Auckland Zoo

We. Are. BACK.

Whangarei was incredibly beautiful, but I just can’t escape my love affair with Auckland.

We’re not doing any climbing today though — the above picture is from next post’s adventure. Instead, we’re going to the zoo!

Side note on zoos: I have mixed feelings about them. I definitely appreciate that the Auckland Zoo does a great job focusing on conservation and working hard to give the animals a varied and interesting life. I also appreciate the open spaces many of the animals have available. The origin of zoos and animal exhibits is a troubling one, but well-run modern zoos enable us to have a deeper understanding of the world we live in and even to make a difference by preserving endangered species.

The Auckland Zoo boasts a number of diverse exhibits, but I decided to start with the Pridelands section, dedicated to the animals of the African savanna.

A few years ago when I was in South Africa, I had the opportunity to spend two nights in Kruger National Park on a driving safari. This was a really cool experience, and I came away with both a deep respect for and even a love of the African animals. I deeply appreciate areas like Kruger dedicated to preserving animals in their natural habitats, something no zoo can come close to. But let’s take a look at what the Auckland Zoo has available.

I love giraffes. I don’t know why. Maybe because they’re tall, like me. Or maybe because they’re just so different. It’s a little hard to tell, but there’s actually a mother and her calf on the other side of that fence. I believe the calf was just recently born, which is why they’re sequestered.

This is the rebellious teenage giraffe standing apart from his tragically uncool parents.

Also some zebras…

And some ostriches!

The rhino in the upper left-hand corner is the best photo I got of it. I don’t know if it was MIA by the time I made it around there or if I was just too lazy to snap a photo. My adventures as the world’s worst tourist continue!

These lions are all lounging around on this rock. The one on the left is on her back with her back legs up in the air. Giant kitties.

Oliphaunts!

They apparently enjoy giving themselves dust baths, which is why they’re covered in dirt. I saw the younger one throwing dust up in the air with her trunk!

At this point I took a break for lunch, where I was joined by a chicken. I’m not sure why the zoo has random chickens wandering around, but OK.

Did you think that the zoo was all hot and dry and dusty? No, just the part trying to simulate the African savanna. The rest of it looks like this.

I even found some mysterious stairs in a fenced-off area, leading to who-knows-where! I resisted the urge to sneak over and explore.

Proving that even I with my mediocre phone camera can produce a reasonable shot of some birds when they’re in captivity and reasonably accustomed to humans.

It’s time to face the facts: I do better with scenery than wildlife. It’s blatantly obvious that I was photographing the stream, and the birds just happened to be there.

There’s probably a bird in there somewhere.

Now I’m not even trying!

OK, on to the more mammalian wildlife. Here’s a red panda. I love these little guys!

I politely asked this lemur if he could maybe move it move it into some better lighting conditions, but he didn’t listen.

These are rainbow lorikeets, a name I totally remembered in my brain and didn’t have to look up on Google just now (as far as you know).

Now there’s a bird even I can photograph properly. There was a sign up saying that it’s Emu mating season and to stay on the path. But I feel like that pitiful little railing is not going to stop an amorous emu if it takes a fancy. Fortunately this one was content to just pose.

The real amorous animals here were the wallabies. This one wants me to draw her like one of my French girls. (Spoiler alert: I have no French girls).

And my zoo tour ends with a row o’ wallabies.

So yep, that’s the zoo. I wanted to do it all in one post, so sorry for the length. And thanks as always for putting up with my abject photographic incompetence. If all poachers were as bad a shot with their rifles as I am with my camera, the world would be a safer place for these animals.

Now go search the web for pictures of baby cheetahs, since they’re pretty much the cutest things ever. And come back next time for some more photos of Auckland!

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Whangarei, Pt. 6: The Falls

I hope these Whangarei posts aren’t getting old. But if they are, good news! This is the last one! And it will be a short one.

As you might recall, I did the Hatea River Walk (which is a hiking trail, not a type of dance) over Labor Day. We left off last time as I was approaching Whangarei Falls.

There are a number of bridges, walkways, and view points all around the falls, and I spent a good 45 minutes or so walking and climbing around. You can see one of the bridges going across the river in the shot above.

And then, just a few steps forward, you get a glimpse of the falls. And you forget that you just walked almost 5 km.

Ok, so not quite Niagara, but very pretty!

You see the viewing deck in the upper left of the previous picture? That’s where this one was taken from.

Hello, tiny human! This gives a great view out along the Hatea River.

There are signs telling you not to climb out onto those rocks.

I am not very good at following instructions.

