Restoration projects across Auckland reflect a new generation's attitude to caring for and renewing our bush, wetlands and other ecosystems, writes Diana Clement.
Once upon a time Auckland had more than its fair share of stinky and dirty waste areas. We chucked our rubbish in open landfills, pollution poured into our harbours, and our mangrove and flax swamps were drained or decimated.
A new generation and a new attitude to New Zealand's bush, wetlands and other unique ecosystems has seen restoration projects spring up across the region. Some are publicly led and funded, while others have been spearheaded by local residents and organisations such as the Wetland Trust and Forest and Bird.
Here are 10 of the city's major projects currently underway.
Kaipatiki Project, Glenfield
Many of Auckland's best restorations have strong public support and a swathe of volunteers. When volunteers first mobilised for the Kaipatiki Project in 1998, the native plants at the Eskdale Bush Scenic Reserve in Glenfield were being suffocated by weeds.
It's hard to comprehend how many thousands of hours of volunteer work have gone into transforming the scrappy reserve into a place of beauty.
Details about this and other volunteer projects can be found at ecoevents.org.nz.
Project Manukau, Mangere to Puhinui
This area of Auckland needs no introduction to me. When I was a child, the stench of Auckland's sewage ponds would waft westwards and hang around for days.
The 500ha of oxidation ponds are gone now and 13km of the Mangere coast has gone through a stunning transformation. So much so that the Watercare Coastal Walkway from Ambury Regional Park to the Otuataua Stonefields near the airport has become one of Auckland's most beautiful corners.
More of the restored Manukau coastal mangrove swamps can be seen a few kilometres further south at the enormous 199ha Puhinui Reserve and Matukutureia Stonefields . Te Araroa - The Long Pathway also passes through the Puhinui Reserve.
Waiatarua Reserve, Remuera
Birds have returned in abundance to the 57ha "Jewel of East Auckland", the Waiatarua Reserve. Tui feed in the flax, and a little pied stilt made it very clear that we were just too close to the pompoms on stilts that were its chicks.
This is a huge reserve. So huge that there's a 60-minute single circuit walking track around it. It is home to the largest urban constructed wetland in New Zealand.
The reserve, which is best accessed from Grand Drive near the intersection of Abbots Way, will host the first of the annual Run Auckland events on March 25.
Project Twin Streams, Henderson
The streams that spill out of the Waitakere Ranges into West Auckland's more industrial areas used to pick up all manner of pollutants along the way.
Not any more, thanks to the former Waitakere City Council. The council's Project Twin Streams aimed to provide a green corridor from bush to sea.
The project has not only cleaned up the Opanuku Stream and neighbouring Oratia Stream, which both spill into the Henderson Creek. It has also created a traffic-free shortcut from central Henderson all the way to the Waitakere Ranges for both foot traffic and bicycles.
The best place to access the chain of reserves along the Opanuku Stream is from the Corban Estate over the splendid Opanuku Art Bridge which is accessed from Winery Way.
Walking over this bridge opened a new window on Henderson for our family. That of open green spaces, birdlife and serenity.
Te Ara Alexandra Pathway, Rosedale
This project is a hidden gem. So hidden that I drove round and round in circles trying to find this brand new walking and bike trail, which is one of the latest in the Auckland cycleways.
The permeable concrete pathway, runs from Barbados Drive to Rosedale Rd, at the back of an industrial area. The highlight for me was not so much the walk, but the very clever way the designers had beautified a tunnel under the Upper Harbour Highway. Instead of being dirty, damp and smelly as most of these structures are, it was painted
to appear like a bush landscape, with birds flying overhead against the blue painted "sky".
Anyone feeling a bit geeky can download and read reports about this and other restorations on the websites of the companies responsible for the design of the restoration.
Meola Reef Reserve, Pt Chevalier
When it came to stench in 1970s Auckland, the rubbish dump at Meola Rd was right up there with the Mangere sewage ponds. "Block your noses, kids," my dad would call out as he turned the old Holden stationwagon into Meola Rd to dump our rubbish at "the tip".
