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.]


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!

Tiritiri Matangi, Pt. 4: The Walks and the Views

We looked at the island, and we looked at some birds (OK, quite a lot of birds). Now I want to take you on a tour, looking at stunning sights both on and off the island!

The Walks


You may recall this map from the first Tiritiri post. I figured I’d include it here in case you felt you needed a refresher.

Trail conditions were, to be fair, not great. The slippery mud was treacherous in the extreme. After slipping once, I cut myself a walking stick. Said stick betrayed me and broke, after which I decided to just walk more carefully.

At points, the trails are also not well marked. We took a few wrong turns and ended up backtracking a couple of times.

That said, the island is not large, and even with backtracking or getting lost you’re not out too much time overall.

There aren’t any rocky fords, though, so that’s a plus.

Early in our hike, we found this very muddy pond. If you want to see brown teals, this is the place to go.

We decided to be contrarian and go counterclockwise around the island, starting up the East Coast Track. You hit, in order, the amusingly-named Emergency Landing, then Fisherman(s) Bay, Pohutukawa Cove, and Northeast Bay.

[Note: On the official map above it’s rendered Fishermans Bay, but on the topographic map I’m using it’s written Fisherman Bay. According to the New Zealand Gazetteer, the official name is in fact Fisherman Bay. This sort of casual disregard for official naming is what makes the geography enthusiast’s life so difficult.]

I’m about to have an emergency because this landing is so beautiful!

Very yes.

I can’t get over how pretty the water looks in this shot.

Fisherman Bay, which was our lunch spot, is also very pretty.

Here’s the view from below. Taylor (characteristically) and I (uncharacteristically) climbed up that large flat rock and had lunch atop it.

Taylor’s fascination with tide pools and sea caves and my fascination with pretty much everything I see in New Zealand led to us spending quite a bit of time here.

See? Caves.

Hiking up toward Pohutukawa Cove takes you by the Arches. There’s an old, muddy, abandoned trail leading along the Arches; if you like danger and adventure you can take it until it becomes too overgrown and steep to traverse, but a slip to the right will give you a brief, stunning view of the arches from below before you encounter the rocks. One star, would not recommend.

I do, however, highly recommend viewing the arches from above.

Moving along further North, we see Little Wooded Island, an accurately-named island off the coast.

Taylor and I also took a break to admire the World’s Saddest Tree.

Since the rest of the hike was effectively more of the same, I’m going to switch it up a bit and head back down South to the sensitively-named Chinaman Bay (which is once again given the possessive on the map but not in the official name, though in this case that’s the least of the problems with this bay’s name).

Eagle-eyed Taylor noticed this little shed on the side of a cliff. We asked the ranger what it was about, and I don’t think he understood what we were asking about because the answer he gave didn’t make sense.

In any case, we chose to explore for ourselves. This cliff face is one of those areas that’s actually not too steep but convinces my brain that I’m getting ready to plummet to my doom.

The railings there are…not confidence-inspiring either.

We picked our way down (me, carefully; Taylor, seemingly instantaneously) and explored the little hut.

Still not quite sure what it is — my guess would be a WWII observation bunker — but a fun little exploration.

And heading down the cliff face gave a great view of this cool rock formation!

Speaking of great views…

The Views

Taking the ferry to, well, anywhere in the Hauraki Gulf results in some nice shots of Rangitoto.

From Tiritiri, we get to see a side not visible from Auckland City!

I love this shot. The one cloud shooting a rainbow down at the mountain!

If we Zoom and Enhance(tm) we find out why: because someone on this ship has a pot o’ gold!

Zooming out a bit, we can actually see Rangitoto and Auckland together!

Although it’s a bit hazy, even on a moderately cloudy day the city is in full view. And captured here along with a sailing ship!

Here’s a photo of the mountain at sunset. Sunsets are a bit tricky to capture sometimes, so I twiddled some dials in the photo editor on this one.

We were certainly blessed with a gorgeous sunset that evening.

When hiking around Tiritiri, the coastline of the island itself makes a nice photographic subject.

But don’t forget to notice the islands further away as well.

Looking out into the distance, the sharp-eyed viewer can see quite a bit out to see. On a decent day, the Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island are both visible.

The rocky coast of Tiritiri shows in miniature what happened to the whole gulf. Rocky volcanic islands abound.

There are even opportunities to get down close to the water and truly admire its amazing blue-green color.

And although we weren’t staying on the clearest of days, the many rainbows we observed surely made up for the rain we got.

In fact, here’s a double rainbow for your consideration. The more science-minded among you may be interested in Randall Munroe’s What-If column where he discusses the physics of rainbows.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed my trip to Tiritiri Matangi. Thank you for indulging me across four long posts. If you have a chance, I urge you to check out this lovely island for yourself!

Tiritiri Matangi, Pt. 3: Birds of New Zealand Pt. 2

As the complicated title of this post indicates, this is the third installment of my Tiritiri Matangi chronicle and the second of those featuring the birds I found.

Without further ado, let’s get back to it!

North Island robin

The North Island robin, which resembles the robins in the US not at all, is a cute little bird that is fairly common across the central part of the North Island. They don’t seem to make their way up to the Auckland region, though, except for transplants like the ones on Tiritiri. This makes them cool to see for me since they’re so uncommon around these parts.

