Eno River State Park: An Afternoon Stroll

Well, still in North Carolina.

Actually (spoilers) I’m not, but I’m still working through my backlog of stuff I intended to post to this blog while I was in North Carolina but didn’t because I’m just so stinkin’ lazy.

Anyway, one fine afternoon in October my friend Bruce and I decided to take a nice stroll. We went to Eno River State Park, just North of Durham near Hillsborough.

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There are a number of paths one can take, but I invariably take the same route: starting at the carpark off Cole Mill Rd, take the Buckquarter Creek Trail, circle around the Holden Mill Trail, then take Ridge Trail up, back down Shakori Trail, and then circle back to the carpark. For a shorter walk the Holden Mill Trail can be skipped altogether.

The adventure starts here at the Piper-Cox House. This park has quite a few ties to its old lumbering, milling, and quarrying roots, and those interested in history can find some quite cool factoids about how this land was once exploited. It is now fortunately preserved instead!

The trailhead is quite easy to find. This trail, with one notable exception, is quite well-sorted and easy to follow.

A mere amble from the carpark brings us to Fews Ford. If you are looking to beat the Summer heat, this may in fact be your destination — the hot months often see betogged children playing in the water and adults (with or without dogs) also enjoying the cool stream.

I was here once and saw a snake in the water, so do look sharp if you’re just lounging around. But they won’t mess with you if you don’t mess with them.

If we were headed to the Cox Mountain Trail, we would cross the ford here. We are thankfully not heading that way.

It’s October and we’re wearing tramping gear rather than swimsuits. This is where we’re headed.

The trail borders the eponymous river for some ways, which is pleasant.

Some challenging bits of track are made easier by wooden stairs, demonstrated here by Bruce.

In other places, stone stairs have been installed, pensively inspected once again my my friend and hiking companion. It’s unsurprising that this area has seen some quarrying activity in the past.

At times, the river shows hints of a nice clear green…

But in most places remains decidedly brown.

Regardless of which color it affects at any moment, however, the water is pleasingly clear. (This should go without saying, but just in case: attempting to drink from Eno River will likely not turn out well.)

Trekking along the riverbank allows us to see some interesting root systems!

We also got to see this guy, a blue heron! He was not particularly perturbed by our presence but was also not especially interested in moving into a better location to be photographed. So it goes.

The normal loop has a bit of this rocky shoreline, which can be a little challenging to traverse but not too bad. The Holden Mill Trail has a bit more of it, so if you don’t like this sort of terrain then maybe give it a miss.

This bridge leads from the Buckquarter Trail (red blazes) to the Holden Mill Trail (yellow blazes).

Though the Holden Mill Trail does go along the river, it loops inland and leads through the woods on the return journey. It is still quite a nice trail and a very nice walk!

Upon returning to the Buckquarter Creek Trail and crossing over to the Ridge Trail, the terrain (as the name of the trail might imply) begins to increase in elevation. The trail is still fairly nice — note the frequent water bars for drainage — but there’s a definite change between the Buckquarter and Holden Mill Trails and the Ridge and Shakori Trails.

Nothing illustrates the difference in trail maintenance than this crossing, which you will note involves leaping nimbly-pimbly from stone to stone. Granted, in New Zealand the stones wouldn’t be there and you would just be expected to get your feet wet, but for those with balance issues such as myself, a footbridge would have been appreciated.

But no matter. We effected the crossing and carried on.

This view rewards the intrepid hiker who climbs all the way to the top of Ridge Trail. You can choose to either turn around and go back the way you came or go back along the Shakori Trail.

If you do opt for the Shakori Trail on your return, you will encounter this sign when you rejoin the Ridge Trail. In case your sense of direction is not the greatest, you want to go toward the Knight Trail on your way back (the Knight Trail is a spur; you can hike it out and back if you like, but I find it most useful as a landmark in case you get turned around).

That is, in brief, Eno River State Park. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon, and afterward we were pleasantly tired and ready for some dinner.

There will be maybe a couple of more posts from North Carolina (haven’t quite decided yet, to be honest) and then…well, stay tuned!

Hanging Rock State Park, Pt. 2: Hidden Falls and Window Falls

Longest gap between parts 1 and 2 ever? Possibly. C’est la vie. But now I’ve got the new Imagine Dragons album playing on shuffle and I’m ready to get back into the photoblog groove. Let’s do this thang.

There are a few different waterfalls at Hanging Rock State Park available for exploration; on this trip I chose to just visit Hidden Falls and Window Falls, probably because I’m lazy.

The trail to the falls is, as was the trail to the overlook, quite well-marked.

