A guest post from Simon Vincent of Auckland Transport
On a beautiful Spring morning a group of riders gathered in Henderson keen to explore. The new Grafton Gully and Beach Road cycleways now offer an almost continuous off-road route to the Auckland Waterfront. With our group’s range of experience – from recent participants on Auckland Transport’s Beginner Bike courses to seasoned cycle tourists, the initial brief from Ride Leader Julian Hulls was a useful blend of basic riding tips and safety guidelines.
Then, against a backdrop of the wonderful Waitakere Ranges we were on our way. Within moments we were alongside the picturesque Henderson Creek allowing me to regale everyone with my local knowledge as I ride this fantastic section every day. Who would have thought Elvis Presley, the breeding habits of Kingfishers and the history of timber milling could all be covered in our first ten minutes of casual riding.
Since the shared path meanders peacefully alongside the Creek we all got the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with riding and the merry sound of our bells alerted those out walking of our presence. Pleasantries were exchanged as the beautiful clear skies were conducive to enjoying a leisurely day out, and the happy sounds of children playing at the Tui Glen Playground mingled with the “ching-a ling” of our merry group.
It wasn’t long before we came to the end of Henderson Creek’s path and took to the roads. This was the only section of any distance that we mixed with traffic but the quiet roads of Te Atatu South on a Saturday morning were easily dealt with. The just over 1KM of road cycling also featured the “Outrageous Fortune” house that interested a number of our group.
Soon we found ourselves riding alongside the North-Western motorway and our concentration levels were high as we dealt with numerous changes to the surfaces and path as work continues on the widening of the motorway. It was good to hear that improvements to this important cycle commuter route are also planned. Many new riders were surprised how quiet and pollution free it felt to ride against such a busy motorway and it was interesting to hear about the important reserves alongside the motorway that provide a home for significant species of flora and fauna.
As we headed ever closer to the City we passed Auckland Zoo and MOTAT before joining up with a group of riders joining us a Nixon Park, just a short ride from Kingsland Train Station. Our group was now more than 30 strong and we must have looked an impressive sight as we pedalled on in our long line.
Riding along the cycleway we had a unique view of the city and the suburbs divided from the city by the motorway. As we climbed up to Newton Road, the Sky Tower and skyscrapers showed how close we were to the CBD. Ducking under Newton Bridge we rode up to Upper Queen Street. A refreshing drink was had at the very welcome Drinking Station Water Fountain kindly installed by the Local Board.
Now we found ourselves swooping down the Grafton Gully cycleway itself, the smooth surface and gentle bends allowed us to freewheel down as we neared the end of our journey. Again being separated from traffic but having a view of it highlighted the opportunity the cycleways provide for escaping the hustle and bustle of congestion.
The bright green, separated cycleway alongside Beach Road, was like a welcome mat for us as we headed into the city. It was a unique experience, riding on a bi-directional cycle path and being given our own space in this busy area. We even received cheers and support from many groups walking towards the Vector Arena for the Fast 5 Netball.
At Britomart, our ride came to an end, over coffees we were able to reflect on a wonderful ride and to appreciate that cycling in Auckland can be as much about the journey as the destination. It was a contented group that loaded our bikes on to the West bound train to take us away – happy in the knowledge we have many options to travel in our great city but few that can beat a bicycle.