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(Illustration: Toby Morris)
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PartnersApril 3, 2024

Two wheels, to where? Exploring southern Auckland by bike

(Illustration: Toby Morris)
(Illustration: Toby Morris)

Three people from southern Auckland tell us why they love to cycle – and their favourite cycle routes.

South Auckland might not be the first place one thinks of when considering where to cycle. Roads in this part of the city aren’t always bike-friendly, and car ownership and reliance in the area is high.

Yet south of the city is home to some of the most avid and passionate cyclists, cycling advocates and cycling communities. In Māngere and other South Auckland suburbs, cyclists even have their own particular tikanga: high-vis jackets, and “safety-first” principles, always. 

Despite the risks that can come with cycling in car-dominated suburbs, advocates point to the beauty of their takiwā. Home to wetlands, regional parks and historical sites, South Auckland can be a great place to bike. 

The Spinoff spoke to three cyclists about their favourite South Auckland routes. 

(Illustration: Toby Morris)

Louise Tu’u: Community and connection

“I love cycling. I learnt how to bike when I was eight from my dad and since then it’s been on and off. But I’ve just had a revival moment.” 

Louise Tu’u grew up biking in Grey Lynn. She stopped cycling during the second trimester of her first pregnancy, and has gotten back on her bike after the birth of her second child. Tu’u says she was inspired by meeting other people of colour attending a Bike Champions Forum in her neighbourhood. 

“That was a really really positive experience. My partner and I went with our children and I just thought OK, I’ll go get a bike. And I just started riding again.” 

Ōtāhuhu has a limited number of cycling amenities compared to the inner city suburbs where Tu’u rode as a kid. But there is one cycle path Tu’u loves riding, off Curlew Bay Road alongside the motorway toward Highbrook. 

“I love riding past all the traffic, and we have the Tāmaki river right next to us, and there’s this bridge and mangroves as well.”

Tu’u hopes that in the future, cycling will become normalised for people of every ethnicity, socioeconomic status and body. In particular, Tu’u hopes that one day there will be a bigger uptake of cycling in Pacific communities, especially among women. She believes that part of the barrier is “the individualism of a bike. There’s only one person on a bike, and it’s an activity where you stand out.”

She says that for her, it’s “part of the thrill”. She doesn’t mind standing out if it means “zooming past all the traffic.” But she also admits that it can feel lonely. Tu’u believes that can be combated by building stronger cycling communities. 

“It’d be really cool for it just to be normal for me and other women of colour.”

(Illustration: Toby Morris)

Carl Aarsen: Fitness and fun

Carl Aarsen used to commute to work from Mt Roskill to the CBD almost everyday. Having moved from Dunedin to Tāmaki, Aarsen admits the busy roads were intimidating at first. When he arrived, he Googled the bike route to work and did the journey once or twice on his day off just to gauge the distance and time it would take. 

But once he had that aspect of the route down, Aarsen says that cycling became the most reliable and pleasant form of transport for his commute to work. His favourite part of the commute was inside the city proper. 

“When you bike, you actually see all the nice buildings and architecture in the city compared to when you’re driving, you don’t notice it at all.” 

Part of the appeal is convenience, says Aarsen. Not having to pay for parking in the CBD, and having a reliable time-estimate that isn’t dependent on traffic are just some of the positives. It was also a way of incorporating fitness into his everyday routine. All up, Aarsen’s commute usually took him twenty minutes, an estimate that he says was much faster than driving or taking public transport. 

“I just enjoyed biking. It’s a nice way to start and end the day.” 

Aarsen, whose grandfather is from Holland, says he notices that cycling is more unusual in Auckland and New Zealand compared to other countries which have a more developed cycling culture. But he encourages the cycling-curious to give it a go. Aarsen recommends starting with short trips to the shop or a near-by route, and getting to know your area with fresh eyes. 

“It’s great fitness, and it’s nice to see the city in a different way.” 

(Illustration: Toby Morris)

Juan Manuel Parada: Environment and family  

When Juan Manuel Parada moved to New Zealand 12 years ago, he wanted to “reinvent [his] life”. At the top of his list was to never have to sit in heavy traffic again, which he used to do frequently in Colombia on his commute to work.

Working in the city and living in the central area, Parada made it a habit to bike to work each day. Now that he and his young family have moved South, Parada has an e-bike to make the hour-long commute easier. If it’s raining heavily, Parada will sometimes combine his bike ride with the train. 

Parada describes his e-bike as being “a game-changer” and says it’s an amazing option which makes cycling more accessible, especially around Auckland’s hilly areas. For Parada, the best thing about the e-bike is that he can commute in his office-clothes without fear of sweating, though he does keep a change of clothes in his locker, just in case of rain. 

Parada’s wife also uses an e-bike, and he says the whole family regularly takes their bikes down through Puhinui Reserve or the Totara Park Track to the Botanical Gardens. He says these tracks are suitable for his four-year-old son, who has his own little bike and loves riding, too. 

Parada says the environment is a big motivator for his family’s car-free lifestyle, but one of his favourite parts is how “the way you relate to your environment changes.

“A car is comfortable, but it impedes connection. [Biking] is one of the best things I’ve done. You get exercise, your mood improves [and] it’s really enriching for the community and neighbourhoods.”

Parada describes riding to work and not only seeing the mangroves over the water, but recognising fellow cyclists. 

“I don’t know their names, but we always give each other a bell-ring and acknowledge each other. You don’t get that in a car.” 

Parada is also a big cycling advocate in the community, and believes that South Auckland is “the perfect place for riding bikes: It’s mostly flat and its population skews a bit younger than other parts of the city. 

“I’m convinced that prioritising cycle routes in South Auckland, particularly to schools, will be a great benefit for the city as a whole.” 

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