It is my least-favorite type of trail; the one that starts out going downhill. It becomes steep enough to require switchbacks, such as the one seen here. It’s still well-paved enough that it never truly becomes rough going even when returning back up the hill, but if you go for a nice refreshing splash in the waterfall you’ll get all hot and sweaty again by the time you reach the carpark.

This admittedly does feel a bit like reaching for things to complain about, so let’s press on.

You need to make a decision whether to go to Hidden Falls or Window Falls first. Window Falls is two tenths of a mile away, but why is there no distance marked for Hidden Falls?

Oh, because it’s literally right here. I guess let’s do this one first then.

(Can we talk about the complete misnomer for a moment? In what way are these falls hidden? I realize that Hanging Rock did not originally have an asphalt carpark and well-paved trail right to the falls, but you can hear them from quite a ways away and anyone following the river will stumble right over them (hopefully not literally). I suppose compared to some of the much larger waterfalls in the area these are relatively hidden, but still, it’s not like it takes a lot of work to find them.)

It’s been a hot and dry Summer, so the falls, never especially impressive to begin with, are barely a trickle beside most of the ones featured here. But since it was basically no extra effort to see them, hey.

I can take a few steps back to make them slightly more impressive.

I tried taking a long exposure to get a nice super-artsy shot, but it’s just so daggone bright outside today that 1/15th of a second was the slowest I could muster (and the upper left is still a bit blown out). I know all of you photo aficionados who appreciate all my artsy shots are totally disappointed ;)

Moseying down the trail to Window Falls, I came across the world’s most cheerful trail blaze.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and…oh, hang on, they reconverge right afterward.

This image probably illustrates the intended meaning of Frost’s poem better than most of the ones I reference it for.

Upon reaching the falls, you will first come upon this outcropping of rock. This is actually the upper bit of the falls, and I wandered around this bit for a while. I got a few photos but nothing particularly interesting, and no shots of the falls from above, so I’ll leave all that out of the narrative.

Getting down to where the actual falls are requires descending this lovely bit of stairs.

We are then faced with a decision. I didn’t realize “Window Falls” was a multiple-choice question! Turns out this choice is about as meaningful as the split paths above.

Turning to the right, which is the correct answer to the sphinx’s riddle, we see the eponymous window.

There’s a bit of fence up and some rock face to climb, but there’s nothing other than one’s inherent physical limitations preventing hikers from making their way right up to the window.

And through the window is, well, Window Falls.

The falls, in all their glory…complete with lens flare. Bad photographer. No cookie.

Thankfully I captured a backup shot with my Nexus 5.

The intrepid and well-shod explorer can follow the stream all the way down…

…to where it pools and lazily flows…

…into this bottom pool…

…and then over this cliff.

(I don’t know if that tree is a lazy attempt to keep hapless explorers from tumbling off the aforementioned cliff or if it’s just a coincidence).

Did I walk around to the bottom to see the rest of the falls? Dear reader…

…how could you ever doubt!? (Is the one shot I took of the lower falls absolutely terrible? Yes, that’s also true.)

There you go. Those are two of the easiest to get to and, if we’re honest, least impressive waterfalls this park has to offer.

That’s all from Hanging Rock State Park, but hopefully that whetted your appetite because more adventure awaits….

Hanging Rock State Park, Pt. 1: Hanging Rock Overhang

Hanging Rock State Park is in central North Carolina about two hours away from the Raleigh area. It was a nice Saturday and I was getting antsy cooped up inside. The time was right for a hike! I’ve been to Hanging Rock a number of times and done several of the trails there. This time we’ll be heading up to the overlook and then exploring a couple of the closer waterfalls.

Regular readers are used to seeing a different convertible parked at my hiking spots :). Yes, this is my North Carolina sports car, and she did a great job making it all the way out to Hanging Rock and back!

The overlook trail starts out extremely well paved! You will note that it’s very well marked with very helpful signage and visible blazes. When I complain about New Zealand trails being a little hard to figure out in places, you now know what I’m comparing them to!

Even once the trail transitions to gravel, note that it’s very wide and also has erosion barriers and benches. This is definitely not your backcountry tramping track!

You might also note that the trail is going downhill somewhat from the carpark. This bodes ill, as it means the last bit of the return journey will be uphill. C’est la vie.

After the first major uphill bit of the trail, the gravel gives way to packed dirt.

The packed dirt then gives way to this.

Once you reach these stairs, the good news is you’re already about halfway there. The bad news is that it looks more or less like this the rest of the way up. Even for a stair enthusiast such as myself it gets a bit old after a while!

