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A long distance love affair with Auckland

28 May 2024

On the Subject of Just Riding Your Bike for No Particular Reason with No Particular Destination in Mind

Words & Photos: Tony Hutcheson

Warning: this story contains no useful information about mountain biking, cycle touring, road cycling or bike packing. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclosure statement: I was born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau. Aside for six or seven years in more remote regions of the North Island and selected parts of Europe and Asia, I’m an Aucklander. A recovering Aucklander, but an Aucklander nonetheless.

I abandoned Auckland indefinitely around 18 years ago having confidently self-diagnosed a fully developed intolerance of the traffic and the need for a car to facilitate any meaningful mountain bike activity. My move south has stuck despite multiple attempts on the part of Ōtautahi/Christchurch to scare me into leaving.

Since the dawn of the covid era I’ve been presented with ample opportunity to visit my home town resulting in a new found appreciation for its topography, greatly improved cycle infrastructure and exceptional pastries. This, combined with a resetting of my MTB-centric world view has resulted in some good times in the City of Sails.

Work is the predominant factor that draws me to Auckland these days. Occasionally the trips are of a length that encourages packing a bike (the only correct use of the term bike packing) into my trusty Ground Effect Tardis to take along for a ride. On these infrequent but much coveted occasions I endeavour to rustle up co-conspirators for an impromptu 'destination nowhere' style pedal and head off in search of the perfect pastry and occasional beer.

Growing up I lived on Auckland’s North Shore, principally deepest darkest Glenfield. Other than the occasional souvlaki dispatched from Costa’s Greek Taverna (now the ASB Centre) on the corner of Wellesley and Albert over on the hip side of the Harbour Bridge, Pizza Hutt and Cobb & Co. were the pinnacle of North Shore culinary excellence. My food snobbery has since left those days behind and with it my tolerance for quick service restaurants. I definitely miss the incredible souvlaki dished out by Nikos and Costa though.

I recall many summer days were spent as a recalcitrant teenager cycling the length and breadth of the North Shore. Back then it was pretty easy to avoid the main roads; there was so much farm land, empty spaces and walkways linking suburban streets. By the time I was a 'grown up' living in the fabulous Waitakere Ranges out west there was just a short section of cycle path to enjoy on my 45km commute to and from work in East Tamaki each day, the rest was the all to familiar game of cat and mouse on the congested main arteries. And that’s about where I left Auckland. I didn’t think much about the dodgy commute despite incurring my share of bike versus car related scares and injury. Not until I moved to Europe did I understand what commuting by bike could and should look like.

Returning to NZ in 2009 we settled in Christchurch so my enduring memory of cycling in Auckland remained unchanged until mid 2022 when, on a walk to the pub (couldn’t ride, had a broken wing, MTB incident) I was introduced to the mind blowing Glen Innes to Tāmaki Drive shared path, or at least the St Johns to Ōrākei Basin section. Immediately I wanted to ride it and learn more about the new world of cycling in Tāmaki Makaurau, although this would have to wait some months as I recovered from both shoulder and knee surgery.

A rough year of two covids and three surgeries found me chomping at the bit to ride a bike, any bike. A year of not really being able to do much of anything had cured me of my MTB stubbornness and rendered all cycling equal (I know now that’s not really true, MTB is still the best but I have retained the general philosophy and enjoy all forms of cycling). At the first (and second) opportunity that presented, I dragged a bike up to Auckland and embarked on a casual loop that covered central suburbs, the North Shore, eastern suburbs and South Auckland. This required two bites at the pie. While these rides took place over two separate days in February and December 2023, to prevent me from inflicting two seperate stories on the unsuspecting Ground Effect community I shall, through the wonders of modern time travel, present both days as one.

The central-north loop found my friends Skoda and Olly the Viking keen to tag along with me for the February ride while the south-eastern loop coincided with a Kraftwerk concert so it was obviously going to be my good friend Mike (a true blue Auckland Westie now living in Nelson) joining future me in December.

For round one February me set out with Skoda from his home in Glen Innes in search of breakfast pastries and coffee. This was a simple but, for me, exciting roll down the aforementioned St Johns to Ōrākei Basin section of the Glen Innes to Tāmaki Drive shared path. This piece of cycling / walking infrastructure needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. An exceptional piece of work from Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport in every regard. If you’re ever stuck for something to do in Auckland go for a wander along here. No time to dilly dally for February me though, we were dangerously uncaffeinated, urgent attention was required. Our muster point with Olly the Viking was Amano in central Auckland where the coffee and pastries rate, in my humble opinion among the best in Aotearoa. It's not a contest but the prosciutto and parmesan croissant is the winner.