As you can see in the background, this is one of those attractions where you can either walk there or drive up to the carpark right next to it. As usual, I felt smug for making the hike on foot. But ignoring my smarm, this is still a nice angle on the falls.

So that is the many angles of Whangarei Falls! I think this is my favorite photo, although the one from the right-hand side is also quite nice.

And there ends my Whangarei trip. After enjoying the falls, I hiked back along the Hatea River Walk, jumped in my car (which was, as advertised, not ticketed or towed), and drove back to Auckland. And since I made such great time along the trails, I even had time to stop by Countdown, buy a sponge, and give my car a thorough washing before meeting with my friend.

I hope you enjoyed looking at pictures of my mini-vacation up to Whangarei as much as I enjoyed taking them! Next time we’re going to be back in Auckland, and we’re going to see some animals!

Whangarei, Pt. 5: The Hatea River Walk

Welcome back! This post begins Day 2 of my vacation to Whangarei. My plan was to get an early start, grabbing some breakfast and then heading out on the Hatea River Walk up to Whangarei Falls. I needed to be back in Auckland around 6 to meet with a friend, so I wanted to give myself plenty of time for hiking.

The Hatea River Walk is divided into three segments: Town Basin to Mair Park, Mair Park to AH Reed Memorial Park, and then AH Reed to the Falls. Each segment is around 1.5km, for a total there-and-back distance of 9km or so.

Even in a small town like Whangarei, free long-term parking is not plentiful. But I chose correctly for breakfast, being the first customer at the Mokaba Cafe that morning. When I asked the lady behind the counter for parking advice, she told me to run and get my car and park in the small lot right behind the cafe, as I could park there all day for free but it filled up quite quickly. I did just that, and thus managed to sort parking and breakfast in one fell swoop.

The Hater River Walk starts out right behind the Aquatic Centre with an easy gravel path along the riverside. This would be a lovely place to just come and relax!

The track then proceeds on to a very cool boardwalk through what I guess are Mangroves? My horticultural knowledge is dodgy at best. This is a really neat area though!

Huzzah! Even when there’s no Auckland or Rangitoto to photograph, you know I’m going to sneak some stairs in! The track leads along a road and then climbs between two peoples’ properties. That’s actually not uncommon in New Zealand; even here in Auckland some of the parks have trails running essentially through someone’s yard!

We have now rejoined the Hater River. Attentive readers will note that I’m skipping along at a pretty good clip. This is Mair Park, also featured in the last post on Mt. Parihaka. In other words, I’m already nearing a third of the way through!

I was actually both surprised and pleased to make it to the park this quickly! We get a much nicer angle on the river and the park from this direction.

I’m torn between wanting to hustle things along so this post isn’t super long and showing all the cool sights I saw. Which is appropriate because on the actual hike I was torn between enjoying the sights and making good time so I don’t get caught short on the way back.

After Mair Park, the trail intersects with another road for a little bit. For some bits there’s a sidewalk, and for others you’re actually walking on the tarmac. This is probably the most boring part of the hike, but since it’s a good, flat surface it makes for a great place to make up lost time.

Once you’re off the asphalt, you’re pretty much at AH Reed. We’re two-thirds of the way there!

The stretch from AH Reed to the Falls is one of the coolest hikes I’ve done. Super easy walking, really beautiful, and lots of different terrain. From almost jungle-like growth to forest to fields…New Zealand really does have nearly everything all in one spot.

Here it pretty abruptly transitions from forest to field. Note that snake-looking emblem on the gate; that’s the blaze for the Hatea River Walk. This trail (which sadly cannot be said for all New Zealand trails) is really quite well marked. Whenever I was confused, there was that comforting squiggle to guide me.

(I almost left the gate standing open in protest of the Comic Sans-ness of the sign, but I decided to be a courteous hiker and shut it behind me. This is so New Zealand.)

I have some amazing photos of the falls coming up in the next post, but this may be my favorite picture from the walk. The climbing tree and rope swing…I just love it. I wanted to spend all day here. I also wanted to climb the tree, but I didn’t because I was afraid of damaging the poorly-nailed boards serving as ladder rungs.

I also found a majestic tree fern for Marianne. Though if my horticultural knowledge is as rubbish as it usually is, she will probably chime in to tell me that it’s actually a rhinoceros or something. I am frequently wrong about plants, is what I’m trying to communicate here.

And here we are! These are the Whangarei Falls! Or not. But this tiny waterfall makes me laugh. And I love the milky green color of the water here.