I did have to stop and admire some of the cooler bits of the trek up the stairs, though. I was also gratified that, while the hike was still quite an exertion, I was definitely doing better than any of the other times I’d tackled this hike. New Zealand walking paying off!

The trail winds itself up the side of the hill, sometimes getting a little steep and rough. Yes, even well-paved, well-marked, comfy trails like this one are still have their difficult bits!

As someone who has in the past found it difficult sometimes to follow a trail if it zigs when I expect it to zag, I greatly appreciate the clear markings of the Hanging Rock Trail. I was left in no confusion about which way to go here, that’s for sure!

There are some very cool overhangs in this area, leading up, of course, to the Hanging Rock itself.

And here we are under the overlook! All we have to do is get up to the top of that rock. I left my jetpack in the car, though, so I guess I’ll have to take the long route.

Once you see this, you know you’re almost there!

As I was walking back, I passed a couple on their way up. One asked “is this Hanging Rock?”, and the other seemed unsure. Here’s a Top Tip: if you have to ask, you’re not there yet. It will be quite obvious once you arrive.

Speaking of arriving, here we are!

I’ll give you some more shots of Hanging Rock in a moment, but first I’d like you to pause and admire what a great day this was! North Carolina can yield some nice photographs too, with enough effort! (If you zoom in on only one of my photos in this post, make it this one :)).

I climbed all around to try and provide you with some conception of how crazy Hanging Rock is, but I don’t think any one photograph can do it justice. It’s just a massive, jutting series of cliff faces.

Perhaps most impressive are the few trees that manage to hold on. Hanging Rock is definitely ideal for taking broad landscape photos; you get them even when you don’t mean to just because you can see the landscape all around!

I climbed down the other side a bit to get this shot. There’s a big fissure that can either be circumnavigated or jumped. You can guess which one I did.

Here’s a shot down said fissure. There’s a lot of down there.

Hanging Rock is a great place to induce vertigo. These are the trees I walked through on the way up. If you stand on the rock long enough, you will probably see a bird flying below you. That’s always a fun one to mess with your equilibrium!

And here’s a shot back toward the trail.

I hope these shots have helped give some sort of conception of just how much rock there is at the top of this hill!

After telling you for a while what great scenery you can get from the rock, I’m finally going to show you some!

To a Kiwi it would be almost unimaginable to be this high up and yet not see water in any direction! Yet even though North Carolina is a coastal state, there’s over a hundred miles between Hanging Rock and the ocean.

Even on such a clear day, the scenery dissolves into haze before it runs out.

Central NC is approaching the mountains and as such has its share of peaks. There’s definitely more in the distance though.

And if you climb to the side a bit, you can see out even further around the trees!

But the day was marching on, so it was time to head back down. As you might imagine, it’s much easier going the other way! Here’s where the gravel turns back into pavement.

We’re not done with Hanging Rock State Park quite yet, though! Come back next time to see some waterfalls!

(I did this hike in 2016, I must admit, so next time might not come as quickly as you may hope…but it will come!)

A return to Shakespear Regional Park: The views and the birds

Welcome back!

As you may recall, I’m revisiting the fantastic Shakespear Regional Park. Last post, which you should really check out first if you haven’t already, showed the walk that I did around the peninsula. This post is showing off the things I saw on that walk, first of the scenic variety and then of the avian variety.

No time like the present, so let’s get cracking!

The Views

It is, I must admit, almost trivially easy to get lovely photos no matter where you point your camera. On Whangaparaoa Peninsula, you are almost always within view of the gulf.

Even if you point back toward the mainland, the peninsula zigs and zags in such interesting ways that you can’t help but get some interesting geography in your shot!

The bit sticking out here is part of Whangaparaoa Peninsula but not part of Shakespear Park. It’s a bit South of the town.

Of course, Rangitoto is visible from the park as well, and no scenery post would be complete without it.

Taking a bit of a closer look, we see in this shot I managed to find some sailboaters!

Zooming and Enhancing ™ even further, it is quite a lovely day for a bit of a sail, don’t you think?

While no Rangitoto, some other sailboats (or, possibly, the same ones, I suppose!) proved diverting photographic targets all on their own!

One sailed by when I was down on Pink Beach as well. I love how flat that horizon looks!

I’m not quite sure which bit of mainland this is a photo of, but it appears to be smoking!

This is Tiritiri Matangi Island, the island tossed by the wind.

A bit of zoom shows the lighthouse and ranger station. I still think back with great fondness on the night I was able to spend on that island.

Another thing I quite like is to get photos with Rangitoto and the city in the same shot.

