Coun­try meets city

walks coast to coast without leav­ing Auck­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Scale the heights: There are panoramic views across Auck­land from the top of Mt Eden HE sum­mit of Mt Eden (Maun­gawhau) is shrouded in cars, tour buses and peo­ple. An older group seems to ex­tol the view in a lan­guage I can’t recog­nise; back­pack­ers off a bus jos­tle to have their pic­tures taken, framed by the ex­pan­sive green and blue back­drop of metropoli­tan Auck­land.

The panorama is an all-en­com­pass­ing cityscape I have yet to see bet­tered. I am bi­ased, of course, but hav­ing shed a lit­tle sweat on my way to the 196m top of Maun­gawhau, I am al­lowed to be.

Up here you can un­der­stand why Maori, who sculpted the steep faces of this vol­canic view­point dur­ing cen­turies of oc­cu­pa­tion, were driven to call the sur­round­ing area Ta­maki Makau Rau (place of many lovers).

It is surely a place to be cov­eted: to­wards the north is Hau­raki Gulf, dot­ted with is­lands, the dis­tinc­tive pro­file of Ran­gi­toto in the fore­ground and a sea that stretches across the Pa­cific to Hawai­iki.

To the rear are Manukau Har­bour (with easy ac­cess to the mighty Waikato River) and the Tas­man Sea, sep­a­rated by a nar­row isth­mus that bulges at ei­ther end in bush-clad ranges and ru­ral green­ery. This is the strate­gic hub of an­cient trans­port, north and south.

Mod­ern com­muters are un­likely to spit that word isth­mus as they sit trapped in grid­lock, but well they may. The Auck­land isth­mus is New Zealand’s nar­row­est neck of land, never more than 9km wide and nar­row­ing to 2km at its north­ern and south­ern ends. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple must squeeze through this nar­row corridor twice a day.

But we Maun­gawhau rub­ber­neck­ers are like­lier to cel­e­brate the ge­o­log­i­cal forces (ice ages, ris­ing oceans, vol­canic ac­tiv­ity and the like) that nearly split the North Is­land in two, and the suc­ces­sive com­mu­ni­ties that plonked a vil­lage, a town, a city on the sinew left hold­ing the po­ten­tial halves to­gether.

I have spe­cial rea­son to, any­way. I have pad­dled a kayak around the largest city in the coun­try, 56km in one day, from one har­bour to an­other, portag­ing across an­cient trails barely longer than a sub­ur­ban street. You can’t do that in Wash­ing­ton or Moscow.

I cy­cled around it on an­other day, more than 50km on a marked route that fol­lows har­bour fore­shore, patches of ur­ban bush and leafy sub­ur­ban back­streets. Those trees are some­thing else. In the blink of a year or two in this en­vi­ron­ment, the bare clay of sub­ur­ban de­vel­op­ment greens over un­til, from the heights of Maun­gawhau, Auck­land is one large car­bon tax credit.

And I have walked across the city, from the shores of the Pa­cific Ocean to those of the Tas­man Sea. The last time I trekked the 16km of the Auck­land City Coast-to-Coast Walk across the isth­mus, it was with a group of cub scouts on a spon­sored walk to raise money for camp­sites.

Any walk that starts and ends at the sea, takes in ex­ten­sive park ar­eas and two moun­tains, rubs shoul­ders with 600 years of Maori her­itage and more than 150 years of Euro­pean set­tle­ment has to be per­fect for an ed­u­ca­tional fam­ily ex­cur­sion. (And there are op­por­tu­ni­ties for ice cream and soft drink stops, and a bus home if younger feet get sore.)

It’s just the ticket for late sum­mer or au­tumn when the ex­otic trees that line ur­ban foot­paths are beginning to change colour. The walk also proves that you don’t al­ways have to leave a city to en­joy a nice bit of coun­try.

Su­per tramp: Head­ing down­hill to Auck­land

So near, so far: A ru­ral ram­ble within sight of the metropo­lis So on a day when I feel the need to stretch my legs without hoof­ing off to the bush, I grab one of the North Shore’s new ex­press buses to the CBD; the end of the line is just a block from the walk­way start at Viaduct Har­bour. What­ever else the 2003 Amer­ica’s Cup might have achieved, it cer­tainly left down­town Auck­land with a pleas­ant, if small, water­front precinct.

