Off the leash: Auckland's best dog parks

By Susan Edmunds

Let your dog discover his inner puppy at Auckland parks designed for furry freedom. By Susan Edmunds.

Big King reserve hsa flat and hilly spaces for dogs to play. Photo / Janna Dixon
Big King reserve hsa flat and hilly spaces for dogs to play. Photo / Janna Dixon

There are few things in the world as unashamedly joyful as a dog careering across an open field or empty beach, muddy paws pounding and sandy tail wagging. Auckland has lots of dog parks, where owners can give their furry mates a chance to ditch the lead and burn off excess energy, socialise with other four-legged creatures and run, chase and bark to their hearts' content.

Some places allow dogs to be off the lead all year and some have restrictions on when they can be roaming free. Whether you want a beach walk or a hill hike, there are a variety of places and terrains on offer, so you can mix up your routine and keep it as interesting for you as it is for your dog.

Meola reef
171-181 Meola Rd Pt Chevalier. Off-lead in designated area all the time. Adjacent area on-lead.

On the way: It can get quite windy at the park, so stop in for a takeaway coffee to warm your hands at Meola Kitchen, Westmere.

Meola Reef is so popular with the city's dogs and their owners that it is often difficult to get a park during peak times.

Gumboots are essential through the winter months because it gets really boggy, but the park offers everything a dog could hope for - long grass to gambol through, a muddy, stinky (sometimes complete with health warnings) estuary, trees and a big field in which to chase other dogs. From an owner's perspective, the park is very safe for dogs that are unused to being off-lead. The area where they can be let loose is fenced so there is no danger of them getting lost. For some variety, pop your dog back on a leash and walk around the outside of the fenced area on your way to the carpark - you can walk right out on to the point for a view of the harbour and North Shore.

Big King reserve
113a Duke St, Three Kings. Off-lead all the time.

On the way: Get a hot chocolate and brownie from Orvieto.

Big King Park is on the only non-quarried peak left of the original three mountains in Three Kings, at the end of Dominion Rd. It is popular for the variety it offers - you can run around with your dog on the flat, picnic under the trees on one of the secluded grassy areas, wander around the edge of the park to take in views over the city, or walk up to the water tower on top of the mountain. The park is really popular with the after-work crowd - there's a group that meets regularly to socialise, dogs and humans alike, every day at 5.30pm. The only problem I have encountered at Big King is the proximity of neighbouring houses - when my dog was at her most raucous, she seemed to wind up dogs in gardens close by.

Craig Avon park
82-86 Kinross St, Blockhouse Bay. Off-lead all the time but dogs not allowed within 10m of the playground.

On the way: Drop in for a drink at Black Salt, in New Lynn. I've found them to be tolerant of dogs in the courtyard out the front.

Craig Avon is one of my dog's favourite parks and it is pretty good for humans, too. If it's rainy, stick to the bush-covered paths where there is a bit of shelter. There are several entrances to the park and you can follow the tracks down beside the stream, which is reasonably shallow and slow moving, so is perfect for dogs who like to swim. On sunny days, the grassy fields are great for ball-throwing and running. There are trees to dodge, a dog agility course that I have never been able to get my dog interested in and a barbecue area and fenced playground for your human companions. At weekends the park is always absolutely full of dogs just waiting to chase each other around, so it's a great place to take your pet if you want to exercise it to the point of falling-over exhaustion. There's also a fitness track for humans. There are busy roads nearby but most of the action is in the middle of the park, so it's not hard to keep dogs away from them.

Waiatarua reserve
Abbotts Way, Remuera. Off-lead all the time but dogs must keep away from wetlands area.

On the way: Get a coffee and pastry at Richoux in Ellerslie, one of the city's best French bakeries.

Waitarua Reserve is a big, open park in the middle of the city's eastern suburbs . There are lots of different walking tracks, excellent grassy fields for running around and it's well away from any roads so there are no concerns about traffic. You have to keep your dog away from the wetlands area and out of the water where there is protected birdlife, but it's a great spot for blasting away some energy. There are often other dogs there to socialise with, although I have found they keep to themselves a bit more than in some other parks. All dogs must be kept under control and within 10m of their owners. Bins and bags are provided in case you are caught out.