And I suppose I’ll end this section with a photo of Auckland itself. Though I do remember my time on Tiritiri with great nostalgia, this is the photo that really sets my heart to yearning. Auckland City will always be very special to me.

The Birds

So enough maudlin. Let’s look at some birds. On this hike I actually talked to two council workers whose job it was to walk around the park and count how many of the various types of birds they saw. That sounds like a fantastic job, though as far as I know they were volunteers. I think being a professional bird counter would be a pretty fun gig.

Almost right through the gate, I saw the fattest wood pigeon I’ve ever seen!

I’m not sure this thing could actually fly, which is probably why it let me get so close without taking to wing.

I’m not entirely sure what this bird is. The head striping makes me think maybe a cirl bunting, but you could convince me it was a yellowhammer instead. Too bad the bird counting guys weren’t around to help me out.

(Edit: A kind Redditor called, appropriately, screamingkaka identified it as a greenfinch, an assessment which I agree with after looking them up. Thanks mate!)

This is a song thrush. Not usually featured here because they’re both nonnative and very common, but since I had gone to the trouble of getting a photo I figured I might as well post it :)

Fantail, or as the Maori (and I) call them, piwakawaka. These cute little birds are also quite common, but they are native, and they’re so adorable and iconic that I can’t help but photograph them.

Brown quail. These little guys are an oddity in that they’re non-native, but it seems efforts are still made to protect them. They were introduced from Australia, and they don’t particularly seem to like it in New Zealand. They’re pretty rare most places, but in Shakespear and Tiritiri they seem to have found a home.

Sacred kingfisher. Cool little native birds noted for their hunting skills.

Now. I’m walking along the shoreline, approaching the beach. And I see this:

Up until this point, I’ve seen some pretty interesting birds in Shakespear and have even photographed some, but to see not one but two Eastern rosellas is just fantastic.

Even more fantastic is that these two seem willing to let me sneak up reasonably close.

Much like the rainbow lorikeet, about which I have written much already, the Eastern rosella came from Australia. The NZ population is largely comprised of escaped pets and these birds are common enough to be tolerated rather than encouraged. But I personally have never photographed one before.

No doubt to a proper New Zealand ornithologist, this is not an exciting sight. But to me, it capped off an amazing hike. I was so glad to not only get a chance to see these colorful birds but photograph them as well!

And with that, I must bid farewell. Not just to Shakespear, but to New Zealand as well. Shakespear was my last solo hike before heading back to North Carolina.

I may have done a hike or two since coming back, though. Keep an eye on this space…maybe you’ll see some photos from this side of the world at some point. Until then!

A return to Shakespear Regional Park: The Walk

No, I haven’t (yet) returned to New Zealand. But I have returned to this blog to post some photos that didn’t make it before my move.

Longtime readers (hi mom) may remember my my first trip to Shakespear Regional Park, which was great. I wound up with a clear early Spring day soon before my move, so I decided to revisit that lovely location.

This post is covering the walk that I did. I’ll post some views in the next one. There may be a bird or two in there as well!

I began my journey at the same place as last time: Army Bay. Although you have to take a very short walk to get to the trails, there are some very nice views which more than make up for it.

The majority of the park is enclosed by a predator fence and protected by an airlock. Shakespear is a bird sanctuary, which makes sense given its proximity to Tiritiri Matangi. Birds can (and often do) fly between the peninsula and the island. The fence helps ensure they don’t get eaten in either location.

Looking back at the gates, you can see the town of Whangaparaoa in the background. It’s a quaint little town, though it’s also the reason why getting to the park takes so long.

Once through the gates, the trail quickly enters an area of fairly heavy forest. The track here is very well-marked and is paved with gravel.

Crossings, of which there are a few, are bridged.

Bits that might get too slick or unstable are covered in boardwalk. This first bit is certainly well-maintained! It leads up to…

…Waterfall Gully!

These falls do not, as near as I can tell, have a name.

I’m a slightly better photographer than I was last time around, but the tricky lighting still makes getting good shots difficult. I tried for a long exposure, but the light meant that this is the best I could do. C’est la vie.

Leaving the gully, a quick jaunt up some wooden stairs leads to a bridge. The greenery here is so vibrant you might think this is an HDR photo captured by my phone, but nope. It’s just that green!

Not too far across the bridge, the trail leaves the forest. Most of the rest of the hike will be out in open fields like this.

That’s a good thing, because it allows easy viewing of the scenery!

Also good for sheep, who true to form inhabit this park en masse. I took this hike during lambing season, so there were some cute babies walking around.

