I think we'd all agree that Auckland is highly effective at providing that elusive runner’s high.
I think it’s the combo of hills and the views that come with them, as well as the screeds of green, coastal air, a temperate climate and the fact that, at rush hour, the average Auckland runner moves quicker than the average Auckland car.
This is a drop-dead gorgeous city when you see it at its best.
The routes I have chosen are testament to just some of the gorgeousness at our feet and a small sample besides. For the travelling runner, I’ve kept them mostly central, but there are many incredible runs beyond these, particularly out west in the Waitakere Ranges.
1. The Three Peaks: Mount Eden, Mount St John and Mount Hobson
Distance: 12-km loop
The best way to get to know a city is from above and this run will take you to three of Auckland’s best vantage points . . . but not without a fair amount of climbing. Start on Newmarket’s Broadway before venturing up and over Mount Hobson Ohinerau (143m). From here you’ll cross the motorway to the smallest of our three peaks, Mount St John Te Kopuke (126m), which has a surprisingly impressive crater. And finally on to Mount Eden Maungawhau (196m) where you’ll want to take plenty of selfies before running a half loop around the crater and heading north to Auckland Domain. Finish with a journey through the lush nikau palm trails on the northern side of the Domain.
Thumbs up: The views of the city are exceptional.
Thumbs down: Your legs might not be too happy.
Tip: Navigation through the trails of the peaks and Auckland Domain is notoriously tricky. Take your smartphone with you.
2. Westhaven and Viaduct Basin
Distance: 8-km loop
Just west of the CBD is the heart and soul of the city's maritime community. This is a popular lunchtime run and definitely postcard/Instagram worthy at sunset and sunrise.
From Queen Street, it’s a short jog to the Viaduct Basin. Surrounded by apartment buildings and restaurants, its wide waterfront walkway circumnavigates the basin making for a great 1.5-km diversion if you have the time.
Further on you’ll pass the fast-becoming-hip areas of Silo Park and Wynyard Quarter to reach Westhaven. The kilometre-long boardwalk that follows the Westhaven Marina is absolutely stunning. Be sure to spin around and take in the view back towards the city. Loop under the Harbour Bridge and then run through Point Erin Reserve to follow the walkway on the southern side of the motorway before taking the glass footbridge back over the motorway. Now simply retrace your steps back to Queen Street.
Thumbs up: Urban running doesn’t get much better than high tide at sunrise along the Westhaven boardwalk.
Thumbs down: Mistiming the drawbridge at Viaduct Basin.
Tip: Head out toward Tamaki Drive if you’d like to add more distance to your run.
3. Cornwall Park
Distance: 9-km loop
It’s Auckland’s answer to Central Park or Hyde Park, but Cornwall Park stands way above the rest by boasting its very own volcanic cone, One Tree Hill Maungakiekie (182m).
The park has been the training ground of choice for Auckland’s top runners for over half a century and the route that has been passed down through the running fraternity roughly follows the park perimetre in an anti-clockwise direction. It’s mostly off-road on grass or a dirt single track and includes 50 steps per 9-km lap (with stiles to cross the many farm fences).
While you’re here, it’s worth making the grind to the top of One Tree Hill before a visit to Cornwall Park Café to refuel.
Thumbs up: A huge green space capable of entertaining a runner for hours.
Thumbs down: The farm animals and the surprises they leave behind.
Tip: The gates are locked after dark to vehicles but you can still enter the park on foot. The perimeter trail gets very muddy after rain.
4. Tamaki Drive
Distance: 10km one-way
Tamaki Drive has possibly the highest count of daily joggers of any New Zealand street. And its attractions to the runner are obvious: bay after bay of blue water and golden beaches, a complete absence of hills, a wide multi-use footpath and the perfect post-run treat of an ice cream store on just about every bend. In addition, you’ll know exactly how fast or slow you’re going thanks to a series of distance markers (small brass plates embedded in the pavement) measuring each of the 10km from Princes Wharf (CBD) to St Heliers.
Thumbs up: You’ll have plenty of company.
