What to expect
Tahuna Torea introduces you to 25 hectares of unique wildlife sited on a long sand bank extending out into the Tamaki Estuary. It is rich in Māori history as well as native birds and vegetation.
Despite 30 years of restoration and tree planting, the reserve is still a work in progress and volunteers are welcome. To fully appreciate your visit you need to realise that it is designed for wildlife rather than humans. There are bushy areas for birds to hide and rest in, fresh and saltwater wetlands, plants like gorse are left to give shelter to young native trees, and fallen trees and branches are left to break down to add fertility to habitats.
Time spent weaving through the network of tracks and the various habitats offer a peaceful sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of city life. Take time to wander, relax and stay awhile, but please respect the wildlife. Keen bird-watchers should check tide movements beforehand. The best time to view wading birds is between full-tide and half-tide from November to March.
Tahuna Torea is a unique city-based wildlife reserve sited on a long sandbank extending out into the Tamaki Estuary. Tahuna Torea means 'gathering place of the oystercatcher' and is taken from the name of the sandspit. The mangrove lagoon, swampland and coast provide a sanctuary for a variety of birds. The godwits, which gather between seasonal migrations back to the Northern Hemisphere, are a unique feature.
Since being developed as a reserve thousands of native trees have been planted. In future years the landscape should revert to its original condition as a stretch of coastal forest, marsh and swamp. Thousands of volunteer hours have gone into planting, weeding and track building and special rangers keep a protective eye on the area.
The Tahuna Torea sandspit and mudflats were formed by the sea depositing eroded sandstone and ash in the sheltered waters of the estuary. This built up and eventually the sandspit emerged above the water.
Tahuna Torea was a food-gathering site for the tangata whenua, the Ngati Paoa. Food sources included shellfish on the mudflats, fish and birds. Evidence of this includes middens of pipi shells above the beach and fish dams at the head of the lagoon.
It was also an important strategic site being near the mouth of the Tamaki River (Wai-o-Ta-ki) which was the shortest route for canoes to travel between the two harbours. Visitors could gain the first view of Mokoia Pā from Tahuna Torea. Shags flying ahead of approaching canoes and landing on the sandbank signalled approaching visitors or enemies.
A famous duel took place on the sandspit in 1821 when the Ngati Paoa were forced to flee from Mokoia Pā after a siege by Ngapuhi forces. After fighting off two of his opponents by dealing with them two blows each with taiaha, Kaea faced the third, named Te Ihi, who was armed with a tomahawk. Kaea struck him twice, expecting the struggle to finish, but Te Ihi continued, killing Kaea with an upward blow struck using his head. This underhand action brought shame on Te Ihi and his tribe and he was publicly reprimanded.
Following European settlement the site was auctioned early in 1842 along with other land along the Tamaki. The new owners prized the rich soil and soon established farms, gardens and orchards. By 1854 all of this property belonged to General William Taylor and his three sons. It eventually became part of the 227ha Glendowie estate owned by his third son Richard.
The land was later subdivided and the section of the farm on which the reserve lay became a wasteland. By 1939 the Crown had bought the land and formed a recreation reserve as part of the Glen Innes Domain. Thirty years later a proposal to turn the domain into a 'Little Venice' residential marina was defeated by residents who formed the Tamaki Estuary Protection Society. The group fought a second proposal in 1972 to reclaim the area by creating an inorganic rubbish tip. With advice from world famous naturalist Ronald Lockley, who lives near Tahuna Torea, the society put forward an alternative proposal for a wilderness area.
There are three main walking trails around the reserve and you can walk them separately or together.
The average time to walk around the entire area including the Sandspit is 1 hour 30 minutes but you can enjoy a walk around the bush tracks or lagoon in as little as 40 minutes.
You can reach the reserve by sign-posted steps that lead down from Vista Crescent or from the carpark at the end of West Tamaki Road. Both the shelter and nearby freshwater pond can be reached by wheelchair from the carpark. The reserve can also be reached on foot by following the path along the shoreline from the Beverley Hills shops, at the intersection of Riddell Road and Roberta Avenue.
Upper and lower bush tracks
From the West Tamaki Road entrance, turn left past the observation shelter, then follow the boardwalk. Enter the woodland above the willow pond where fantails dart around catching insects disturbed by people walking along the track. Note the groves of young totara, puriri and a line of kauri above the track. Here you pass the Christine Barfoot Memorial seat. Mrs Barfoot was one of the enthusiasts who helped develop the reserve.