In the distance, I spied an achievement lurking. I decided not to climb up to it though, since I had a more important task at hand:

Hiking this windy trail.

As is constant in the Hauraki Gulf, Rangitoto sits presiding over the bay.

Also present and presiding: cows.

I don’t interfere with the animals so long as they don’t interfere with me. I took this photo with the big lens.

While we’re on the subject: have a photo of some lambs.

The trail runs alongside some of the NZ military’s land. You don’t want to mess about climbing fences unless you’re sure of where you are.

Fortunately, these days New Zealand is quite peaceful. I love seeing these cows alongside this old lookout post.

On the far side of the peninsula near Tiritiri Island is Pink Beach. I was lucky enough to catch the tide at just the right place to make this cool effect.

I ventured down to the beach to take some up-close photos. You don’t want to walk out on this stuff.

You can tell when you’ve reached the halfway point and started to turn back when you see back along the peninsula toward the town. This is the South coast of Whangaparaoa, and the beach is along Te Haruhi Bay.

Let’s check it out!

This bit of trail is a little confusing, and the map is not helpful. The trail runs along the beach, so if you get a bit turned around you can just walk to the beach via whichever way seems the most expedient (keeping in mind that the ground in this area does get a bit marshy).

It’s a really nice day, but surprisingly the beach is not very well-populated. I stuck a toe in the water, and given how chilly it was the lack of attendance becomes a bit less surprising :)

You have to keep alert; this red blaze is what you’re looking for. This is where the trail departs the beach, and if you’re not keeping your eyes peeled you could easily miss it (the nice older lady I hiked part of this trail with last time I was here did exactly that; it was at this point that we started walking together because I helped her re-orient herself).

Once off the beach, you will find yourself at a campground. This makes a nice place to stop and rest; there are picnic tables, restrooms, and even clean water for refilling your bottle should you need it.

Speaking of being turned around, you might recall that last time I went the wrong way back. This time I found the correct route, which took me up the Western edge of the Lookout Track. If you see the old woolshed, you’re going the right way.

The trail is, unfortunately, quite bad here. Experienced NZ hikers will likely be able to tell that this innocuous looking grass is really mostly marshland.

The good news is, there’s a road that runs parallel to the trail up this same hill. Take my advice: go up the road rather than up the trail. You’re not going to miss anything.

You can rejoin the Lookout Trail once you’re up the hill, or you can veer to your left, keep following the road, and meet the Heritage Trail about where it exits the park gates. I was in no hurry, so I stuck with the Lookout Trail and went the long way around.

This route also meant that I got to see the WWII pillbox again, not that with the fantastic views and the other great stuff I saw I was all that enamored with this hunk of military concrete.

Your trip back will border this stream. The trail becomes a little confusing in parts, but keep your eye out for blazes and consult your map if you’re feeling lost.

So that’s Shakespear Park! I know it’s the same walk as last time, but I hope I was able to find some additional things to show you that make up for the repeat!

Stop by next time when I’ll be posting some additional photos from this trip. I’ve even got something really special to show you, so be sure you don’t miss it! See you then!

The End of the Road

Well, friends, it had to happen sometime. I will be leaving the shores of New Zealand and heading back to the US. In fact, if you’re reading this, I already have (or at least am in the air on my way back).

Fear not, though! I’ve still got a couple of posts up my sleeve, and if the weather is amenable you may even see some hikes from North Carolina show up on this site from time to time! The site which was originally created to help my US friends know what I’m up to in New Zealand can also serve the dual purpose of letting my NZ friends know what I’m up to in the United States.

Perhaps even more excitingly, this is not the end of my New Zealand adventure. I fully intend to make it back here, perhaps sooner than you think :)

Some thoughts, of mine and of others

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “When we travel, we travel not to see new places with new eyes; but that when we come home we see home with new eyes.” Similarly, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

We are shaped by our experiences, and I am incredibly grateful to have been shaped by New Zealand over these fourteen months. Returning home to the US is neither a victory nor a defeat; it is the next step along the road. Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist, “We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.”

The fearful, shortsighted response is to think back over the amazing experiences I’ve had and to be afraid that moving back to the US will mean I won’t have similar experiences again. But the faithful, understanding approach is to recognize the person those experiences have helped me become and to know that in no way can those experiences or that personhood be taken from me, no matter what the future holds.

Coelho also wrote, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” My dreams are not in America. My dreams are not in New Zealand. My dreams are in Heaven.

