• The stream near the pā harakeke.
  • One of the flaxes in the pā harakeke, a resource for weavers and a repository of different species.
  • Walkers disinfect their boots as they enter the reserve.
  • New boardwalks make for easy walking and access through sensitive arrea.
  • Regeneration of native species is evident throughout the reserve.
  • Kahikatea and kauri tower above the new boardwalk.

Eskdale Reserve

Walkers, cyclists and kauri benefit from upgrade

Eskdale Reserve is a sprawling area of native bush and bush tracks, with tendrils extending from Glenfield to Birkenhead, Birkdale, Beachhaven and Kaipātiki. But with its maturing and regenerating kauri at risk from kauri dieback, much of it has been off-limits for years. In August, just before Auckland’s latest lockdown, Auckland Council completed a major track upgrade programme, and the tracks were re-opened. In October, Channel explored the tracks and the background to the improvements to this richly diverse area. Christine Young reports.

The track upgrade project at Eskdale Reserve has delivered a solution to dual problems: preventing kauri dieback and restoring tracks in dire need of repair. Pooling Auckland Council funds allocated to kauri dieback with money available from the Kaipatiki Local Board for track upgrades has resulted in a $2m-plus rerouting and renewal of the main track (and the closure of some others), opening up this environmental taonga (treasure) to walkers and to cyclists.

But first, some background. Eskdale Reserve is a network rather than a single reserve. A recovering area of cleared land with pockets of original forest, it includes Birkenhead Domain, Francis Kendall Reserve, Tree View Reserve, Lauderdale Reserve, Kelmar Reserve and Park Reserve. Rated by Auckland Council alongside the Waitakere Ranges and Huna Ranges in terms of its biodiversity, it is sustained by a large stream that runs through it, shaded by remnant kauri (some 200-300 years old; others regenerating but up to 100 years old), kahikatea, nikau, and kowhai and many others.

Mature and ricker (young) kauri trees are found in isolated pockets. Other areas are bereft of kauri as a result of logging, gum digging and subsequent grazing, or contain seedlings and saplings within regenerating manuka and other native species.

Where there are trees, there are always birds, especially with an active trapping programme operating. Mid-morning in October we spotted tui, kereru and fantails; dawn or dusk walks would reveal much more visibility – and audibility – of birdlife. And of course, where there is bush, there are patupaiarehe (fairy-like supernatural beings) – or at the very least, fairy tales. Or maybe true tales. We heard of abundant fish in the streams in the less well-trodden areas of the reserve, of freshwater mussels towards the western edge, and even of glow-worms. This is an area that rewards closer exploration.

Initially known as Birkenhead Domain, the 62-hectare reserve has been retained as regenerating native forest for recreation for over 100 years. Within the various reserves, some of the extensive network of tracks provide clues to historic access routes from the original harvesting and gum-digging activity. Others have been established over time as informal walking routes, and some have become more formalised, with benching, boardwalks and bridges.

Lisa Tolich, Auckland Council Biosecurity team leader, elaborates on the recent work: “Over the past four years we have upgraded the main walking/cycle track and loop, mitigated the kauri forest area tracks and several link tracks, undertaken re-alignment of some tracks, and constructed a new link to Glenfield Rd. We have also constructed five new bridges and several boardwalks. In total more than eight kilometres of tracks have been upgraded.  

“Six kilometres of easy walking tracks traverse the full length of the reserve from Kaipātiki Rd to Glenfield Rd including a walking/cycle loop in the main part of the reserve. There is also a more intimate stream walk, a kauri forest walk/boardwalk, and several access tracks from the surrounding streets.

“One of the features of the upgrade is that the tracks have been made smoother and as accessible as possible with the outer loop being step-free for wheelchairs, prams and bikes. They have also been re-routed away from kauri trees, and designed to a standard to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease.”

All that remained to be completed as we visited were upgrades to the last few link tracks from side streets into the reserve. Wayfinding signs, plinths and bollards will be installed in the near future.

