Sunday Walk: Oakley Creek, Auckland

By Diane Clement

Oakley Creek is home to Auckland's only natural waterfall. Photo / Pauline Malone
Oakley Creek is home to Auckland's only natural waterfall. Photo / Pauline Malone

It's Auckland's longest stream. It has the isthmus' only natural waterfall. And I played on its banks as a child.

Few Aucklanders have ever heard of the 11km-long Oakley Creek, yet it runs from Hillsborough, through Mt Roskill, Mt Albert and finally Waterview.

News that work on State Highway 20 will soon change forever the paddocks I played on at the base of Mt Albert motivated me to round up some friends and walk Oakley Creek's banks.

One sunny Sunday in September we met in Morrie Laing Ave, Mt Roskill, beside the swampy Molly Green Reserve, the starting point of our adventure.

Although there is no formal walkway from source to sea, much of the Oakley Creek's length is lined with reserves and parks. From our starting point we crossed into Keith Hay Reserve where we picked up a trickle of water along a concreted stream bed.

The route passes over a bridge, through Mt Roskill Grammar and along a series of reserves and sports fields.

This was more than just exercise. For two of us, it was a walk down memory lane. We hadn't seen some of these little corners of outer Central Auckland since childhood.

As we crossed May Rd and hit War Memorial Park, memories of the searing pain from the single-minded effort I put into winning the school cross-country at Wesley Intermediate School came flooding back.

Less than a kilometre on, we came across the Lovelock Track, built in 1943 to house the Owairaka Athletic and Harrier Club and a home-away-from-home for me in the 1970s.

The next section meanders through Walmsley Park, with its smattering of grand Moreton Bay fig trees which, with room to spread their roots and branches, are magnificent.

Towards the end of this section we spied the site of the old Owairaka Boys Home, which these days sports one of Auckland's top 10 playgrounds.

The creek passes under Richardson Rd into an area officially called Hendon Park, but known by us as children as "the horse paddocks". This land was set aside decades ago for a transport corridor, which will finally begin construction soon.

According to the New Zealand Transport Agency, the stream winding through Hendon Park is to be restored and improved, rather than piped out of memory, as I feared. Some of it will, however, be out of bounds for a year or two during the works.

We then faced a slight dilemma.

At the end of Hendon Park the creek dips into a culvert and under the western railway line, blocking access for walkers. We took the slightly longer of two optional detours, stopping at the brand new and exceptionally good Cosset Cafe near the corner of Woodward Rd.

All caffeined up, we ducked back for the most scenic section of Oakley Creek, which has been restored, thanks to the Friends of Oakley Creek organisation.

This lower third of the creek passes through a bush-clad gully behind Unitec.

We entered from Harbutt Reserve, dropped down to the walkway and followed the creek for its final few kilometres before it heads out to sea.

This final segment tells a story of the hard life for some in early Pakeha Auckland.

Interpretive signs point out various sites, including a mill, historic bridge and the original Whau Lunatic Asylum, which later became Oakley, then Carrington "mental" hospitals before being transformed into the Unitec school of architecture and design.

This stretch is also the home of Auckland's only natural waterfall.

The water cascades over a rock face into a water hole below which, one day, if the creek management continues being improved, may even be suitable for local children to swim in.

Three hours after starting our little odyssey we popped out on Great North Rd, crossed the overbridge and headed into Cowley St where, from the Waterview Reserve, the Oakley Creek can be seen draining into the mangroves and Waitemata Harbour.

On foot

Oakley Creek doesn't have a walking route from start to finish. Most of it has some sort of track or path and is push-chair accessible. A good topographical map is on Morphum.com, but we created a map at Mapmywalk.com which includes diversions we had to make for the creek passing under roads, the railway line and through people's back gardens.

- Herald on Sunday

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