Coastal trail and the river-mouth ferry
The urge to walk the coastline is as old as humankind.
Within three years, the 4500-kilometre England Coast Path will be opened, initiated in 2014 under a Conservative – Liberal Democrat government.
Aotearoa is geographically twice as coastal as England, yet has no plans for a coast path equivalent. New Zealanders do, however, have their 3000-kilometre Te Araroa, and its Northland sections at least are predominantly coastal.
Creating coastal trails can be a minefield, negotiating the significant percentage that is in private ownership. But when a nine-kilometre section of the coastline has been firmly in public ownership for 44 years, such as the regional parkland between Waiwera and Ōpahi Bay, the question that is challenging to answer is why it can’t be walked, end to end.
Prior to all-weather roads being created through north-Auckland’s hill-country clay, being able to walk the coast was a necessity rather than a recreation. Rodney County Council literally paid the ferrymen to be available to convey walkers across river mouths, although council minutes record that the retainers were often begrudged. Be that as it may, by the time the land was acquired for regional parks, road access and car parks were the preoccupation, but in the case of Te Muri—the central stretch of coastline in question—the land was legally landlockedlegally, landlocked land is a piece of land to which there is no ‘reasonable access.’.
When its coastal margin was purchased, it was proposed that Te Muri would be accessed by building a scenic coastal road between Mahurangi West and Wenderholm. This concept was subsequently walked back to simply providing a no-exit road to Te Muri south from Mahurangi West. But when geotechnical work began, the community produced a passionate and erudite counterproposal, for walking access only, and for a Mahurangi Coastal Trail. Then, in 2010, with the purchase of the farm hinterland of Te Muri, the opportunity to create road access suddenly opened up. But again, the community was adamantly opposed, and this time the Mahurangi Coastal Trail took centre stage in the, ultimately successful, quest to keep Te Muri car-free.
Waiwera River to Pūhoi River Mouth
At its metropolitan end, the Mahurangi Coastal Trail starts at bus stop 4778 at the entrance to Waiwera, crosses the Waiwera River, and joins Wenderholm Regional Park’s Perimeter Track. Although walkers then have the option of three routes, the Mahurangi Coastal Trail takes the easiest grade, to be as family-friendly as possible. The trail gently rises to a maximum elevation of only about 32 metres before descending equally gently to join what was once the plane-tree-lined driveway to Couldrey House.
Public toilets built squarely across the driveway are, at least, handily sited for some. From here the route provisionally runs into the Couldrey House grounds, but a by-pass may be needed to avoid dispelling the ambiance of the place, particularly if the Waiwera–Wenderholm section is upgraded to take bicycles, as it will beg to be, in time. The level walk continues, now running along the spine of the Wenderholm sandspit. A little-used interior route already exists, and although walkers will have the option of walking on either of the shoreside trails, encouraging use of the middle way will lessen the impact of the coastal trail on other park users. Apart from marking, the path will only require upgrading to an all-weather surface, with gravel and several sections of decking to bridge seeps.
Pūhoi River Mouth ferry
The suggestion that the Mahurangi Coastal Trail deploy a cable ferry was that of Auckland Council, responding to concern expressed for the landscape and visual impact of the 285-metre footbridge alternative, crucially by Ngāti Manuhiri.
While New Zealanders are generally unfamiliar with cable ferries, Australians are not, and have 28 operating. To the uninitiated, the term conjures up overhead cables such as used for cable cars, and suggests an impediment to navigation. On the contrary, it is ferry as in ferryboat, and the cables that guide and move it, in repose, typically rest on the riverbed to allow other craft to pass unimpeded.
The only point within cooee of the coast at which the Pūhoi River for an all-tide ferry crossing—short of building opposing and intermediate jetties with a combined length nearly that of the footbridge rejected earlier—is at the river mouth. At low tide there, the river is roughly 2 metres deep and 50 metres wide, and the crossing itself will only take about one minute—far more time will be taken for embarkation and disembarkation, than the actual crossing. The criteria for the crossing dictates a catamaran will be used, but not because of the sudden fashion for the foiling variety, but because the form provides the greatest stability, particularly as passengers mass along one side in anticipation of stepping ashore onto the waiting pontoon.
