Slowly but surely, Auckland is becoming a city for cyclists, finds Elisabeth Easther.
I like to think I know Auckland pretty well, most especially its web of cycle ways. Only it turns out I'd been riding in a rut and there are many more two-wheeled treats out there than I was aware of. Thanks to the good people of Auckland Transport, a series of easy rides (mostly all off-road) have been identified as Great Auckland Rides, explained by individual "passports" downloadable from their website.
Sampling some of these routes with various friends as well as Zane Bray, Auckland Transport's walking and cycling co-ordinator, I've had my eyes opened to some outstanding routes in a bunch of different suburbs, some of which I'd never heard of before.
All of them were easy to ride, on almost all of them I was off the road and all along the way I was reminded what a fine city this is. So come on, get on your bike.
From Auckland Harbour Bridge to Wynyard Quarter: 2km
This opened only this week, so I have an excuse. For some mysterious reason Waterfront Auckland wants to keep this opening "soft", but now that it's open it's sure to become one of the busiest patches of cycling in the city. Since the marina and motorway cut a swathe through St Mary's Bay and Westhaven became less friendly to humans, Waterfront Auckland started talking about creating a Westhaven Promenade for completion sometime in 2020, but the people of Auckland voted overwhelmingly to fast-track this little beauty.
The 5m-wide promenade starts at Swashbucklers, the popular seafarers' watering hole, and travels along elegant shared boardwalks, two of them built over the water and past a public access pier. There are loungers for lazing on, little silver shells and crabs embedded in the concrete, and stops for photo ops - wedding parties will be queuing to have their nuptials shot here, mark my words. At night the zero-energy lighting design will enchant.
Top marks Auckland Waterfront for a job well done. Be warned that if you carry on all the way through to Wynyard Quarter you will be on the road a fair bit, on segments that aren't all that friendly to novice cyclists . Now all we need is to connect this to the rest of the waterfront, as the trail completely peters out into the dangerous Beaumont St intersection.
Wattle Downs Peninsula
Frangipani Ave to Bluewater place: 10km each way
Not far from Takanini, the coastal community of Wattle Downs is a little gem. I'd never even heard of it before so I coerced a companion to explore with me out there last weekend. Parking up on Frangipani Ave and nosing our bikes on to a path shared by cyclists and foot traffic, we began by rolling alongside the Papakura Creek, while beyond it the Manukau Golf Course stretched out on the other side of the water. What a serene little 'burb; I especially liked how the locals, tending their gardens, would take a break from their ministrations to look up and wave a friendly hello.
Upon leaving the creek, but staying on the shared path, we were soon hurtling (respectfully) along a mangrove-studded harbour. Alive with birds and with two playgrounds to enjoy, this spot is ideal if you like your outings uncrowded.
Leaving the path briefly, we rode along the outskirts of a new subdivision with barely any traffic, until we found our way back to the trail to ride beside wetlands, and past ponds and happy families of ducks.
As we turned back, my companion confessed he preferred loop tracks to A to Bs, but that this track was so enchanting he didn't mind seeing the whole thing in reverse. Easy as pie, there were a few ups and downs but nothing a confident kid couldn't handle.
Cascades Shared Path
Between Meadlowland Drive and Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga: 7.5km
Yet another neck of the woods I'd not seen before, this confluence of Howick, Botany and Pakuranga boasts a mammoth green space in the middle of east Auckland.
Parking outside a restaurant called Applejacks, one of many in a rambling mall, we mounted our cycles and forded a small stream before rolling beneath a bridge and into the world. The path could've taken us around a loop and across a bridge but we opted for the more adventurous approach. This is such a swell ride, with its pretty little lookouts, boardwalks, tunnels and so many networks to choose from. The picturesque Hattaway Bridge is particularly fetching, the focus of one of several interpretation panels.
The Rotary Centennial Bike Trail in Lloyd Elsmore Park is another good reason to stop by. Not to be confused with the Pakuranga Rotary Path, this 1.2km track introduces kids (and adults) to the thrills of mountain biking on a not too challenging track.
Brylee Drive Reserve, Takinini: 6km of shared paths
On the eastern shores of the Pahurehure Inlet on the Manukau Harbour, this endearing settlement should be very grateful to the town planners who put it together because it's clearly been created for people. The path we picked started at Brylee Drive Reserve and trundled past a playground (complete with free tennis court).
Riding over a lengthy boardwalk suspended above mangroves, we had to stop to listen for a spell to the snap crackle and pop beneath the surface. Loads of little alleys and byways run along the water and through charming tree-lined cul de sacs - it must be a super place to bring up a family. The street names are also worth making a visit, with names like Syntax, Donzella and Zenith Places bringing a smile to my face.
Waikaraka, Mangere Bridge and Penrose
Christie Rd, Mt Roskill, to Mangere Foreshore to Hugo Johnson Drive, Penrose: Approx 20km
I'm a glutton for this cycling thing and to help me see as much as possible, Zane dropped me and my bike at Christie Rd in Mt Roskill and pointed me in the direction of Onehunga Wharves. With most of this short section being a steep downhill, he thought it better just one of us went down, rather than both of us taking on the steep return path.
Weeeeee! He was right! When Zane met me at Onehunga Wharf, we rolled together past a school of fisherman, before taking a pleasing detour around the Mangere Foreshore, sending flocks of pied oystercatchers into the sky as we went. It's a narrow path, so caution is needed when it's busy.
After a refuel at Ruby Red Cafe in Mangere Bridge Township (which I rather fell in love with) we set a course for Penrose of all places.
Back along the water, up along the Mangere Bridge cycle path, I was enamoured of the bridge's views, murals and industrial charm. From there we went along wide boardwalks and some narrower paths, past historic steps that would've been pastoral once upon a time. Alongside the well-tended cemetery, helicopter sheds, more mangroves and shipping containers piled as high as the eye could see.
At the end of the road we found a monster power station where we stopped to chat with an elderly gent on an electric bike who thought nothing of whizzing from his home in Remuera to Te Atatu, or along Grafton Gully to where we met him in Penrose. I hope I'm like him when I'm 80. He told us of some of his adventures, and pressed it home for us the importance of making our lovely city friendlier to cyclists because, no matter your age, you can always get out and explore by bike.
Great Auckland Rides
To make it really simple to sample some of these routes, Auckland Transport has come up with a series of "Great Auckland Rides". For each ride, download a "passport", which includes a map, photos and information. All the rides had pretty good signage, so they are easy for anyone to access.
See Bike Wise for information on beginner bike classes, mountain biking and group rides.