A peek under the Harbour Bridge

One thing that really fires me up is finding cool little corners of cities that few people know about. I admit it; I love to be that guy who seemingly knows all the little secrets. If life were a video game, I would have located all of the hidden power-ups and treasure chests :)

One question I frequently ask, then, is “how do I get under / on top of / behind that thing?”. Sticking to the path is lame. Let’s explore!

Auckland is divided into the North Shore and…I’ve never heard anyone call it the South Shore, so I guess it’s just Auckland City. These two bits are connected by the Harbour Bridge. In the photo above, if you can wrest your eyes from the world’s most photogenic city for a moment, you can see the Harbour Bridge stretching across in the middle distance. I wanted to get underneath the bridge.

As it turns out, this is quite easy. Plug Sulphur Beach Rd into your GPS and set off. The road you see in that photo is in fact Motorway 1, which is the highway which runs over the Harbour Bridge.

Once you run out of road, you will need to continue on foot.

On your way, stop to admire the cool stairs these people have in their backyard :)

This looks promising.

At this point, you are actually on a road again. You may discover this to your surprise when a car swings around that curve. Try to avoid this fate if possible.

It’s like a little beach! So cool.

Wait…that’s…Auckland! You know what I’m going to do! But not yet…I’m still exploring.

The Harbour Bridge has inner and outer lanes. Once the traffic got too bad, rather than reconstruct the whole thing the city hired some engineers to come in and bung some extra bits onto each side. Crossing the bridge for the first time can be somewhat confusing as a result, since there are barriers preventing you from merging from an inner to an outer lane (rule of thumb: there’s never a reason where you *have* to use the inner lanes, even if your GPS tells you to. But if you’re taking the first two exits after the bridge, you will need to be in an outer lane. So when in doubt, choose an outer lane).

The outer lanes are on top of this rock formation. I did not scale the rock formation, mostly because in America they would assume someone doing that was a terrorist trying to blow up the bridge and probably shoot him fifty thousand times. I think New Zealand is a bit more sober in this regard, but “don’t make the news” is always a standing goal for any of my trips so I figured I wouldn’t risk it.

A tiny pier! And Devonport in the background (that would be Mt. Victoria, not to be confused with Wellington’s Mt. Victoria, neither of which should be confused with an actual mountain).

Why, I do believe this tiny pier would be a great location to take some pictures of Auckland from! (This one’s just a teaser; I have the proper pictures at the end of the post)

It’s the bridge as seen from the pier! Right about this point it started raining and I decided to beat feet back under the bridge for shelter.

Rangitoto is peeking up and saying “hi”. Man, this little spot is money: great view of Auckland, interesting angle on Rangitoto, and even some stairs back in that person’s backyard.

If you choose to walk back along the other side of the bridge, and if the tide happens to be out, you will see one of Auckland’s vast sand flats along the harbor.

This part of the trail runs literally right alongside the motorway. Does anyone else get self-conscious walking along the side of a major road? As though the motorists are all looking at you and judging you somehow? Just me? Let’s move on then.

So how do we get from this side of the motorway to the other side, where my car is? If you guessed a totally sweet tunnel then you guessed right!

Yussssss!

In case for some reason you thought that driving your car in this tunnel would be a good idea, the sign tells you no.

So that’s my cool little spot! It’s a great place to chill, or maybe have a prayer walk, or see the city from a different angle. And speaking of seeing the city, the photos you knew were coming:

Sky Tower!

Auckland! As seen from the pier.

We’ll see a bit more of the North Shore next time…and I may even sneak in another photo of Auckland! Stay tuned!

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A Taste of the Waitakeres: Hiking through Whatipu

We left off last time at Whatipu Beach, getting ready to hike the Kura Track to Omanawanui Track loop.

I wasted an annoying amount of time trying to figure out where the trail head was, but once I realized I needed to walk up the road a ways, I started off. You can see the road here in this photo.

There’s a gate, presumably to keep sheep from wandering onto the trail.

As the track progresses, the stream becomes wider. This will be significant shortly.