A few months into my trip, I foresaw a looming difficulty: while I missed my relationships in North Carolina, I knew I was building great friendships in New Zealand as well and would equally miss those upon my return. I asked a friend from church who had been in a similar situation for some advice. She wrote, “… part of being a disciple is (I believe) being nomadic….What I’ve found is that no matter where you go as a disciple you are going to form meaningful relationships and in that way traveling to new places divides your heart between the families you’ve built, and that pain of that division will always be with you. But the joy of getting to know and love new people is worth it!”

I can certainly see the wisdom of those words. And I think it’s an immature worldview to deny oneself membership in a global family due to fear of eventual separation. Bertrand Russell said, “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness,” and George Bernard Shaw wrote, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.”

It is, perhaps, presumptuous to foretell the rest of my life, given both that I have no idea how long that will be and by any reasonable expectation have not lived even half of it yet. But it seems likely to me that I shall live out my life with my heart divided in two. If this ceases to be the case, it is less likely that the two have become one than that the two have become three. But rather than mourn what lies behind, I honor its memory by celebrating what lies ahead.

It is, I think, fitting that I end this post with the Old Walking Song, which is the origin of this blog’s name.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

A return to Whatipu, Pt. 3: Omanawanui Track

In the previous installment, which you really should check out first if you’re just showing up, I hiked the very muddy Kura track. Now I’m getting ready to go back along the Omanawanui track.

When you’re hiking a loop, any elevation gained must eventually be lost again. Because of this, it’s easy to assume that being halfway done must mean that you must stop going up and start going down. This is, unfortunately, not true. And it’s definitively not true with this hike. The trail continues to climb as we turn around and start heading back along Omanawanui.

And climb…and climb. Sometimes quite steeply.

At least, through the trees, we get our first glimpse of the reason why I would drive all this way and hike up such a poor trail: the views!

And if we scramble up this last little bit of trail here…

Ahh, yes. There we go!

This is the Awhitu Peninsula, the Southern part of the Manukau Heads.

If we Zoom and Enhance(tm) a bit, you can see the lighthouse! It’s always really cool to see places from far away that I’ve been to in person. Also funny that it’s maybe a 15-minute boat trip but two hours of driving to get there!

Looking back along the mainland, Cornwallis Peninsula is barely visible through the trees.

The water is looking a little choppy, but it’s a nice deep blue color!

And looking down, well…uh…let’s not look down :)

The trail continues upward. Since there’s less tree cover, the sun has had a chance to evaporate off most of the mud; the trail is much easier to manage. Which is good. I don’t fancy trying to clamber up these hills only to slide back down again!

I’m hurrying a bit at this point in the hike. The weather is not looking great, but also my dallying on the beach and being delayed somewhat by the muddy Kura track have led to it being later than I would like.

The trail just keeps going up! The first time I hiked this I was pretty wiped out at this point. Thankfully, I’m in a little better shape now so I was only mostly wiped out this time!

Climbing and climbing and…wait, what’s that peeking over the brush there?

Achievement unlocked! Storm clouds unlocked too, though.

Looking out over the water shows another great view, but with those ominous dark clouds creeping in! Best not dawdle too long.

Dawdle long enough to capture this rainbow, though!

From this vantage point, I can see my goal: the carpark is down below.

With sufficient zooming, my car is even visible!

This show shows just how much altitude I need to shed before I get there, though! Onward and…upward?

Yep, despite reaching the trig mark, the trail continues to go up. Are those…chains?

Yep! This bit is steep enough that the council has bolted chains to the side of the hill to help hikers not die on their way up. How convenient!

At the top, I take a parting look at Awhitu. Looks like it’s getting darker!

Yep. The sun is setting behind that ridge there! I’ve still got some minutes of sunlight left before it sets over the horizon, but darkness is approaching.

Might as well stay and admire the sunset while I can, though.

And the hills are ablaze.

The harbor is lovely in the light of the setting sun!

A bit further on, there’s a bench up here for sitting and taking in these lovely views! I really do like this shot. I didn’t sample the bench for myself, though, since I needed to hoof it.

Before consummating said hoofing, I did pause to take this photo of Paratutae Island, which is what that blobular outcropping is called (despite not being, properly speaking, an island).

And now for the descent. You would absolutely need that bench if you did the loop in the other direction, as this trail sheds (or gains, depending on where you start) a few hundred meters of elevation very, very quickly.

As it heads down back into the wooded area, the trail gets a bit marshy again. Don’t let your proximity to the end lull you into a false sense of security! Steady footwork is needed here.

I was also hampered by this tree that decided to block my path. If I had more time I would have paused to tidy it up a bit, but as it was I just ducked through.

