Diana Clement heads to Mangere Bridge for a day of cycling and fresh air in a lovely rural-type setting.
I'm going cycling in Mangere tomorrow." This was a great conversation opener at an extended family dinner.
To me, and perhaps most Aucklanders who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, this far flung corner of the city is synonymous with sewage, and a stench that sometimes pervaded the entire city.
Yet fast forward 40 years and the coastline from Mangere Bridge all the way down to Auckland Airport has undergone a stunning transformation. Where once not even birds ventured, there are now kilometres of new plantings, and a well-formed walking and bike trail.
Our day started with loading the bicycles on the back of my car and heading for Mangere Bridge shops, which sports four cafes in a row, for a caffeine boost, and then onto the Ambury Regional Park, which marked the northern tip of the trail. Cyclists are welcome at the park providing they keep off the foreshore.
Once we passed through the gate at the southern end of Ambury Regional Park on to the start of the Watercare Coastal Walkway, we were hit with the peace and beauty of the Mangere/Ihumatao coast.
Ironically, the serene setting we found ourselves in was in fact a "dewatered sludge pond", part of New Zealand's biggest coastal marine restoration project covering 13km of coastline.
Thanks to technological improvements to land-based sewage treatment a decade ago, 500 hectares of oxidation ponds were closed and drained. About 300,000 native plants were put in, and today pukeko and other birds dart in and out of the picturesque undergrowth.
Shortly into the northern section of the track we took a long-cut around the Mangere Lagoon, a former sludge pond which is also an almost perfectly round volcanic crater.
From there, the path cuts between Watercare Services Limited's current Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant and the coast, before passing an even larger dewatered sludge pond, which is still being restored.
Then it's down on to the coast, populated by migratory wading birds, which have returned in force in the past decade, and small beaches, which really did look good enough to swim at.
Slowed by signboards we wanted to read, and the occasional hillock we deemed too steep to ride down, we eventually reached the end point - the Otuataua Stonefields, a significant volcanic area, recently opened to the public. Otuataua is home to Auckland's smallest volcano, Puketapapa, and significant Neolithic remains from Maori occupation.
It's possible to return the way you came if you're parked at Ambury Park, or follow lightly used roads back to the beginning and stop for lunch and a glass of wine at the nearby Villa Maria Winery.
* If you're looking to do more than 7km in a day, then it's worth cycling the Kiwi Esplanade from the southern tip of Mangere Bridge, through Ambury, as we did, before hitting the adjoining Watercare Coastal Walkway.
Map: Click here
Start point: Ambury Farm, Ambury Rd
Finish point: Otuataua Stonefields, Ihumatao Quarry Rd