Hurrah, a ford! This is (spoiler alert) the first of four. I had actually worn my hiking boots rather than my sandals for this hike, which was a source of annoyance because here I’m less than half an hour into a 4-hour hike and I’m going to get my socks wet. Protip: avoid the temptation to hop along the dry rocks. They will betray you, as river rocks are wont to do, and you will get more than your socks wet. I just walked across the river bottom and hoped the gore-tex lining of my boots was up to the challenge.

The stream was very clear and pretty, with the nice greenish-blue tint that many New Zealand streams seem to have. It helped me be less annoyed at having to ford it multiple times.

Yes, this is actually the trail. I am, it must be confessed, not a fan of the Kura Track. It is both poorly marked and poorly maintained, at times almost dangerously so. The ground also gets extremely muddy in the winter, so despite the fords I was extremely glad to be wearing my boots.

At one point I actually missed a switchback and wandered a couple hundred meters into the woods. The trail was so poorly maintained I thought the bushwhacking I was doing was normal, until I got to a point which was effectively impassible. I ended up having to backtrack and hunt carefully for the actual trail.

After quite a bit of climbing, fording, and muddy scrabbling around, though, we finally get a glimpse of what makes this trail worth it.

I’ve seen a lot of pretty scenery in my life, but the Waitakere ranges hitting the Manukau Harbour just took my breath away.

Whatipu is the north side of Manukau Harbor, right where it empties into the Tasman Sea. I don’t know if this strait has a name, but I couldn’t find it. On the other side, pictured here, are the Manukau Heads. At extreme zoom I believe you can even see the old lighthouse and signal station!

Hey, there’s the beach! That’s…a lot of elevation for us to descend. But first….

…we have to go upward. At this point, the trail actually drops a bit and then goes back up along a rocky ridge. You’re basically scrambling up a bare rock face, but there are chains drilled into the side of the cliff for you to hold on to so you don’t die. Given how poorly maintained the rest of the trail was, I made sure to have a good foothold and didn’t trust the chain too heavily. I also completely failed to get many pictures of this part. It’s often the case that I don’t capture the most intense parts of hikes because I’m too busy focused on getting through them myself! C’est la vie.

You know you’re somewhere cool when you find one of these. I guess this would be marking Omanawanui peak? These things do need some sort of plaque explaining exactly what cool thing you have just done :)

More importantly, we get a glimpse of Paratutae Island, which I think is actually a peninsula and not an island at all. I took a fantastic picture of Paratutae, so if this post is seeming a little long at this point then there’s still some reward left to be attained :)

I also found this cool little cove! This strait is notoriously treacherous — New Zealand’s worst shipping disaster of all time happened right outside Manukau Harbour, I believe –so I suspect this cove will remain quite secluded. Would be good fun to check it out in a kayak though!

Over the next ridge, I was treated to a very encouraging sight: my car! You probably can’t see it, but clicking to enlarge and using Zoom and Enhance technology, I determined that my car was in fact still present. While this was heartening, there’s still a lot of elevation left to shed and meters left to trudge before I’m back down there.

And here’s what may be my favorite shot from the whole trip: Paratutae Island in all its glory.

The Road goes ever, ever on. This hike started in frustration and ended in fascination. These trails are not for the faint of heart, but the payoff is so worth it. I hope through my words and pictures I have been able to convey some small measure of the beauty and magnificence of the Waitakere Ranges and Whatipu Scientific Reserve.

We’ll be back to Auckland next time!

A Taste of the Waitakeres: Whatipu Beach

The Waitakere Ranges are a forested mountain range West and slightly South of Auckland. They stand between the city and the West coast beaches, which are popular tourist destinations known for their black sand. Their natural beauty and mountains-to-the-sea -style gorgeous views make the ranges a destination in themselves as well. I took one trip through the Waitakeres last year and will doubtless take many more.

Today I’m at the Southern end of the Waitakere ranges near Whatipu. This is a really cool — if somewhat remote — area. There’s a few campgrounds and campsites around, but it’s definitely nowhere near as built up as the more popular destinations like Piha.

Whatipu is also rumored to be haunted. I’m writing this the day after Hallowe’en, which is probably a coincidence. I didn’t encounter any ghosts on this trip, though the trail is dodgy enough that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone were to become one on a hike around here!