And at least, back down. It’s only a short walk along this grassy bit before you get back to the road and the carpark. A look at my camera timestamps show that I did this bit in one hour and 42 minutes, which is about half an hour less than the signs estimate. Not too bad for such a steep track, and it just shows the difference between muddy and relatively clean trails!

And that, my friends, is Whatipu! I had a glance back over my previous posts, and though these ones are much longer and have much better pictures, it’s interesting how in some cases I captured much the same views and even said similar things (I did mis-count the fords on the previous post, claiming four when there are in fact five. Some simple math will prove the latter figure true, as after all the fords are done you wind up on the opposite side of the river from where you start).

I’m glad I got a chance to return to Whatipu. This beach — and this hike — will forever hold a special place in my heart!

A return to Whatipu, Pt. 2: Kura Track

As introduced last time, I’m at Whatipu again! I’m doing the same hike I did nearly a year ago, taking the Kura track up to Omanawanui track and then back around to the carpark. Let’s see how I got on.

You may recall from my previous trip here that I spent a bit of time wandering about looking for the trailhead. Fortunately, this time I was able to recall that you have to walk down the road a bit to get to the start of the Kura track.

(Yes, I did reuse this picture from the previous post. I try not to do that, but I only took one photo of the gravel road. What’s a guy to do?)

Once you get to this bit, you will need to notice the orange blaze on a lonely post in the field and follow the vaguely-defined trail to the gate. Through the gate is the proper start of the Kura track.

There is also a sign for the more clueless, such as myself.

Let’s be fair: it’s still Winter here in New Zealand, and it’s been raining. Expecting the trail to be pristine would be unreasonable. But even so, the Kura track is not great.

As you can see, between the beach and the walk I changed into my boots. But by the end of the walk my boots — as well as the cuffs of my Action Khakis ™ — were covered in mud! Note: this picture is of the trail, not of a stream next to the trail.

In addition to being yucky, which comes with the territory sometimes, hiking through mud is slower and also more dangerous (well, those two are related; it’s slower because it’s more dangerous). Be careful in tricky terrain conditions, especially if you’re by yourself.

I like this lone palm tree in a sea of ferns.

The Kura track borders, and frequently crosses, this stream.

The fords are all unbridged, and in the Winter there’s really nothing for it but to just wade in.

There are a total of five crossings. Be prepared for this when you set out. It’s no good being taken by surprise!

Though there are no bridges, in a couple of places where the trail is just completely washed out, there are boardwalk sections installed.

As the trail leaves the stream and starts to climb through the woods, the muddy conditions (plus wet feet from the fords) makes for slow going.

I will say this: though the trail still sometimes gets confusing at times, it’s better marked than it was last time I was here.

This is where I missed the path previously. Someone’s put a tree across the fake path to help folks like me not make the same mistake again!

(The pink ribbons, while somewhat helpful, are not trail blazes. They mark traps and bait stations for pest control. They roughly follow the trail, but can sometimes lead you astray. It’s the orange triangles which are the proper blazes.)

I should create a Where’s Wally style book called Find the Trail.

Eventually, after quite a bit of climbing, we reach the Puiri Ridge track. From here, it’s possible to continue Northeast to Huia (which we’ve been to before) or go along the coast on the Omanawanui track. We’re interested in option 2.

The time estimate on the sign at the bottom is 1 hour 45 minutes, and the camera timestamps show that I did it in 1 hour 35. Thanks to trail conditions and multiple rocky fords, don’t assume that you’re going to outpace the trail signs if you’re hiking this in Winter.

The Puiri Ridge track does pop out onto the road for a very small way.

Just a bit down the street and now we’re on the Omanawanui Track.

I’ll save that bit for next time!

A return to Whatipu, Pt. 1: The Beach

I first visited Whatipu in October of 2015, from which I got 72 photos and two posts.

As this lovely location is one of my favorite spots on the West coast, I decided to revisit it. At 178 photos I got over 100 more pictures than last time. I intentionally did not re-read my original posts before going because I wanted to see how the shots I got this time around compared to last year’s shots. I’ll leave it to you to determine how I got on.

What I didn’t mention in my previous posts is what an ordeal it is actually getting to Whatipu. The trip involves some very windy switchbacks, some dodgy gravel roads, and even fording a small stream with your car! If I had recalled what a pain the drive was, I would maybe have rented a car. But I didn’t, so my longsuffering Alfa made the trip with me, and thankfully held up well!

The carpark is right beside this cozy-looking retreat, which is probably a nice place to spend some time away.

The toilet hut continues to be picturesque in a weird sort of way. Very…uh…rustic.

