Don't leave home until you've seen the country" is almost as ingrained in our collective psyche as "slip, slop, slap".
As a great believer in enjoying local attractions, I donned my cap, shirt and running shoes and headed out to cover the 22km North Shore Walkway.
The route runs from Devonport in the south to Long Bay in the north and is almost certain to become part of Te Araroa walkway - New Zealand's Appalachian Trail, which will eventually stretch from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
The walkway is a bit of a well-kept secret. The North Shore City Council can't promote it because some of it crosses private land. The entire route can be walked in one day - but to savour the scenery and take time out for breaks, I set aside two days.
As a Devonport resident, it made sense to start the walk from my front door. The official route starts at the Devonport Ferry Terminal and passes Torpedo Bay, before bypassing North Head to get to Cheltenham Beach - but early in the walk I took a detour around the picturesque North Head Coastal Track, which disappears through an old military tunnel and follows the base of the mountain just above the waterline. A self-guided walk map showing this route is available on the DoC website.
If you're not from this area, stop at Fort Takapuna at the southern end of Narrowneck Beach. The fort offers a glimpse of New Zealand's 19th- and 20th-century military history.
It was low tide and I managed to make it around the slippery headland at Narrowneck Beach, across a few small private bays and along Takapuna Beach before stopping for icecream and coffee at the Takapuna Beach Cafe, Metro magazine's best cafe award-winner in 2008. Other good places to stop for refreshments include the cafe at Narrowneck, various eateries in Mairangi Bay, and La Tropezienne Authentic French Bakery, Cafe and Patisserie at Browns Bay.
Just north of Takapuna boat ramp, I encountered a fossilised forest where, 100,000 years ago, the lava from Lake Pupuke (an ancient crater) swallowed a kauri and pohutukawa forest. Then, at Thorne Bay, fresh lake water gushes from under the volcanic rock and down the beach into the sea. It's an astounding sight, especially after heavy rain.
Wairau Stream was encountered near the end of day one. The stream enters the ocean at the top of Milford Beach. With no bridge to cross, the choice here is either to wade through - and it can be waist-height at low tide - or to backtrack and walk around Beach Rd and up on to a cliff-top track to Caster Bay, where the track ducks and dives between houses before dropping down to the beach. From there it was a short hop to Campbells Bay.
I headed to the northern end: Long Bay Regional Park. The first section climbs steeply up on to a cliffside section of the track, which gives not only excellent views over the Waitemata Harbour to Whangaparaoa and Rangitoto, but a good chance to gape into the back gardens of some of the city's most sought-after homes.
From Long Bay through residential Torbay and Waiake beaches, we navigated paths where the foreshore isn't easily passable. The map for the walk shows both low- and high-tide routes. We'd started before the tide was fully out and took the clifftop option. The tide had receded by the time we reached Browns Bay and an old pipeline that had been concreted in provided a walkway and good views of rock pools. From there it was a slow meander around Rothesay Bay, Murrays Bay and Mairangi Bay to our finishing point at Campbells Bay. By the end I'd lost count of how many people I'd seen out walking.
WALK THIS WAY
When to go: It's best to cover as much of the walkway as possible at low tide. The headlands from Cheltenham to Takapuna are passable only at low tide and the alternative route is along the main road.
Getting there: Buses to and from Long Bay from Takapuna/Auckland leave about every hour. Ferries leave Auckland half-hourly for Devonport, and the Devonport to Takapuna buses go half-hourly for most of the day. For details, go to maxx.co.nz.
• A description of the route, map of the Te Araroa Walkway and downloadable PDFs can be found at teararoa.org.nz.
• A good street map is also essential to navigate the sections that leave the beachfront.
• Tramping boots are not essential, but beware of slippery rocks.