Thumbs down: The slight camber on the footpath has a nagging habit of flaring up old injuries.
Tip: Judges Bay, Hobson Bay, Orakei Basin, Bastion Point, Dingle Dell Reserve and Achilles Point all provide exceptional diversions away from the predictability of Tamaki Drive.
5. CBD circuit: small
Distance: 5.5-km loop
For the time-crunched runners who find themselves in central Auckland, this is a good way to see the city and run on an award-winning 5.5-km pathway.
From Britomart head east to reach the bike path the end of Beach Road. This shared path will take you up Grafton Gully on a gradual incline to reach Upper Queen Street. From here join the converted motorway on-ramp known as Te Ara I Whiti or the Lightpath or the pink path. This is the highlight of this run so be sure to take a pic or two before following Nelson Street back down to sea level.
Short and sweet.
Thumbs up: Escape the CBD’s notorious pedestrian and vehicle traffic for most of the run.
Thumbs down: Aside from views of the city and Sky Tower there’s not much here to feed the soul.
Tip: To add on a little more distance visit Victoria Park (west of Nelson Street) and the Viaduct Basin (northwest of Nelson Street).
6. CBD circuit: large
If you’re trying to break a caffeine addiction this is not the run for you . . . It connects some of the city’s top coffee stops and charts a course through parks, along waterfront paths and busy city streets alike.
From the bottom of Queen Street, run east past the port and over the footbridge at Judges Bay. Climb up the gradual but never-ending St Stephens Avenue to reach the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Passing by the cafés of upper Parnell Road, find your way through Auckland Domain to exit near the hospital, crossing Grafton Bridge on to Karangahape (K) Road. Early morning runners can expect memorable encounters with the remnants of weekend nightlife along here.
Once at Ponsonby Road, do your best to ignore the temptation to stop for a flat white or two and carry on to Jervois Road, then Curren Street, which will take you to the base of the Harbour Bridge. The Westhaven boardwalk leads you all the way back to the Viaduct Basin and on to Queen Street.
Thumbs up: A wonderfully varied cross-section of Auckland life.
Thumbs down: K Road, Ponsonby Road and Quay Street can be busy.
Tip: Find a good café en route and use it as your start/finish location.
7. Rangitoto Island
Distance: 11-km loop
This is the big kahuna of Auckland’s running crown. Choose a still, sunny day to take the 25-minute ferry over to Rangitoto, Auckland’s iconic bush-clad island cone.
From the island’s ferry terminal (read: wharf and a toilet block) you’ll head west (left) along McKenzie Bay Road, a flat 4WD track passing through a Jurassic Park-like wilderness of pohutukawa forest (the largest in the world) and lava fields.
At the western end of the island the road turns up towards the 260-m summit. This is a long, slow grind, but the view from the top is worth every ounce of sweat and the lactic acid! The summit track brings you directly back to the wharf where you can relax in the sunshine and ocean while awaiting your ferry ride back to the city.
Thumbs up: Everything about this island.
Thumbs down: There are only a handful of ferries each day, so don’t miss your return ride!
Tip: There are no shops or residents on the island so bring everything you need to see you through your intended stay (and then some). This includes all water, food,warm clothing, sunscreen and a camera . . . seriously, you need a camera over here.
8. Long Bay Regional Park
Distance: 10km total out-and-back
One of many great reserves on the North Shore, Long Bay is ideal for the visiting runner as it provides an idyllic beach and picnic area for a post-run swim and bite to eat.
From the picnic areas, follow the coastal track (confusingly, this heads inland to begin with) over the rolling hills to the far tip of the headland and the mouth of the Okura River (the 5-km mark). This is a dead end so retrace your steps back to the starting point, except for a slight change towards the end of the run by following the short nature trail to the beach and jogging along the sand back to your car.
Thumbs up: The hills will get you suitably warmed up and ready for a dip in the sea.
Thumbs down: With only some patches of bush, it can be a little exposed in hot or windy weather.
Tip: Bring a picnic. And if the weather closes in, opt for the vibrantly bush-clad trails of nearby Okura Walkway.