Things to do in Piha on a day trip

Black sand beaches, coastal walkways and hidden waterfalls; there are many reasons why Piha Beach has become one of the best-known day trips in Auckland. And it’s not only that there are so many great things to do in Piha, but also the fact it’s less than an hour’s drive away from Auckland city.

Auckland’s West Coast is loved by many for its rugged coastline, great surf and unique natural gems, but the huge variety of attractions can make it hard to plan your day trip! While families and surfers may prefer a day out on the volcanic black beach, perhaps with a detour to Kitekite Falls, adventurous folk may prefer to take on one of the many hiking trails or scale the sand dunes at Bethells Beach. For sunset, there’s no one perfect spot at Piha; whether you’re enjoying a sundowner with a view over the beach or admiring the gannet colony at nearby Muriwai, it’s almost certain to be impressive.

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Getting from Piha is simple since it’s less than an hour’s drive from Auckland. If you don’t drive, you can also take a shuttle bus from Auckland, which also often includes a tour.

Without further ado, here’s my list of the best things to do in Piha. 

Mercer Bay Loop Walk

I feel compelled to kick off my ‘Things to do to in Piha’ blog post with the Mercer Bay Track because it was my absolute favourite activity of the day. It’s also the kind of underrated local activity that tourists may miss out on. 

The walk has fantastic views over the West coast as you cross the Te Ahua headland. There is a short detour on to this lookout pictured below – definitely worth a stop. 

The beginning/end of the walk is rather steep. Once it levels out, it’s a more relaxed, well-maintained pathway. At under 2 miles long, the track can be completed in around 40-minutes.

Note: be sure to stay on the track, as parts of it are under the authority of Te Kawerau a Maki which must be respected.

Mercer Bay Loop Walk is a 10-minute drive from Piha Beach. There is a car park directly at the beginning of the walk, at the end of Log Race Road.

Kitekite Falls

The new boardwalk through the lush forest means this walk starts off beautifully – it takes around one hour to complete the 2.75km circular walk to Kitekite Falls and return back to the car park. I really enjoying this shady stroll through the native woodlands.

There are a couple of river crossings to reach the bottom of the waterfall – just something to be aware of if you don’t have the best balance. The rocks act as stepping stones. My friend had to hold my hand haha – my neurodiverse brain always gets caught up on river crossings! 

Once at the waterfall, you can swim (unless there’s been heavy rain) at the pool on the bottom. Or simply rest a while before continuing the walk back. The falls are 40m and have 6 separate drops.

Not got your fix of waterfalls? Me neither. Some day I’ll have to return to see Karekare Falls. This nearby 25m waterfall is a great activity to combine on a return West Coast day trip to Karekare Beach and the Waitakere Ranges

The car park for Kitekite Falls lies at the end of Glenesk Road from where the walk begins. There are also bathroom facilities here.

Piha Beach and Lion Rock

This black sand beach is gorgeously photogenic on its own and a great offering of paradise so close to the city. The name Piha is synonymous with surfing, so you can expect some locals to catch the waves. If you’re not up for joining in, soak up the sun with a sunbathe and swim. It’s Piha and Kitekite Falls that are most likely to become stops on people’s North Island road trips!

If you want to try surfing for the first time, you can try a group surfing lesson with Piha Surf Academy.

Feeling shy or wanting more individual attention? They also offer private surf lessons for a slightly higher price.

If like me, you’re not much of a beach-dweller type, you can instead take on the walk up Lion Rock. It’s a pretty easy, short uphill walk to the viewing platform area. For safety reasons, visitors can no longer climb to the top of the rock which has been cordoned off. Still, it’s just 0.3km up to the lookout which does provide awesome views over the beach. 

Piha’s iconic Lion Rock is apparently the eroded neck of a volcano! The Maori name for the rock, ‘Te Piha’, refers to the formation of waves as they curve around the rock which reminded them of waves breaking around their waka (canoe). 

Want to keep things even simple? You can always check out this afternoon Piha Beach and rainforest eco-tour.

Alternatively, this full-day ‘Wild West’ coastal tour comes with a ‘photographer guide’ who can help you photograph your way around this beautiful region.

Piha Cafe

I stopped for lunch at Piha Cafe, a popular local spot with distant views of the coast. Thankfully, the cafe also had vegan options. Next door is the Piha Vendor with a large variety of snacks, sandwiches and baked goods.

On the right is another photo of Piha Beach itself.

Te Henga – ‘Bethells Beach’

There are numerous walks around Te Henga, these days more commonly known as Bethells Beach, and the surrounding area. Other travellers may prefer to head straight to the beach and enjoy the 2km stretch of black sand. Bethells Cave and O’Neils Bay are also notable spots here. 

The Te Henga Walkway gives many options for hikers to enjoy the scenery, with the full walk going from Muriwai Beach to Bethells Beach.

Alternatively, explore Lake Wainamu and the sand dunes – this was my personal choice since it seemed like a unique opportunity. Walk alongside, or through, the stream until you reach the lake. The closer you get to the beach, the larger the sand dunes begin to appear! Swimming in the lake within the shadow of the sand dunes is a great way to cool off. Or surf down the side of the dunes if you prefer!

I actually went the wrong way and approached the lake from over the top of the dunes! This was great fun as I could appreciate the true scale of the dunes here and felt miles away from Auckland. (Okay… I was miles away technically… but you get my meaning.) The full Lake Wainamu loop takes 90-minutes but my slightly weird version took one hour.

Muriwai Gannet Colony 

The Muriwai gannet colony is one of the most unique things to see in the greater Piha area, with a colossal number of birds nesting here. You might spot up to 1200 gannets chilling out and feeding on the top of the rocks in their nesting season between August and March.

Muriwai Beach itself is 60km long and popular with locals and surfers, especially during the summer months, although not recommended for swimming. 

It’s a short walk from the Maukatia car park to the viewing platforms. The drive from Muriwai Beach back to Auckland takes one hour.

Which of these activities in Piha would you like to do the most?

More of my favourite Auckland Day trips:





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  1. Oof, it looks gorgeous here. Hard to pick one I want to do the most, but I’d definitely see Kitekite and do the loop walk first 😀 I love the panorama, too!

  2. Lovely post oh I enjoyed the north island & Northland peninsula so much, but unfortunatelly we didn´t have time for Piha in the end. Looks awesome, I hope we get the chance to visit one day again.

  3. I’m like you–I’ve definitely forgo the beach to climb the Lion Rock. And I’d look to see all those gannets. I’ve seen huge colonies before and they are so amazing.

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