So that’s the Hatea River Walk! I know this post was a lot longer than usual, so thanks for hanging around. At the time, this was the longest hike I’d taken in New Zealand, and I absolutely loved it. The weather was about the best I could have asked for in late Winter, and the scenery was just gorgeous. Thank you, Whangarei, for such a lovely walk. And because it’s not a loop, I got to experience it all in reverse on the way back! I won’t post that, obviously.

Come back next time for photos of the falls!

Whangarei, Pt. 4: Mt. Parihaka

New Zealand is absolutely littered with volcanoes. Every major city has a volcanic cone protruding up somewhere nearby — Auckland has heaps, of course, and a few posts ago we visited one of them known as Mt. Eden. Strictly speaking these hills are not actually mountains, but actual mountains on the North Island are in short supply so they will have to make do.

As the map above indicates (poorly, as there are no contour lines), Whangarei’s mountain is Mt. Parihaka.

There are two primary ways to get to Mt. Parihaka; one is to drive to Mair Park, and the other is to walk along the trail from the Town Basin. The latter we’ll see in the next post, but on Monday I did the former. And I’m glad of it, since as seen in this photo Mair Park is really quite pretty.

Taking a nice stroll through the trees, I ran across a tiny little stream!

Walking down the path brings you to the Hater River, with Parihaka in the background. It may not be a proper mountain, but it does have some elevation.

Weird note: the color gradient on those bushes fools my eyes into thinking there’s motion blur in this photo. When I stare at the center, it feels like I’m zooming toward the trees. Or maybe that’s just me? I promise no drugs were taken in the making of this post….

Sometimes I have to struggle to find just one good photo of an area. But with Mair Park, I’m struggling to avoid the temptation to put every single photo in this post!

As we (reluctantly) move on, we cross the bridge and find *ominous chord* some stairs! This is the start of the climb to the summit!

I didn’t take any photos of the steep bits, mostly because I was busy trying not to pass out! But here’s a photo of an area of the trail that’s more level.

Upon reaching the top, you find a neat little monument. I don’t actually know the story behind it, but I like to think it’s celebrating the effort it took to get up there!

The true reward for the effort of the climb is to follow, though.

Up on the lookout, the view is simply staggering. No words I can put here would adequately describe it. If you click one photo to look at the full-resolution version, let it be this one.

So that, my friends, is Mt. Parihaka. Fantastic views, a short but great hike, a beautiful park at the bottom.

I managed to make it down before dusk — barely — and then drove over to the Grand Hotel to hang out with Queen Elizabeth II and some ghosts.

Next post: Tuesday’s adventure! I average between 11 – 12 pictures per post; I have 35 from Tuesday. It will take us two posts to get through Tuesday, but since Monday took four posts then that’s practically light speed :)

Whangarei, Pt. 3: In Which We Actually Make It To Whangarei

Finally. After two posts, we make it to Whangarei (if I ever post photos from my previous NZ trip, it will be more of the same. It would probably take four posts just to make it from Taupo to Wellington).

There are a couple of main roads with shops and such running North-South, and then up right below the Hatea River is the Town Basin itself, all of which seem to more or less compose the Whangarei Central Business District.

The Basin is properly on the river (which Google’s GPS voice pronounces as “Hater River”). I lunched at a lovely restaurant called Reva’s, which is where this photo was taken. Honestly at this point the vacation was already a success, so everything that comes after is pretty much gravy :)

I had such a typical Nathan moment at Reva’s. I walk in to this restaurant I’ve never been to before, read the menu, decide I knew better, and ask the chef if he’ll make me something not on the menu (he did, and it was delicious). I try not to be a food snob, but it’s so tempting sometimes!

(The Hatea River is properly spelt with a macron over the a, making it Hātea. Ain’t nobody got time for that, though, so I will render it Hatea, except when I call it the Hater River because I think that’s hilarious).

The benches in the Town Basin are pretty funky. You can adjust the back so you can sit looking in either direction. While the engineer in me loves this, the pragmatist notes that the bench is unfortunately not extremely comfortable and wonders why anyone would not want to look at the river. A for effort though!

While driving in, I passed a used bookstore a few blocks from the Basin. After lunch, of course I walked back to check it out. It was wonderful, if not perhaps quite as organized as it might have been. There was also a cat wandering around — I got the sense that the proprietors also lived there and it was their pet cat. When I retire, I would love to live in a bookstore in Whangarei with a pet cat. So no judgement here; as far as I’m concerned they’re living the dream!

Side note: for some reason, New Zealand is obsessed with Frida Kahlo (upper left, in case you don’t feel like playing Where’s Frida?). Her picture is seriously all over. I have no idea why.

