Living car-less in Auckland

Opanuku Pipeline Campground

It turns out I’ve been car-less for over three years now. Don’t get me wrong, aside from the eight month bike adventure, I’ve had the use of a mate’s car (almost) whenever needed. But I haven’t owned one. I haven’t commuted in a car, I haven’t needlessly blocked up a car park trying to turn a giant car around and I haven’t run over anyone’s toes with a car. Just some of the things I don’t miss there.

I’m not anti-automobile, aside from their emissions. I can’t support the part of vehicles that literally pipes poisonous gas into the air and chokes school children. No matter how many wallies Amazon chuck on the internet to tell me that choking school children is a necessary cost to which the benefits far outweigh, I’ll never succumb to the exhaust pipe’s tantalising ways. I’m just not that way inclined.

However, I do see the benefit of the little metal pods. When driven respectfully and treated as a privilege, cars help us go many times our normal daily walking range. Far away ends of the country can be accessed in a matter of hours; a journey that would have once taken weeks. When adequately equipped and driven in the right direction, they can save lives. And I’m not going to deny that I made use of several vehicles during my monster bike ride. When the bike inevitably broke down, old el motorist was there to ferry me to the nearest bike shop and back. I’d still be out there somewhere if they hadn’t.

The truth, though, is a lot of us don’t need one. We’ve become accustomed to them, convinced we need one. Our very dependence on them drives us towards a deeper dependence on them, as inactivity leads to poor fitness which leads to poor health and heightened auto-dependency, the circle continues. Break the chain, if you can, when you can.

It’s actually not as difficult as you might think, either. Firstly, try to patiently walk yourself through the mindful removal of yourself from the driver’s seat. Think of your body and consider all it was capable of before we began down the evolutionary path of motoring. Then try to envisage what your strengths might be, if sagging into a springy seat for a few hours after work wasn’t how you travelled; climbing, running, swimming? Our muscles long to be used. Reconnect with yourself, appreciate your body and start dropping in little actions to show it.

While out walking the streets, I often notice the long lines of slow-moving vehicles. Cars are ideal for people who love queuing. Do people love queuing, though? Honestly? I find it funny when motorists complain about an “empty cycle lane”, while failing to see the greater problems a “full road” creates. The cyclists on the cycle lane have arrived already. Try distancing yourself from your habitual tendencies and see if there’s ‘another way’. Perhaps there’s a short journey you often make that you could sub-in a new form of transport for?

It’s unrealistic to suggest everyone gets rid of their car and to expect it happens overnight, but I believe a shift towards more thoughtful motoring is possible. A culture that considers driving as a privilege, not a right, stands to gain more collectively. Thinking outside the box before taking a journey can enlighten and result in some surprising and memorable adventures. You also see more, absorb more and learn more when travelling below 100km/h.

On my car-less journey, I’ve been on some incredible adventures in New Zealand, both in Auckland and beyond. Auckland’s Regional Parks are accessible by public transport, bike and on foot. And some of the national coach services allow you to travel in far greater luxury than your 1990 Speedwagon. From short camping treks in the Waitakere Ranges to a weekend cycle trip to Shakespear Regional Park and a full blown mini-break in Russell, it’s public and clean and healthy transport for the win.

We’re all at different points in our addiction, but as humans, we can all appreciate similar things. Saving money, better health, less stress, hassle-free parking, improved time-management and discovering new local spots are just some of the benefits you’ll stumble across once you begin the weaning process. Start planning that one kilometre walk that you’d normally drive today.

Three exciting day walks you can do within two hours of Auckland

Whatipu Beach sand dunes

I was asked recently to recommend some day walks you can do within a couple of hours of central Aucklandia / Tāmaki Makaurau / Akarana. I wrote quite a long email in response, so I figured I should also share it here.

1. Whatipu to Pararaha Valley, return
Drive time: 1 hour

Did you know the Waitakere Ranges used to have little logging settlements within it, and a tram line running along the beach from Piha to Whatipu?