The carpark — such as it is — is a gravel lot in front of a wooden kiosk (pictured, with some of the fantastic Waitakere ranges in the background). The kiosk has some of New Zealand’s trademark completely unhelpful trail maps and a few warnings about not dying. I was planning on taking the Kura Track and returning by way of the Omanawanui Track, which the guide listed as somewhat challenging. Fair enough.

This is a shot of the Whatipu Lodge, which I’m sure is hopping in the Summer. There’s some trademark microscopic birds here too; I have no idea what they are (I would call them marsh birds, but I don’t think that’s actually a thing).

There’s also a nice little picnic spot where I had my lunch. It’s adjacent to a peaceful little pond and a great view!

Afterward, I spent a few frustrated minutes trying to figure out how to get to the trail head! I decided to head across this bridge which, spoiler alert, was not the right way…but it still was, in a sense, because it took me to the beach!

This isn’t mud on the trail, it’s black sand.

Over this grassy knoll, we can sneak a peak at the beach!

Back in North Carolina, I never really considered myself a beach person. Most likely because I had not yet found a beach I loved as much as New Zealand’s beaches! That blue water, and the gradient of the blue sky…and the black sand…sublime.

There’s a couple other intrepid beachgoers, but what piqued my interest is that rock with…something…on top.

I was wearing my hiking boots rather than my sandals, and I was not enthusiastic about walking across this water and getting my feet wet before the hike; that’s a recipe for blisters. Also, truth be told, I’m not enthusiastic about heights either. Climbing that ladder to inspect whatever it is that’s up there (solar-powered lighthouse? Weather station?) was not high on my list of things I wanted to do. Sometimes I try to face my fears, but this time I decided to walk away.

Alabama ain’t got nothin’ on New Zealand’s blue skies, I can tell you that right now. But Sweet Home Waitakeres, while it has the same number of syllables, does not exactly flow as well.

And here we must bid farewell to the beach. I spent so much time posting about it that the actual hike will have to wait until next time! I’m super happy with some of the pictures I got out of that hike, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

Mts. Hobson and St. John

It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper picture of Auckland, hasn’t it? Time to remedy that! (Also, remember how four posts ago I posted a picture of Auckland and said it was from next post’s adventure? And then two posts ago how I said that the next post would have pictures of Auckland? Yeah, that’s this post. Things got reordered.)

Mt. Hobson is one of the many volcanic cones along the Auckland landscape; we explored the largest of these a little bit ago. How did I choose Mt. Hobson? Well, I live on Hobson Street, so I felt a slight kinship. Yes, that’s the sort of deep, piercing analysis that goes into these decisions.

Getting to Mt. Hobson is a bit of a doddle; it’s about a block from the Remuera train station. I didn’t even drive for this one! The hike starts with some lovely (if somewhat damp, in these photos) stairs.

Once up the stairs, there’s a nice footpath for some of the way up the summit. You may notice that it’s a bit rainy. Well, right after I got under the cover of those trees in the background, the skies just opened up. I stood there for maybe five minutes, wondering if I should press on through the rain or just bail. And then the rain stopped, the skies cleared to a beautiful blue, and if the ground wasn’t sodden, I honestly would not have known it even rained.

One of the best moments of this walk is rounding a bend and suddenly…Waitemata Harbour and Rangitoto. And see what I mean about the skies clearing up? New Zealand weather, yo.

The dirt paths continue around the volcanic cone and up to the summit.

And once you reach the summit, you look out and…oi. What’s that now? A little Hobbit hole? Let’s use our patented Zoom and Enhance technology to inspect closer:

Not quite Hobbitish, but not what one would expect to find in a volcanic cone, either. Unlike Mt. Eden, Mt. Hobson has no signs forbidding exploration into the cone itself. Let’s have ourselves a look.

Gandalf would be hard-pressed to carve a rune into this door. And what’s that painted on the wall? Some joker’s idea of a window?

The door is locked, but with some careful flashlight work and about three hands, I could see that there was some sort of pipeworks back there. No dinner parties or warm hearths at all. Pity.

