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Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

PartnersMarch 7, 2024

Two wheels, to where? Exploring western Auckland by bike

Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

The Spinoff spoke with three people from western Auckland about why they love to cycle and their favourite cycle routes.

Auckland’s west, framed by the Waitakere Ranges, is a beautiful place to go cycling. I’ve darted down New North Road many times towards Avondale admiring the cloak of clouds over the Waitakere Ranges, or headed west via the lovely Henderson Creek Path. 

Western suburbs like Te Atatū and Henderson have increasingly dense housing and that makes cycling an appealing option in the suburb. It’s not just about commuting to the city along the Northwestern Pathway, but finding beautiful places to explore out west too. 

Cycling is not just for those lycra-clad weekend sprinters either. Some trade in their traffic-jam morning commute for the freedom of a bike, others for short-distance errands: picking up milk from the dairy or riding to the park, and some just want to feel a bit more of a connection to the environment in which they live.

The Spinoff spoke to three people from Western Auckland about where they like to bike. 

Illustration: Toby Morris

Sarah Paterson-Hamlin: Connection to place and community

Sarah Paterson-Hamlin is personally and professionally a massive advocate for cycling. In her role as a Whau local board member, she hopes to get more people in her neighbourhood cycling. In her role as a mum, she’s constantly keeping an eye on good routes to ride with her kids around Avondale. And as someone who loves being outside, she’s grateful that cycling is a way for her to enjoy the world around her. 

Biking along the Whau path from behind Sandy Lane in Avondale is one of her favourite places. “The Whau river is quite hidden, it’s not celebrated,” she says. “But it has such an important history for Māori as the narrowest point of the isthmus, being used for portage.” 

With her kids and husband, she’s found that path a good place for getting her little ones more confident on their bikes. “There are nice views of the river, and a picnic table where we can stop.” Sometimes they just go to the reserve at the back of Wingate, get to the picnic table, and stop; at other times, they keep going all the way to Sandy Lane. “I like moseying around all those suburban bits on secret-feeling pathways.” 

Cycling is a joyful way for her to get around. She feels inspired when she sees other people biking around her community, and she likes to know that she and her family might be inspiring others to discover the joys of cycling too. 

When they’re not practising riding on their own bikes, her kids hop on the cargo bike. “As a whānau our philosophy is to bike if it’s bikeable,” she says. “If it’s less than a couple of k we won’t drive – I’m so lucky to live and work in the same area.” 

Riding with kids has made Paterson-Hamlin ultra aware of traffic. Her “dream” is for her kids to be able to bike to school by themselves, but that’s still a while away. She describes her neighbourhood vividly, always knowing that Rosebank Road can feel dangerous with fast traffic, while biking over the boardwalk on Heron Park can be quieter, even if the hill makes the journey to school and back a bit more of a challenge.

Paterson-Hamlin’s kids like travelling by bike because they get to look around. “They like that they’re sat up and can wave hello to people,” she says. She’s found that the bike is a great conversation starter, and often people tell her that they respect her for taking her kids along. 

But her favourite part of biking is how oriented it makes her feel in the place she’s committed to. “I know where I am in the community in terms of direction – when something changes, you’re more present to it,” she says. “Biking gives me that small-town feeling, like it’s made me feel more connected to where we live.”

Illustration: Toby Morris

Alana Cotton: The preferred route into the city

Alana Cotton and her partner realised that biking was such a good option that now all their daily commutes are done by bike. As a colourist who works on films, “sitting in a dark room all day,” she says wryly, getting to be outside and move her body is a valuable change from looking at a screen. Formerly living in Te Atatu and now in New Windsor, she says that biking more gives her energy for the day.

“For health and speed and ease, it’s a massive improvement,” she says. She’s gotten into the habit of finding quiet streets that are easier to bike on when there aren’t bike lanes. “My commute is so much faster,” she says.

“When the weather is bad, the traffic is bad so it feels better to be on a bike than on the road,” she says. She’ll bike even if it’s raining or cold, the movement of her wheels dependable and animating  – a connection to nature that provides necessary contrast from her work. “It really invigorates me; it’s almost like when you’re tired is when you need the most exercise,” she says. 

She likes paths where she feels more separated from the traffic. “I like the Northwestern Path because there aren’t many road crossings,” she says. “The more you’re off the road the better.”

Cotton’s favourite way to get into town is via the Northwestern path, where she can then turn off to go home. “It’s such a beautiful path,” she says. “Then when you get into the city it can be a little tight for the number of people on it, but I can see that there are more paths being put in.” 

Illustration: Toby Morris

Kahn Bury: The pleasures of biking along the creek

Kahn Bury is a nurse, parent and grandmother who lives in West Auckland. She describes herself as “a granny from Glen Eden”. She bought an ebike just before lockdown. “It was so handy – I try to get out lots in the summer,” she says. She particularly likes finding bike lanes to connect different parts of the city: she once got all the way to Ōtāhuhu, mostly on bike lanes, before realising that she should turn around before she ran out of battery. 

She’s also biked to Bethells Beach. “That was a bit scary, there’s no bicycle track, and it’s an 80k road,” she says, but the view was worth it. 

Mostly, Bury likes to bike on the weekend. Her kids and grandchildren, who are between eight and 12, live in Henderson Valley. Getting a bike was a way to get to visit them more easily and more often. In a group, they bike along the stream path to the corban centre. “We like all going then having a stop somewhere, having a coffee. It’s a flat path with lots of things to see.” 

Another favourite path goes to the Tūī Glen reserve, where there’s a big playground that her grandkids love. They also enjoy getting a treat after a biking trip. “They like the exercise and the treat at the end, it’s like a carrot,” she says.

The ebike helps Bury keep up with her zippy grandkids. When they were learning to bike, she remembered how much she’d enjoyed the freedom of biking as a kid “in the old days”, even though she hadn’t cycled regularly for many years. “I thought: this is neat!” she says. “However, they’ve gotten faster as they get older and I don’t have the same power.”

Keep going!