Stroll in a seaside sanctuary

By Liz Light

Liz Light opts for a long walk and a cold swim on a hot day

A kite-surfer zooms past at Te Haruhi Bay, Shakespear regional park. Photo / Liz Light
A kite-surfer zooms past at Te Haruhi Bay, Shakespear regional park. Photo / Liz Light

On the map, Shakespear Regional Park looks like a giant lollipop on a stick. The stick part is a neck of low-lying land 700m wide connecting two divine bays.

Okoromai Bay faces south and Army Bay faces north, which means that whichever way the wind blows there's a sheltered place for beaching, picnics and swimming.

The lollipop part is a hilly 555ha of regional park which became an open sanctuary in 2011, when a predator-proof fence and a pest extermination programme were completed.

The pests - cats, rats, stoats (more than 3000 were trapped) weasels, ferrets, rabbits, possums and hedgehogs - had been steadily eroding the native bird population and insect life for a century.

In just a year, since the fence and extermination programme were finished, park staff have noticed an increase in bird numbers (including seven dotterels nesting this year) and more birds visiting from Tiritiri Matangi, a nearby island sanctuary.

Little ground-dwelling creatures such as skinks and geckos have been even quicker to respond to the predator-free environment and some species seldom seen before are now common.

We park the car at Te Haruhi Bay, a beautiful bite out of that lollipop, a couple of kilometres into the park. It's a hot day and tempting to lounge about with a book under a pohutukawa tree and have the occasional swim, while admiring the shimmering silhouette of Auckland's distant high-rises. But we are on a mission to walk the longest of various looping tracks in the park, so the swim is postponed.

The first part of Tiri Track is through farmland with bush in the gullies. The drought, not so obvious in the city, has made great cracks in the ground and is challenging even tough kikuyu grass.

The lookout is on top of the highest hill and the views over the gulf are extensive with, to the south, Auckland's cityscape and the islands of the inner gulf, featuring conical Rangitoto Island. A cruise ship seems to be pulled by an invisible string across the picture.

The blue-sea horizon to the east is edged by bumpy stretches of land; Moehau on the Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier. Then swivelling to the north, we admire cloud-capped Little Barrier, Kawau and the islands of the Mahurangi.

This is the middle of the Hauraki Gulf and its extraordinary beauty is spread all around us. Having lived in and around Auckland most of my life, it's easy to take the gulf for granted. This is a wake-up call of the very best kind.

After the lookout we leave the open spaces and terrific views for Waterfall Gully, where the path follows a stream as it weaves through bush.

This is where the bush birds are. They're also happy to be in shade on this hot day. Big, fat kereru eat puriri berries, and bellbirds and tui do gymnastics on flax flowers.

The effects of the drought on the bush are sadly noticeable, with the bigger canopy trees shedding leaves in dramatic quantities and many smaller trees giving up, leaves pointing down and dying.

The usually fast-flowing stream is reduced to a trickle threaded with ponds, and the water animals - eels, freshwater crayfish and little fish ? are living in these ponds in uncomfortably close quarters.

Waterfall is a grandiose word for the remaining trickle the gully is named after, but it's cool and pretty and it will be magical when the rain arrives.

It's a hot up-hill, then down-hill slog back to the car and I mentally grumble about choosing the 8km circuit when there are less strenuous options.

But the swim is the reward. Swims are best when the sun is hot, the water's cold and the easing under makes you gasp. The sea is soothing, cooling and energising for a tired body.


Info

Shakespear Regional Park contains numerous walking and cycling tracks. The park is 50 minutes from the city centre. Take the Silverdale motorway exit and drive to the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula. regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

Lunch: There are three gorgeous beaches on which to picnic.

Swim: Essential after a long walk.

- Herald on Sunday

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