There was also this really neat gallery of glassware. Yes, this isn’t actually pottery, it is blown glass! Mind = blown.

This stuff is honestly just stunning. I stayed in here for as long as I could before the proprietress started asking pointed questions about whether I was planning on buying anything.

At this point in a purely chronological account I would put photos of my hike up Mt. Parihaka, but I have heaps so I’ll save them for the next post. Here’s another picture of one of the cool benches (this one is even more pointless since you can’t actually sit in the other direction, haha).

The hotel I booked for the night is called the Grand Hotel. Its website claims that Queen Elizabeth II stayed there when she visited Whangarei. I feel like it’s let itself go a bit since then — for one thing, there’s no attendant on duty most of the time so you have to go to the bar next door to book a room. I’m reasonably certain it’s also haunted.

Wandering specters aside, the room was cheap and reasonable; I have no qualms about my stay there. It was somewhat difficult to actually find a non-fast-food place to eat in Whangarei on a Monday night, but I managed.

The next day I embarked on a long hike. But before we get to that, I need to post some photos of Whangarei from up high. Yep: I climbed a mountain. Stay tuned!

Whangarei, Pt. 2: Piroa Falls

Welcome back! If you’re just joining us, this post is in the middle of my road trip up to Whangarei. On the way up, I realized I would pass by the Waipu Gorge scenic reserve. I added it to my itinerary.

When I got to the turn, I immediately noticed was that the road was…not so great. It started off as a gravel road, but after a couple of kilometers the gravel kinda…ran out, and it was just mostly a dirt road.

(Side story: in 2010, in the US, some friends invited me on a camping trip riiiight after I bought a new car. Like, about 100 miles on the odometer. I ended up being one of the drivers, and of course they led me onto a dirty gravel road with some of the worst washboarding I’ve ever driven over. So I am very familiar with taking nice cars on terrible roads, but this was still a doozy.)

It doesn’t help that the falls are not brilliantly marked, so I drove by them on the first pass. I went about 3km too far before I realized I needed to turn around. The road was pretty narrow with not many turnoffs, so I had to avail myself of a sheep pasture to make the turn. My noble steed — not at all designed to be tramping around in the mud — did admirably.

Not a lot of parking, either. But I’m not complaining; the more remote the site, the more special it is when I feel like I’m one of a privileged few who have seen it!

The track gets pretty steep well-nigh immediately, but it’s not that long. Kudos to the Maungaturoto Rotary Club for keeping this trail well-maintained.

After losing some altitude, we find a rather murky river. Not quite the unsettling brown of the Brisbane River, but not exactly a clear, bubbling brook either.

You wanna see the falls? You gotta cross the bridge. Concrete is…an interesting choice of material.

The thoughts going through my head at this point: so worth it. What fantastic falls!

And here’s a shot in the other direction, showing the basin the falls pour into. Maybe if I had brought my togs (and if it wasn’t still pretty chilly out) I would have taken a dip!

There’s also this cool picnic area! Weirdly out of focus though. The Rotary Club should get on that.

And what journey would be complete without some stairs?

So that’s Piroa Falls! A nice little pause in a trip North. Just make sure before you go that your car can handle the journey!

I took a photo of the hood of my car after I got off the rubbish roads. After getting back to Auckland it’s going to need some washing.

Next time we’re going to actually make it all the way to Whangarei!

Whangarei, Pt. 1: Road Trip!

Living in the city, I don’t have much need for a car during the week. On the weekends, however, a car becomes a necessity for the modern explorer. My car is possibly the most intrepid, rugged, and reliable adventuring companion one could ask for:

…a fifteen-year-old Italian sports cabriolet. Oh yes. So in celebration of American Labor Day weekend, I took the old girl out for a drive up toward the Northlands, to the town of Whangarei.

(Note: Whangarei is pronounced “fangalay”, which is possibly not how you were pronouncing it in your head. It’s a weirdness of how the Maori language is transliterated into our English alphabet. Carry on.)

I had a quite full itinerary planned out over my two days of travel, but in New Zealand even the drive itself becomes a destination when you get such fantastic views.

Sadly, the weather didn’t get the memo about the party, and as you can see it was somewhat overcast for the drive. As I went North the weather did clear up a bit, though!

The roads often offer places to pull off to ogle particularly fantastic views, probably to avoid tourists such as myself stopping on the hard shoulder and getting run over by a logging truck.

I should also note at this point that the motorway north from Auckland up to Whangarei is some fantastic mountain driving. In the US, a road trip on the highway usually means setting your cruise control and trying not to fall asleep. A road trip up to the Northlands means hairpin turns and mountain passes. There will be no falling asleep at the wheel here — you’ll be glad to pull over for the scenic overlooks just to get your heart rate down!

