and a lone boat made its way towards Piha. Look down from the cliffs and the water is so clear you can see the sea grass swaying in the current below.

sea grass and reef
The reef with sea grass swaying is visible from over 100m high

There are three ways to get there: at low tide you can walk around the rocks from Karekare, but it’s not easy and there’s no guarantee you won’t get wet.

You've got to walk past this guy to get around to Karekare
You’ve got to walk past this guy to get around to Karekare

If you have your own boat, then you can bring it ashore. Or, at any time you can make your way down a barely formed path off the Hillary Trail which descends perilously down the cliffs. At three points there are ropes to help you get down rocky sections which are fairly close to vertical.

The ropes were necessary on the descent, and also helpful on the ascent
The ropes were necessary on the descent, and also helpful on the ascent

This is one of the trickier routes we’ve done – more challenging than our Mt Karioi trip. Allow at least an hour to get down, and be very careful as some of it is quite slippery, there’s plenty of gorse and cutty grass (which does what it says), quite a few wasps, and there are many places where you have to take quite large steps to get down. You’ll need good trainers or hiking boots, and not (as one walker we met) a pair of Crocs which he had decided to carry and walk barefoot.

We climbed down those cliffs
We climbed down those cliffs

Once at the bottom you’re rewarded with powdery grey sand with flecks of gold and a long shallow beach. There were all of eight other people on the whole beach on the beautiful Saturday that we went. The temperature was 26 degrees and the sea was warm. Daniela decided to get in.

Surf and sand on Mercer Bay
Surf and sand on Mercer Bay

I decided to explore and look for animals instead.

Two starfish hug the rock while a fish waits in relative safety for the tide to return
Two reef starfish hug the rock while a fish trapped in the rock pool waits for the tide to return

Mercer Bay Caves

But the main attraction of Mercer Bay (apart from the beautiful sand and surf) is the 100m cave which you can only get the whole way through about an hour each side of low tide.

The cave starts quite high in the beach and winds its way down to the sea
The cave starts quite high in the beach and winds its way down to the sea. The last few metres are only knee-deep.

Remember to check out the walls of the cave as you walk through by taking a powerful torch – there’s plenty of life in there

Look closely and you'll see all kinds of creatures
Look closely and you’ll see all kinds of creatures – just in this photo there’s a blue shore crab, several juvenile mussels, barnacles, spiral tube worms, blue tube worms and red sea squirts (plus probably things we’ve missed).
Red crab tries to flee the light
Red crab tries to flee the light

Getting to Mercer Bay and the Loop Track

You can get to the Mercer Bay Loop Track from Log Race Road, just before Piha. Park your car at the old World War II radar station ruins and have a look at the plentiful information boards if you have time. There’s a toilet but no water. Walk 20 minutes along the coastal walk and you’ll find absolutely stunning views north towards Muriwai and south towards Whatipu from the tallest cliffs in the Auckland region. There are a couple of lookout points, plus a side track where you’ll find information boards and this carved pou whenua which relates to Maori history of the area. That track culminates in a stunning lookout, too. It’s a visual feast for the scenically starved.

The carved pou symbolises the spiritual guardianship of Te Kawerau a Maki and recognises that this is a special place, being one of the oldest settled parts of the Waitakere Ranges
The carved pou symbolises the spiritual guardianship of Te Kawerau a Maki and recognises that this is a special place, being one of the oldest settled parts of the Waitakere Ranges

Don’t take the left-hand track back up the loop to the car park, but instead turn right. Keep looking to the right and you’ll see a track entrance; it’s easy to miss. The first few metres are fairly easy going, but then the fun starts with a rocky, steep section.

On the way back you can do the other side of the loop. The Mercer Bay Loop Track is a well-formed track of either dirt or grass.

Mercer Bay loop track
Mercer Bay loop track

It is set among low regenerating bush with wispy toetoe grass swaying in the breeze. The loop says it takes an hour, but we did the 25-minute leg in 15 minutes (pushing it a little). There are plenty of photo opportunities but be careful to stay to the marked track and not to get too close to the edge as people have fallen with the permanent result of not living to see this view again

toetoe
Toetoe grass

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