I took the opportunity to find a different route up to the summit again. The sky has, by this point, changed properly to a blue Spring sky.

Perhaps it should be called Mt. Hopson instead! (This is unquestionably the greatest success of any success I have ever had at photographing an animal in the wild.)

It’s such a clear day that looking out to the Northwest we can see North Head, Devonport, and Mt. Victoria (right to left). You can see a bit of Rangitoto Island there on the right, and far in the background there’s…something. Perhaps Little Barrier Island? In any case, I like this photo because of all the shades of blue!

I had to do some flying around on Google Earth to figure out exactly what I captured here. Mostly because I couldn’t believe my camera captured all that! I believe we’re looking at Hobson Bay, followed by Mission Bay, followed by Brown’s Island and Waiheke Island. Wow!

(Also: helicopter in the upper left. Didn’t even notice it when I was taking the picture. Doh!)

There’s Mt. Eden to the West; too bad I posted those pictures before I made this trip or else I could have used that as an outro pic :)

One Tree Hill and Cornwall Park. Y’know, I’ve climbed One Tree Hill on several occasions, but it hasn’t made its way to this weblog yet. Maybe I should change that one day!

And yes, dear ol’ Auckland. (That red building in the middle distance is St. Michael’s Church, in case you’re curious).

The world’s most photogenic city :)

But wait, we have one more hill! (And it’s a photo I actually like taken from my phone camera!)

That’s Mt. St. John.

It’s quite close by.

And quite small.

With quite a narrow path…

And quite a steep drop!

When I choose places to go, I’m not generally thinking about this blog. I’m thinking about where I want to go. But I will admit, the primary reason I wanted to go to Mt. St. John is because I wanted to get a shot of Mt. Hobson for this post. But once I came here, I had an odd sense of deja vu. And on the narrow path, I realized: I had been here before!

When I visited Auckland a year ago, a couple of friends from the church took me on a short hike. At the time I had no idea where it was, but it was, in fact, Mt. St. John! I didn’t even realize I would be revisiting old territory until I saw that narrow track.

2014-11-29 16.35.46

And yep, here’s a photo from November of last year of my lovely companions and I hiking along the same precarious pathway!

Anyway, that was a fun and unexpected trip down memory lane!

And here’s the photo of Mt. Hobson I went to such lengths to get as the closing photo:

I am a truly lucky man to live in a land of such beauty.

Next time: make like Fievel and go West.

Miscellaneous New Zealand thoughts and photos, pt 1

I enjoyed writing the miscellaneous Australia posts so much, I thought I’d do some for New Zealand as well. These will appear sporadically as I accumulate material.

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One way that you know you’ve really moved to a new country: you replace the power adapter for your laptop :)

I finally got around to poking my head in St. Patrick’s, the church near my flat I’ve mentioned before. It’s pretty neat!

New Zealand does, sadly, have a bit of a graffiti problem. Some of it is artistic, or funny, or clever, and some of it is just annoying. Here some wag has written “Big Trees” on the sign. He’s not wrong, I suppose.

In New Zealand, you pay for power in a weird way (or maybe we’re weird in the US and New Zealand is normal, I don’t know). You pay a base daily rate and then an additional rate per kilowatt-hour used. What’s interesting about this is some companies offer a high base rate and a low rate per kWh (which is good for those who use a lot of electricity), while others offer a low base rate but a higher rate per kWh (which is good for vacation homes or folks who don’t use a lot of juice). I wasn’t sure what my average usage would be, but in order to help me choose I used Wolfram Alpha and wrote an equation to figure out which one I should choose. The equation suggested that for the lower unit rate to make sense I would have to use more than 24 kWh a day during peak hours. I knew I wouldn’t even come close to that, so I went with the low daily rate and high unit rate.

(Auckland is so temperate that central heat / air is not common. My apartment has no climate control systems whatsoever apart from opening a window or turning on a fan or vent. It’s amazing how much less power one uses when not constantly running a compressor motor or heat exchanger.)

