The sun filters through the trees, casting dappled shadows on the path. The only sound is a melodic chorus of birdsong, and the trickling of water over rocks in the nearby stream.
It's an incredibly beautiful and peaceful setting, so it's hard to believe that just 100 or so metres away are dozens of homes, and traffic thundering down a busy main road.
I'm at the Oakley Creek Walkway, a path that follows the creek through picturesque bush in the central suburb of Waterview. On one side is Great North Rd; on the other clusters of houses and Unitec. This is a pretty built-up area, yet here in the bush it feels like I'm in the middle of nowhere.
Thanks to a number of native bush reserves dotted throughout the city, it's possible for Aucklanders to partake in short, easy bush walks, like this one, without having to venture out in the Waitakere and Hunua ranges.
They include mostly gentle paths ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy the tranquillity of our spectacular native bush without having to go on a long hike through tricky terrain.
There's nothing like walking under a verdant canopy of trees, listening to the trill of birds to provide an antidote to the stress of city life. Even my daughter and her tween friends, who think it's very uncool to walk more than 100m (unless it's around a shopping mall), have enjoyed exploring pretty spots in our quest to discover beautiful bush hidden away in the midst of suburban sprawl. Here are some we found:
OAKLEY CREEK WALKWAY
Suitablity for pushchairs/wheelchairs: most parts are, although there are steps at some of the entrances to the walkway.
The Oakley Creek Walkway runs alongside the lower part of the creek, from Craddock St in Avondale through to the cycle overpass near the motorway entrance on Great North Rd. In some parts houses, Unitec, a softball club and also the high-security Mason Clinic back on to the walkway, but for the most part it feels far removed from civilisation.
There's a wide variety of flora, plus a wetlands area but the highlight is a stunning natural waterfall that drops 6m into a pool. It's the only waterfall in central Auckland and you'd never know it was there from the road. A new viewing platform provides a good outlook, while benches in the grassy area beside the pool are ideal for a picnic. The Friends of Oakley Creek restore and maintain the creek and their efforts have paid off - the walkway is well-maintained and looks good.
Dogs: allowed, on leash.
Time it takes: around an hour.
Suitablity for pushchairs/wheelchairs: no, quite a few steps to negotiate.
Although it's officially a coastal walk, much of the path goes through bush that lines the edge of the Manukau Harbour. The track starts at the far end of a small beach at the bottom of Gilletta Rd and mostly follows the water's edge, although in a couple of places you have to walk along footpaths for short distances. Along the way there are glimpses of the water at several locations, including a viewing platform that has great views west towards the Waitakeres.
There's a reminder that you're still part of suburbia as part of the path passes the back gardens of some rather posh houses but other sections feel quite isolated. Some steep rises along the way will get your heart pumping, but there are plenty of benches if you need to rest weary legs. The trail ends at the Manukau Reserve, and at low tide it is possible to walk back to Gilletta Rd along the foreshore.
Dogs: allowed, on leash.
Time it takes: an hour to an hour and a half.
Murphy's Bush Scenic Reserve
Suitablity for pushchairs/wheelchairs: yes, and there is a dedicated disabled entrance.
Murphy's Bush is a little further removed from the hustle and bustle of the city than the other walks, but the way development is going in Flat Bush it's likely to soon be surrounded by homes. You can still hear the hum of traffic from Murphy's Rd in parts of the bush but it is nearly drowned out by birdsong. The 26ha stand of mature lowland bush was gifted to the Manukau City Council in 1981 by the family of farmer Conway Grey Murphy, who'd purposely kept his cattle out of the trees to preserve it. It's all flat, with well-defined walking tracks, which are clearly signposted, and open glades used as picnic sites. It's a beautiful and serene spot renowned for its numerous mature kahikatea (white pine), and a magnificent giant totara. There's also an abundance of nikau, and all those palms give it a lush, almost tropical feel.
Dogs: permitted but must be kept under control.
Time it takes: between 10 minutes and an hour, depending on the paths you take.
Tahuna Torea Native Reserve
Suitablity for wheelchairs/pushchairs: only the lagoon trail and lower bush walk.
The 25ha reserve sits on a sandbank alongside the Tamaki Estuary and is home to a huge variety of native birds and vegetation, including kauri, totara, puriri and ferns. There are three main trails that can be walked separately or together. Two of them go through bush while the third skirts the lagoon. There's also the option of walking along the sandspit beach. This has to be one of Auckland's loveliest pockets of bush, thanks to the great waterside location, the varied bird life and tranquil atmosphere. Once you're deep in the bush, it's as if time has stood still. The council has done a great job of putting up informative signs about the trees and birdlife, and there benches if you want to sit down and enjoy the scenery. The Godwit Lookout, reached from the upper track, has stunning views across the bush to the estuary.
Dogs: no, it's a conservation area.
Time it takes: 40 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the tracks you take.
Le Roy's Bush
Suitability for wheelchairs/pushchairs: the bottom part, accessed from Little Shoal Bay Reserve is, but not the top area.
As you make your way along the tracks at Le Roys Bush, occasional glimpses of houses through the mostly dense bush remind you that you are in the middle of a neighbourhood. Otherwise you'd swear you were miles from anywhere. The 12ha site extends from Highbury in Birkenhead down a quiet valley between Birkenhead Pt and Onewa Rd to the Little Shoal Bay Reserve. There is a wetlands area with boardwalks not far from Little Shoal Bay, and then the track heads up a hill through the bush and past a waterfall towards Onewa Rd. This part is quite steep but the return trip is all downhill of course and you're rewarded with the scenic sight of the Sky Tower and harbour bridge through the tall grasses as you emerge back at Little Shoal Bay.
Dogs: allowed, on leash.
Time: approximately one hour.
Kepa Bush Reserve
Suitability for wheelchairs/pushchairs: no.
Unless you're a local you probably have no idea this reserve even exists. Tucked in behind the Eastridge Shopping Centre, it's spread over 14ha and there's one main trail that goes around the outside of the reserve, plus an inside track that bisects the land. The trails are a mixture of flat sections along with some fairly steep steps but mostly easy to navigate. The southern edge of the reserve looks out over the Purewa Creek and there are a couple of lookouts that provide good views across the railway line to Meadowbank in one direction and the Orakei Basin and Remuera in the other. Lynfield, Oakley Creek and Kepa are on-leash areas. There is a designated dog exercise area at Manukau Domain (alongside the Lynfield Cove Walkway).
Dogs: allowed, on leash.
Time: around 30 minutes.