Sunday Drive: Karaka Bay

Karaka Bay has a colourful history to match its scenic beauty. Photo / Leila Mason
Karaka Bay has a colourful history to match its scenic beauty. Photo / Leila Mason

As it's a Sunday, my husband, Gavin, is doing the driving. I'm glad it's not me watching out for jaywalking pedestrians, instead of the beautifully distracting views around the winding waterfront at Tamaki Drive.

We pass Mission Bay and continue through St Heliers, where vintage American cars wave large flags for the village's adopted Rugby World Cup team.

Today, we're in search of a secret beach up the hill into Glendowie, where a kind of stubbornly individual beach community is set up among the more conformist suburban sprawl.

At last we see the sign for Peacock St and, at the end of a dead-end drive, an unusual collection of letterboxes sits at the top of a very steep walkway.

Taking our chances in the rain, I hold the railings as I juggle carrying my daughter, Georgie, on my hip, holding my son Henry's hand and trying not to slip in the wet. It's an inauspicious start and we nearly give up, but I'm glad we don't.

What greets us is a sight more common outside Auckland - a row of baches, the first with a striped carp streamer proudly standing garden guard. On the communal grass there are also several rickety sun loungers awaiting us. You immediately get the feeling there are characters living on this land.

Near the end of the beach is a large home with huge carnival flags out the front. People think it's a play centre, but it's actually home to American author Jeffrey Masson, his wife, Leila, and their two teenage sons. Artist Corina Koning also lives here.

Karaka Bay's history is as colourful as its residents. It was here in 1840 that New Zealand's first Governor, William Hobson, met local Maori chiefs to add their signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi.

In the 1930s, fish were plentiful and potato and kumara were planted along the grassy front.

This group of homes also has a fascinating history of residents going against the grain. One incident, in response to the local council asking a resident to remove an outdoor shower, was for them to take to showering nude outdoors. It's definitely a place where getting on with the neighbours must be essential to a harmonious life.

At low tide, there's a beautiful walk from Karaka Bay along the cliffs to Ladies Bay and on to St Heliers. To the right, along the beach, is a large tree overhanging the water with a piece of wood tied on as a swing and a white lantern set high in its branches. Underneath the tree is a twisted pile of roots, carved into a cave for teenagers to climb into.

A small pile of branches and a burnt out log show signs of a late-night get-together - it's said that evenings of outdoor Shakespeare or salsa dancing under the stars is par for the course here.

We drive home past cyclists fixing punctures on the side of the road and women in full make-up and workout gear putting out their rubbish.

We notice that even in the most conservative neighbourhood, there's thankfully still room for a bit of local colour.

Drive time

* Karaka Bay is 13km from the CBD around the waterfront. Just keep your eyes on the road, not the views.

* You're spoiled for choice with places to stop along Tamaki Drive, or try local spots Tower Bakery on Waimarie Ave for artisan breads and organic coffee, or Corinthia Restaurant on Roberta Ave for Austrian cakes.

* There are plenty of walks, such as Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve which has a bird sanctuary on a sandspit.

- Herald on Sunday

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