Donna McIntyre discovers the lesser-known charms of Manukau Harbour.
When you think of Auckland's harbours, Waitemata is the glamour puss which attracts all the attention. But Manukau Harbour has a charm of its own. It's also steeped in history, both for Maori and later settlers, although was never as easy a harbour to navigate.
The Hillsborough Bay Circuit allows walkers to appreciate the moods of the Manukau as it takes them along the harbour foreshores, starting from Onehunga into Hillsborough Bay and then through an expanse of native bush. If you want to make the most of this walk, you need to plan it around low tide.
We weren't sure how mushy the soft mud of the foreshore route would be but it proved nothing worth worrying about.
Onehunga's lagoon is the starting and end point. From there you cross the overbridge to Orpheus Reserve, beside the motorway to the airport. There is parking here or you can bus to Onehunga and walk to the lagoon.
The foreshore section takes about half an hour. Areas of rockshelf along the shore prevent you sinking into the mud. And, even when you do strike muddy patches we're talking only a couple of centimetres.
The harbour is eerily beautiful and it's easy to make steady progress on the flat terrain.
Soon we have left Onehunga and the pylons behind and are looking out across the harbour to Mangere Bridge and mountain and Puketutu Island.
While Waitemata's inner harbour is sophisticated and urban, Manukau has a mixed industrial and rural feel especially with the green grass and sheep of Ambury Park. There are even a few sheep at the bottom of sections as we walk around Hillsborough and then Taylor's Bays.
Once we reach Taylor's Bay a pathway leads to Foote St and from there to Hoskins Ave, to a bush track to the Hillsborough cemetery. Steps climb in and out of the gully on this part of the walk. It can be a tad slushy, so watch your footing.
The websites we visited for information on this walk estimated the time needed as 2 1/2 hours. Usually we find these times err on the side of generosity but not so in this case. This route actually took us longer than that - it may have been the gale force conditions which did make progress harder, or some of the steeper climbs.
The cemetery is worth it though. It offers great vantage points over the harbour and the gravestones hint at some sad stories, especially those of young children.
The next part of the walk goes through Belfast Reserve with its native forest, pines, gums and redwoods. We can thank the Hillsborough residents who in the 1960s lobbied council to buy this reserve, thus preserving a slice of greenery in the midst of suburbia.
As we climb out of the bush, next turn is into Carlton St and then Seacliff Rd. These quiet streets are pleasant to walk along and take you back to the overbridge and Onehunga.
For us the walk continues a little more as we climb up Normans Hill Rd to catch a bus in Royal Oak back to the CBD.
But we need to curb hunger first, and we chance upon an inconspicuous gem in Beijing Cuisine, a small restaurant in Manukau Rd where we eat the nicest Chinese food we've tried in a long time.
We notice there's Thai massage next door - a one-stop post-walk place to feed the body and the soul.
If you have the time to add on an extra walk, or you have your own wheels, visit the Wallace Art gallery and cafe after the Hillsborough Bay Circuit.
Or you can cut short the last part of the walk at Belfast Rd to make your way up to Hillsborough Rd and then continue on foot for roughly 1km to Monte Cecila Park. Otherwise you could walk or drive from the Onehunga basin.
The Pah Cafe is inside the Homestead so, after touring the art gallery (or before if you're hungry from all the walking), it is a great spot to stop for a coffee and something to eat. You have the option of sitting outside on the terrace or inside the large main room surrounded by dynamic artworks on the wall. It's at 72 Hillsborough Rd (cnr Delargey Ave), Hillsborough and is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am-3pm; Saturday and Sunday from 10am-5pm.
* If you can't time your walk with low tide, there is an alternate route from the pedestrian overbridge along Seacliffe Rd and Frederick Street to Taylor's Bay.
* For more information see aucklandcity.govt.nz and click on walkways under leisure.
* For tidal charts see linz.govt.nz.By Donna McIntyre