Written by Mary Rean
Photography by Jamie Cobel
Birkenhead Village has close by the largest stand of native bush on the North Shore, rivalled only by Titirangi in the greater Auckland area. So, armed with a map or your smart phone, choose the path that best suits your energy levels, and meander through tracts of native bush, along streams and the coastline, listening to the songs of native birds, or take a peek at the pretty houses and historic sites that make up this part of your city.
One well-kept secret is Le Roys Bush, a reserve of around 22 hectares that includes Le Roys Bush Reserve, Little Shoal Bay Reserve and Lutners Bush. The reserve can trace its roots back to 1947 when, after local man Edward Le Roy died, a public subscription was initiated by Forest and Bird Society. Since then the reserve has grown through donations of land and purchases and now extends from Birkenhead Town Centre to Little Shoal Bay. The wetland near Little Shoal Bay is said to be the second-largest raupo wetland on the North Shore. As well as the raupo, ferns, cabbage trees, native grasses, manuka and many other wetland plants grow here. Willing volunteers, Friends of Le Roys Bush, meet regularly to help protect and maintain the bush and tracks.
Start (or finish) at the cafés and restaurants of Birkenhead Village and take the track its full length to the beach at Little Shoal Bay. Along the way, the track, which includes paths, steps and board walks, passes impressive stands of Kauri and other native species, a waterfall, stream and wetlands. There are several opportunities to cut short your walk and try out some of the local cafés in Hinemoa Street, Birkenhead, then if you’re feeling refreshed, pick up the track again and keep going to the Chelsea Heritage Park. Le Roys Bush has several entrance and exit tracks, and Friends of Le Roys Bush has created a map that can be used on your smart phone.
Maybe you prefer something with a bit more historical interest? Then, the Northcote Point Heritage Walk could be more your cup of tea. This small, sleepy suburb, close to the city, is full of old villas and other historic features as well as lovely coastline and views.
This walk begins and ends at the Bridgeway Theatre on Queen Street, Birkenhead, and can be tackled in three sections, the shortest option being one hour and the full walk taking about two hours. Expect to see numerous heritage houses, shops and municipal buildings as you progress down to Stokes Point under the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Then wind your way back and finish up with a coffee at Billy or Sausalito Café in Queen Street, close to where you set off. The complete route is on the Auckland Council trail map, along with information about each building along the way.
Not far away is Kauri Glen Reserve, where a one-and-a-half-hour track loops through a piece of bush that has remained in a fairly natural state, even after all the development on the North Shore. The track, which includes a few steps, is well laid out and reasonably easy to walk, even after wet weather. As you wander through, look out for Kauri, some up to 400 years old, Totara, Taraire, Tawa, Rewarewa, Maire, and other native trees and shrubs. Several creeks and streams drain into an area of swampy land where a substantial boardwalk system has been added. Native eels, fish and crayfish live in the stream, and, if you’re lucky, you might even spot a glow-worm or two on the stream banks. To mitigate problems with kauri die-back disease, shoe stations are located at all entrances. Kauri Glen Reserve is just 2km north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, between Onewa Road, Lake Road, Raleigh Road, Ocean View Road and Birkenhead Avenue, and it has around eight entry points. The nearest coffee fix is back in Birkenhead Village, where there are several cafés waiting for you.
If you’re particularly energetic, keep going into Cecil Eady Bush, which adjoins Kauri Glen Reserve, and try its one-hour walk.
Or hop in the car and pay a visit to another kauri park. Kauri Park, off Rangatira Road, Birkenhead, also has fine stands of large kauri, plus wetlands and regenerating native bush, which can be enjoyed on a one-and-a-half-hour loop walking track.
Nearby is yet another kauri park, Kauri Point Centennial Park, Birkenhead, off Onetaunga Road, with walks down to Kendall Bay. Take advantage of the lookouts to enjoy good views back across and up the harbour, and keep a look out for the only remaining example of a fortified pa on the Waitemata Harbour.
New Zealand’s only sugar factory is also close to Birkenhead village. The distinctive pink and blue Victorian buildings of the Chelsea Refinery were constructed from a million hand-made bricks in 188-84, using clay excavated from nearby hills. Four brick dams constructed to provide water for the refinery are now lakes providing homes for ducks, black swans and shags.
The Original Sugar Workers Walk takes around 40 minutes and passes various historic spots, including the cottages that once belonged to sugar workers, before it reaches the Chelsea Heritage Park. Here it loops back to Birkenhead Village, where you might like to relax and enjoy a well-earned coffee or lunch.
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