Emily Place is also small and pleas­ant, a pocket hand­ker­chief of grass flanked by a few ma­jes­ti­cally an­cient po­hutukawa trees. This was once the head­land of Point Brit­o­mart where Auck­land was founded on Septem­ber 18, 1840. The tiny park is also the front yard for some of the old­est (and most de­sir­able) of Auck­land’s in­ner-city apart­ments.

Nearby in Princes Street are the for­mer man­sions of the colo­nial wealthy, now uni­ver­sity out­build­ings, and a rem­nant of a de­fen­sive stone wall built in 1846 to pro­tect the Al­bert Bar­racks from pos­si­ble at­tack from Nga Puhi. Down the hill, past plane trees planted in Sy­monds Street in 1877, is Auck­land Do­main, marked as New Zealand’s first park in gov­er­nor William Hob­son’s city sur­vey.

The Do­main gives me cause to re­flect that while I have driven through here many times I have never re­ally given this park, with its stately trees and stat­ues, the sort of close at­ten­tion it de­serves. Groups of peo­ple pic­nick­ing sug­gest other cit­i­zens are more dis­cern­ing.

On top of Pukekaroa, the Do­main’s vol­canic cone, is a to­tara tree en­closed by a stout fence with carved cor­ner posts. A young trav­eller con­sults his guide­book for an ex­pla­na­tion be­fore tak­ing a pho­to­graph. In the 1820s, Waikato chief Te Wherowhero sealed a peace treaty with Nga Puhi on this spot, an old pa (fort) site. Te Wherowhero be­came the first Maori king and princess Te Puea, his great-grand­daugh­ter, planted the to­tara in 1940 in his hon­our. Be­low it, gen­er­a­tions of Auck­land crick­eters have put bat to ball in the nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre of the shal­low Pukekaroa crater.

The slopes of Maun­gawhau, which is the next big park on the route, are ex­ten­sively ter­raced but the deep and near-per­fect crater is un­touched, as be­fits the sa­cred food bowl of Mataoho, the god of vol­ca­noes.

Across the way is Maun­gakiekie, the ex­tinct vol­cano more gen­er­ally known as One Tree Hill (al­though per­haps it would now make more sense to re­vert to its Maori name).

Rock artists have been busy in the largest of its sev­eral craters, mov­ing loose stones to spell out their names: graf­fiti in vol­canic sco­ria. This was the largest pa site of the Waio­hau and strong­hold of the area’s 18th-cen­tury ruler Kiwi Ta­maki. The ter­raced slopes and huge ku­mara cul­ti­va­tions were home to thou­sands of peo­ple un­til they were driven out by in­ter-tribal war­fare in the late 18th cen­tury.

John Lo­gan Camp­bell, fa­ther of mod­ern Auck­land, is buried on the 182m sum­mit, how­ever, and fit­tingly so given that he se­cured Maun­gakiekie and Corn­wall Park for the cit­i­zenry. His gift, to­gether with the ad­join­ing One Tree Hill Do­main, is a grand 220ha chunk of the out­doors with ma­ture ex­otic and na­tive trees, groves of huge olive trees (strangely, they have never borne fruit) and pas­tures where sheep graze in de­fi­ance of nearby sub­ur­bia.

I once trained for a climb of Mt Cook by re­peat­edly run­ning up and down Maun­gakiekie’s steep­est face in clumsy plas­tic climb­ing boots. A week be­fore my lat­est sor­tie across the isth­mus, I was at a sur­prise 60th birth­day pic­nic held be­neath a gi­ant More­ton Bay fig tree in Corn­wall Park. The more se­date ac­tiv­ity is not just an in­di­ca­tion of the age of my peers but also of the na­ture of the park.

The last leg of the coast-to-coast walk is through Royal Oak to the One­hunga Bay Re­serve. But be pre­pared that af­ter 16km you can’t wet your feet in the Tas­man Sea or barter for goods the Maori of south Auck­land once brought by ca­noe to One­hunga Beach. The mo­tor­way to the air­port has seen to that.

You may say that’s the price of progress. But it’s the same progress that means buses (or friends in cars) can trans­port the walk-weary home. www.akc­ity.govt.nz www.newzealand.com

Pic­tures: Colin Moore

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