New Year’s Bach, Pt. 1: The Lake House

In Kiwi slang, a bach (pronounced “batch”) is a vacation house or beach house. I have heard that the etymology comes from “bachelor pad”, which seems born out in the pronunciation but something of a misnomer — they tend to be owned by families.

In any case, over New Year’s I was kindly invited by a friend to her family’s bach down on Lake Taupo in Pukawa. I accepted quickly and with great vigor. I and five friends spent a total of about a week in this lovely lake house. While there, we had some great adventures. This post is not about those adventures; it’s merely an introduction to the area.

True to form, though I spent a week in the house I got no pictures of the actual structure. So the opening photo of this post is the view from the back porch. Which is honestly far better than looking at the house itself, as the scenery is utterly magnificent.

This is what we woke up to each morning. I will show more photos of the lake, but first some stories from the trip.

The drive down wound up being a bit of an adventure. Two of our friends were visiting from Australia, and they had hired a car. But the car couldn’t fit all of us, so I ended up having to drive my little roadster as well. My friend Kali was good driving company, but we got started late enough that it got dark pretty early into the four hour journey (which, due to various hijinks, became closer to a five hour journey).

By the time we’d gotten pretty close — just a bit less than an hour away — our friends’ car pulled into a closed petrol station. We pulled up beside for a confab, and they informed us that they did not have enough fuel to make it the rest of the way. And of course the filling stations in these rural towns are not generally open that late (by that time it was past 10). They used cell phones to figure out where there was a station which was likely to be open, and we found one…about 25km in the wrong direction. So we had to drive 25km North, filled up, and then drove that same 25km back South.

The second adventure was due to the GPS unit that Rob, our friend from Sydney, had purchased upon arrival (not that I’m throwing Rob under the bus; it could have happened to anyone). I guess it got confused, because instead of leading us onto the motorway, it led us onto a private road next to a recycling plant which ran parallel to the motorway. Once again, Rob’s car pulled over and we had a pow-wow.

Me: What’s the problem?
Chloe: We need to be on the Motorway
Me: And where is that?
Chloe: On the other side of that gorge

Fortunately, Kali had spotted a truck access road across the gorge. Unfortunately, it was less of a road, per se, and more of a gravel pit that was less steep than the actual gorge. Heavy trucks could make it, and Rob’s rented Corolla made it. My Alfa Spider also made it…begrudgingly. I could smell my clutch pretty sharply!

Anyway, we finally got to the bach around 11:30 or so, as I recall. Our friend Taylor (whom you may recall from the Rangitoto trip) and his buddy Alby (who just stayed one night) had been waiting for us for hours.

Even if I had known what an adventure the trip would be, I still would have done it. Because of this:

As befits a lake house, it’s quite easy to walk down to the lake.

We jumped in for a swim the first day there. The water…could be described as “bracing”. Or in more common terms, quite chilly.

The sun was hot, though, so those of us with higher cold tolerances played in the water while the others lay around in the shade.

Temperature notwithstanding, Lake Taupo is certainly a lovely location. In 2014 I actually got the chance to visit the town of Taupo (on pretty much the opposite side of the lake from us), so I was prepared for nice scenery. But even so…wow.

I also took the opportunity to mess with settings on my camera and see what works best. Sunsets can be particularly tricky exposures, but I got plenty of practice.

The first couple of nights were quite clear, as were the days.

The next night had an interesting shadow cast on the sunset. I feel quite proud of myself for capturing this as well as I did; here is the same sunset as seen by my phone’s camera:

Not quite the same.

And I’ll close out the post with this from New Year’s Eve. The final sunset of 2015.

But in between these sunsets lay some epic adventures! Stay tuned, because I can’t wait to tell you about them!

Manukau Heads Lighthouse

Last time, we visited the fantastic Awhitu Regional Park. Not only did I get to go swimming and see some great sights, I also put my new camera through its paces.

But now, I got the opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do for literally months: visit the Manukau Heads Lighthouse.

(Side note: apparently whomever runs awhitu.com was not on the ball when it comes to renewing the domain, because the URL on that sign does not go anywhere useful anymore. Shame.)

Getting to the lighthouse requires a bit of driving along my favorite: a gravel road. There’s also a bit of a rut at one point that those with lower-slung cars will want to take at a slow speed — like about 1 kph. It’s worth it though.

As far as I can tell the lighthouse doesn’t actually do anything useful anymore; it’s just a tourist attraction. Still super cool though!

