Auckland: Revisiting familiar sites on foot

By Cate Foster

The Domain and Grafton Bridge bring back student memories for Cate Foster.

The Wintergardens, with its glasshouses and formal courtyard, is charming with a mix of melancholy. Photo / Janna Dixon
The Wintergardens, with its glasshouses and formal courtyard, is charming with a mix of melancholy. Photo / Janna Dixon

Back in the days when Auckland's Grafton and Parnell were hotbeds of bohemian and student life, the grassy hills of the Domain and the footpath along Grafton Bridge were the shortcuts to the hangout zone around the University of Auckland down the hill.

Such times have passed into history, but one fine Sunday morning not so long ago my mates and I decided to relive our inner youth and re-walk that familiar loop.

Parking our cars by the Museum, we set off across the playing fields and up the little wooded knoll called Pukekaroa on the other side. In the 1820s, the tribes of the Waikato sued for peace here with the fearsomely musket-armed Nga Puhi, but we debated nothing more serious than whether or not we should digress slightly to the Wintergardens, or push straight on.

The digression won, and the sweet melancholy of the Wintergardens charmed us once again. We had time for only a brief stroll around the formal courtyard, but vowed to return and revisit the greenhouses.

We walked down past the duck ponds, made from a disused quarry that had once been the source of Auckland's piped water supply. Again time did not allow us to explore the nearby Formal Gardens and instead we headed out through the main gates of the Domain and across Park Rd into the once hippy-haunted reaches of Boyle Crescent. Little remains of the villas that once lined these back streets, so we hurried on, reaching Grafton Bridge moments later.

Across the bridge and into Symonds Street, we paused to admire the Greer Twiss figures at the edge of Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland's oldest cemetery and the final resting place of Governor William Hobson.

Down early-morning K Rd, still barely awake after the night before, and taking a right we march through St Kevin's Arcade and down the stairs, pausing to admire the wonderful street art on the way, and into the sadly undervalued Myers Park. On this sunny morning it seems a crime that so lovely a green space in the middle of the city could be so overlooked.

Passing the historic Myers Park kindergarten (KiNZ), we trot down the central path and up on to Mayoral Drive at the far end. Here we turn right towards the university, and stroll through Albert Park, while admiring the new art gallery building. We head down Alfred Street past the university library, deserted on a Sunday morning early in term.

Crossing Symonds St, down the now sadly characterless Grafton Rd, we hurry back into the green reaches of the lower Domain. Taking a left on to the pathway in the wooded area off Domain Drive we marvel that so much here was almost as we remember it.

Although no longer widely known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as it was in the days when we used it so frequently, it remains as picturesque as ever, with tui and mynah vying for territory above our heads.

Turning right up the hill near the railway underpass, we regain the open parkland and are but moments away from that well-earned coffee in the atrium cafe at the Museum.

The ham sandwiches mightn't be as delicious as those remembered through rose-tinted spectacles, but the coffee hits the spot.

FURTHER INFORMATION

* The loop walk takes about two hours.

* The Wintergardens are open 9am-5.30pm until March 31, and then close at 4.30pm until November.

* St Kevin's Arcade is at 183 K Rd.

* KiNZ is at 381 Queen St.

* The Parnell railway underpass can be accessed from Ngahere Tce, off Gibraltar Crescent, Parnell.

* The Auckland War Memorial Museum and cafe is open seven days, 10am-5pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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