East Coast Bays: Edge of sky and sea

By Cate Foster

The walkway stretches along the coast and cliff from Narrow Neck Beach in the south to Long Bay in the north, with stunning views across the Hauraki Gulf. Photo / Joe Bailey
The walkway stretches along the coast and cliff from Narrow Neck Beach in the south to Long Bay in the north, with stunning views across the Hauraki Gulf. Photo / Joe Bailey

Summer is just around the corner, and where better to take in the glories of the season than a blowy walk along the clifftop on the North Shore.

My walking friend had never been on this trail, and I remembered it as showing off a landscape full of big skies and wide sea views. The East Coast Bays coastal walkway stretches from Narrow Neck Beach in the south to Long Bay, about 23km to the north. Some parts are accessible only at lower tide so I suggest we tackle the slice from Mairangi Bay to Browns Bay and back, and reward ourselves for lunch at the award-winning North Shore cafe Paper Moon.

We park in the designated spaces on Mairangi Bay's Montrose Tce and set off north along the concrete-covered pipe that forms a lower alternative to the walkway. This goes only as far as Murrays Bay but the tide's right so we won't get splashed and it seems a good way of easing into the walk.

About halfway along we hear what sounds like the cooing of doves. We can't see them but they must be nesting in crevices in the sandy cliff face, which is interesting as I have seen this area referred to as Crows Nest Rise, although there are no crows visible.

Moments further along we're at Murrays Bay and watching a flotilla of schoolchildren launch their little Optimists into what must be still-freezing water. This is part of the city-wide Waterwise programme and children at several North Shore schools are lucky enough to learn to sail as part of this volunteer-run initiative. We don't feel brave enough to dip so much as a toe into the water and so crossing Murrays Bay we pick up the pathway across the grassy patch at the northern end, and climb past what one of my maps refers to as Tatarata Point. We continue past the back fences of some palatial homes with luxuriant gardens, and a few hanging on to their bachy heritage. It is sad but easy to imagine the speed at which the bulldozers will despatch them over the next few years. Signs warn us to keep to the paths and we do, remembering how sandy and unstable some of the cliff edges can be, but the great views across the Hauraki Gulf out to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula keep us happy.

From this high point we wind down to Churchill Reserve and, although we don't continue down to the little cove here, we have a rest on one of the seats that offer us a grandstand view out to sea. Then it's back up on to the cliff edge to take what is signposted as the Gumdiggers Trail. Apparently in the 19th century most of the bays had gumdiggers' camps, where a living could be earned by fossicking for the gum left behind by the kauri that had once crowded forests all the way to the waterfront.

At the end of this stretch the trail takes a brief detour off the cliff edge and on to the quiet suburban streets towards Rothesay Bay. We head back up the path to another seat at Dan Jones Bluff from where we can catch glimpses of Browns Bay below.

Because we have time, we trot down there and debate whether we'll stop for coffee, but then decide to turn and head back the way we came. Just as well because I wouldn't have missed the lunch I had at the Paper Moon cafe for anything.

Paper Moon Cafe
437 Beach Rd, Mairangi Bay

- Herald on Sunday

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