The inside of the lighthouse is mostly just stairs. There’s some random nautical-themed kitch on the walls though.

I haven’t ever been inside a lighthouse before! It’s actually pretty neat.

The obligatory “I can see my car from here” photo.

Zoom and Enhance ™. I’m not so committed to the joke to actually change lenses, but I kind of wish I had just to see how well zoomed-in the big lens would get me :)

From this height it’s easy to appreciate the beautiful, rolling hills of the Awhitu Peninsula. My understanding is that the folks who run the lighthouse do it as sort of a side hustle, as their day job involves doing farm stuff out here. Makes sense.

At this point, you’re saying “Nathan, stop screwing around and show the views of the harbor”. Your wish is, as always, my command :)

That would be Cornwallis Peninsula. It’s to the Southeast of the Waitakeres. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s on the list!

This is the Waitakere Ranges in all their glory.

Zoomzoom.

Whatipu.

Zoom.

Zoomzoom.

(The over-exposed railing on the bottom left makes this photo look really weird on a white background.)

I hope I’ve gotten across even a tiny bit how amazing these views are. It’s humbling that even with my fancy new camera and a minuscule amount of photography experience under my belt it’s still quite difficult to convey in photographic form just how stunning it is to stand on the balcony of this lighthouse and look over this clear blue water to the steep hills on the other side…the light blue skies, the green-blue water, the dark green hills…man, I could have stayed here all day.

They wouldn’t let me, though, as the gates close at 5pm.

If you make it down to Awhitu, be sure to take the trip up to the lighthouse. It’s absolutely worth it, and I hope I conveyed even just a fraction of how cool it is to stand there looking out over Manukau Harbour.

We’re coming right up on the end of the year for me. These photos were taken right before Christmas. You may be wondering how I’m going to top all of this and end 2015 with a flourish. Just you wait :)

Awhitu Regional Park

Waitemata Harbour gets a lot of glory for its prominent position vis a vis Auckland City. But just South of the city lies Manukau Harbour, a significantly larger body of water. Manukau Harbour is accessible via a narrow strait between Whatipu on Burnett Head to the North and the Awhitu Peninsula to the South, which are collectively called the Manukau Heads.

(A reminder: I will use the local spelling of harbour when it’s part of a proper noun but will use my native spelling of harbor when it’s not.)

I would like to refer you back specifically to this post where I say “At extreme zoom I believe you can even see the old lighthouse and signal station!” (which is true). Since then, I’ve always wanted to visit the Southern Head. But I look at those photos from the Waitakeres hike and I think…man, those are some beautiful views, and my camera can’t nearly do them justice. My photography skills also couldn’t do them justice, but the camera is the easier part to fix.

Anyway, after getting my new camera one of the first things I did was take a trip down to the Awhitu Peninsula. It’s actually quite a long drive; despite being not far from the city as the crow flies, I am not a crow and to get their by land I had to drive all the way around Manukau Harbour. It was a lovely day for a drive with the top down, so not much of a hardship at all! If you have some time, slow down a bit around Waiuku to see the sights.

My first stop on the peninsula was the fantastic Awhitu Regional Park.

This park includes a beach, which is lovely, as well as some walking trails, which are mostly also lovely. I hit the trails first, because I wanted to cool off at the beach afterward.

The trail starts off through this somewhat swampular area. It would remind me of the Dead Marshes from The Lord of the Rings, except the weather here is too nice and cheerful. This was right after Christmas, and somebody who had presumably gotten a new dirt bike was out running the trails (although I’m fairly certain he wasn’t actually supposed to do that).

The trail quickly enters the bush and crosses a stream.

And it starts going up quite precipitously!

After a very short walk we find the Brook Homestead. Much like the Dacre Cottage from a few posts ago, the Brook Homestead is an early settlement house that’s been reinforced and rebuilt in places to become an historical monument of sorts.

From this point, the trail continues on. Between the beach and the homestead I saw quite a few people, but I encountered no-one on the rest of this walk! It was nice to have some secluded time even at such a popular location.

Once the trail breaks out of the trees, it stops being a trail at all, really; there’s some open pasture land and you can walk wherever you want (so long as you don’t annoy the sheep or cows too much, I suppose). There are also some great views of the harbor!

Having a better camera just exposes more of my deficiencies as a photographer, but at least the subject matter is in no way lacking!

