Getting out and about around your suburb on foot is a good way to find out more about its history as well as what’s going on now. And Wai o Taiki Bay is no exception, with all manner of unexpected natural treasures – from native bush teeming with bird life, to beaches and parks, as well as places of historical interest, like the site where Auckland’s Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi.
There are several walks around and about the Glen Innes area, of varying lengths and suitable for different ages and fitness levels, whether you’re a keen tramper or a Sunday stroller. You might choose to start with one of the shorter walks at Tahuna Torea before progressing to something a bit more strenuous. The most challenging is the Point to Point Walkway, which sets off from St Heliers, around through Glendowie to Glen Innes and loops back to the beginning, although you can also tackle it in shorter sections.
An amazing, and perhaps little-known, corner of Glen Innes is the 25-hectare wildlife reserve of Tahuna Torea, a long sandbank extending out into the Tamaki Estuary near the mouth of the Tamaki River.
Here, a network of tracks meanders through peaceful spaces and areas of bush where native birds hide and feed, among fresh and saltwater wetlands, and past fallen trees and branches alive with all sorts of insects – all well away from houses, cars and other signs of human habitation.
Between full- and half-tide from November to March, you might even be lucky enough to spot wading birds, and other migrating species like godwits, which fly in each year from the northern hemisphere.
The sandspit and mudflats, formed gradually over time as eroded sandstone and ash, were washed by the sea into the shelter of the estuary. Before European settlement, local Maori tribes valued the spit as a rich source of shellfish, fish and birds – and middens above the beach testify to this. The mouth of the river was also an important strategic site and a stop for canoes travelling between the Manukau and Waitemata Harbours.
Throughout its hundred or more years of European settlement, the area has been farmed, then subdivided, then turned into a recreation reserve. It also narrowly missed becoming a residential marina and later an inorganic rubbish dump, and about 30 years ago, a group of local residents banded together and began working to restore the area and create a wildlife reserve.
Tahuna Torea Walking Trails
Three main trails wind their way around the reserve, with something to suit most ages and fitness levels, and keen walkers can carry on to Point England and Glen Innes. Follow the steps from Vista Crescent or the car park at the end of West Tamaki Road, or come in one of the other entrances at the Beverley Hills shops (at the intersection of Riddell Road and Roberta Avenue). If you’re pressed for time or have small children, one of the shorter tracks may be better – about 40 minutes, or you can walk all the way around the area, including the sandspit, in about an hour and a half.
On the shorter walks you’ll walk through bush, past groves of totara, puriri and a line of kauri, to a memorial seat, dedicated to Christine Barfoot, who helped develop the reserve. Keep an eye open for the godwit lookout before the track divides into upper and lower branches. The upper track passes another seat named after ornithologist Sylvia Reed, who researched the birds in the reserve; admire the lagoon and sandspit, then carry on to a lookout with views of the sandspit beach and fish dam. An old Maori camp is now a protected historic site, and several middens are nearby. Take the steps down to the lower bush track, which passes a fish dam, swamp and crosses a stream, then continue straight along a boardwalk through native trees and back to the car park.
A freshwater pond at the West Tamaki Road entrance is the beginning of the dam-top walk. Look out for ducks and pukekos poking about in the lake and swallows feasting on insects. Beaches along the seaward side of the dam are good for picnics and swimming. A boardwalk at the end of the dam heads over a small swamp, through pohutukawa trees, and a left turn takes you to Cable Beacon Point and the lagoon walk, with its godwit islands and Lockley Island, both high-tide roosts for wading birds, which are most often seen in summer.
To reach the 1.5km sandspit beach walk, take the lower track, then cross the fish dam on the causeway. Keep an eye out for stilts, herons, kingfishers and ducks tucking into a fishy meal. At low tide the spit extends into the river towards Bucklands Beach on the other side of the estuary.
Point to Point Walkway
This is great local walk, offering something for everyone. Keen walkers might choose the full 7.5km-long path from St Heliers to Point England, which passes sandy beaches, lookout points, the Tamaki River estuary and Tahuna Torea nature reserve along the way. While the whole walk takes around three to four hours, shorter sections may be better depending on age and fitness, and are very enjoyable, too.
St Heliers Beach to Churchill Park
Set off from St Heliers Beach, up Cliff Road, past Ladies Bay, Gentleman’s Bay, Achilles Point, and through Glover Park – another crater and, until the 1950s, a shallow lake – along Riddell Road, admiring views to Brown’s Island, until you reach Churchill Park.
Tahuna Torea and on to Point England
From Tahuna Torea, you set off through the Wai-o-taiki nature reserve, along a track, over streams, through shady glens and open spaces with views of the river. Kingfishers are regular visitors here, looking for their next meal in the river. Past the horse paddocks and over the Omaru Creek is a fork in the track. The woodland track along the creek bypasses Pt England, or cross the bridge and a white stone pathway takes you through to Pt England.
Point England to Panmure Basin
An extra to the Point to Point, this 45-minute path carries on through riverside parks to the Panmure Boating Club. From here you can go on up King Road, Riverview Road, Queens Road and Bridge Street to Lagoon Drive, over the lights and connect with the walking track around the Panmure Basin.
Point England to Saint Heliers Beach
Alternatively, from Point England, a 45-minute walk takes you across sports fields to the concrete path along the Omaru Creek, which you can follow through urban reserves and the horse paddocks to St Johns Road above Glen Innes. Another 30 minutes along St Heliers Bay Road will see you back in St Heliers where you started. Take time to enjoy a well-deserved coffee or ice cream at one of the several cafés on the beach front.
One of the largest reserves in eastern Auckland, Churchill Park covers 40ha. As well as grazing cattle, you’re likely to spot a variety of birds in the trees and bush as you wander along the path. If you turn left at the first track intersection, and go up to the pine trees you can nip down to Karaka Bay, a little beach with an interesting history. In 1840 Governor Hobson met with local Maori chiefs to add their signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi. At low tide, it’s possible to walk around the silty and rocky foreshore to the Glendowie Boating Club (about half an hour), before joining the walk again at Tahuna Torea (see above for the walks here). Otherwise, come back up to the park and carry on.
You might like to take time for a coffee at the shops by the entrance to Tahuna Torea. Ronnie’s Café is at 3 Roberta Avenue, or Carinthia Restaurant and Patisserie is close by at 17-19 Roberta Avenue.