Found this at the zoo. I’m just picturing zoo employees going “who ordered the La-Z-Boys?” and being confused, then when their backs are turned these disappear and show up in the monkey cages :D

I randomly saw Kim Dotcom’s car parked across from my apartment building. Turns out his extradition hearings were in the Chorus building right across the street.

The wall of one of my favorite Mexican places (yes, Auckland has decent Mexican places) has a lot of paraphernalia.

Amongst the sundry paintings and photographs are at least two of New Zealand’s favorite crazy Mexican painter.

Spotted in the stairwell of my apartment complex. I have no idea what problem this is solving or even what’s going on here, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t up to code.

I don’t know why the Vero Centre has that strange and unnecessary semicircle at the top. I refer to it as the halo building, but most of the locals seem to call it the toilet seat. Probably not what they were going for when they built it.

If you ever find yourself needing an old-timey lantern, I know a guy.

I talked about the coolness of the Devonport Library, but the Auckland Central Library is also wiggity wack. In the best way possible, of course.

Auckland has fibre optic broadband Internet all over the city, which is pretty nice. The RTP area of North Carolina where I came from is served by Google Fiber, so Auckland’s is still somewhat of a downgrade. But compared to most places in the US, what I get here is loads better. This is the lowest tier of fibre broadband; if I wanted to pay more, I could get up to 200 Mbps download!

(“Nathan, why did you take a photo of your screen instead of just taking a screen shot?” Because I wanted to text it to someone and I’m extraordinarily lazy. Shut up.)

I accidentally took the best photo of the Sky Tower ever taken by a human being:

About every month they change the color of the lights illuminating the Sky Tower at night. I thought it looked quite nice in purple, and snapped a casual photo as I was walking back to my apartment with my dinner. Because of the abject inferiority of my camera phone, it decided to take this sort of blurry soft-focus shot that looks like a painting. I don’t think I could replicate this effect even if I tried! Super cool.

Alright, I guess that’s enough random for this post.

Goat Island, Pt. 2: The rest of the stuff I did

On some trips, there’s one big thing I do that takes up most of the time. Goat Island, on the other hand, was really a bunch of small stuff. For the sake of not taking five posts to cover one day, I’ve crammed the rest of it into this post.

As Bob Ross liked to say, there are no mistakes. There are only happy accidents. The first happy accident of the day was that all the places I had put on my list to go to eat were closed for the Winter (even though it wasn’t even Winter by that point, it was very early Spring). I ended up driving to Matakana to get some food. Which was fantastic, since I got to see possibly the most ridiculously ornate public bathrooms of all time:

I’m not sure why this random town in the wopwops has these totally cray public toilets, but I’m digging it.

There was a quite pleasant little picnic area which I took advantage of. Quite the variety of ducks joined me for lunch, undoubtedly hoping for a morsel (there were also seagulls and sparrows, neither of which I’m posting photographs of because they’re boring. Sorry, seagulls and sparrows!)

This big guy (or girl; I didn’t ask) is a Pukeko. He clearly ruled the roost; when he ambled by, the ducks and seagulls departed with much squawking and quacking. He was far too proud to beg, but he did hang out nearby and keep the riff-raff away. Thanks, birdbro!

Once I had dealt with my hangry problem, I checked out the area. A section of rapids flowed into a large brown pond. As is my wont, I went exploring.

To the right, a small cascade. The the left, a damp but climbable bit of rock.

Of course, I climbed the thing. I took a whole bunch of photos documenting what a harrowing climb it was, but since I wound up having a much more harrowing climb later on, I have omitted those.

Once I had finished with Matakana, I was at a bit of a loss. The other trail I had wanted to try was (in typical New Zealand fashion) poorly marked and appeared to start in someone’s backyard, so I wasn’t sure where to go next. But in my wanderings, I found a graveyard with a fantastic view on the other side.

I saw no signs forbidding entry. I tried to be as respectful as possible.

When I die, I could think of worse places for my bones to lay.

Had little Molly survived to this day, she would be about my Grandmother’s age. The tiny teddy bear is so sad.

After taking a moment to contemplate mortality and say a prayer, I left the graveyard and noticed a trailhead to my left. Not being one to understand foreshadowing, I headed down.