These houses are to the South on Matakawau Point. Although it’s natural to think of the harbor as being North, due to where Awhitu Park is situated on the peninsula the harbor is actually East!

I absolutely love it when scenic lookouts have these things. I know they tend to get vandalized and that’s super annoying, but (as you can probably tell) I nerd out pretty hard on geography and love to know what I’m looking at and where everything is.

Moving along, the track leads to the Settlers Valley!

Let’s be honest, if you were exploring this area in the 1850s you could certainly do worse than settling right here.

So many gorgeous views. Those old settlers knew what they were doing when they chose this place.

After leaving the valley, the track actually becomes quite boring, joining up with a road and running back to the carpark where the changing rooms are. This suited me fine, as it was time to change into my swimsuit and take a dip!

Although this beach is quite close to Whatipu and the Tasman Sea, it’s facing East and has white sand rather than the black sand of the Western beaches. So cool!

Here’s a Zoomed and Enhanced photo of the little island.

There’s also a bigger island, as seen in the corner of this photo (apparently I didn’t get a better photo of it, which is unfortunate). I wish I could say I swam all the way out to the island, but I can’t…because by the time I got in the water the tide was out and I was able to walk out there! The water barely came up to my chest. Granted, on more normal-sized people that would still require swimming, but I have to enjoy my height when I can :)

I sadly did not get any photos from the island because I did not take my camera swimming, for obvious reasons. I also didn’t enjoy the view much, since I had also removed my glasses. Oh well, c’est la vie.

I could have spent the rest of the day swimming, but I had somewhere else I needed to go. Next post you will join me doing something really cool. I’m getting fired up just thinking about it! See you then!

Boring digression: How I blog

I assume that most of you are here to look at cool pictures of New Zealand. Sorry, because this post is not that. I want to take a moment to talk about my blog process. Why? Because I’m an engineer and I love talking about process. I would also love to hear any suggestions in the comments about ways to do this better! The Internet is a big conversation, and hopefully as participants in this conversation we can all help each other grow in what we do.

Also, questions about my blog process are some of the (few) questions I have gotten. This gives me the excuse to talk about it, as I can claim I’m answering reader questions. Side note: I like getting questions because answering them makes me feel smart :). My email address is on my About page; feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

So without further ado: my blogging process.

Step 1: Find an adventure

I need something to write about before I can write about it!

I have the Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand. Honestly, I’ve barely looked at it. Here’s the top ways I hear about places to go exploring:

Hear about it from a friend

This is probably my favorite way to learn about a site. I love it when people tell me “hey, you should check this place out”. Some of my favorite hikes and adventures have been at locations suggested to me by others.

Read about it online

There’s a ton of information online for would-be explorers and adventurers!

I always have a billion tabs open to various places I’ve discovered through web searches or online forums or what have you. The Auckland Region in particular has a lot of great online information for many of their parks and reserves, so just browsing the list can sometimes reveal hidden gems!

I have a list full of places I’ve found, but it’s always a game-time decision where to go. It depends on the weather, how I’m feeling, and anyone else who may be interested in coming along. Occasionally I’ll call a last-minute audible and go somewhere else entirely from where I said I would go the day before!

Spot it on a map

Some cool places I’ve gone to were found because I was scrolling around on Google Maps and saw a splodge of green. No joke. This is especially helpful if you already know you’re going to a place and you want to figure out if there’s anything else nearby to check out. For example, I knew I was going to check out the Manukau Heads Lighthouse, but I found Awhitu Regional Park by looking on the map to see what was nearby.

I also, as I’ve mentioned before, like to play a game called “how do I get behind / underneath / on top of that thing?”. It can be a fun exercise to use a map or aerial photography to scout out a location and see if I can experience it from a different angle than most people.

Step 2: Have an adventure!

This is, obviously, the best part.

I work on Saturdays because of time zones. I also don’t park my car in the city because it’s expensive. So on Saturday after work, I’ll take the train out to Ellerslie to grab my car and then drive it back to the city. Parking on the street is free after 6pm, and I know where a lot of the good parking spots are. By this point, I’ve actually gotten decent at parallel-parking a right-hand-drive car.

On Monday morning, Mondays being my day off, I usually spend time calling and video chatting with friends back home (for whom it’s Sunday afternoon). I’ll often put a few bucks in the parking meter to give me time to do this. But by 10 or 10:30 at the latest, I’ll be ready to go. Assume an hour of driving each way and Summer daylight lasting until 8:30, and that gives me eight solid hours of exploring.

