Since the bohemian population that once made this area its own moved west in the 1980s, Parnell has become known mainly for its wealthy residents and high-end shopping strip. But there's much more to the suburb than that and, when friends and I planned a walk there, we decided to ignore the obvious and go for the green.
We wanted to see if we could do a circuit by staying on grass, if not the entire route, then certainly for as much as possible. Parking our cars in Ayr St, to be near Pukeko Bakery on our return, we struck out across Parnell Rd and up Domain Drive. This oak-lined entrance to The Domain always enchants me, seeming somehow much older than it is, and it wasn't hard to honour the plan and get grass under our feet.
With the museum on the crest of the hill to our left, we struck off to the right and entered the wooded area that skirts The Domain and the railway line. A few minutes along paths lacy in the morning light, we find the railway underpass. Previously little more than a large culvert, this has been upgraded recently but the other side of the path that leads past the sheds of the disused diesel depot is unchanged, with the remains of old trains parked on rusting tracks. It remains to be seen whether this area will retain any of its raffish charm once the new Parnell Station is completed.
Up the steps of Ngahere Tce, along Gibraltar Cres and across Parnell Rd, we trot down the side street beside St John The Baptist, the oldest Catholic church in Auckland, and enter the tiny, almost unknown, Scarborough Reserve. Crossing here and exiting via the walkway at the southern corner, we reach St Georges Bay Rd and turn right. Resisting the urge to detour to the La Cigale French market, we walk uphill and turn left into Alberon Reserve. This is one of my favourite small parks. Always uncrowded, and if you take the exit at the northeasterly corner, you walk through the most beautiful fernery imaginable. I am told it has the most diverse variety of ferns in Auckland. They are certainly beautiful.
Up Stratford St, we take a left for 100m or so down Gladstone Rd. Before the Newton Gully motorway link was built this was the main road from the wharves and heavily laden trucks ground their way up and down it day and night. But, on a Sunday morning these days the busiest thing is a Bichon Frise investigating the lavender bushes.
Past Rosehip Cafe on our left we cross the road and enter what I have always known as the rose gardens which, officially, goes by the name of Dove-Myer Robinson Park, after a former mayor of the city. Taking the path that winds down the hill to the right we walk under gigantic cypresses until we reach the sunny hillside above Judges Bay. There's no time to visit Parnell Baths, so uphill we go past tiny St Stephens Anglican Chapel, sheltering under its canopy of century-old oaks.
Time is running out, so we hit the shady pavement of St Stephens Ave, take a right down Brighton Rd, into Kenderdine Lane and enter Ayr Reserve along the walkway through the trees. Up the hill across the grass in Laurie Ave, we are back at our cars, just in time for coffee at the Domain Ayr Cafe on Parnell Rd.