Tamaki Drive’s famous cycleway turns 41 today. Despite showing its age a bit, it’s our jewel in the crown, and part of Auckland’s busiest bike route.

To celebrate its birthday, we’d like to share some wonderful never-before-seen photos of opening day that recently came our way. The photos arrived in an email to Skypath champion Bevan Woodward from David Lewis, who signed himself “Birkenhead Resident and Passionate Skypath Believer”. As you’ll discover below, David has a very special connection to those early Auckland bike visionaries, who not only believed in miracles but managed to accomplish one.

David’s words were so resonant we’ve included his message in full, along with the magical photos of the early believers. Do you recognize anyone? We’d love to know if you were there, and where you are now. It’s a joy to see those shining faces and classic bikes … reminder to all of us that indeed, the road may be long, but it is full of hope.

Dear Bevan,

I was rummaging through my deceased father’s possessions and came across documents and news briefs about the very start of Auckland’s Cycleways.

My father is John Lewis, a passionate cyclist, Chief Inspector Traffic Officer and planner for the Auckland City Council Traffic Department, who – with Engineer Graham Dickson of Town Planning and Development for Auckland City – compiled a 50 page report with photos to present to another cycling advocate ‘Mayor Robbie’, in early 1975, for the development of Auckland’s FIRST cycleway.

A little known fact: John was the catalyst behind beginning a network of cycleways throughout Auckland including the dream of a bikeway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. However, after completing the Tamaki Drive Bikeway, he realised that the physical and mental toll to get a bridge crossing was simply an impossibility in the 1970s, in terms of beauracracy etc.

With that in mind, he would have loved to have met you, an obvious leader as you have battled every conceivable negativity to get your dream of completion of the Skypath. Sadly, John passed away 3 years ago. But his Tamaki Drive legacy remains.

I have followed your passion and even listened in on public meetings about Skypath and Seapath. I must sincerely congratulate you for what I feel will be one of the most majestic, magical and mesmerising tourist amenities in New Zealand. It ranks up there with John Key’s national cycle pathway, the development of Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour or even the impressive Skytower. So hats off to you. You deserve a knighthood in the future.

I have a copy of the 50-page book titled ‘BIKEWAYS’, which was presented to Mayor Robbie and Councillors to get the go ahead for the ‘construction’ of the Tamaki Drive Bikeway dated October 1975. No doubt it may well be available through Auckland libraries. [Ed note: indeed, the central library has three copies, two for research purposes]

ACC Bike Report J Lewis copy
From the Bikeways book: a 1974 letter from John Lewis proposing bikeways for Auckland. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Kirsten Shouler)
ACC Bikeways report 1977
The cover of the Bikeways report (Photo: Kirsten Shouler)
A timeless quote from the Bikeways book (Photo: Kirsten Shouler)

The booklet mentions the construction budget [for Tamaki Drive]. It was just shy of $1,000. This included white paint for the separation strip on the footpath which ran from the Ferry Building to St. Heliers, wooden signs placed stategically to advise ‘Bikeway’, and even parking stalls for bikes along Tamaki Drive. Not bad for so little budget.

So why did my father get involved? Dad was a passionate private cyclist who cycled religiously from Takapuna to Devonport, across on the ferry, then would cycle for coffee to Mission Bay… and back again. He was also passionate about Road Safety Education. When one hears or reads the title ‘traffic officer’ one immediately feels the hairs on the back of your neck bristle as we associate them with ‘punishers’. But Dad’s role was mainly Traffic Education. A great speaker, he went to thousands of schools and businesses promoting safe inclusion of cyclists alongside vehicle drivers. In the period 1964 to 1973, dozens of Auckland cyclists lost their lives on Auckland City streets. Now that’s insanity. Hence Dad’s desire to start a safety project around Auckland cycling.

I have attached a few early photographs of the Opening Day of the Tamaki Drive Bikeway, on Saturday March 6th 1976. (I also hold many articles from the Auckland Star and NZ Herald. Some complimentary, some awfully negative. But that’s life for the cycling advocates…)

In the photos, you will see the commencement group of riders and a variety of equally passionate bike folk, including the then Mayor, Sir Dove Myer Robinson. It was a moment for Auckland’s 100,000 future cyclists to say, let’s roll out a network of safe cycleways throughout Auckland.

Here come the people on bikes, for the opening of the Tamaki Drive Cycleway, 6 March 1976. (Photo: David Lewis)
Lined up and ready to go. Who are they? Where are they now? (Photo: David Lewis)
Mayor Robbie leads the way on a mint Healing Cruiser. (Photo: David Lewis)
Following the white line. (Photo: David Lewis)

But the one shot I especially love is one man riding along the foreshore of Tamaki Drive, scoping out his idea of the Tamaki Drive Bikeway. That’s John.