Having attained maximum coffee and pastry intake we disembarked from the Auckland ferry terminal, heading for Devonport. Yet another cool thing to do in Auckland when on a budget, catch a ferry some place and enjoy a cheap harbour cruise. From the very first pedal stroke along Devonport Wharf this day was a genuine stroll down amnesia lane. As a teenager I lived in Glenfield but was enrolled, and occasionally attended school in Takapuna, so the stretch of North Shore from Milford to Devonport always feels very familiar to me.

Meanwhile December me and Mike also enjoyed coffee and pastry courtesy of Amano and set off from our central city hotel due south-east-ish to the Ōrākei cycle path via the waterfront and Parnell. I had in mind a two pastry stop before lunch and Skoda had kindly (or not depending on your dietary perspective) introduced me to Dusty’s Depot in St Johns. I reckon Amano are the champions of savoury pastry in Auckland but Dusty’s would have to take the cake (intentional dad joke) for the sweet pastry prize. Both make fine coffee.

February me was keen to introduce Skoda and Olly to one of the absolute best things you can do on the North Shore, and perhaps Auckland regardless of budget, the coastal walk from Milford to Takapuna (it even works in the other direction, like a good staircase). As kids we’d carry our bikes around the rocks from Milford, grab a massive ice cream from the dairy near the Takapuna boat ramp (fancy cafe now) and 'ride' back. This had to be included in the February tour and was every bit as cool as I remembered. “You guys are mad”, “how much of this is ridable?”; I remember all the same comments from other trail users back in the day but now they were delivered in a tone and with a look that also said “you should know better”. All the while I’m thinking “I should do this more often”.

While February me was enjoying the north eastern coastal path, the now-appropriately-buzzing-on coffee-and-baked-goods Mike and December me set off through Penrose towards the south eastern coastal path that meanders around the eastern suburbs. I’d never ventured along here and have spent a lot of time trying to work it into a longer multi-day tour of old pubs that occasionally graces my calendar. This was my chance to confirm its validity as an appropriate route. Despite it being 100% rideable with no risky rock clambering I’d have to rate it as a worth while outing. I’d like to go back at some stage and see how far round the coast it will take me but Mike and I cut out somewhere in the back of Pakuranga.

February me et al arrived in Milford already thinking about lunch but it was still early, no pubs open, so we pressed on around Lake Pupuke, past my old school and down to Barrys Point. I wanted to check out the Akoranga Station of the Northern Busway. This seemed super nerdy, even to me, but it didn’t exist when I lived in Auckland and, as it turns out, offered an urban uplift courtesy of a conveniently placed elevator and, after a short-cut through AUT North Campus delivered us perfectly on time to the Beer Spot in Northcote for lunch. Lucky for us my favourite Auckland food truck was in residence, WoodSpirit Turkish Pide. When I left Auckland beer came from Belgium, Newmarket and Mangatainoka. A stark contrast from today’s slightly over saturated six-excellent-breweries-per-square-meter approach. Not a complaint, just an observation.

As February me enjoyed not one but two Turkish Pides (is that the plural of Pide?) with my beer, December me cut through Lloyd Elsmore Park with Mike to a cycle path that I hoped ran along side Botany Creek. It did and in doing so delivered us to the impossibly busy East Tamaki shopping district replete with pre-Christmas standstill traffic. Here I endured two struggles. The first of which was a striking lack of pubs of a style befitting our endeavours and the other was to figure out a cycle friendly route to portage from the Waitematā to Manukau Harbour. In the end we just bit the proverbial bullet and cut a virtually straight line down Harris, Prestons and Puhinui Roads to join the cycle path that heads into Auckland Airport.

Conversely a less than direct route was selected by February me through the myriad of pathways linking the cul-de-sacs of Northcote and Birkenhead which had us arrive at the Birkenhead Brewing Co. just in time. Just in time for what I don’t know, but we stopped for a beer. Next was a casual roll down to Birkenhead Wharf for a ferry back to the city. Fortunately Brothers Beer had a conveniently placed Juke Joint en route thus facilitating a trilogy of refreshment stops before hitting the high seas once more.

Our return Waitematā cruise took us under the iconic harbour bridge (you can thank my Great Grandfather for that piece of infrastructure) and back to the CBD by which time the sea air had dangerously dehydrated us, thus a course was set through Viaduct Basin to Good George for light refreshments.

December me had confidently proclaimed to know the back roads of Māngere well. After leading Mike on an informative tour of the major distribution centres nestled around the airport we ended up back where we started. Feeling the effects of being long overdue for quality refreshments and sensing Mike’s looming doubt, I conceded defeat and set a (ludicrously convoluted as it turns out) course for the old-new-old Māngere Bridge which has been upgraded and set aside for cyclists and pedestrians, although fisher-persons seemed to be the predominant user group.

February me had heard about some urban single track in Arch Hill Reserve which I intended to access via Ponsonby where I lived for a few years. It seemed a good idea to head through Westhaven Marina via the excellent Westhaven Boardwalk, yet another fabulous stretch of separated cycle/walking path which has materialised since I lived in Auckland and rather caught me by surprise.