The same picnic table is still there, but it was nearly 2pm when I arrived thanks to some earlier-morning phone calls I needed to make, so no lunch here this time.

I looked at the pond for a little bit, but fortunately having been here before I didn’t waste any time being lost and trying to find the trails!

Not that this bridge is hard to find, of course, but cut me some slack. I was young and stupid.

A quick jaunt down the black sand pathway leads to Whatipu beach. Despite still being Winter and the area’s general seclusion, I still encountered some other beachgoers!

This miniature replica of Pride Rock is one of Whatipu’s distinguishing features. Meanwhile, the gray sky to the North is a harbinger of things to come. This is why I’m getting the beach out of the way first!

The tide was in further this time than last time, so I didn’t walk even as far toward the lighthouse as I did then (I did at least have some sandals on; my boots were in the car waiting for me to change before the hike).

(I have discovered that the rocky bit the lighthouse is on is called Ninepin Rock, for some reason. At low tide it’s pretty accessible, and apparently it’s a fairly popular spot for fishing.)

Last time I came I didn’t go toward this part of the beach at all. I decided to rectify that this time around.

There’s a small pass through the rocks with some dunes on the left-hand side.

These dunes can be climbed with some little effort (the more Sherlockian among you will notice by the footprints that I took this photo after having already climbed them).

The pathway gets pretty steep, but being moderately packed sand the penalty for a fall is pretty light. Thankfully I avoided that penalty, or else I’d still be cleaning sand out of my camera and pack!

Further up from the beach, the scrub starts to take hold. This makes the ascent easier, but make sure you don’t mistake a gorse bush for a handhold!

Those of us who find heights problematic might at this point want to be cautious about looking back down. The wind was so strong I took my hat off and put it in my pocket so it wouldn’t blow away! By the time I got to the top, I also took my glasses off. That’s how strong the wind was blowing!

The view, though, makes it entirely worth the climb!

The water is such a clear blue.

This shot is looking back along the mainland with the Southern bit of the Manukau Heads on the right-hand side.

Probably not a great spot for a cliff dive, given that there seems to be some submerged rocks. If Taylor had come with me he might have tried it anyway, but he was busy so there were no fatalities on this trip.

My elevated vantage point also gives a great shot of Whatipu stretching out to the horizon with the aforementioned Ninepin Rock on center stage. What a lovely beach!

Geography note: This beach is at pretty much the Southern tip of the North Manukau Head (nobody calls it that, but that’s what it is, and if New Zealand got serious about naming things properly that is what they would call it). As you can see, it curves around and starts running North along the Western coast.

Afterward, I walked back along the path and returned to my car to prepare for the hike ahead. You’ll have to come back next time for that story!

Goat Island 2: Goat’s Revenge

[Note: This post is from quite a long time ago. I had held the draft out in hopes that I would get some additional photos of the event from Taylor, but sadly that never happened. But since I did write this post, I figured I’ll post it as-is so you can enjoy what bits of it are there.]

tidy-4

Photo Credit: Jordan King

It was another holiday weekend (Waitangi Day), so the band got back together and we went out to Goat Island. You may recall from my  previous posts on that location that Goat Island is a popular destination for snorkelers, divers, and other maritime revelers. I went in the winter and did none of that, but this time my friends were keen on checking out the more watery bits.

This will be a pretty short post unless I manage to convince Taylor to send me some of his photos. He and Jordan have GoPros which have waterproof covers; my camera has no such thing and thus remained on the shore.

We arrived around high tide, so we started out with some hiking. We did the Coastal Walk again, so not a lot of new photos. I do have a new camera, though, so maybe I can get some better photos than last time? You be the judge.

I don’t remember what Taylor was photographing down here, but knowing him it probably involved climbing a tree.

We had a lovely day, and the hills were suitably rolling and sheepful.

Taylor also tried being the Cow Whisperer again.

…with his usual inexplicable results.

Destination: Goats.

The marine center with the island in the background.

Such a pretty place.

After our hike, we went down to the beach and swam around for a bit. We swam out to Goat Island — twice, in my case, as my tender little feet couldn’t handle walking on the sharp rocks so I swam out, back, then swam out again wearing my sandals so I could explore a bit. Sadly, unless Taylor ever sends me some of the photos he took I won’t be able to include anything from that here.

I did take one parting shot of the guys standing on these posts though. They wanted a shot of everyone jumping. As you can see, one out of four is actually ready to jump.

As expected, one out of four actually jumped when I said to jump. Oh, well. This picture kind of sums up the crew anyway, so we’ll leave it at that!

So that’s my second trip to Goat Island!