Nothing evokes a New Zealand summer quite like a barbecue. And whether you're after the perfect spot for a big family get-together in the park or are planning a romantic picnic on the beach, plenty of council-owned barbecues are dotted around reserves across the city that are free for anyone to use.
We have hunted down some of the best spots to throw some sausages on the grill, pull some salad from your chilly bin and enjoy some dining that is about as al fresco as you can get.
Use of council barbecues is on a first-come, first-served basis and the council asks that anyone using facilities moves away from them once their meals are cooked so others can use the barbecue. In some cases, you will need to provide your own fuel.
Auckland's first regional park is still one of the best. Heading north, it's before you get to Warkworth on the Hibiscus Coast Highway. The bush-covered headland juts out into the sea between the Puhoi and Waiwera Rivers. It has a safe swimming beach, you can launch small-to-medium boats there and it has plenty of walks. Visitors can also explore the historic Couldrey House and grounds. Electric and wood-fired barbecues are available for public use but you will need to provide your own wood. Wenderholm has four barbecue sites that can be booked for special occasions, and can cater for up to 500 people. The sites cost between $50 and $80 during the week and $100-$160 during the weekend. Dogs are allowed at the park entrance, the walking track to the Waiwera Estuary and Kokuru Bay but they are prohibited from the main carpark, bush headlands, picnic areas and adjoining beaches. Camp sites can also be reserved.
Western Springs is a great place to get in touch with nature as there aren't too many places in the city where you can feed ducks while listening to the roar of lions. This inner-city sanctuary is next to the zoo and if you are there in the evenings you can hear the animals settling in for the night. Three electric barbecues are available but they can get quite busy during the summer months. If you have to wait, wander along the paths around the lake and tear off some of your bread to give the wildlife. Native orea (eels) can be seen in the lake weed, following the swans and ducks through the water. They are tame and can be hand-fed. The lake is a refuge for the animals, which have always lived in the lake, a fact that is reflected in the lake's Maori name Te Wai Orea, which means "waters of the eel". Dogs are allowed but must be on a lead.
One of the biggest parks in the city, Cornwall Park also offers one of the biggest selections of barbecues. It has 10 in total, four gas and six wood. Bookings are not taken but groups of more than 30 are asked to contact the Cornwall Park Trust Board Visitor Centre directly to make arrangements. You can picnic under the trees, wander around the landscaped grounds or climb One Tree Hill for a great view of the city if you need to work off your lunch. You can take your dog with you but because of the number of farm animals around, it must be kept on a lead.
If you want to swim, you should aim to be at Huia at high tide but if you just want to muck around with the family, this spot, around the coast from Titirangi, has something to offer all day. Unpack your picnic under the pohutukawa trees and use the free barbecue provided while your kids play on the playground and skate ramp. Huia offers lovely views across the Manukau Harbour. Campsites are available if you feel like a longer stay. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a lead.
Long Bay Regional Park
This North Shore favourite covers three beaches: Long Bay, Pohutukawa Bay and Granny's Bay, and borders a marine reserve. It is a safe swimming spot for children and has a playground to keep them entertained for hours. It has 10 electric barbecues, six single-wood barbecues and four double-wood available to the public. Some of the sites can be booked if you know you are coming with a big group. If you have some energy left over after you've eaten, check out the native bush and historic spots of the reserve, including the Vaughan Homestead and the gun emplacement in the cliffs north of the beach. Long Bay is a good spot for family members of all ages and is well set out to cater for people in wheelchairs. Dogs are allowed below the high-water mark except during daylight saving, when they must be off the beach before 6.30pm.
Milford is a great family beach. It has a big grassy area that's perfect for cricket games, a spot for beach volleyball, a good playground and a flat expanse of sand that's perfect for picnics. There are rockpools to explore and the water is generally very calm. Its two electric barbecues are situated on the grassy area under the trees.