I try to remember to take photos. I really do. This blog has helped me get a lot better about that. But I’ll be honest: by nature, I’m more of a “be in the moment” guy than a “gotta get a photo” guy.

Step 3: The photo process

My home office is pretty basic. I bought a desk for like NZ$20 at the Warehouse and a TV tray for my MacBook for about the same.

I use ownCloud to store my photos (I pay a few bucks a month for a virtual private server running my ownCloud installation). Every photo I take with my phone gets automatically uploaded to ownCloud and then synced to my desktop and laptop.

At some point during the week, I pull the photos off my Nikon camera and put them in an ownCloud directory named after the place they were taken (for instance, the folder would be named Muriwai if I took the photos at Muriwai Beach). I also grab the photos from the Camera Uploads directory and put those in the same directory.

As you might imagine, by this point I have a lot of directories (and I have cleverly scrolled the window so the directories for stuff I haven’t posted yet are not visible) (I then cleverly changed my posting order so that previous statement is no longer true. Spoiler alert, I suppose!).

At this point, on my MacBook, a program called Flickr Uploadr watches my ownCloud folders. It creates an album on Flickr named after the folder I just created and then silently uploads all the photos in that directory. This is automatic enough to feel a bit like magic, and it pleases me.

The upload often takes a while, but that doesn’t bother me because it happens in the background and I’m in no hurry.

So at this point I have Flickr albums for every trip I’ve taken, neatly organized chronologically.

I should note that I don’t do any post-processing on any of my photos. This isn’t a point of pride; it’s just because I’m not that fancy and because I don’t own any photo processing software.

Step 4: Writing the post

About a month or so after doing the actual adventure, I write the post on it.

This is not because I’m lazy (rather, this is not entirely because I’m lazy). It’s because I’m behind. I make two posts a week — any more than that and I feel like it would be too much stuff for my handful of readers to keep up with. You’d think that with one adventure a week and two posts a week I’d run out of material pretty quickly, but actually I have a queue of about a month’s worth of posts written but not posted yet. This is because some adventures take multiple posts to tell, and sometimes I do multiple things in the same day but make separate posts about them. And sometimes I have bonus adventures or large vacations (like the one I’m on right now to the South Island). This is the same reason I’m behind on writing the posts (and I could catch up if I wanted to, but there’s no real need since I have such a vast buffer of drafts). So between my one month draft buffer and my one month delay between having the adventure and writing about it, it’s a good two months or more before an adventure shows up on the blog. This time gap is useful to give perspective on the event and help me process it mentally. It also means that I never feel like I have to write a post. If my muse just isn’t showing up or I’m just not feelin’ it, that’s fine…I can hold off.

This post in process. How meta!

When it comes time to write the post, I use the standard WordPress editor. I write in HTML view, and then before I post it (which as you recall is a gap of about a month) I proofread in the visual editor.

But how do I get the photo links from Flickr into HTML? That’s my secret sauce which I’m super proud of and I’m revealing to you now :)

I wrote a little program called Flickr Linkr, available as Open Source on a github near you, which takes Flickr URLs and turns them into HTML or (optionally) bbcode links.

All I have to do is hit the “export” link, circled in red using my mad photo editing skillz, copy the URLs into the first box, and then the program will magically grab each URL and create the HTML to preview and link the picture. It will give me thumbnails for every photo it’s processed so I can select each thumbnail to get the HTML and stick it exactly where I want it.

I wrote this program in Node.js after WordPress launched their new editor that didn’t work with my old workflow. I’m really quite pleased with how well this little tool has improved my productivity with writing posts :)

In any case, I shoot for between 500 – 1000 words per post. Occasionally I’ll have fewer than that, and this post is currently over 1800 (though it’s a Talkytalk post so it’s a little special). Generally if a post goes over 1000 words I’ll split it into two posts. I love reading (and I’m really vain so I usually like reading my writing), but I know not everybody feels the same way so I try to keep the posts slim ‘n’ trim. I’d rather people say “man, I wish the posts were longer” rather than “does he ever shut up?”, although as we all know the answer to the second question is “no”.