A short distance further steps lead up to the godwit lookout, which provides excellent views of the lagoon and meadow. The walk soon divides into the upper and lower tracks. Take the lefthand turn or upper bush track and continue up through bush to the Slyvia Reed Memorial seat, which is an excellent spot to observe birds in the lagoon and on the sandspit. Slyvia Reed, an ornithologist, carried out a large amount of research on birds in the reserve.
The track continues through manuka and kanuka to a small ponga grove then crosses a stream before rising to the sandspit lookout. This has spectacular views of the entire reserve, especially to the fish dam and sandspit beach, as well as the estuary mouth and Musick Point. On the northern side of the lookout is an old Māori camp for food gathering expeditions, now protected as an historic site. The eroding shore at the edge of this flat reveals several middens.
From the lookout you can clearly see several different lines of rushes jutting out into the fish dam. These are thought to mark the remains of former dams that trapped fish at the top end of the lagoon on the rising tide. The dams were opened at the far end to allow water and fish to come in, then sealed at high tide. The present fish dam is a reconstruction but, unlike the original Māori dam, extends across the lagoon as a weir or causeway.
From the lookout, go down the steps to rejoin the lower bush track. A short walk alongside the fish dam will take you out to the sandspit beach before returning along this track. Circle around a swamp on the boardwalk and cross a small stream before entering denser bush alongside another swamp. At the turn-off to the fish dam causeway (which leads out to the sandspit beach and to the lagoon walk) continue straight ahead along a boardwalk which curves around young kahikatea and cabbage trees. Passing the junction of the upper track, return to the West Tamaki Road carpark.
Sandspit beach walk
Visitors can reach the 1.5km beach from (a) the Vista Crescent entrance, (b) the sealed walkway from Riddell Road, near the Beverly Hills shops, or (c) from West Tamaki Road, going along the Lower Bush Track then crossing the fish dam on the causeway.
From the Vista Crescent end the first part of the beach walk passes alongside the fish dam where stilts, herons, kingfishers and ducks may be seen feeding on the plentiful supplies of fish. Finches gather on the salt marsh at the head of the dam. Continue along the beach, passing groves of young pohutukawa.
At low tide the spit extends well out into the river towards Bucklands Beach. Visitors may return to West Tamaki Road at low tide by crossing the mudflats to the Cable Beacon Point.
Dam top and lagoon walk
The dam top walk starts beside the freshwater pond at the West Tamaki Road entrance. The pond was formerly a paddock and has been created by building a dam on the seaward side. Walk along the dam observing ducks and pukeko feeding and swallows catching insects on the wing. Groynes along the shore protect the pond from erosion and from a series of sandy beaches, good for swimming and picnicking.
At the end of the dam a boardwalk curves over a small swamp of flax and cabbage trees. Pass through the pohutukawa trees then turn left just before Cable Beacon Point onto the lagoon walk. Fringed by mangroves, the lagoon contains the godwit islands and Lockley Island, which were built as high tide roosts for wading birds. This walk is a good place to observe waders in summer.
Tahuna Torea to Point England
This walk takes you through Wai-o-taiki Nature reserve. The track rises and falls, crossing a number of side streams and alternating between shady glens and grassy open spaces with river views. The colourful New Zealand kingfisher, or kotare, is a common sight, perching on low branches and watching intently for fish. Horse paddocks open out on the right and the mouth of Omaru Creek is visible on the left.
A major bridge over the creek marks a fork in the track. If you want to do a loop walk or bypass Point England, continue along the pleasant woodland track as it follows the creek. For the more direct and open route to Point England, cross the bridge and follow the white stone pathway.
Upon leaving Tahuna Torea you will find yourself in the Wai-o-Taiki Nature Reserve. This narrow bush-clad fringe was established in 1979 as a natural extension to Tahuna Torea. The name is taken from the original name for the Tamaki Estuary, Te Wai o Taiki - 'The Waters of Taiki'. Taiki is the shortened version of Taikehu, the Ngai Tai tupuna (ancestor) who arrived on the Tainui waka.
Point England's rich volcanic soils have attracted farmers for generations. Maori cultivated extensive kumara gardens, European immigrants farmed small allotments for grain and vegetables and later Chinese market gardeners supplied Auckland with fresh produce. Small farmers in the 1840s shared resources and enjoyed rich harvests with cabbages big enough to hide a child and yields of 70 bushels of wheat from just an acre and a half. Since there was only one horse and cart in the district, locals would trudge the 24km round trip to the city along the muddy track that is now Remuera Road. During World War Two the area was used for a storage yard for Camp Bunn, a nearby US military base.
The green bulk of Mt Wellington - Maungarei dominates the view to the north. This is the second youngest volcano in Auckland (after Rangitoto) and has the biggest scoria cone. Ash from the eruption reached as far as Point England.