For a breather from the city, explore the pockets of bush and wetland nestled in suburbia.
1. Le Roys Bush
Maritime Terrace, Little Shoal Bay From pretty Little Shoal Bay beach (which is very tidal, but with a playground and lots of sailing boats it's a magnet for exploring kids) cross the playing fields into Le Roys bush, a delightful remnant of totara and kauri bush with easy walking trails and a waterfall. The side-tracks lead you up to Hinemoa St where you can refresh yourselves at one of many cafes.
2. Manawa Reserve
(Behind New Lynn town centre)
The west is spoilt for choice with the Waitakere Ranges, but for closer - and shorter - respite from the malls and highways of suburbia, check out the Manawa Wetland park, transformed to a home for ducks and pukeko in the former brickworks' clay pit behind the New Lynn town centre. This "wet lung" for the city filters run-off from roads and is home to eel.
3. Tahuna Torea
(Enter from Vista Crescent, Riddell Rd or West Tamaki Rd, Glendowie)
Bring binoculars to get close-up looks at the spectacular coastal bird life of the Tahuna Torea walking reserve in Glendowie. Right on the fringes of suburbia on the Tamaki estuary, the long sandy banks give you a sense of Tamaki Makaurau of pre-European settlement, with abundant shellfish, flax and tree banks and bird life. Nature trails are signposted for the bird-spotters with options of 40 minutes to a couple of hours.
4. Murphy's Bush
(160 Murphy's Rd, Flat Bush)
The suburbs of Chapel Downs and Flat Bush may have spread out to meet it, but Murphy's Bush has the largest remaining stand of mature lowland bush in Auckland with kahikatea, nikau, puriri, totara and rimu.
5. Smiths Bush
(Northcote Rd, beside Onewa Domain)
Take the Northcote exit to Smith's Bush, tucked behind the netball and cricket sports grounds, for almost prehistoric groves of giant puriri, kahikatea and totara. Have a post-walk pint at the famous (and now scrubbed-up) Poenamo opposite, or drive into Northcote shopping centre for one of the best and cheapest Asian food halls in town.