09 July 2015

Auckland walks: From the city to Mt Eden and back

Fancy a walk? Okay, then pull on those hiking shoes and grab some water ‘cause we’ll be pounding the pavements for about 9 kilometres and we’re going to head up a volcano so you might feel the heat.

At 196 metres, Mt Eden is the highest point in central Auckland so a great place for spectacular panoramic views over the city, its harbours and suburbs. And when we walk there, and back, from the central city, there’s a lot to see along the way, including a historic cemetery, two old churches, some street art, assorted historic buildings, significant places in Maori history, old villas and a huge park.

I’ve plotted our route on a map (just click on it to see it full screen) and numbered the points of interest along the way. These are just a few of the things that have caught my eye on past walks -- you will no doubt see other things that capture your interest and imagination.

1. A convenient place to start, and end, is at the corner of Symonds Street and Grafton Road, right in the centre of the University of Auckland’s huge complex of buildings. We could easily spend a whole afternoon exploring the university grounds … but that’s for another day. We’ll head up Symonds Street, past the towering blocks of student accommodation and offices and pause briefly for a look at Symonds Street cemetery. (For more on this fascinating place, check out my previous blog.) 

2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
After a left turn at Khyber Pass Road, we find one of the historic highlights of our walk on the corner of Khyber Pass and Burleigh Street. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre dates from 1880 and is renowned for its wooden interior, one of the best in the world. Unfortunately, the only way to see that interior is to attend a Sunday service as the church is not open for public viewing.

3. Cityside Baptist Church
At the bottom of Burleigh Street, on the corner with Mt Eden Road, is another old church, not nearly so distinguished but with its own history and the most gorgeous little bell(-less) tower perched on top.

4. Snippets of Mt Eden history
After turning left along Boston Road, then right at Normanby Road, a glance to our right before we cross the railway line will bring a glimpse of some of Auckland’s street art, in this case the running squirrels of BMD. To our left is Mt Eden jail – not a place we want to enter – and further along Normanby Road, we find some historical links to Mt Eden’s past: the Colonial Ammunition Company's shot tower, the old bluestone building (now the CAC Bar & Eatery), and Normanby pub, to name a few.

The whau tree, from which this mountain takes its Maori name
5. Mt Eden
There are many paths up Mt Eden: sometimes I head up the dirt paths, sometimes I sweat up the steps old and new, sometimes I go up the roadway. It’s worth several visits to check the different routes as the trees and the views are all different. Maori named this volcanic cone Maungawhau (mountain of the whau tree), and archaeologists have discovered that as many as 3000 people lived on its slopes in the 1600s. We can still see the pits and depressions in the landscape, where kumara and taro would have been stored after harvest and houses would have nestled. And now we’re at the top, check out how deep the crater is. Impressive, eh? And look at the magnificent panoramic views – without a doubt, the best in Auckland.

6. Heading down
We’ll head back to the city by a different route. First, we veer off the road and down the steps bordering Government House. I used to think you might be able to get a sneak peek at visiting dignitaries from these steps but the trees are too tall and lush: many were planted as long ago as the 1870s.

We turn left at Mountain Road and our stroll takes us past some very lovely and very expensive real estate, some charming historic villas, past Mercy Hospital and a plethora of villas that now house medical specialists, and then alongside the splendid Spanish Mission-style buildings of Auckland Grammar School.  

7. Auckland Domain
After crossing Khyber Pass Road, we head up the appropriately named Park Road towards Auckland Domain. Today we’re just going to walk past the Duck Ponds and down the pohutukawa-lined Centennial Walkway but the Domain really deserves more time to explore. Check out some of its highlights in my earlier blog here

Once we exit the Domain, we simple head up the slope opposite, up Grafton Road, between the buildings, old and new, of the University of Auckland, and hey presto! we’re back where we started a few hours ago. I hope you enjoyed today’s walk.