Simon Vincent muses on the art of ignoring the map, trusting your inner compass, and the treasures you stumble across when you decide to follow your nose…
The kereru loomed large above me. I was startled; it wasn’t. It was an art work. I was startled because I hadn’t expected to see it. Discovering something unexpected is one of the joys of riding paths you don’t know that well (or at all) – you will always come across something you hadn’t anticipated, and being on a bicycle gives you the chance to pause, savour and digest.
We often think of the bicycle as a tool of freedom, for allowing us to go when we want, cheaply, and not held up by traffic – but it’s also a tool of freedom because it allows us easily to visit places that are entirely new to us. I often find myself pedaling around, exploring or getting lost on purpose, and it’s always enjoyable because at the end of the day I’m just riding my bike.
Although I live out West there are a number of places I am still unfamiliar with. So recently I decided to stretch my legs and mind and travel beyond my domain. Heading out from Henderson with a general idea of visiting Ranui Domain, I knew I could simply head up Swanson Rd… but I decided to rely on my own internal compass, my belief that a bicycle can always find a path, and the certain knowledge that there are few things more pleasing than taking a ride to nowhere in particular.
I pedaled off through Henderson Park, but instead of following my normal path I took the track that hugs the stream – it was a little rutted and muddy, and for a few minutes I was an adventurous back country explorer.
Sadly for my great adventure, the first thing I came across when I re-joined the Twin Streams path was a ‘Ranui cycle route’ sign. This was going to be too easy. Still, I followed the route offered and found myself musing on the lives lived in the little cul-de sac as I pedalled slowly up. The signs continued to show me the way… but on a hunch I veered off-track and hoped for the best.
I was prepared to find myself retracing my path if I hit a dead end, although for some reason, when riding a bike, turning round and going back doesn’t seem to create the same kind of fuss it generates when we take a wrong turning in a car (well, admittedly no one wants to find we didn’t need to climb that huge hill on a bike either). This time though, I was in luck.
A bicycle-friendly art work greeted me as I found myself at Paremuka Lakeside.
I followed the shingle trails, and found myself enjoying the view from a small jetty while a new electric train rushed past quietly without startling the assorted wetland birds in residence.
We were all watched over by a giant concrete seagull ‘cementing’ the place as a bird sanctuary.
Art was becoming an unintentional theme of my explorations. I got up close with the Eel Man sculpture in the lake. I had glimpsed this sculpture many times from the train, but it was a delight to reach it on my bike. Previously I hadn’t put its location into context – now I could. As I pedalled past I noticed a shag resting on the eel, as if perplexed that this wasn’t going to be the mega-feast it had first imagined.
A few short minutes on quiet streets brought me to Ranui Domain and a chance to ride around on the new pathway. I was intrigued to see a couple making use of the outdoor exercise machines in the domain; they were using a walking machine besides the path.
Leaving the park I crossed Swanson Road, and as I pointed my wheels towards the path alongside Swanson Stream I had my encounter with the kereru. The artwork announced the entrance to a kilometre or so of track that meandered between houses and stream and eventually propelled me out towards the Te Rangi Hiroa Park – home to BMX Waitakere, where work is ongoing to improve their track.
I took time to view a memorial stone acknowledging the relationship between Maori and Croatian settlers of the area before letting my internal compass take charge once more. I headed off down Glen Road feeling like I was right on the edge of the rural and urban divide.
Again and again on my explorations, I came across hidden paths and reserves that proved the ‘no exit’ signs were only really referring to one mode of travel. Low-key signs and memorials hinted at important parts of Auckland’s history that lie just a ‘wrong turn’ from the main road.
I rode over walking and cycling bridges that link communities, where I couldn’t help but pause and take in the view and ponder the fact that there’s just something so good about pedalling over bridges (now there’s an idea!).
All too soon, I was back in the area I knew well. I rode on, knowing where I was headed, but also happy to have proven to myself once again that you can go just about everywhere on a bike (‘Ubikeuity’!) and make new discoveries as you go.
— Words and pictures by Simon Vincent