If the pandemic years have taught us anything it’s that wide, open spaces are to be prized and cherished above all else and here in Auckland we’re more than well catered for... did you know that the Tāmaki Makaurau region has over 4000 glorious parks?
We reached out to the community and park rangers who look after these green oases to let us in on the secret gems that are their favourite parks. Whether you want to enjoy a picnic alfresco, go for a walk, watch the sunrise/sunset or just get away from it all, here are the top suggestions for reconnecting with nature and filling your wellness cup.
So without further ado, here are the best parks in Auckland.
Western Springs is a green oasis bordering Auckland Zoo and has over 85 seats to sit at including BBQ tables, so there’s bound to be somewhere to lay the blanket down. If you have sprogs in tow they’ll enjoy the playground, alternatively, watch the tuna (eels) or the birds in and around the lake. If you need to work up an appetite (or work off your leisurely picnic, let’s be real) the Western Springs Path is a good 1.7 loop to walk or run. If you’re here in the late afternoon you may hear the nearby lions having a roar-off, not something you hear every day.
Matheson Bay Reserve
If a seaside picnic is more your jam, Matheson Bay Reserve is a stunning reserve in Leigh and one of the best parks in Auckland for a picnic. Quiet and off the beaten track, take your mask and fins as it’s a great place for a spot of snorkelling. After exploring the beauty under the sea, relax with a picnic and a book, absolute bliss.
Located next to the Manukau Transport Station, Hayman Park is the perfect South Auckland oasis. A green open space studded with plenty of mature trees, this is a great place to have lunch, then relax with a book. Alternatively, work off your picnic and get 1700 steps in on the 1.3km path that loops around the park or bring your board and drop in at the rad skate park.
The West Auckland gem in Massey Royal Reserve has something for everyone. Get in some exercise at the outdoor gym or stretch your legs on the 1km loop track before settling in for some cheeky al-fresco dining. Make an event of it and get the crew together for a game of football or touch on the sports fields. This reserve is also the perfect place to take any little ones you may have in tow. Bring their bikes so they can practise their skills on the bike track before letting them have fun on the all-abilities playground.
Jubilee Track, Cornwallis
Jubilee Track in Cornwallis is perfect for walking the dog on a leash. Located at the top of the Karangahape Peninsula near Mill Bay, this lovely 1.8km walk is also great for nature lovers. Stroll through the forest and a small wetland area before arriving at the northern part of Cornwallis Beach. This is a fab spot for getting your early-morning exercise in and if you’re really keen and get here before sunrise, you’ll greet the day with a beautiful view over the Manukau Harbour back towards Māngere Mountain. This is part of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park and with the threat of kauri dieback, it is important to stick to the track and clean your shoes at the cleaning stations.
Established to protect and preserve the archaeological remains of the former Māori communities, Ōtuataua Stonefields in Māngere near the airport is a fantastic 100-hectare site and a special historical gem. Ōtuataua is also one of the best volcanic areas in Tāmaki Makaurau and the soil here means it has been occupied since the 12th century—one of the earliest dates for human occupation in Aotearoa. As this area is wāhi tapu (a sacred place), tangata whenua have requested no food is to be consumed on the reserve (water bottles are fine). They have also requested that visitors refrain from walking on top of Puketaapapa volcano.
Located in Campbell’s Bay, Centennial park dates from 1884 and is one of Auckland’s oldest parks. It is also one of the largest local parks in suburban Auckland. There are a number of tracks that weave their way around Centennial Park—the 1km Nature Path and the 1.3km Centennial Park Path are good places to start. Meandering through native bush is great for getting some time out in the middle of suburbia. Keep an eye out for three historical sites in the park—two World War Two pillboxes along Mamaku track and a kauri gumdigger’s cottage on the Kohekohe track.
Waiatarua Reserve is the largest urban wetland restoration project in Aotearoa. Located in Remuera, this reserve has a 2.4 km loop that you’ll want to bring your pooch to. Along the path are off-leash areas so Buster can run around and a swimming hole near the neighbouring golf course is great for them to jump in, have a swim and cool off. But this reserve isn’t just for dogs, with the wetlands being restored, birdlife is thriving and there are plenty of areas along the way to stop and see what native species you can spot.
Pukekawa/Auckland Domain is the oldest and one of the best parks in Tāmaki Makaurau. Known for the Auckland War Memorial Museum that sits in the middle of it, and the numerous Anzac Day dawn services that have taken place, there's more to this premier park than meets the eye. Located on the ancient volcano Pukekawa, the remnants of this volcano are visible in the land contours and the natural amphitheatres in the Domain. Whilst the sports fields are well-loved by those wanting to play team sports, take a trip down the paths on the city side of Pukekawa. Enjoy a bit of serenity in the middle of the city by exploring Centennial Walk, Lovers Walk, Nikau Walk or Domain Walk. Also, be sure to take a soul-cleansing amble through the Victorian-era Domain Wintergardens or the stunning fernery.
Duder Regional Park
Located on the Whakakaiwhara Peninsula overlooking the Tāmaki Strait, Duder Regional Park is a perfect place to watch the sunrise. The former farm provides fantastic views from the hilltops and the end of the peninsula, where the triangular-shaped Whakakaiwhara Pā lies, providing you with the sense of being on an island. Duder Regional Park is also on the Te Ara Moana Sea Kayak Trail, and there is a campground on the southern end of the peninsula for kayakers to stay the night. If you fancy making a weekend of it, there are also two baches at Umupuia Beach available or the self-containment parking in the park to extend the good vibes. If you're after more under-the-radar bach options around Auckland, check these suggestions out.