You can't get more quintessentially wild west coast than Muriwai. With a 60km surf beach, a gannet colony, walking tracks along the rugged coastline and through wild native bush, this is one of the most popular west coast beaches. Electric barbecues are provided and it has a good picnic area. Dogs are allowed on the beach during winter but there are restrictions during daylight saving.
Herald Island is one of those spots that a lot of Aucklanders do not even know exists. Christmas Beach is on the sheltered side of the island in the upper harbour, where West Auckland and the North Shore intersect. The beach has grass areas that are perfect for a picnic and a playground for the kids which has a wooden pirate ship. A free barbecue is available for public use.
Ten minutes from Titirangi, this west coast beach is a great spot for a family day out. Its tennis court has possibly the best views in the city and is free for public use. It also has a petanque pitch, a big grassy space for kids to run around and a coin-operated barbecue. As with many of the west coast beaches, Armour Bay is stunningly beautiful with bush-covered hills surrounding what is often an empty beach.
Southeast of the city, Omana Regional Park offers gorgeous views of the inner Hauraki Gulf. There's a safe swimming beach, farmyard animals for the kids to meet and lots of barbecues available for public use. It has three single-wood barbecues and eight double-wood barbecues. You will need to provide your own wood or buy it from the park ranger. Sites can be booked for larger groups. As well as the grassy areas and farmland, its native bush hosts a variety of wildlife.
Dove Myer Robinson Park
This Parnell park above Judges Bay has two electric barbecues but they are only operational between November 1 and April 30. This is not so much the place for a big family gathering as a perfect spot for a romantic barbecue picnic. It is full of gorgeous colours and smells — the gardens have about 5000 rose bushes which showcase new and old varieties. The park runs down to the bay below and to the Parnell Baths. It can be reached from Gladstone Rd and Judges Bay Rd.
Just south of Orere Point on the southern fringes of the city, this park is an easy drive from Auckland's CBD but feels isolated. The Ashby homestead on the beach is the kind that looks as if it might not have changed since it was built in 1900. It features rolling farmland and coastal views, and the beach is perfect for swimming. BYO wood barbecues are near the sea. Dogs are allowed on a lead but are prohibited during lambing season, July 1 to November 30.
If you can't imagine going for a family barbecue without your dog running free around you, this could be a good option. This park in Blockhouse Bay is a favourite with dog walkers because their animals can be off-lead all year. The park features sports fields, a playground for the kids, a bush walk with a stream and a dog agility course as well as an electric barbecue available for public use.
Other spots to try:
* Avondale West Reserve
* Blockhouse Bay
* Beach Reserve
* Dove Myer Robinson Park, Auckland Central
* Eastdale Reserve, Avondale
* Fowlds Park, Morningside
* Gladstone Park, Auckland Central
* Grey Lynn Park, Grey Lynn
* Harbour View Reserve, Pt Chevalier
* Harry Dansey Reserve, Freemans Bay
* Keith Hay Park, Hillsborough
* Mt Albert War Memorial Reserve, Mt Albert
* Onehunga Bay Reserve
* Sackville Reserve, Grey Lynn
* Saunders Reserve, Avondale
* Selwyn Domain, Mission Bay
* St Heliers Bay Beach Reserve
* Tirotai Reserve, Westmere
* Walker Park, Pt Chevalier
* Windmill Reserve, Mt Eden
* Browns Bay
* Chatham Reserve, Albany
* Downing St Reserve, Glenfield
* Hilders Park, Northcote
* Hinemoa Park, Northcote
* Little Shoal Bay, Birkenhead
* Mairangi Bay
* Meadowood Reserve, Albany
* Narrow Neck Beach, Devonport
* Northwood Reserve, Albany
* Oakway Drive Reserve, Albany
* Shepherds Park, Birkenhead
* Sylvan Park, Takapuna
* Tui Park, Birkenhead
* Waiake Beach
* Little Oneroa Reserve
* Man O War Bay Beach
* Mary Wilson Reserve
* Omiha Beach Reserve
* Oneroa Beach Reserve
* Great Barrier Island
* Sandhills Rd Reserve