Jill Malcolm walks and talks at a popular regional park.
I’ve just ambled a kilometre along what is arguably Auckland’s loveliest beach. For those who haven’t been there, it’s where a wide spread of sandy beach adjoins a marine reserve, 25km north of downtown Auckland. Stretching the length of the shore is an expansive undulating, grassy reserve covering about 16 hectares and liberally planted with bushes, Norfolk pines, and pōhutukawa trees that offer shady spots for picnicking and barbecues. By day, particularly during summer weekends, the park is a favourite haunt of leisure-seeking Aucklanders.
Long Bay offers a great opportunity for RVers to stay close to New Zealand’s largest city without actually being in it. At night the park empties except for certified self-contained motorhomes and caravans which, for a small charge, can park on specified sites overnight. Then, the crowds have gone and the reserve is hushed and blissfully peaceful. The only sounds are the rumbling of waves against the shore and the peevish mewing of seagulls scanning for tidbits. And it was wonderful to wake up early the next morning and have the whole beach to myself.
For nearly a hundred years, 600 hectares of this coast and its hinterland were farmed by generations of the Vaughn family. The restored homestead, built by George Vaughn in 1861, perches on a small hill at the far end of the beach, and is easily visited. Although it has been added to over the years, it is still a good example of a timber farmhouse of that early era. The Vaughns eventually ran the current picnic area as a campground, before selling the farm to Auckland Regional Council in 1965.
Since then walkways have been developed, leading up over the cliffs and down to Grannys Bay and Pohutukawa Bay. If you have good walking legs, you can go on another 4km to the Okura River. Recently upgraded, the tracks are another compelling reason to visit the park.
George Vaughn would not recognise his farm today. On the hills behind the park, a large area of high-density housing has been developed. This was not without a battle, as locals were vociferous in their concern about the environmental impact. As a result, plans made space for buffers of greenery, including a large swampland that is planted with mānuka, reeds and cabbage trees, between the village and the park.
Where to eat
The development has meant that staying overnight at Long Bay (or visiting by day) has another attraction. The new road that skirts the swamp leads to the village, where I found the best fish and chips I’ve tasted in a long time. I can also vouch for the delicious Turkish, Greek and Moroccan dishes at Obello Restaurant (great for lunch). There are several smaller cafes, and on Bounty Street there is a popular gastropub in the Long Bay Surf Club. For those resistant RVers who still insist on home cooking, there’s an extensive New World supermarket.
All the world at the bay
In warmer weather, Long Bay becomes a multicultural potpourri. One perfect beachside day last summer, I set off on a quest to find as many cultures as I could. Three beautiful daughters of Islam wandered along in headscarves and flowing skirts. They came from Lebanon. A large group of Samoans wearing identical purple shirts, and descended from the same great-grandfather, had bagged one of the barbecues for a family reunion. A Chinese family was searing spare ribs on a gas fire; a Korean man was heating dumplings in a pan. Two Englishmen, recently arrived in New Zealand, sprawled pinkly in the sun. Where once only sheep enjoyed this stunning place, I spoke to people from Turkey, Tonga, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Italy, Malaysia, Egypt, Croatia, Germany and America, all of whom said they were now resident in Auckland.
To register and book
Phone: 09 301 0101
Book: At the rangers’ station in the park. 24-hour overnight parking 11am–11am. There are only 10 sites for CSC vehicles. In summer, book in advance to make sure of a site.
Auckland has a network of 27 regional parks. Many offer overnight parking for self-contained vehicles.