My Auckland: Herald Island

By Elisabeth Easther

Pete Head and his son, Theo fish off the wharf. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Pete Head and his son, Theo fish off the wharf. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Pete Head tells Elisabeth Easther what he loves about living on an island that 'not many people know about'

I've lived on Herald Island for about six and a half years, and I've lived in the area all my life. Herald Island, as its name suggests, is an island but not many people know about it. Half the people you mention it to have never heard of it; they ask if there's a bridge or a car ferry but it's actually connected to the mainland by a causeway surrounded by mangroves, round the back of Whenuapai. People who do know where it is think it's miles to get to anything but, with the new motorway, it takes less than 20 minutes to get into town if you miss the traffic, and Westgate's just five minutes away.

One of the most appealing things about living here is the community. There are loads of events, the annual Santa Parade on Christmas morning which began in 1958, the Raft Race where you have to build your own raft, there are regular quiz nights in the hall and once a year there's an island-wide garage sale. Any resident who wants to have a garage sale can have one, and hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people come for it, because it's like 20-plus garage sales in one small area.

There's even a small library and a little museum, which is well worth a look. We also have street parties where we close our street and have a barbecue in the middle of the road, it's a good way for neighbours to catch up, and the kids can run around safely.

There's always lots to do on the island; there are great parks for kids, one at Christmas Beach and the other in the Domain in the centre of the island. On the far end of the island there's a boat ramp and a wharf where people moor their boats. You can see the Greenhithe Bridge from the wharf, so head in that direction. You can fish off the wharf when the tide is right, mainly for bait fish and sprats, but every now and then we get a snapper. It's also a great place for exploring the mangroves or kayaking, and when the tide's high you can swim off Christmas Beach.

There's a community hall in the middle of the island, in the reserve, which is owned by the Residents and Ratepayers' Association. There's lots going on there, karate, a play-group, yoga, a garden club, every now and then there's even a bird club. Although I did see a notice up at the dairy recently, about a lost parrot. The airbase is part of the attraction of living here, and it's always fun watching planes take off and land, it's pretty unobtrusive and they offer lots of cool things. Events with Jumpstart and Canteen are often held there.

Every couple of years there is an international Air Show and we see lots of fighters from WWI and WWII, right through to modern-day fighters from Australia and America. Hercules planes are regulars in the sky, I get to jump out of the hercs sometimes. We sometimes go and watch the planes take off and land, there's a great spot down Kowhai Rd, just off the island. On the other side of Whenuapai are a couple of cafes. The Brigham is great, they have the most amazing gardens, and luckily the new motorway left them untouched. Lombardi's is also pretty good.

The fruit shops on Hobsonsville Road are great, best quality and price of anywhere. Herald Island's history is fascinating too. There's a good book called Horses and Flying Fortresses which I read recently. Apparently the area was thriving in the 1880s with kauri gum diggers, then Hobsonville became a big pottery works area as the ground was great for clay. Those big orange balls on the side of the new motorway are supposed to be representative of that part of the area's history.

Before the causeway was put in in the late 1950s, they used to hold dances on the island and people would row over, all dressed up. For a time the flying boats used to land here too, they were moored all the way from Herald Island towards Hobsonville, big old Sunderlands and Catalinas. What I love about Herald Island is that you feel like you're on holiday all the time, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Pete Head lends his time to Jumpstart which, through Canteen, gives teenagers living with cancer the chance to do a tandem skydive. jumpstart.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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