So as I said earlier, once the draft is written I’ll save it and then go watch cat videos on YouTube or whatever. Then, a month or so later, it will be the next post in my Drafts folder and I’ll proofread it (if you see a spelling or grammar mistake, it’s probably in text that I inserted while proofreading. Embarrassing, yes, but it does happen). I proofread using the visual editor so I can see the images inline with the text. This helps me catch the occasional copy pasta error where I put a photo in with the wrong text or post the same photo twice or somesuch (I make it a principle to never post the same photo twice if I can help it. If you see something that looks like the same photo, it’s probably a similar photo I took of the same thing).

Post!

At that point, I click the Publish button and the post goes on the Internet for my Mom to read :). Occasionally I will schedule posts to be published at a certain time, like if I know I’m going to be busy some day and won’t be there to manually publish. But I like to leave things a bit spontaneous, so usually I publish them by clicking the button myself.

As I said earlier, I can always stand to grow. Suggestions for process improvements are welcome. Or let me know what your process is!

Next time we will return to your regularly-scheduled adventure. We’re going to finally see the new camera in action!

Boring Camera Talk

When I first started this blog, I was very reluctant to call it a photo blog. Not just because I still slightly cringe at the pseudo-word “blog” but because I am not a photographer. I have nothing but the most rudimentary understanding of exposure, composition, framing, and all of the other technical aspects which make true photographers’ images stand out from the masses.

Even if I do acknowledge that this weblog which contains mostly photos is in fact a photo blog, I told myself I would never be one of those camera nuts who spends all his time talking about this lens and that camera. Not to mention, cameras and lenses are expensive! I definitely am not interested in yet another brutally costly hobby.

Anyway, for Christmas I bought a new camera. And now I’m going to tell you about it.

The camera is a Nikon D3300, an entry-level DSLR. I have two pretty basic lenses, one that goes from 18-55mm and one that goes from 55-200mm. For those unfamiliar with camera-speak, the first one (which I call the “small lens” even though it isn’t) is good for zoomed-out landscape photos and taking pictures of things and people up close. The second one (the “big lens”, even though it isn’t) zooms in way further than anything I have owned up until this point, though it’s far from being a telephoto lens.

Soon after purchasing it, I walked out to Mt. Eden to try it out. Note that I never retouch any of my photos, so this is all as it was produced by the camera. I was super interested to see how the same shot looks so different depending on the camera!

Subject 1: Auckland

No camera of mine will be any good if it can’t take a good photograph of Auckland City.

This is from my phone camera (an LG Nexus 5). With HDR+ on, the camera has done a great job of making the colors (the grass, the trees, the sky) pop. Not bad for a phone camera, but the subject (Auckland) is a bit lost in the landscape. Admittedly, New Zealand does have that effect on photographic subjects.

The image is 3200 x 2368 for a total of 7.5 megapixels. The focal length is 4mm, which I don’t believe is adjustable (I could be wrong, but I think all zooming from the phone camera is done in software). I did a lot of reading on the Internet (a.k.a. exhaustive research) about focal length and zoom ratios, and came away feeling just as ignorant as I was when I started.

This is from my point-and-shoot, a Canon PowerShot A630. Without the benefit of HDR, this camera’s sensor just doesn’t do as solid a job of making the colors stand out. The focal length on the Canon when completely zoomed out is 7.3mm, so as one might expect the city is slightly larger in the frame here. Not by a lot, but I think it does help the composition a bit. Of course, a skilled photographer can compensate for these things.

The image is 3264 x 2448, for a total of nearly 8 megapixels. In the Canon’s defense, it’s been through quite a lot. It would not surprise me to learn that the image quality has degraded from new.

This is from the DSLR with the small lens.

It is way better than the murky colors on the Canon. It lacks the HDR feel of the Nexus camera’s, and the color temperature seems much cooler. The different aspect ratio of this sensor is also pretty apparent, since even though at 18mm this should be the most zoomed in of the three, it also captures more side detail. I really like the clarity of this picture.

The image is 6000 x 4000 for a clean 24 megapixels. Note the 3:2 aspect ratio compared to the 4:3 of the others

Subject 2: The Sky Tower

Now to zoom in on Auckland’s most iconic structure: the Sky Tower. The phone camera did not participate in this test because its zoom is, as previously mentioned, terrible. I’m a horrible photographer, and even <i>I</i> know that digital zoom is pointless. You might as well fire up Microsoft Paint and draw a bitmap with your mouse of what you’re seeing. Just say no.

Also, I apologize in advance for the terrible job at centering the subject. Again, I am not a real photographer.

