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A gap in the walking market

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High tide blocks the pathway round the base of North Head in Devonport. Photo / Jim Eagles
High tide blocks the pathway round the base of North Head in Devonport. Photo / Jim Eagles

Devonport is my favourite place in New Zealand (which is lucky, because I live there). Its beaches and cafes, bookshops and villas are well known and attract people from all over. But what is perhaps less appreciated is its extraordinary history.

Get off the ferry from Auckland, stroll eastward along the seafront and you'll pass the land where the first navy depot was established in 1841; the site of the first hanging of a European, carried out publicly on the scene of the crime (incidentally, my great-great-grandfather was initially accused of the murders); the foreshore where Auckland's early shipyards thrived; the home of one of our most interesting poets; a beach where Kupe the Discoverer, Toi the Navigator and the Tainui canoe all landed; the country's oldest cricket club; the buildings where a torpedo and mine-laying base were established during the Russian scare in the 1880s, now housing the newly opened Navy Museum; and, looming above it all, North Head, with its ancient pa sites and a complex of giant guns and dark tunnels dating back 125 years.

It's a fantastic walk, surely unequalled in the land, and the perfect excuse for coffee or lunch at one of the village's cafes or the new coffee shop at the museum. But there are two small problems. First, many of those historic sites still aren't marked. And, second, there's a gap in the route.

There's a good footpath along the seafront as far as the newly re-sanded Torpedo Bay Beach and the Navy Museum; as part of the museum development the Navy has taken down fences so you can walk right through to North Head; and the Department of Conservation has recently upgraded the coastal walkway round the base of the mountain and the stairway through a tunnel to the top. But between the museum and the walkway is only a rough stone path along the base of the cliff, which is underwater at high tide and slippery at low tide.

For several years there has been talk of filling that gap with a boardwalk, opening the way for folk to stroll down the seafront, through the museum and round North Head to Cheltenham Beach (and, if desired, further north along the North Shore leg of Te Araroa, the national walkway).

But the plan has got nowhere, largely because of a problem over the riparian rights of the landowners at the top of the cliff.

In the course of writing the stories in this issue about the new Navy Museum and the latest development on North head I contacted North Shore City to see if anything had happened about the proposed link between the two.

It seems not. The path is, a council spokesman told me, still in the preliminary stages of planning. Pressed on the reason for the hold-up, he said it was due to legal issues connected with the riparian rights. And, he added, there was no timetable for further action at this time.

Personally, I think that's a shame. Why don't you have a look - in between exploring the museum and tunnels - to see what you think and maybe give those involved another nudge. But be careful not to slip over.

- NZ Herald

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