The Meola Rd transformation was one of the big surprises I got on my return from my OE. It had become the Meola Reef Reserve and is now a lovely green open space popular with local dog-walkers.
The contaminated earth has been capped and it's possible to wander right down the little peninsula to the mangroves that jut into the Waitemata Harbour.
Shakespear Open Sanctuary, Whangaparaoa
When I first planned to visit Auckland's best restoration projects, the idea was of dirty, polluted, malodorous places that had been cleaned up and beautified.
Many of our parks are being "restored" in a different way to bring back wildlife.
One major onshore wildlife restoration project is the Shakespear Regional Park, which re-opened to the public late last year after a 1.75km pest-proof fence designed to stamp pests out and encourage birds in from nearby Whangaparaoa was built.
Shakespear forms the North West Wildlink project, which is designed to restore a corridor of green spaces to link two of the region's biodiversity hotspots.
Shona Myers of Wildland Consultants says that the green network between Waitakere Ranges and the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf islands has created stepping stones for birds and other wildlife to move between these hotspots.
Ark in the Park, Waitakere Ranges
Not so long ago I was out with the North Shore Tramping Club in the Cascades area of the Waitakere Ranges, marvelling at what beautiful stands of bush we were passing through. "Doh," I thought to myself later when I learned this wasn't accidental. The Ark in the Park project, a partnership between Forest and Bird and the Auckland Council, is responsible.
The aim of the project, in the Cascades Kauri Park, has been to create a pest-free "open sanctuary" in the Waitakere Ranges without having to install predator fences.
Rats have now been decimated and a number of native bird species long absent from the Waitakere Ranges have been reintroduced including North Island robin, hihi, and kokako. There is just time left this month to see the bats that come out to feed at dusk in the summer. Access from Falls Rd.
Tank Farm, Northcote
When I approached the Auckland Council for a short-list of Auckland's best restoration projects, I was pointed to several volcanic craters I'd visited a year earlier for an article about Auckland's lesser known volcanoes, which can be read here.
Tank Farm, also called Tuff Crater, is a near perfect volcanic crater visible from the Northern Motorway between Onewa and Esmonde Rds.
It is peaceful and there is considerable birdlife in the lagoon that formed in the bottom of the crater after the last ice age.
Forest & Bird has been working hard to improve the crater as part of a bigger project to plant the bare land on the edge of the Northern Motorway.
The best access is from Exmouth Rd.
Another little-known volcanic crater Kohuora once housed the Papatoetoe City Council Kohuora Crater Landfill. These days it's a beautifully restored wetland with boardwalks. It's amazing how our views of wetlands have changed.
As recently as 1993 an application was made to the then Manukau City Council for permission to fill in the crater and turn it into "Manukau's equivalent of Western Springs". It is one of a series of volcanic craters for those interested in exploring more of Auckland's volcanic past. Access from Station Rd.
If there's one sure-fire way to get to know an area better, it's to spend a morning or day volunteering. Most of the projects mentioned in this article have volunteer programmes. Upcoming workdays include:
* Kaipatiki Bush Blitz: community working bees will be held at 9.30am on four Saturdays: February 4, March 3, April 7 and May 5. Contact Melissa Marler on (09) 482 1172 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
* Project Manukau: Planting days planned for May, June, and July. Email email@example.com
* Shakespear Regional Park: Public planting day Sunday, June 10. Contact Sue Hill on (09) 426 1200.
* Tank Farm/Tuff Crater: Thursday mornings from 9.30am and monthly on a Saturday from February 11. Phone Anne Denny (09) 480
* Ark In The Park: Weekday and weekend volunteering. Baiting began January 29. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
* Project Twin Streams Glen Eden has volunteer sessions every Thursday and Friday from 8.30am. Contact Pamela Gill on (09) 813 2063.
* Auckland Council has four Biodiversity and Volunteer Co-ordinators who organise volunteers for their areas. Contact details can be found here.