The Auckland volcanic field is made up of approximately 53 volcanoes. We decided to visit the ones that not only sport the best views but also have the best access for wheelchair users.
We were experiencing a heat wave the week we decided to motor up the volcanoes and review access, so it was certainly very hot going at times. Ice-cream stops were definitely on the agenda after each climb.
A little about North Head |Maungauika
North Head is Auckland’s sentinel and has sweeping views over the Hauraki Gulf and its islands. It has a long history, first of Maori occupation, and then as an important New Zealand coastal defence site. Its Maori name is Maungauika (the Mountain of Uika), Maori settled on the Devonport peninsula attracted by the volcanic soils and rich marine environment. European visitors in the 1850s describe a Maori settlement at the foot of North Head with gardens and fish drying racks.
You can read more about the history of North Head HERE
If you are keen on watching the 2021 Americas Cup Race, this is definitely the place for viewing the race. It has some fantastic accessible vantage spots, but I’d say you would have to get there early to get a park.
There are three areas to park on top of North Head. The first one you come to overlooks Cheltenham beach, this is the busiest carpark and where the tour buses often pull into. It is possible to access this spot without driving up at all. Just to the left of the road going in, there is a hard-packed grassy track which you can take. It’s fairly flat and well-trodden, with some assistance it’s doable.
The mid-way carpark is the one we parked in to visit the historic ‘Disappearing Gun’.
The third carpark can be found right at the top on the summit.
First Stunning View!
This incredible view is the first you will arrive at after leaving your vehicle. It looks out towards Auckland City and over Torpedo Bay. There is an accessible coastal walkway that you can follow that takes you from the Devonport Ferry Terminal, all the way to the base of North Head. The walkway is covered with hard-packed shell, to begin with, followed by pavement. It is possible to use the pavement all the way which runs parallel to the walkway. If you are wheeling all the way from the ferry to head up North Head, be aware there is a gradient for the first part up Takarunga Road. A bit of power will be needed, like a Smart Drive attachment, a powerchair or someone to assist in pushing. I’ve managed to push our son up in a manual tilt-in-space wheelchair before so it is doable.
Once on North Head, the terrain is hard-packed grass when you leave the road. There are few dips here and there, but with the powerchair, it was a breeze. On our visit, it was dry and easy to wheel over and would have been manageable with a manual too. However, I would say that access would be harder in winter when the region experiences a lot more rain. Winter usually grips in July/August time and in Auckland it rains a lot.
If you fancy something to eat, a cup of tea/coffee or to immerse yourself in even more history of the area, just pop down to Torpedo Bay. Here you will find the Navy Museum and The Torpedo Bay Cafe which has plenty of easy access indoor/outdoor seating spots. You will also find mobility parks, accessible toilets and a nautical themed playground area for kids. Not a bad place to sit back and admire yet another angle of a wonderful view.
We found the toilets!
Not the nicest toilets to drop into, but when you need to go it’s always good to have knowledge where they are and what to expect. We always find the standard ‘accessible’ public toilet in New Zealand not accessible to us. Reason being is, we always need assistance with transfers. So, these toilets wouldn’t accommodate us at all, but we still like letting people know what they are like. Both male and female toilets have an ‘accessible toilet’ inside, but you will have to negotiate the drainage gap in the doorway first. Again, this would be a barrier for us in a powerchair anyway. We found the inside rather run down despite the attractive murals.
The Tunnels – South Battery & Engine Room
We were so excited to see where these tunnels would lead us. Finlay was even more excited when he realised he could test out his headlights for the first time. He surprised me by not being anxious at all, in fact, he was beaming the whole way around.
If you get the chance to do this independently we would recommend it. The tour buses like Devonport Tour Company don’t come around this side, instead, they park in the first carpark and allow you time to visit the North Battery. The South Battery is far more interesting to wheel around. There are some barriers in areas, but on a whole, you get a general feel for the tunnels and are able to view the ‘Vanishing Gun’ from the inside.
We checked out the North Battery and met a lovely lady in a manual wheelchair from Australia with a smart-drive attachment who had come off the Devonport Tour Company bus. Although the bus is not accessible she was able to self-transfer up the step into the bus and her wheelchair folded down. I will add that I’ve heard good things about Devonport Tours so if you are able to negotiate a step up into their bus it is definitely a great option if you have limited time. You even get driven up to Mount Victoria (Mt Vic) too, another fabulous accessible view. Mt Vic has been recently closed to vehicles and a special code is needed to lift the barrier to drive up.
Accessing the Historic ‘Disappearing Gun’
Being able to get up close to an Armstrong 8-inch cannon, pre-dating World War 1 was pretty impressive. Barrier-free access all the way and the lights on Finlay’s powerchair lit up the way brilliantly.
After leaving the tunnels we tried the short cut up to view the gun from above. However, we quickly rejected that idea as we didn’t want to risk getting stuck. Instead, we went back the way we came and headed up the smoother way along the road.
We made it down and across to view the Disappearing Gun/South Battery from above. The power chair definitely makes it easier to cross rougher terrain … we are loving it for that! However, I have to add we’ve got it stuck at times on certain walks as we do like to push the boundaries a bit. I’ve become an expert in getting it out of some sticky situations.
“Usually, we just look ‘stuck’ and someone always seems to appear to help us tug it out.”
Travelling further up the road you will come across a series of old buildings some of which are used for Department of Conservation staff.
Barracks Building/Summit Battery
Here we are checking out the old barracks where our soldiers would lie in wait for possible Russian invaders. It must have been quite a little village up here back in its day. The Stone Kitchen Theatre and Fire Command Post Theatre are near here. Visit these two theatres to watch one or more of the movies available.
The Summit Battery & Helipad
You can often sit up on North Head and watch the paragliders take off from the side of the bank. You will find a helipad sometimes used by Navy and Department of Conservation (DoC) workers.
“The views up here are panoramic and pretty impressive”
A LITTLE LOCAL TIP – A favourite past-time for Devonport kids is to slide down the banks with a piece of cardboard. They do the same over on Mount Victoria, Devonport’s neighbouring volcano – heaps of fun. Another local pastime is to picnic here early evening during the summer months. Fish & chips from a local takeaway come highly recommended whilst taking in the incredible vista.