Cable ferries range in scale from the diminutive passenger-hand-cranked to the likes of the Baynes Sound Connector, which transports up to 50 vehicles and 150 passengers a time the 1.9 kilometres between Buckley Bay and Denman Island, British Columbia. For the Mahurangi Coastal Trail to provide the primary access to Te Muri, and demonstrate that a regional park can fulfil its function, and be fossil-fuel-free, the ferry might need to transport 400 or more people per hour at peak periods. The criteria for such an operation has been revisited to incorporate the desirability of locating the ferry’s electric winch motors ashore, to where grid power is available, in the interests of avoiding the high capital cost and inherently toxic waste stream associated with batteries.
Te Muri headland
Once across the Pūhoi River, and ducking behind Pūhoi Cottage—not to be confused with the Pūhoi Cottage tea rooms at Pūhoi—the trail leisurely follows the north bank upstream for nearly 300 metres before beginning its gentle climb to Te Muri Saddle. To maximise its family-friendliness, frequent viewing points with seats will be provided to allow those who need to stage the 45-metre ascent the excuse of soaking in the best vistas of Wenderholm and the Pūhoi Estuary available, and to encourage those who may be preoccupied with their Te Muri Beach destination, to turn and confront the magnificence and providence of Auckland’s first regional park.
The trail envisaged to the saddle’s is carefully chosen to be perceived as the most direct route, but also to in fact be the gentlest, with a maximum gradient of 1 in 10—about 6°. Then, if walkers chose a different more abrupt route, such as the farm track further inland, where the gradient is steeper than 1 in 4, the choice is more likely to be deliberate.
Te Araroa junction
From the saddle, the views of Te Muri, Cudlip Point, Saddle Island, and Motuora now compete with those to the south. But this is also the junction of the Mahurangi Coastal Trail and Te Araroa, the national walkway. By turning left at this point, walkers and cyclists will be able to take a terrestrial route to Pūhoi—at present, the only official Te Araroa route is the Pūhoi River. While kayaking is a fine means of completing a section of the walkway, it is dependent on a favourable tide, and most Te Araroa walkers can be seen struggling along the side of State Highway 17, between Pūhoi and Waiwera.
Te Muri Beach
The descent to Te Muri is gradual and passes under ancient pūriri trees, before arriving at the beach. For those continuing north, the trail departs the beach well short of the sensitive area that includes a dotterel and oystercatcher breeding area, vulnerable spit end and urupācemetery. After crossing the 175-metre width of the sandspit—currently grazed, but surely has a more fitting long-term future as an open pōhutukawa forest à la Wenderholm—a new footbridge crosses the arm of the estuary that runs inshore of the urupā, near the former Franciscan friars bach. This connects to the estuary at a point sufficiently upstream to not diminish the wildness experience of wading to access Te Muri. The estuary would mostly be crossed by boardwalk through mangroves, but a footbridge with sufficient clearance for kayaks and small powered craft will be needed cross the channel itself.
Once across, the trail will pass through a fringe of forest before entering pasture and following a currently unsealed farm track, to join the main, all-weather farm road to the terminus of Ngārewa Drive, and views of the Mahurangi Harbour and coastline to Kawau Island, and Motutara, Moturekareka and Motuketekete—the latter three motuisland or islands once being known as the Eden Islands. The distance from the ferry to this point can easily be walked in an hour and a quarter, but without adequate viewing stops.
Sullivans Bay and the cross-harbour ferry
The walk from the Cudlip Point saddle to the beach at Sullivans Bay is ten minutes, but in the future the option could be provided to retain elevation and walk on to Tungutu Point with its unrivalled, 270° panorama of the Mahurangi Harbour, and coastlines to the north and south of its entrance.
The obvious next-big-thing would be for the route to reach a jetty terminus, possibly off Ōpahi Point at the northern extent of the regional parkland. From there, the Mahurangi Coastal Trail could continue to the Mahurangi Peninsula and Scotts Landing, and ultimately to Matakana, and to Pakiri via the Big Omaha Trail.
Where the national walkway re-joins the coast.