It’s about at this point that I realized I was in a bad way. The trail, as you can see, is primarily mud. The flimsy fence, which I don’t think was much of a handrail in the best of times, has been effectively destroyed. Getting down was so dangerous that I dreaded going back up. I chose to continue going down, in the hope that I could find an alternate route back up the cliff.

At the bottom was a beautiful little cove, surrounded by rock.

To my right was a small beach, disappearing into the cliff face. I could see someone’s house, but I wasn’t sure I could scrabble my way up the side of the embankment.

To my left, a gorgeous view, but little in the way of rescue. And ahead of me, rocks jutted out into the bay. I chose to walk along the rocks to get a better vantage point.

I walked out until I came to this big rock formation. My original intent was to climb it, but it looked like that would be pretty challenging, and I knew I would need to save some strength to get back out of where I was.

I did take a photo of the sea, though.

A cool cave / crevice in the rock, but no exit.

Having exhausted other options, I felt like the best route would be back up the treacherous trail. I took one of the broken, rusty metal posts (good thing I’m up-to-date on my Tetanus shots…) and used my pliers to remove the brackets connecting it to the wire fencing. At each step, I stabbed it into the ground and used it as a handhold to pull myself up and keep from slipping.

I took a photo of the end of the metal stake afterward.

And thus ended my journey along the beautiful (but treacherous) coast near Goat Island. The shenanigans with the muddy path took long enough that I only had time to hike around the bluff a few hundred meters to get this shot before I had to turn back and head home.

Next time: more pictures of Auckland! Lovely, safe Auckland.

Goat Island, Pt. 1: Goat Island Coastal Walk

I am, it must be confessed, a remarkably lazy planner. I have a list of places I have heard about and might want to visit, and whenever I’m trying to figure out what I want to do I will pull something off the list. Most of the time this works really well. Sometimes it means my exploring is much less efficient than it could otherwise be.

Case in point: Goat Island.

Goat Island (and the nearby headlands) is up North nearly to Whangarei. It’s quite popular in the Summer amongst snorkelers, SCUBA divers, and other such sea explorers. Most people thought I was a bit daft to be going during Winter, though that part I think was actually good planning because it meant I had the place largely to myself, even if it also meant most things (such as cafes) were closed.

But I basically ended up re-driving nearly the entire route I drove to Whangarei! I’m not sure exactly how I could have squeezed the Goat Island trip into that two-day vacation, but I still felt like I was not traveling as efficiently as I could have.

But no matter! My first stop was a wee cove at a random turn-off from the main road.

I was able to clamber around and get some rather nice photos.

But this post is really about the short walk I did once I got up to the head: the Goat Island Coastal Walk.

This walk has that strange New Zealand charm where it feels in equal parts meticulously planned and entirely haphazard. You can see the first bit — paved and all — running alongside the road there (you’ll have to excuse me if the trail itself is on the periphery; I was distracted by the fantastic view!).

Of course there are sheep. (This photo was taken only a few minutes after the previous one. No, it didn’t suddenly become dusk. It’s just the stark difference between how well my actual camera and my phone camera deal with bright scenery.)

Some bits of the track are shaded, but much is out in the open sun. Make sure to apply sunscreen!

The hill is quite the steep climb, but it’s a short climb and the payoff is…well, just look.

Oh, look, I can see my car from here :)

And that is the actual Goat Island. Famous for giving its name to a touristy snorkeling area. Oh, and for having goats, I guess. Just kidding! No goats on Goat Island. For a minute I thought I was going to have to create a goats tag.

The coastline extends a lot further out than the track actually goes. What is that ghostly land mass in the background? I don’t rightly know. I would guess Tawharanui Peninsula, but depending on which way I’m facing it could actually be the Little Barrier Island! Or something else entirely; I have no idea!

What’s the best part about making it to the top? The view, obvs. What’s the second-best part? It’s all downhill from here!

And there were actually some shady bits, but I didn’t take quite as many photos of those parts.

That’s the Goat Island Coastal Walk! Next time we’ll still be in the Goat Island area. We’ll visit some birds and some dead people and follow along as I go on a really dodgy hike and try not to become a dead person myself. See you then!