Park at Whatipu Beach and take Gibbons Track up into the ranges for some stunning views to the north and of the beach below. At the Muir Track junction, take the left fork and descend the fairly steep (but fine if you’re sensible track) into the Pararaha Valley. There’s a small campground by the stream, with basic toilets, shelter and tap (which I wouldn’t drink from, unless in an emergency). Follow the track along the river (through it) and out to the boardwalk junction, where you turn left and cross the marshes, onto the dunes. Follow the widened dune track out to the beach, noting that you want to head south (left) down the beach once you find the coast. This is the longest section of the trip, since you’re walking on sand, but it’s a stunning beach, so enjoy what the Tasman has turned up. Once you reach Ninepin Rock (with small lighthouse on it), you’re nearly back at the car park and the beach will have curved slightly, so you’re now walking east. Check out the headland just beyond, where you can see remnants of the old wharf and pieces of old tram track stuck in the sand. Take the beach path back to the car park. Good day out, extend with a trip up the hill on Omanawanui Track if you have time – amazing views of the Manukau Harbour and Awhitu on a clear day!

2. Mt. Auckland / Atuanui
Drive time: 1 hour

Yes, there’s a Mount Auckland and it’s barely inside Auckland. But I recommend it, just because it’s called Mt Auckland.

Access either from Silverdale, take Pine Valley Rd, right on Kahikatea Road then right on SH16 at Kaukapakapa, or you can take SH16 all the way there. I recommend parking at the Kaipara Hills Road end and walking to the summit up the Mount Auckland Walkway from there. It’s a mixture of farmland and native bush, with some steep sections, but not a long walk overall. The lookout offers stunning views of the Kaipara Harbour, one of the largest harbours in the world! Once at the top, you can either head back the way you came, or descend down through the farm to SH16 and walk back along the roads and to the oddly named Glorit and up Kaipara Hills Road. Great day out, some cafes on the drive to/from it and at Helensville too.

3. Karangahake Gorge
Drive time: 1.5 hours

Karangahake Gorge is an old gold mining valley, full of tunnels, rusting equipment, running river, swing bridges and even a cafe or two in the valley.

Park at the Crown Hill Road car park, just over the crazy road bridge which used to have a railway running over the top (turn right off SH2). From there, get up onto that very bridge and enter the tunnel (torch/flashlight/cell phone light recommended!). Once out the tunnel and over the river, turn right along the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (KGHW), then left on The Windows Walk. Follow that for several kilometres, until you find yourself on the other side of the river and at Dubbo 96 Track, which you can either follow back to the KGHW, or head up the 544m hill known as Karangahake for a view, if you have the stamina and the time! If that’s too much, there’s tracks to suit your ability and time all over the place here, so just create a loop that you like.

Remember to always take adequate safety precautions when going out into the wild. Water & lunch are obvious, but have you got a map and a first aid kit? Is your cellphone charged? Who knows what your plans are? Even the most experienced trampers I’ve met have become lost at some point, it can happen to anyone. Drop the “she’ll be right” attitude and tell someone where you’re going. Kia kaha.

Always keen to hear your favourite walks in the wider Auckland region, or anywhere really! Follow and tweet me @djduncwilson

8 achievements unlocked since Dunc’s Big Bike Ride

Ben Resipole summit

Dunc’s Big Bike Ride finished on 29th August 2015. What a ride! Knowing nothing was going to live up the complex feels felt during a complete lap of Aotearoa, I’ve been filling my days writing about it… and occasionally heading out on other mini adventures too. Here are eight picks from the last two years:

1. Walking Auckland’s Coast To Coast

This is a relatively easy day walk, joining up Auckland’s west coast harbour with its eastern counterpart. My Bike Ride team mates Scoot and Simon were up for it, so we took the bus to Onehunga Beach and walked through the suburbs into Epsom, over One Tree Hills, Mount Eden, Auckland Domain and the Viaduct Harbour. As long as you’re okay tramping on the roadside grass berms, as opposed to native bush for a day, this is a solid urban adventure. Worth checking out if you’re new to the City of Sails and want to smash out a few volcanoes in one go.