This is the Canon. Honestly, this photo makes me sad. The Canon is such a cheerful little camera, but at full zoom it just doesn’t do a very good job. You can barely make out the ANZ logo on the eponymous tower, and despite the blue in the sky this photo makes the weather look completely overcast. It’s all just muddled and murky and unfortunate.

This is the small lens at full zoom (55mm). Definitely not as zoomed in as the Canon, but the quality difference is significant.

And here just for the lulz is the big lens zoomed in to 100mm, or about 1/3 of the way. Dusk is approaching so the sky is getting darker, though I also could have fixed the exposure to not be so dark. If I knew what I was doing, that is. Which I don’t, and I knew even less at that point (I have since messed with it and learned a few things).

Bonus material

OK, this is getting long and boring. Here’s a phew other photos I took with this camera to liven things up.

The Sky Tower in Christmas colors.

Zoomed in on the top.

I was standing beside St. Pat’s to take the above photos, so I captured one of the nativity scene while I was at it.

An Auckland sunset.

The best bird photo I have ever taken.

Yep

So thanks for tolerating this boring camera post. There’s another boring post coming, but if you can sit through that then the next couple of posts will feature some really cool photos that I hope showcase the camera’s ability!

Okura Bush Walkway, Pt. 2: Dacre Cottage to Stillwater

The last post left us on this beautiful track running down to the beach (if you haven’t read the last post yet, I really recommend you start there to get the full story).

The views here are properly gorgeous. Such a lovely — and lonely — view. Well, lonely except for the quarry workers just up the hill, obvs.

The track leads down to the beach.

There are a couple of streams that feed all the way down to the shoreline.

And then…some trees, a rope swing, and…a cottage?

Welcome to Dacre Cottage, which (as does everything) has its own website.

While I was preparing for this hike, I filled two 1.5L water bottles. I then promptly left them on my kitchen counter. On the way back, slightly worried about dehydration, I decided to risk a quick drink from the spigot after inspecting the hosing and determining it was fed from the rain barrel. I did not acquire any loathsome diseases (or diseases of any other sort), so I guess it was potable. Thanks, Dacre Cottage!

It’s a nice, peaceful area to take a little break before starting on the next bit of hiking.

Speaking of which, in order to get to the trail for the next bit you need to ford this river. It’s about ankle deep and not at all slippery, so not a big challenge. I was just glad to be wearing sandals and not boots, since hiking with wet socks is not one of my favorite things.

The trail goes up again and gains plenty of elevation, which allows us to take a parting look at the cottage. OK, so maybe it’s an hour on foot in order to get there, but honestly living-wise one could do a lot worse. Hook up an Internet connection and boat in some groceries once a week and I’m game :)

But we must move on.

As I was walking through the bush, I heard a rustling to my left…

It was a big ol’ hedgehog, disappearing into the underbrush! It’s well camouflaged, but if you zoom in you can see it near the center.

Then I saw some more movement. And I made a very un-manly squealing sound:

A little baby hedgehog! It started to run after its (presumed) parent but then stopped and just sat there.

Since hedgehogs are generally nocturnal I was worried that the little one was sick or hurt in some way, so I didn’t mess with him other than to take his picture. But I choose to believe that he’s fine and healthy and posting on his hedgeblog about the big human who took his picture.

(The non-word “hedgeblog” came to me in a moment of inspiration. I am inordinately proud of it and would like to pause for a moment to acknowledge its magnificence.)

Er, moving on…the terrain climbs quite a bit, offering more great views, and then descends again. The trail just…drops off at a beach on the other side of the hill.

I did manage to photograph a bird with my usual degree of photographic acuity.

I don’t have a lot of other photos of this part because I was busy trying to find my way. I don’t know if the trail was underwater because of the tide or if I’m just too dumb to find it or what, but the trail is supposed to lead all the way up to Stillwater but I was trapped in some sort of marina. I couldn’t really go on because the ground was so marshy I was starting to sink in, and I couldn’t find another path. After wandering around for quite a bit, I decided to turn around and head back. I was probably about 1.5 kilometers from my intended destination, so although the intended length of my hike was 16km I think I only did about 13km in all (I don’t map the hikes out on my phone or anything so the 13km is a guess based on looking at a map).

On the way back I got a great view of the stairs I’d be climbing :)

When I got to the beginning bit again, I was shocked! Those “mud flats” I saw earlier? Now completely submerged!