There has been significant investment in kauri dieback mitigation in the wider Kaipātiki Local Board area, Lisa adds, due to the number of tracks in the area in significant kauri forest ecosystems. Eskdale Reserve joins Le Roys Bush and Fern Glen Native Plant Gardens in having track improvement and hygiene stations installed. Next year works will be carried out in Chatswood Reserve, Kauri Glen Reserve, Leigh Reserve and Lynn Reserve, and the following year in Birkenhead War Memorial Reserve and Soldiers Bay.

The Eskdale Reserve upgrade has been a major exercise, involving Auckland Council and a team from RAM Contracting which did much of the work. On the sideline was Kaipātiki Project, which has undertaken regular volunteer pest management and maintenance of the reserve for more than two decades. Neil Henderson, restoration activator with Kaipātiki Project, says Kaipātiki Project’s work is around community engagement, supporting and complementing the work undertaken by the Auckland Council biosecurity team, and Ventia (Council contractors) who “work around the edges” on weed maintenance.

Kaipātiki Project volunteers couldn’t work in the reserve during the track restoration. However, Neil and others were involved initially, helping Council staff and contractors identify trees and plants that shouldn’t be removed during the work, with the aim of minimising damage to vegetation. Now the project is complete, Kaipātiki Project is back doing weed control and leading remediation work, for example where a bridge was taken out and the surrounding area damaged. Here’s where the tale of glow-worms comes in; with their habitat damaged in one area, they have disappeared, but Neil hopes that once the habitat is repaired, they may return naturally. With little known of their numbers or habitats in the reserve, Kaipatiki Project has “applied to get surveys done so we know where glow-worms are and can monitor them over time to see whether they are endangered and why they may be dying out”.

Kaipātiki Project’s volunteer work is focused on 11 sites in Eskdale Reserve, clearing weeds and planting native seedlings grown in the Project’s nursery. This, incidentally, produces more than 40,000 native plants a year, all grown from local seed and all planted in the local area.

Kaipātiki Project also works with corporates, which often undertake specific work, such as digging out ginger, or that adopt an area where staff can see the impact of their work over time. One example during the track upgrade process was getting into a more remote area to clear out rubbish remaining from a semi-permanent camp that had been lived in some years ago.  Such was the amount of rubbish (and the steepness of the terrain), that they worked with the contractors undertaking the track renovation work to helicopter out the mess.

We use the entrance near the Birkenhead/Glenfield cemetery on Glenfield Road as our way into Eskdale Reserve. We wash our boots at one of the newly installed boot-disinfectant stations and wander in.

From here, it’s all downhill (uphill on the way back, unless you’ve had the foresight to park a car near the exit at Kaipātiki bridge; we didn’t). You’re soon on the main trail – a benched track of firmly packed gravel, wide enough to walk two abreast. This is a shared path – listen out for approaching cyclists. Gentle zig-zags take you past regenerating ponga and manuka to an intersection. Bikes and pushchairs should continue on the main path. We turned right and found ourselves at the top of a steep flight of wooden steps leading down through lush nikau forest to a narrow boardwalk and swamp area at the bottom. Should have worn boots, we discovered, though in summer lighter footwear would be fine.

Back on the main track, we diverted left across the stream to explore the pā harakeke – flax garden – one of the few areas with interpretation signage. Further down, just past the power station backing onto the bush, a raised boardwalk passes right beside several proud kahikatea and kauri – an opportunity to get up close without infecting the roots.

Dotted away from the side of the path are rat and possum traps. In some areas newly cut banks are covered by sacking that supports not only the bank but the regeneration of new growth.

We emerge from the bush at the broad reach of mangroves where the streams meet the far reaches of the upper harbour at Kaipatiki Bridge. We retrace our steps uphill, to complete an easy two-hour amble, with time enjoy bird life, regenerating bush and mature trees like the flowering kowhai stretching up to the light from among the denser bush species.

Eskdale Reserve is one of the Shore’s green oases; a recreational reserve for all ages and level of fitness, and a haven where the biodiversity of the area is protected and nurtured for future generations to enjoy. We’d recommend you get out there and explore it for yourself.

Eskdale Reserve: Entrances from Glenfield Road, Eskdale Road, Lauderdale Road, Kaipatiki Road, Tree View Avenue, and Domain Road.