2. Walking the Tongariro Crossing

I’d been hearing about this New Zealand great Walk for years, but never understood why it was called a ‘crossing’. Was it just one huge swing bridge, with clusters of tourists in jandals all gingerly edging their way across? Well, it turns out it’s a rather awesome volcanic day trek. Yes, it’s popular in summer. Yes, it’s world famous. But, yes, it’s awesome! Recommend: parking your vehicle at the end, then catching a bus to the beginning, then you can finish when you like and not when the buses finish. Don’t recommend: Wearing anything less than half-decent walking boots, particularly if you want to detour to the summit of Tongariro itself.

3. Climbing Ben Resipole

I found myself joining my parents and friends on their annual jaunt to western Scotland, where a mountaineering expedition to the summit of Ben Resipole took place. I’d previously only camped at the coastal foot of it as a teenager one summer, so had no memories of the snow-capped mountain. Having made our way up most of it, the weather turned and a blizzard struck. The experienced mountaineers in our party herded us behind a set of rocks and we waited it out, staying close to conserve heat. As abruptly as it had arrived, the weather passed and we were on the move again, this time to the summit. Then all we had to do, was get back down again.

4. Walking from Luxembourg to France to Germany

I visited my friend Anne in Luxembourg, which shares a border with France and Germany. Since the Schengen Agreement, these borders have been essentially non-existent, meaning you can easily hop from country to country, once legally inside one of the 26 EU nations. Beautifully, the borders of France, Germany and Luxembourg all meet at the town of Schengen, so it was there that we completed this unique little adventure. ‘FRANCE’, reads the sign on the border.

5. Walking the Capital Ring

Comedian Pete Lupton and I set out to complete the Capital Ring: a 126km circular walk around the outer suburbs and green spaces of London. We set out to do it in four days, knocking off some 60km of the walk (Woolwich Foot Tunnel to Richmond Bridge) in our first two days, leaving what ought to have been 66km or so for the last two. But things are never what they seem and we always walk further than we realise, meaning those final two days came out more like two marathons. Which was fine. This really is a great walking route and you get to see many hidden treasures of London’s sprawl, plus heaps of places I’m glad I don’t live in. Try it out.

6. Driving from London to Poland

This was ridiculous and, admittedly, in a 20th Century fossil-fuel burning vehicle, but it’s still an awesome road trip and one I’d like to attempt away from the autobahns and by cycle someday. I went with my mate Mad Pete. It was for a wedding, so having the van helped us transport suits without creasing them and it came in handy with the giant piano we had to take for the church pianist, Pete. Be sure to check your vehicle’s tyres after each fuel fill.

7. Cycling the Meridian Line

My wild brother Matt came up with this one. Based on my ‘closest available route to the coast’ rule from DBBR, we plotted a route south from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, and followed the line of zero degrees longitude as closely as possible. We met one Sunday morning nice and early and hit the pedals for an amazing day ride to the south coast of England, totalling a little over 100km. There’s a few nods to the Meridian along the route and a monument on the cliffs at the finish at Peacehaven – it was moved in the 1960s during work to sure up the coastline.

8. Climbing Maungawhau Mount Eden 31 times in 31 days

March 2017 was Auckland Transport’s inaugural Walking Challenge month – a team event where contestants set about walking all the steps they can, in a bid to win prizes, get fitter, burn less fossil fuels, arrive at work less stressed and generally be healthier. My walk to work comes to about five minutes, so I engaged in another challenge: to the summit of Maungawhau 31 times in 31 days. Needless to say, by climb number 15, it starts to get a bit tedious. But I saw this one through.

There were a few others as well, maybe tell you about them another time. Dx

Kaikoura, Kaikoura, Kaikoura

Cycling Kaikoura

I put together this video late last year, shortly before the large earthquake near Hanmer Springs on the 14th November. It came out like some sort of idyllic tourism video.

Person Alex Baird, who happens to be a friend, recently posted this video on his Instagram. It shows a more recent picture of State Highway 1 in the region, as the clean-up and repair continues.

A video posted by Alex (@alexbairdnz) on

They are going well!

The Story Of Dunc’s Big Bike Ride will be out as soon as I’ve written it – please ‘Like’ my Facebook page for updates!