Five-year-old Murphy Bates and his 3-year-old brother, Owen, are carefully picking their way through the 10-minute walk to Kakamatua Inlet in the Waitakere Ranges.
The shadowy bush gives way to beautiful blue sky and a wide sandy beach. Being a weekday, it is very quiet with very few people walking their dogs. Still, the boys are wary, having encountered dogs barking excitedly at them on a previous outing.
"It was a Sunday when we were here and were constantly harassed by dogs that were off their leashes," says their mum, Clare. "One woman has shouted to me, 'Grab your children!' Her dog was really running, bounding actually, towards Owen."
Mrs Bates is concerned that there is a misconception that Kakamatua Beach is an off-the-leash area, despite a clear sign at the entrance advising otherwise.
In fact, dog-lovers have touted Kakamatua Beach as an "unofficial off-leash" beach. Websites that cater to dog owners say dog restrictions are "not as stringent" as in other parts of Auckland and that as long as owners can control their dogs, the dogs can be given free run of the beach.
An article in the NZ Herald in August last year said the area was "officially on-lead but there seems to be an understanding that this is the off-leash spot between Cornwallis and Huia... It isn't controlled and dog owners tend to let their dogs off the lead provided they are under control".
But Auckland Council says Kakamatua Beach is definitely an on-leash area where dogs must be kept in control and on a lead and that any breach of the bylaws could result in a $300 fine.
"If anyone is concerned about dogs being off-leash at this beach, or any public place where they shouldn't be, [they should] call 301 0101 and our call centre will arrange for an animal management inspector to visit the site," Auckland Council spokeswoman Angela Jones says. "We will be looking at the signage on the track to the beach in the coming weeks to ensure it is adequate and the rules for this beach are clear to all."
Mrs Bates says there were about 30 to 40 dogs off their leashes on the Sunday they visited the beach.
"We hadn't been here for a while and we wanted to take the kids out for a walk," says Mrs Bates. "The last time I came here there was pretty much no one around. I was really surprised to come here and find it overrun by loose dogs.
"That trip to the beach for our family was impossible to really enjoy because we needed to be constantly vigilant around them," she says.
Her husband had to pick up their seven-year-old daughter who was holding a stick, as a dog was jumping at her. "The owners were kind of saying, 'don't worry, she won't bite'. People will always tell you they won't bite but they are scaring the kids."
Also frustrating was that the dog-owners told her to take her children elsewhere as they insisted Kakamatua is unofficially an off-leash beach.
"I was born and grew up in Titirangi," she says. "We go to all the west coast beaches. Why shouldn't we be able to take our children to Kakamatua Beach?"
Even on beaches where dogs are officially allowed unleashed, there are some concerns over dogs running up and down the beach. At Milford Beach recently, one of The Aucklander's staff members saw two unleashed dogs knock over a child. "The problem in a situation like that is unless the owner is a pretty good sprinter there's no way they can really control a big fast dog. The dog is so happy to be able to run, it goes mad. I guess it's not really a problem unless the dog bites, but that kind of thing can be very scary for a little kid, even if no rules are being broken."
Dogs may be exercised unleashed - but under the owner's control - in parks, reserves and along foreshores,
any time outside of daylight saving hours. They may also run on the following beaches, at any time, every day of the year:
Attwood Rd wharf reserve area Paremoremo
Rahui Beach, Greenhithe
Soldiers Bay beach, Birkenhead
Chelsea Bay beach, Birkenhead
St Leonards Beach, Takapuna
JF Kennedy Park beach, Castor Bay
Churchill Reserve beach, Rothesay Bay
Bethells Beach: Off-leash allowed between green marker poles, south of surf-club watch tower. Dogs in any other areas of the beach must be on a leash.
North Piha Beach: Off-leash allowed between green marker poles, generally 100m north of Lion Rock. Dogs are not permitted in areas marked as ``prohibited'' and must be on a leash at all other times.
Off-leash access allowed to city beaches 4pm-10am from the Tuesday after Easter Monday until the Friday before Labour Weekend.
Most beaches are prohibited areas only from 9am-7pm during daylight saving. Outside these times dogs may be exercised either on or off a leash.
The council is still reviewing the different policies and bylaws of legacy areas to unify them. The consolidated dog policy/bylaw is expected to be ready for approval in a few months.
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