If you’re birdwatching on Tiritiri, you don’t have to make any special efforts to find North Island robins. All of the ones I saw came up to say hi while I was photographing other things.


Photograph everything.

When sorting through my photos I discovered that I had snapped this shot without bothering to identify the bird (I suspect I thought it was a robin at the time).

Much like the North Island robin, whiteheads (or popokotea in Maori) are fairly common in the Central and Southern parts of the North Island, but not so much up near Auckland and above.

This one I actually knew what I was photographing :)


While Taylor and I were at the feeder in the morning, this guy just waltzed up behind us like it weren’t no thing.

The kokako is practically a dinosaur, and their sonorous, almost haunting call is loud and piercing enough to travel a long distance through the forest.

These little guys are a big victory for New Zealand conservation efforts. There are no kokako left in unmanaged areas, but sanctuaries like Tiritiri have kept them around.

We later saw another one in the trees as we were out walking and birdhunting. I’m glad we got a chance to observe some of these cool birds.

Red-crowned parakeet

I introduced the red-crowned parakeet, better known as the red-crested whatever, in my post on Tawharanui. This shot is sadly pretty blown out due to my incompetence with camera settings (I had the shutter speed super high and had cranked the ISO to compensate, but didn’t crank the ISO back down as the morning drew on and the day got brighter, with predictable results).

I was able to use Flickr’s photo editor, amusingly called Aviary, to fix the exposure slightly on this photo.

We encountered several of these colorful birds on our walks. This one is a little less terrible of a shot, and he even obligingly stuck his mug in a well-lit patch.

Brown quail

As we were walking not too long after landing, Taylor grabbed my arm and said “look, kiwis!”. Turned out they were just some brown quail (in his defense, he’d never seen a kiwi in person before, while I’d seen some at the zoo and at Rainbow Springs).

Brown quail are annoyingly hard to get a good photo of, because they tend to like shaded places and tend to scurry quite fast. This is a bad combination, because either your photos will be too dark or too blurry.

I did manage to get a few salvageable shots, though.

A brief interlude on night-time photography

At night, hikers are supposed to put red cellophane over their torches. This makes photography quite difficult. I used an ISO of 25600, a shutter speed of 1/10, and an F-stop of 4.2. I was at max zoom on the small lens, and since autofocus is worse than useless under these conditions (even more than usual), I set the manual focus to about mid-depth and hoped any birds that popped up would be obliging enough to do so at the correct range to be at least approximately in focus.

In short, all the night photos will be red-tinted and possibly a bit blurry.

Taylor and I were lucky to meet a tour guide and conservation expert called Barry. He loaned me one of his torches (mine had given up after about an hour because I stupidly forgot to change the batteries before leaving) and showed us around. Thanks to him we were able to see some really cool birds.

Blue penguin

The adorable blue penguin is the world’s smallest penguin. They spend most of their day at sea, returning to land only at night to nest.

Their population is declining on the mainland due to predators and humans. Sadly, my first encounter with a blue penguin was seeing one as roadkill on the South Island. The populations on the predator-free offshore islands are generally stable.

Grey-faced petrel

When walking along at night, you will quite possibly encounter a grey-faced petrel sleeping in the middle of the trail (the kiwis use the British spelling of gray in the name of this bird, which the Maori succinctly call oi).

These birds are not threatened, but they are native. Barry told us that they are not so great at landing, so if you’re walking around at dusk you may hear grey-faced petrels flumping down in a semi-controlled crash.

I like to think that if I were a bird I would be something cool, like an Australasian harrier or a California condor. But I suspect in reality I would be a grey-faced petrel.

Brown Kiwi

Sorry, I’m such a tease. We saw two kiwis, but I got no clear shots of either of them. They tend not to hang around for very long! The leftmost quarter or so of this photo is the out-of-focus rear end of a female brown kiwi we encountered on the trail.

And other cool things as well

I was, sadly, unable to photograph the kiwis. I also didn’t get any shots of the two tuataras we saw. A tuatara is an ancient reptile (not actually a lizard, though they resemble them) native to New Zealand. They’re really super cool and also in need of conservation, and since they don’t do enough damage to the birds that they’re considered a dangerous predator, they’re also on the island intentionally.

We saw a pied shag sleeping under the pier, but he awoke and flew off before I got a photo. As I already had a decent (daytime) photo of a pied shag from my trip to Karekare, I didn’t shed any tears over that one.

The ones that got away

I would have loved to see a moorpork on our nighttime excursion. We heard a couple, but never saw them.

I was also hoping to see a rifleman, a spotless crake, and an Australasian harrier, none of which we encountered.

Which is fine, because it leaves something for next time. I’d love to come again in the Summer, just to see the difference.

I am very glad that Tiritiri Matangi exists. Thanks to the conservation efforts of many heroic men and women, our children and grandchildren will be able to see these cool birds.

If you sign up to be a conservation member, the prices for the ferry and bunkhouse are a little cheaper. It ends up being worth it if you make multiple trips per year, but even if you don’t then I think it’s worth it just to think that future generations will be just as amazed by birds like the takahe, the kokako, and of course the kiwi as I was.

We’re not done with Tiritiri Matangi yet, so come back next post to see more of this amazing island!