I hadn't been out to Shakespear Park for years and now I can't understand why I left it so long to return.
It's a great place to spend a weekend. There are two camping areas — one for certified self-contained RVs, which is set a little back from the grassy Te Haruhi reserve and beachfront among clusters of pohutukawa trees; and another for anything from a fly-tent to a fifth-wheel, which spreads behind the sand dunes at the very eastern end of the bay.
There is no self-containment needed here as there is an ablution block with clean toilets and cold showers. Mice are the only pests that have not been completely eradicated from the park and the latter campground is the only one I've ever come across where campers are provided with mouse-traps to set up around their tents or RVs.
Any vehicles entering the park sanctuary through the sliding gates of the predator-control fence are asked to check that they are not carrying any of the aforementioned varmints with them. This particularly applies to RVs where some of the unwanted critters can easily tuck away.
Shakespear Regional Park’s beaches and walks
The open sanctuary of Shakespear Park is defined by cliffs and long sweeps of beach. The most popular is at Te Haruhi Bay. Here the safe swimming beach, with a sea fringe that gently ebbs and flows against the dun-coloured sand, is bordered by a wide grassy area studded with shady pohutukawa trees.
Further west, Okoromai Bay is more tidal, a home to wading birds and to the cockles that visitors can harvest at low tide. Gatherers are only allowed fifty cockles each and the limit is closely monitored. Directly opposite the park on the northern side of the peninsula is the sheltered sandy arc of Army Bay.
The beaches are favoured leisure and lounging places for any Aucklanders who feel the need to get out of town. But for the more energetic, three walks lead over pastured hillsides, through swampy valleys, and regenerating native bush. Since the park was opened in 1972, staff and volunteers have planted thousands of trees, fenced off gullies, and restored wetlands.
Seen from the various high points on a clear day, the great sea vistas are divided by the contours of islands. From Te Huri beach I slogged up the Tiri Tiri trail, across crackling summer grassland and a scattering of grazing sheep, to a high point on the cliffs where I could identify the veiled outlines of Little Barrier and Tiritiri Matangi Islands.
The area known as Peach Gull was a bomb-testing site during the war, and the place where a secret bomb was developed specifically to blow up coral atolls in the Pacific. Under the code of Project Seal, 3700 bomb blasts were let loose.
After all the testing, the bomb was deemed a fizzer. The New Zealand Defence Force still has a presence on the peninsula up behind Army Bay, but I imagine bomb explosions are now out of the question.
Because I am a tireless twitcher, the best walk I did was through the raggedy regenerating bush of Waterfall Gully — a goblin forest of gnarled old puriri trees and regenerating kauri and kowhai. The bird-song was amazing. In a thickly-foliaged grove I counted 15 tui swooping about the branches, each accompanied by their melodic chorus.
There were also fantails, kereru, red-fronted parakeet and eastern rosellas. It just shows what pest eradication can do. I don't want to make a pest of myself but I do intend to go back to Shakespear Park many times now that I have discovered its allure.
Shakespear Regional Park : what, where, how?
Shakespear Regional Park is only a 40-minute drive from Auckland. Its camps are owned by the Auckland City Council; a certified self-contained campground costs $6 per adult, per day and the camp with facilities is $13 per adult, per day.
If you wish to book, phone (09) 366 2000. If you want to rock up and take your chances (which are good, unless it's peak time or special events are being held) there is an iron maiden for cash payments and a hotline for registration at the rangers' station in the park.
Volunteers Days are run by the ARC every Tuesday at 8.30am for anyone who would like to help with tree planting of other park projects — phone (09) 366 2000.
For the full, unabridged article about Shakespear Regional Park in Auckland, check out issue 116 of Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations. You can subscribe to the magazine here.