Waimatuku / Hamiltons Gap
Found on the beautiful west coast of Awhitu Peninsula and a 30-minute drive from Waiuku, Waimatuku / Hamiltons Gap is a great place to watch the sunset at the end of a hard day of exploring. There is a real sense of remoteness and peace about Waimatuku even though the bustle of city life is just across the harbour. Sand dunes tower over the beach and provide a great backdrop to any exploration up and down the beach, giving the area a rugged feel to it. This is the perfect place to unwind.
Stretching from the Northwestern motorway up the eastern side of Te Atatū Peninsula to Harbour View Road, Harbourview-Orangihina Park provides an amazing view back across the Waitematā towards Auckland’s city centre and is a fantastic place to view sunrises. At the lower end of the park, specially created wetlands offer habitat to abundant wildlife including the godwit, the rare and shy fernbird and the kokopu, a stream fish native to New Zealand. The park is also home to a number of historic sites such as middens from early Māori occupation, settler villas and World War II gun emplacements.
Mahurangi Regional Park
Mahurangi Regional Park might not be as well known as Wenderholm to the south or Tāwharanui to the north, but this regional park at the mouth of the Mahurangi River is a stunning and peaceful place to visit. With three campgrounds available it is a great place to spend a night to enjoy the lush sunrise and sunsets. During the night enjoy the clear views of the Milky Way and also the possibility of seeing the amazing bioluminescent plankton that light up the sea. In the morning wander up to Tungutu Point for the best views of an undoubtedly epic sunrise.
Te Ārai Regional Park
Te Ārai Regional Park is Auckland’s northernmost regional park and is definitely one for your must-visit list. A beautiful golden sand beach, popular with locals and surfers alike, stretches to the north, while at the southern end Te Ārai Point provides a great place from which to view the sunrise. Melt your stresses away below the point at the sheltered old quarry swimming hole. Te Ārai is also home to two types of rare native shorebirds, the Fairy Tern and the Northern New Zealand Dotterel, making this regional park a really special conservation place. If you’re lucky enough to spot any fairy terns or dotterels just remember to observe them from a distance.
Clevedon Scenic Reserve
Get truly back to nature with the beautiful park at Clevedon Scenic Reserve in South Auckland. Enjoy the old kauri trees and hear the calls of the native birds as you explore the 100ha of native bush that make up the scenic reserve. Head up to the summit lookout for epic views across the Tāmaki Strait and back to the Hunua Ranges Regional Park, especially at dawn when the views are absolutely stunning. If you’re a bush-walking noob this is a great place to build up some fitness in preparation for trying out longer walks across the region.
Currys Bush Reserve
Tucked in behind suburban streets in Wellsford, Currys Bush Reserve is a wonderful place to seek some peace and quiet. Home to thriving stands of kauri, Currys Bush is also wheelchair accessible, allowing people of all abilities to visit and admire the kauri and kahikatea that are in the reserve. While the circular path will only take you 15 to 30 minutes to amble around, you’ll be absolutely immersed in glorious nature, after all, it was designed to be a living classroom for local schools. Please use the cleaning stations to ensure that the kauri stay healthy and live for the next 500 years or more.
Henry's Scenic Reserve
Just ten minutes from Pukekohe lies Henry's Scenic Reserve. This great park near Patumāhoe is a beautiful example of native bush with a key highlight definitely being the Whangamaire Stream Waterfall. The upper part of the waterfall drops steeply about five to seven metres before the lower part tumbles down a further nine metres over moss and fern-covered rocks. There's a wooden platform for viewing at the lower cascades and it's just the perfect place to stop, relax and listen to the soothing sounds of the rushing water.
Chances are that you have driven past this Rodney gem and not known it existed. Situated near the infamous Hill Street intersection in Warkworth, Kōwhai Park is the perfect place to stop and take a break, particularly when the traffic is bad. Wander through the bush and discover windows into Warkworth’s past. Find the moss-covered lime kilns that date back to 1884. Fun fact: lime produced by these kilns was used in the construction of some of Auckland’s earliest commercial buildings. The park also has some of the largest mataī trees in the area to admire, and a rimu tree planted by Lord Bledisloe in 1934 when he opened the park.
Dingle Dell Reserve
A hidden bush haven in the heart of St Heliers, Dingle Dell Reserve is a fantastic place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. A network of walking paths provides plenty of opportunities to meander through regenerating ngahere (forest). Originally a raupō swamp, Dingle Dell Reserve has been planted and developed over the years by council and residents to become a peaceful, relaxing space for walking, exercising or simply watching the world go by. If you’re after an after-dark adventure, head to the reserve at night and go glow-worm hunting.
Whilst not a park per se, Waikōwhai Walkway is a perfect opportunity to get away from it and explore the northern banks of the Manukau Harbour, connecting a network of parks along the way from the Onehunga Foreshore to Lynfield Cove. Discover sheltered coves, explore regenerating ngahere and take in the beautiful views across the Manukau to Māngere Bridge and beyond. Enjoy exploring the cliff-side suburbs and great views or wander along the foreshore at low tide. If you do consider the foreshore option, check the tides before venturing out. This walkway can be tackled in one go in about five hours or you can take on the four loop tracks (Wattle Bay Loop; Cape Horn Lookout Loop; Captains Bush Reserve Loop; and Hillsborough Cemetery Loop) that help make up the walkway.
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Image credit: Duder Regional Park by Kristina Parchomchuk, all others Auckland Council.