No stops along Ponsonby Road for Team February. Cruising past the myriad of cafes, restaurants and bars was enough to jolt my cocktail soaked memories and make my bank account tremble in fear, so it was on to Arch Hill where yet another pleasant surprise lay in wait. The quality of the trails nestled in this tiny scenic reserve had me wanting to double back for another go but this was not an MTB trip and the locals were getting thirsty. I could imagine if you lived fairly central to Auckland CBD the network of cycle paths plus Arch Hill could have the potential for a satisfying after work ride.

The Arch Hill trails end almost too conveniently just down the road from Kingsland where the six-excellent-breweries-per-square-meter philosophy seems to have been born. It does necessitate a brief climb which in turn necessitates a drink.

Just as Team February were commencing their urban ascent to Kingsland, December me and Mike also had our sights set on the multiple refreshment options available in Kingsland as we commenced our climb from Onehunga wharf up to Royal Oak. There would be plenty of good cycle friendly routes through to Kingsland from this point but I chose none of them. Hunger and an acute need for beer demanded as direct a route as possible to the golden mile of Auckland’s craft brewing scene. Epsom and St Lukes were ticked off somewhat rapidly as we sensed our goal nearing. The lack of en route pub stops and higher average speed put Team December in Kingsland mid afternoon while time started to tick away from Team February.

It would have been positively irresponsible to visit every good pub in Kingsland so Team February agreed on Urbanaut Brewery and Tap Room, for sure one of my favourite places in Auckland: great beer, great burgers, great bike parking. Garage Project was added as our last stop for the day before heading back towards Glen Innes. But first I had one last thing I wanted to see up close.

December me and Mike agreed to meet a friend at The Beer Spot in Kingsland. The food truck was pitching out great burgers and the taps were flowing golden goodness. Team February had ticked off Urbanaut and Garage Project so after leaving The Beer Spot we added in Churly’s located at Behemoth Brewing, another of my absolute favourites.

February me wanted to check out The Pink Cycle Path, formerly known as the Nelson Street Off-Ramp, a stroke of pure genius. I’d looked down on it often enough from K’Rd but riding along it you really get the feeling that someone (Max Robitzsch to be exact) really wanted to deliver for cycling in Auckland.

Exiting the Pink Cycle Path, Team February hooked a right back up to K’Rd and over Grafton Bridge (no cars allowed – awesome), cut through the domain past Auckland War Memorial Museum and down into the Parnell low-lands. With slightly more ups and downs encountered than was bargained for, plus a pretty sweet car free diversion around Shore Road and Hobson Bay it was deemed appropriate to stop for one last beer at Brothers in Ōrākei Basin. We needed to be fully hydrated for the final climb back up the Ōrākei cycle path to St Johns.

Team December traversed the CBD via Ponsonby and Hern Bay to check out Mike's old house which resulted in not finding Mike's old house although we did locate a dead end and a stiff bonus climb back up to Three Lamps. From here the day drew to a close by dropping down to Victoria Park and around Viaduct Basin back to our hotel.

So, Auckland. Congratulations. While I’m not tempted to relocate back 'home' my opinion has been swayed sufficiently to concede that there is much mirth and merriment to be found on a bicycle in Tāmaki Makaurau without the need for a two hour round trip in a car to access good mountain bike trails. Two excellent days out thus far but I still have bigger plans for my non-adventurous adventures around the greater Auckland area. My bike and I will be back soon enough.

5 Responses

Tony Hutcheson
Tony Hutcheson

07 June 2024

Hi Camp Mother, I suggest embracing the horribly lost aspect, for me that is pretty much the point. Mike and I weren’t lost around the back of the airport but we certainly didn’t know where we were. No GPS blips were harmed in the making of these rides. It was mostly based on childhood memories, accidental discoveries and misguided over-confidence.

Camp Mother
Camp Mother

30 May 2024

Any chance of gps? 😁 I would just get horribly lost attempting any of that.

Tony Hutcheson
Tony Hutcheson

29 May 2024

Haha. Loving the hot tips. Robin, I used to live at the top of Mt Road so I’m all too familiar with that area, also, that is my gravel bike… and my road bike… and my XC bike. Geoff, great tip, I’ll check it out next next time because next time I’m heading properly north.

Geoff Leckie
Geoff Leckie

29 May 2024

Next time you’re up drop in to Totara Park in Manukau for the mountain bike trails.
Currently 15km of trails with more to come.
Only 3km from the Manukau shopping centre

Robin Capper
Robin Capper

29 May 2024

A great read, and the SH16 westie paths still to explore. Bring a gravel bike for Henderson Valley, Mountain Road, Cutty Grass Trail, Anawhata Rd too

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