John Lewis, riding along the Tamaki Drive footpath, dreaming of cycleways. (Photo courtesy of David Lewis)

If you can use these photos for future promotions, please do so. John would have loved that.

The Skypath is no doubt the pinnacle of the ever growing cycling movement in New Zealand. I’m excited to try out the pending Skypath and think you are onto a winner. You are definitely an Auckland Legend.


David Lewis

Birkenhead Resident and Passionate Skypath Believer

Where are these gorgeous wee people now? (Photo: David Lewis)
A cherished souvenir of the day. And kudos to our national airline for supported other forms of travel! (Photo: David Lewis)
Skypath Tamaki Drive
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6 responses to “Bringing history to light – an Auckland bikeway pioneer

  1. Wow, very special photos – thanks so much David!

    I’ve heard there were 1,000 people on on bikes at the opening of the “Tamaki Drive shared bikeway/pedestrian way” – these photos really bring that excitement to life. Digging through the archives, I’d seen the Bikeways Report and other documents of the 1970s that highlighted John Lewis’s passion and vision for a cycle-able Auckland – I knew he was a local hero alongside a few other visionaries of the era. It’s wonderful you’ve made these photos available.

    The Tamaki Drive shared-path is more popular now than ever – going bananas. AT says it has about 600 cyclists/day on it – in fact about half of all the cycle traffic on Tamaki Drive – despite the fact that it’s clearly had 41 years of neglect and is struggling with the growing numbers of pedestrians and people on bikes. It’s phenomenally popular despite its obvious deficiencies. People just want to ride there – heaps of cycle-commuters as well as local people on bikes, visitors and tourists on bikes, families, and lots of ebikes. I

    It’s still just a painted line, unchanged for those 41 years, with at least a couple of shocking pinchpoints. AT has no plans for any future upgrade – you gotta wonder if we need to do better for our great waterfront promenade and commuting route. We’ve having fabulous success with the “build it and they will come” approach to building modern urban cycling facilities, but meanwhile Tamaki Drive shared-path is more popular in its own right than any of our other shared-paths.

    People in the 1970s were totally interested in the social, transport and energy benefits of bike-riding for Auckland. Now we’re bringing that vision to life again after the decades of marginalising cycling – let’s have some kind of vision for Auckland’s waterfront that reflects our new urban commitment.

  2. My brothers and I had the pleasure of joining the opening (way back in the mob). It was fun, 8-). All the same even at that time I remember thinking, wow this is so limited, but of course it is just the first step forward. I did not expect that was going to be it for 41 years.

  3. At the recent West Bike Fest I had the good fortune to meet up with David Knight who was instrumental in getting the North Western Cycleway established. He was very happy to see and hear how the development of this route had created so many opportunities for people to get out and about by bike.

  4. I knew John Lewis well in those days being a club mate of son Steven Lewis in the North Shore Cycling Club (now North Harbour). John was all for getting cycling going in Auckland and was keen to get more facilities. He knew what he achieved was totally inadequate but dealing with petrol head administrators slow progress would eventually get results and it has thank goodness.

    Thanks John

    And thanks to the Skypath team who succeeded where we failed to in the 1980’s battling with the disastrous AK Harbour Bridge Authority.

  5. I was there! My diary for 6 March 1976 records (minus the embarrassing teenage bits):
    “I was nervous about today … but it was generally fun and successful. I pedalled off just before Simon left in the van, with a ‘Cycleways for Auckland’ sign on both sides and loaded with 2 bikes and a tricycle. Sarge Lewis gave me the ‘Support Bikeway’ signs and I spent the next hour cutting string and handing them out. Just as people were starting off, led by Robbie the Mayor, Simon and I handed out ‘Cycleways for Auck’ circulars. I rode slowly along the bikeway with the crowd and had a fast and exhausting ride home, following the van.”

    Later that decade I became the secretary of the Auckland Bicycle Association. I am a member of Bike Auckland and
    currently the secretary of Civic Trust Auckland, an environment and heritage group, which has supported cycling in its many submissions to Auckland Council. CTA supports “bikeways” as long as they do not involve tree removal or have a
    detrimental effect on streetscape character. We have been supportive of SkyPath from its beginning and we submitted to Council in support of Kelvin Aris’s 2009 proposal for the disused Nelson St off-ramp as a pedestrian/cycling route.

    I currently ride a fold-up and so does my husband Chris. We also have an electric bicycle, which I rode to a meeting of CTA board members with the mayor-to-be a year ago, and he expressed great interest in this mode of transport.

    I cycle along the Tamaki Drive cycleway for both commuting and recreational purposes. It was part of my training route for the 2013 Ride to Conquer Cancer. During summer, when a sister was visiting from England, I organised a ride for seven family members along the cycleway from the Ferry Building to Mission Bay. I have always enjoyed this route,
    with its lovely pohutukawa and view of our beautiful harbour and Rangitoto.

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