08 May 2015

Auckland walks: the Herne Bay Beaches

It’s almost a year since I first explored all nine – yes, nine! – Herne Bay beaches in one long delightful, if slightly wearying afternoon meander. And I was amazed – amazed by the fact that I’ve lived in Auckland most of my adult life and hadn’t explored such lovely places as these when they are less than 10 kilometres from where I live!

At that point I was busy preparing for an extended overseas holiday and didn’t get time to write about my beach exploration so this week I repeated the route, in the reverse direction. This is a wonderful walk, for the exercise, for the pretty beaches, perchance for some bird watching, and to check out all the lovely old houses and some more modern architectural gems in the historic and rather posh suburb of Herne Bay.

As these beaches all border Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, they are tidal and that makes a big difference to how much of each beach you can access and to the views, sparkling water or not-so-sparkling mud. Tide times are easily checked on the Metservice website.

Here, then, are photos from both my walks and a little information about each beach. Starting at Point Erin (where there is parking) and going round to Bella Vista Reserve, the numbers below correspond to the numbers on my map. Many of these beaches can only be reached by a walk down and up several flights of steep stairs, so the walk is more of a workout than it looks on paper. However, you can walk back to Point Erin via Jervois Road and enjoy a well-earned culinary treat at one of the many eateries along the way!

1. Masefield Beach Reserve
Masefield Beach is named after one Thomas Taylor Masefield (1842-1908), an Englishman from Shropshire, who immigrated to New Zealand in 1862. That same year he partnered with a Mr Vickery to establish an engineering and ironfoundry business in central Auckland. From 1870, he became sole proprietor, changing the business’s name to Masefield T. T. and Co., Ironworkers, Ironfounders and Engineers which, according to the Auckland Museum website, manufactured ‘marine and stationary engines; machinery for sawmills, brick mills and flax mills; and pipe fittings for waterworks’. Masefield lived in Herne Bay, in a large house he named ‘Ellerton’ after the house where he was born, and served three terms as an Auckland City Councillor. His obituary, in the New Zealand Herald, 2 May 1908, reports that he ‘always took a keen interest in manly sports’ and, for a time, served as president of the Auckland Regatta Committee. I wonder how he would feel about the little beach that pays him tribute – probably not quite manly enough, I expect.

2. Hamilton Road Beach Reserve
A short walk along tree-lined Sarsfield Street, followed by a right turn into Hamilton Road and a walk to the end will bring you to this next beach, one of many along this route to be lined with the huge old pohutukawa trees that are such a glorious sight in the summer months, when their scarlet red flowers earn them the title of New Zealand’s Christmas tree.

The beach was probably named after Captain John Fane Hamilton, a British Royal Navy commander who was killed in 1864 at the Battle of Gate Pa, one of the battles fought between Maori and Europeans during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. Hamilton Road Beach also has several boat houses built along its high tide line, an indication of the popularity of sailing as a pastime with the locals.

3. Sentinel Beach Reserve
The next beach along is accessed from Sentinel Road, hence its name. Both the street and the beach are named after the small island that can be seen not far off shore which was originally named The Sentinel but is now known as The Watchman. 

This beach is larger than the previous two, has more sand and is better suited for swimming in the summertime. It also boasts several boat houses at one end, though the nearest slipway is now unused and crumbling and a bit of an eyesore. With comfortable loungers to recline on and a rope swing for the kids to try, this is a good place for a refreshment stop.

4. Home Bay Beach Reserve
In the mid 1800s Herne Bay was known as Home Bay, hence the name of this next beach. Its wharf, which was originally built in 1898, was upgraded by the Auckland City Council one hundred years later, though it is a true replica of the original in all but length.

As you can see above, Home Bay is fringed by elegant and expensive houses, whose owners must enjoy some fabulous harbour views. Fortunately, the beach itself is still open for the less privileged to enjoy, though you can see in these photos how much of a difference the tides make to accessibility.

5. Wairangi Wharf Reserve
Wairangi Road has had several changes of name, not surprisingly given the long wharf that runs out into the harbour, it was known originally as Wharf Street, had changed to Waitangi Road by 1883, and again to Wairangi Road by 1939. In 2002, one local newspaper, the Sunday Star Times, reckoned this was the most expensive real estate street in New Zealand, with the average house valued at $4 million and with the Sultan of Brunei as one of its residents.  

Thirteen years later, I’m sure the locals still pay high prices for ‘its proximity to the city, its harbour views, its access to small, near-private beaches, and its being a prized example of Herne Bay's tree-lined and quiet, non-arterial residential streets.’ Luckily, the wharf provides a good fishing spot for those who can’t afford to live in such expensive surroundings.

6. Cremorne Reserve
According to an article in the New Zealand Herald, nine years after Wairangi Road was named the most expensive street in the country, Cremorne Road took over the top spot, quite appropriate for a street named after one of the same name in London’s wealthy suburb of Chelsea.  

The beach was originally called Tibbs’s Beach, after James William Tibbs, who lived in this street in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tibbs was headmaster at Auckland Grammar school and died at his home in Cremorne St in 1924.

7. Herne Bay Beach
With sprawling old pohutukawa trees providing much-needed shade, this is the perfect beach for a picnic and a swim on a hot summer’s day. As the colourful row of canoes testifies, it is also a popular spot for a paddle.

Herne Bay takes its name from a seaside resort in the English county of Kent. Back in the 1850s there was no road access to the central city so those of the well-heeled professional class who lived in Herne Bay’s ‘marine villas’ would commute to the city using the small boats they stored in the boathouses at the bottom of their gardens or moored at their private jetties. Some of those early Victorian villas can still be seen in the streets around Herne Bay Beach.

8. Marine Parade Reserve
The penultimate beach on this walk is one of the most interesting. Sloane’s Beach, as it is properly called, is home to the 100-year-old club house of the Richmond Yacht Club, now managed by the Herne Bay Cruising Club, ‘a charitable trust formed by locals to preserve this historic building and ensure it continues to support the boating activities that have been part of this area for nearly a century.’ The Trust has placed interesting illustrated notices around the back of the old building so I’ll leave you to explore more of its history when you visit.

9. Bella Vista Reserve
The last beach on our walk is accessed by 127 steps down from Bella Vista Road. It is best suited to those who enjoy poking around amongst rocks and in the mud, as there’s not a grain of sand to be seen. It does, however, afford good views towards Cox’s Bay, across to Meola Reef and further up the Waitemata Harbour, hence its name, Bella Vista. And by the time you’ve walked back up those steps, you’ll be very pleased to head to Jervois Road for some well-deserved refreshments.

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