In need of a new pocket of Auckland to explore during lockdown and beyond? The North Shore has a lot to offer the urban cyclist, writes Eleanor Hughes
Fifteen minutes after leaving Auckland's CBD we arrive at Birkenhead Wharf, wheel bikes off the ferry and exit the terminal. Across the water, a silver conveyor belt stretches like a slide from salmony-pink Chelsea Sugar Refinery to where ships dock to unload sugar. To the left, I can make out the Northwestern Motorway, the Waitākere Ranges looming beyond. The ferry begins its return journey, we start ours.
Pōhutukawa bloom in Hinemoa Park. We pedal past, changing gears as Hinemoa St rises. Between early 20th century and modern homes, I spot distant Rangitoto before turning right into Wakanui St. An eye-catching villa with a red brick chimney, bay window and white verandah sits on the corner. Right again, and we zoom down Maritime Terrace into Little Shoal Bay where, in the large grassy reserve, we enjoy the sun on a bench looking out to the water. Bows of moored yachts point towards the Harbour Bridge, flags fluttering atop its arch.
Maritime Terrace becomes Council Terrace and leg muscles scream slogging uphill. Veering right into Rodney Rd, I pass white picket fences fronting old wooden bungalows and the white Masonic Lodge, erected in 1912. It's pristine, the masonic compass and square symbol on blue circles decorating its white gate, Wedgewood blue stairs leading to the door.
It's another right into busier Queen St where, happily, there's a cycle lane. The 1901-built Methodist Church on the Stafford Rd and Queen St corner is cute with arched windows and doors; a rose-shaped window at its gable end. Spick-and-span cottages sit next door.
A few customers sit at Clarence Road Eatery's pavement tables and chairs next door to the Bridgeway Cinema, once known as Onewa Picture Drome. Foliage creeps over an exterior wall of the former Post Office opposite, built in 1929, now The Engine Room restaurant. Delightful, late-1800s/ early 1900s wooden villas dot the street, fretwork decorating their verandahs; mature trees shade parts of footpaths. Without the cars, you'd think you'd stepped back in time.
I can imagine women in bustle skirts on two-storeyed, Northcote Tavern's white wooden-balustraded balconies overlooking Queen and King Sts. "Northcote Hotel licensed to sell fermented and spirituous liquors" is painted below a black lantern on the wall facing Queen St. A hotel in the late 1890s, built to accommodate ferry passengers, it became a tavern once the Harbour Bridge was built in 1959, beds no longer needed. At outdoor tables all umbrellas but one remain furled, but as the summer continues to warm up, they'll no doubt all be open.
We reach a roundabout and keep left, then turn right into Alma St. Towering plane trees form a green tunnel along its length, villas behind. Beautiful.
A right on to Princes St takes us past a concrete wall reading "Auckland Harbour Bridge 1959 1969". It's dim and rather ugly below the bridge among the concrete support pillars, some almost in the front yards of colonial homes.
Further underneath, heading to Stokes Point Reserve's tip, steel girders criss-cross the superstructure; like a giant Meccano system. A carved pou whenua, waka-shaped, stands near where the bridge leaves land and crosses the water supported by huge concrete piers rising from the depths.
Backtracking, we cycle Princes St's length where many homes are garage-less, constructed before the advent of the car. A jacaranda tree blooms purple outside the villa at no. 53. A right takes us freewheeling down Beach Rd and it's another right into Sulphur Beach Rd. Pōhutukawa line one side, oncoming bridge traffic hurtles on the other. We reach water level and pass under the bridge, emerging into Sulphur Beach Reserve's car park. In 1878 a sulphur works opened here.
Green dinghy lockers stretch along the waterfront, a panorama of the CBD skyline at their end. On stairs leading down a stone retaining wall to the water, we eat lunch looking across Shoal Bay; Rangitoto peaks beyond Devonport, to the left are Takapuna's high-rises.
We cycle a path alongside the motorway, water on our right, to Sulphur Point Motorway Walk Underpass and arrive on Tennyson St. Turning right into Alfred St and left into Milton Rd, we pedal slightly uphill to Richmond Ave, single-storey Victorian villas straight ahead. We turn left, pass no. 12 - apparently the scene of a long-ago murder - hang right into Bartley St and arrive back at The Engine Room on its corner.
Hanging left on to Queen St, this time we veer right at the roundabout and whizz downhill. The iconic 1970s building, once known as Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant, perches at the bottom. I've only ever viewed it before from above, when driving across the harbour bridge.
Our 2.5-hour journey, through parts of the North Shore I've never previously been, ends down the left-hand side on Northcote Point Wharf to await the ferry back to the harbour's southern shore.
A heritage trail brochure, 'Northcote Point Walk', can be found at aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/arts-culture-heritage/heritage-walks-places/Documents/northcote-point-heritage-walk.pdf and gives details of some of the buildings seen on the ride.
For ferry updates during lockdown, see fullers.co.nz/timetables-and-fares/
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz