Auckland loses beloved coastal walkway

Erosion and a lack of maintenance to mudcrete paths around the western side of Hobson Bay have seen the Waitematā Local Board take the decision to officially close the coastal track between the Awatea Reserve and its end under the cliffs of St Stephens Ave. The Hobson's Wayne Thompson reports on the decision and a call for public consultation.

Luke Niue hates the word “closed”, especially when it’s slapped onto a special part of what people like about living in and visiting Parnell.

As Parnell Community Committee chairman, Niue is fighting to keep public use of the whole Parnell section of the Hobson Bay Coastal Walkway.

Residents’ disgust with rough and muddy footing on the path in the wake of winter slips was reported in The Hobson’s June issue. Responding, Auckland Council said staff were on site and the area was closed while “we investigate remedial actions to resolve the slip and allow safe access”. 

But Niue says a “Track closed” sign is still nailed to an overhanging pohutukawa limb near Awatea Reserve, on the northern part of the walkway. This part goes only to the end of the cliffs near the Parnell Baths and is a no-exit. But that’s the beauty. It’s always quiet, shaded on hot summer afternoons, a soothing wade when the tide’s high and usually sheltered from the wind. It’s a place where people go to step off the racetrack and meditate.

After learning that Council parks officials had health and safety qualms about keeping this section open, Niue made a presentation to the Waitematā Local Board, with photos to remind them of the area’s charms.

He was disappointed that the board would consider “closing the northern part of this historic, iconic and much enjoyed walkway” without public consultation.

“I say this track is still very functional and needs only suitable maintenance to continue to serve.” In his presentation, Niue suggested that maintenance of the track should be a “seasonal and funded priority with community working bee involvement”.

The board, however, backed officials’ concerns and approved the closure of the raised “mudcrete” path below the cliffs between the Awatea Reserve access point and the northern headland of St Stephens Ave. 

Niue says it’s a case of using a perceived risk to get out of adequately maintaining a track — “a lazy, sledgehammer approach”.

Only a little money will be saved because maintenance has not been done and new signs will cost $15,000. He says the closure move is at odds with continued usage by walkers, runners and even trail-bikers.

If the Council must have signs, then they don’t have to scare people away. Alternatives to “Track closed” are used elsewhere in Auckland, says Niue. On Maungawhau Mt Eden, a sign warns “Caution - track slippery or unstable” below the cliff at the southern end of Takapuna Beach, a sign says “Danger”, with a crumbling cliff symbol.

Board chair Pippa Coom told The Hobson that the wording of the new signs is under discussion but it won’t try to stop people from getting access to the coastline. In fact, it’s Council policy to open access to the coast. She says Niue told the board it was being namby-pamby and people should be able to take their own risk. 

“But it would be irresponsible for us not to heed official advice that there is a risk. There is a safety issue walking on the mudcrete path on the toe of the cliff where there’s been a bad slip.

“From Awatea Rd 700m north, it’s too unstable to promote as a walkway. When you promote that as a walkway, it brings expectations that it will be a maintained path that is safe. So we need to be clear that the bottom of the cliff is not official walkway. 

“You can walk along the coastline at low tide.”

Walkers are also currently forced well out into the bay at low tide beneath Logan Tce. A significant slip has seen a large pohutukawa block the small beach and the pathway north of the Watercare station. 

In the 2015 Point Resolution Taurarua Development Plan adopted by the board, design options for the entire walkway stretching from the edge of Bloodworth Park (the boardwalk there falls within the Ōrākei Local Board area) to the Pt Resolution Taurarua headland near Parnell Baths, included new mudcrete, some additional low boardwalks without balustrades and repairs to existing concrete paths, some of which has been done. (The report can be viewed on aucklandcouncil.govt.nz on the Waitematā Local Board page).

Coom promises further consultation on options to upgrade the walkway. This should avoid the possibility of it being further damaged by slips. “They might say it would make sense to construct a boardwalk away from the toe of the cliff.”

A more immediate local development, says Coom, will be reopening the steps down to the walkway from Elam St, closed for many years since they were found to be both unstable, and built on private land. An easement is now on that land title and a carport must be removed to let the pathway be properly opened up.

* This article was first published in The Hobson magazine. For more stories like this, visit The Hobson's online magazine browser at Issuu.

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