Western park
Ponsonby Rd/Beresford St, Freemans Bay. Off-lead all the time but dogs must be kept away from the sports fields and playground.

On the way: For a coffee drop into - well, it's Ponsonby Rd, take your pick.

This park is a bit of a hidden treasure. From the street, it doesn't look like much more than a couple of buried-building sculptures and some public toilets. But follow one of the paths down to the bottom of the recently landscaped valley and you feel very far from the rest of the city.

The concrete walkways are great for dogs' human companions to keep out of the mud in winter and at the right time of the year, there are lots of fallen leaves for dogs to run through. It's sheltered and the steep terrain is excellent exercise for pets and their owners.

Kakamatua inlet
Huia Rd, Waitekere Ranges. Officially on-lead but there seems to be an understanding that this is the off-leash spot between Cornwallis and Huia.

On the way: Toby's in Titirangi is worth a stop for lunch or an afternoon wine on the deck, or pick up some fish and chips from the Huia Beach Store and Cafe and have a beach picnic.

Kakamatua is many a West Auckland dog owner's best-kept secret. It's about a 15-minute drive from Titirangi and a real escape into totally unspoiled countryside. When you get to the small carpark, it's about a five-minute walk through to the beach. A fresh water stream runs out to the sea and provides a great spot for dogs to swim, or get a drink. When the tide is out, the bay is a huge, open sandy space. Dogs can run off their excess energy and it is very safe. There are no big waves and the water is really shallow, so it's good for children as well. Keep an eye on the tides, though, because when it turns, the sea comes in very quickly. There are scenic views out to the other side of the Manukau Harbour. The beach is officially an on-lead area but it isn't controlled and dog owners tend to let their dogs off the lead provided they are under control.

Takapuna beach
Off-lead all the time in winter, but only before 10am and after 6pm during daylight saving.

On the way: Takapuna Beach Cafe has taken over what used to be the dairy by the boat-ramp and is extremely popular. We had a late breakfast and weren't the only ones with dogs tied up to sunbathe outside.

With its long stretch of sand, Takapuna Beach is one of the best in the city for dog walking. Although it's out of bounds much of the time in summer, until daylight begins again, it's open season for dogs. On any weekend afternoon or fine evening, the beach teems with animals. The easiest place to park is at the boat-ramp end of the beach, provided you can get a spot. If the tide is out, you can walk the entire length of the bay, and then around the point to St Leonards beach. St Leonards is off-leash all the time, year round, and you can also access it from St Leonars Rd off Lake Rd, just past Hauraki Corner.

Macleans park
67 Macleans Rd, Pakuranga. Off-lead all the time.

On the way: Stop in at the Beach House, The Parade, Bucklands Beach Peninsula, for water views with your lunch or a drink on the deck.

Macleans Park is the biggest recreational open space in the Pakuranga/Howick area, and is really popular with walkers and joggers as well as dog owners, because of its well-maintained paths (leave your gumboots at home for this one), varied terrain and lovely views out to sea.

There are lots of different things to keep your dog interested - charge around on the wide-open, flat, grassy areas (there's a bit of shelter to keep the two-legged companions happy), sniff around the native bush or scamper down into the gullies.

The park runs right down to Eastern Beach at one end.

Walk this way

Other parks with off-leash areas worth a wander:

Churchill Park, Riddell Rd, Glendowie: Big paddocks linked by paved paths means you can stay dry while Rover gets mud between his paws.

Heron Park, Great North Rd, Waterview: Grassy areas and stands of trees that go right down to the mangroves.

Kauri Point Domain to Fitzpatrick Bay, end of Balmain Rd, Chatswood, North Shore: It's unclear whether this path between a stand of bush and a marshy inlet round to a quiet little beach is officially off-leash, but the locals treat it as such. A lovely walk anytime, with a swim at the end for you dog, and in summer, you. On a nice day, take a picnic and make an outing of it.

Waikowhai Park, Hillsborough Rd, Hillsborough: Race your dog down the path to the tidal beach at the bottom and see how far you can wade.

Web walk

Discover new dog parks at the following websites, and add your reviews:

doogle.co.nz

fetchmag.co.nz

planmyplay.co.nz (search "dog-friendly exercise areas" or similar)

Auckland Council, Regional Council and Department of Conservation websites offer information on rules relating to specific areas.

- Herald on Sunday

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