I wanted to take a billion photos from the bridge but there were two annoying guys flying a drone around there, and whenever I stopped they acted like I was in their way. I would normally ignore them, but I was tired and mildly dehydrated and not up for a confrontation so I just kept moving. But look at the difference between the bridge now and the way it was when I first crossed it!

In this episode, Nathan learns how tides work! (Spoiler alert: no he doesn’t)

So that is the Okura Bush Walkway! If you’re up for a slightly longer hike that can still be done there and back while getting you home in time for dinner, I highly recommend it.

This was the longest hike I have done in New Zealand up to this point, I believe, and despite forgetting my water I had a really great time!

Minor administrative note: I’m going to the South Island! This only matters for those of you who follow along as these are posted, but the blog will be on auto-pilot and I won’t be responding to comments (or, probably, emails) for the next two weeks. There will be a couple of Talkytalk posts, which I try to keep to a minimum, and a couple of adventure posts, which I try to keep to a maximum :)

See you when I get back!

Okura Bush Walkway, Pt. 1

Up North of Albany on the North Shore, not too far South of Whangaparaoa, is this lovely place called Okura Bush Scenic Reserve (the sign says Okura Estuary Scenic Reserve, which must be its rapper name or something).

I wasn’t able to find a lot of helpful information about it online (and yes, I did also try searching under Okura Estuary Scenic Reserve), so just in case I ever become famous enough that this blog winds up on the first page of a Google search for this place, let me help you find it: the road you’re looking for is Haigh Access Rd. Not Haighs Rd; that will betray you. Go all the way down Haigh Access Rd and you’ll see a small carpark and the sign that’s at the top of this post.

(Weirdly, I don’t think you can get to Haighs Rd from the inaccurately-named Haigh Access Rd without going down the private driveway seen here. I think if you try, the goat also seen here will demonstrate to you the error of your ways.)

Also note that no dogs are allowed in this area, as some poor folks discovered after getting there.

ANYway…

After leaving the carpark there’s a smallish bit of trail leading to the semi-eponymous estuary which we have to cross. The trail here is very well done, as it is for most — but not all — of this track.

The trail runs by these mud flats with this weirdly zigzagging river. At least, that’s what I thought, because even after living here for half a year I still don’t understand how the sea works. This is low tide.

There’s a great view across the estuary to the rolling hills on the other side! Even with the mud and the scraggly brush, it still cuts a striking scene.

If you Zoom and Enhance to the left-hand side a bit you’ll see a lone pohutukawa tree strutting its stuff and adding a splash of red to the landscape. You go, tree!

After just a short hike we get to the bridge over the estuary.

The view from the bridge is really just more of the same.

Once we get to the other side, the trail continues on and starts gaining elevation. It also passes some pretty sweet trees and stuff here.

As the trail goes up, occasionally there’s a glimpse of the estuary and the land on the other side.

Most of the time the view is blocked by foliage and rocks, though.

Eventually the trail starts climbing in earnest. These stairs are a bit too well-maintained to be properly cool and exciting, but well-maintained is good too. This bit of trail is still a bit less than 5km, so even though it climbs a bit it’s still not too bad.

More cool tree action.

I really like the weird visual effect here. Someone plomped the Sahara Desert down in the middle of the estuary! And the blue of the sky too. Such a cool shot! *pats self on back*

Not too much longer after this point, there starts to be some sort of background noise. There’s no highway running by here…what could it be?

As we round a bend, it becomes clear: looks like a quarry maybe?

The industrial machinery quickly fades from the mind when looking out at this view, though. Wow. So beautiful!

This seems like a good place to stop for this post. We’re maybe a third of the way out, distance-wise, and trying to cram the whole hike into one post would make it pretty long. See you next time! In the meantime, go back and enjoy those last few pictures again :)

Puketutu Island

Ever since I caught my first glimpse of Puketutu Island from atop One Tree Hill, I had a strange fascination with it. I did an uncharacteristic amount of research, even going so far as to ask on the /r/newzealand subreddit about it. Information on the Internet is inconsistent. From what I gathered:

  • It’s private land
  • There are vague plans to turn it into a public park, but nobody’s actually doing anything about it
  • It’s possible to get to parts of the island by foot or by car
  • You may or may not get asked to leave when doing so or encounter a locked gate

I was heading out to Mangere anyway to see Mangere Mountain and Ambury Park, but we all know the real reason: I wanted to check out Puketutu Island.

Well, I did. And here’s how it went down.