New Zealand: the land where a mediocre photographer with subpar kit can bang out a poorly-composed shot of some landscape and it will still look stunningly beautiful. The weather obligingly also cleared up to deliver a few of New Zealand’s many trademark blue hues.

As the tree in the middle distance is attempting to illustrate, there was a bit of wind over the bluffs.

Imagine living in a farmhouse all the way out here. I’m a bit of an introvert, and I have no problem being by myself for long stretches of time. Even so, I think even I would start to feel a bit isolated after a while.

At one point when driving North along Motorway 1, you will find signs warning of an impending toll road. This is the Northern Gateway, a relatively small stretch of road which cost the New Zealand government about $100 million. It has seven bridges, two tunnels, and cuts several km off the old route along the coast.

The only problem is, the old route is absolutely gorgeous and, unless you’re traveling at rush hour, not that much longer timewise. The above photo was taken at one of the scenic overlooks along the free route.

(The free route also offers some more of the aforementioned brilliant mountain driving, which is far more fun than taking a straight road right through the hills).

Just look at how fantastically clear this water is! You’d think I was right up on it until you see the tree below me and realize how high up I really am.

So that was my road trip to Whangarei. One more post before we actually arrive in the town itself, because I stopped along my journey to see Piroa falls. Spoiler alert; the trip involves off-roading in a small Italian roadster. Stay tuned!

The Triumphant Return of Auckland City: Mt. Eden

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and family and random Internet strangers, this is it: we have returned to New Zealand! Let joy be uncontained, etc.

A while ago I had this conversation, edited as always for brevity and to make a better story:
“Hey Nathan, you should go up Mt. Eden!”
“Why?”
“It’s the tallest point in the area, and you can get some great photos of Auckland from it.”
“Sold.”

You can either drive to the top of Mt. Eden or park at one of the many entrance points along the base and then hike up. I chose the second option.

By now you’ve probably added stairs to the list of things I like to photograph. There’s just something about a set of stairs carved into a hill leading up beyond view.

And more stairs :D

You might think that with being so close to the city, Mt. Eden would be all wide, well-trodden paths. But there are some bits which feel positively isolated. The path gets pretty narrow here as well!

Mt. Eden was once a volcano, as were most of Auckland’s hills. Sadly, there are signs asking visitors not to scramble down into the crater. I was, uncharacteristically, obedient.

Walking Southward around the crater, we get our first real peek at majestic Auckland! Yes, it has been a long time coming, but here is another photo of the world’s most photographable city for your ocular enjoyment.

This is the summit! I don’t know about other hikers, but I feel a bit discouraged when I arrive at my destination to find a carpark. I suppose I will just have to settle for the sense of smug superiority that I took the scenic route :)

At the summit is this metal dingus (that’s the technical term) showing distances to Auckland District features (inner ring), parts of New Zealand and the surrounding islands (middle ring) and major foreign cities (outer ring). We see for instance that it is 14,197km to New York. But I didn’t put petrol in the car before I left so I won’t be making that trip today.

And let’s hear it for Captain Theophilus Heale, Inspector of Surveys.

Hi there, Rangatoto! You can tell that I took this photo with my actual camera, since despite paying no attention to proper lighting or balance it’s not completely unviewable. The Nexus 5’s camera is not entirely terrible, but were I to attempt this shot with it the entire top half of the photograph would be a glowy white mass. You can even see the ghostly silhouette of what I believe is the Great Barrier Island out there in the distance.

That is One Tree Hill. I’ve been up One Tree Hill a few times, but I don’t have a lot of photographs. I’ll have to rectify that….

I should have taken this photo with the Canon instead of the Nexus 5, but I still like it even if the photography itself is terrible. If I were truly a photographer, I would schlep back up Mt. Eden at a different time of day when the sun is conveniently to my aft and retake this picture properly. But a photographer I ain’t, so this will have to do.

The suburbs (as suburbs are wont to be) are far more boring than the city — both photographically and existentially. But look at that sky.

You can hike to the top of Mt. Eden in under an hour. Even if you’re intent on exploring every nook and cranny, arriving at 8am will have you done in time for lunch. If you’re interested in getting better photos than the ones I have here (and the even worse ones I spared you from), consider arriving later so the sun isn’t in your face as you’re photographing our lovely city. Either way, it’s a great place to spend part of a day!

Next time we’ll be leaving Auckland behind again, but we’ll be staying in New Zealand. It’s time for a road trip!