Right outside the entrance to Puketutu is a wastewater processing facility. I decided to park out here and walk in, as I had heard tell of people jogging into Puketutu before. Although I am very evidently not a jogger, I could plausibly (and truthfully) claim to be on a walk.

Alright, so at least the signage is good.

There’s a reasonably well maintained gravel track that runs through the wastewater plant.

There are also two bridges, a walking bridge (left) and a road bridge (right). Do be careful, as when I was walking back I encountered a presumed idiot driving his truck on the walking bridge.

This sign pretty much removed any remaining feeling that I was sneaking onto the island for covert exploration. As you can see, there’s even a public carpark at the other end. I totally could have driven right over the bridge (which might not have been a bad idea, as the bridge does get a little tedious).

I’d say the bridges are about a kilometer long.

Walking them takes even longer if you stop to photograph ducks. Worth it.

Most of the island is fenced off with the ultra-high-security fencing seen here. I really should have taken more photos of the carpark and walked around the island more, but the anticlimax after thinking I would be ninja-ing my way onto the island was a bit of a letdown :)

The gravel track continues to this peninsular bit and then just sort of stops. Do keep an ear out while walking, as someone drove up in a truck while I was out here. I had a brief hope that maybe he would tell me I had to leave and then we could have a bit of an on-foot chase through the forbidden bits, but he just gave me a bit of a wave and then turned around and headed back. I’m not sure what he was doing, but he wasn’t a bouncer.

There’s even a nice little bench out on the point. Fine, I give up, this is just a normal walking trail.

These aren’t even robotic cyberducks or spies of Saruman.

After taking some photos and lamenting the utter lack of mystery and intrigue in my life, I turned around and walked back to my car. But let the record show: you can both walk and drive onto Puketutu Island. If they do turn it into a park I bet it will be pretty cool!

So that’s the end of my exploration of Mangere. I hope you enjoyed following along with me. It may not have high adventure like the Waitakeres or the gorgeous views of Whangaparaoa Peninsula, but I think we can agree that there’s much more to Mangere than just the airport.

I am honestly super stoked about the next several posts. Coming up next is a two-parter covering the longest hike I did in 2015. Next, I drove out to a place I’ve been wanting to see for ages and took some gorgeous photos. And then there’s some truly fantastic stuff leading up to what was surely my most epic adventure of the year! I am really looking forward to sharing it all here on this blog!

Ambury Regional Park

Ambury Regional Park is just a short jaunt from Mangere Mountain — you could walk it if you didn’t have anywhere you needed to be that afternoon. I think these picture frame things are a bit goofy, but with the weather so nice it really does look like a postcard.

This post also contains pictures from a second trip I made to Ambury after church one Sunday with three friends.

Ambury has pretty much everything you’d want in a park. There’s gentle, rolling terrain covered in well-manicured grass…

…the pohutukawa are in full bloom…

…and the sheep are cute and not too skittish.

Ambury would be a fantastic location for a picnic, a family outing, or just a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Ambling (in Ambury? Get it?) a bit further down the non-trail, there’s this little island next to some land jutting out. I noted that the rocks between the island and the mainland look well-positioned for hopping.

To get a sense for how dramatic Auckland’s tides are, here’s roughly the same shot with the tide out!

Up close it turns out they’re a bit further apart than they look at first glance, but the water is shallow enough to permit wading so even I, the world’s least adventurous explorer, was able to make it out to that little island.

And again, with the tide out the inlet bed becomes a mud flat. I actually walked out into this mud a little ways in the hopes of reaching some of the further-out little islets, but the mud sucks you down enough that it’s nearly impossible to make forward progress. And it’s also really gross.

The sense of accomplishment is tempered somewhat by the fact that there’s nothing to do on said island once you get there. The rocks are pretty cool, though, I guess :)

By the way, this body of water is, I believe, the Manukau Harbour, and this particular piece of it is the Mangere Inlet. We first encountered the Manukau Harbour at Whatipu, and we will encounter it again before too long (we will also encounter it in the next post, but that’s not what I’m foreshadowing here).

There’s a view of One Tree Hill from the South across the harbor.

And if you Zoom and Enhance you can just barely see the Mangere Bridge.

So that’s a small glimpse at Ambury Park. I didn’t stay too long, because I still had one more mission: one way or another, I was going to make it onto Puketutu Island and see what’s what out there.


Stay tuned to see what happens :)