St. Heliers Bay

St. Heliers Bay is an upscale neighborhood adjacent to Mission Bay on an area that I’m going to call the Tamaki Peninsula because I don’t think anyone has bothered to name it.

I parked my car on Cliff Rd. in front of some fancy houses and basically just walked until I got bored.

Ladies Bay

My first stop was the evocatively named Ladies Bay (there’s also a Gentlemans Bay, which is a bit harder to find and which I passed up on).

The weather was, as you can see, borderline unpleasant, and the steep walkway was a bit slippery. Making it down to the bottom, though, I found not ladies but fishermen.

Poor Rangitoto was getting poured on, but I ignored the droplets and pressed on.

This paddleboarder did not apparently care about the indifferent weather. You can see Auckland City and the Harbour Bridge in the background of this shot.

That bit there to the East is Achilles Point, of which we shall see more anon.

As I made my way along the slippery rocks, I decided to not play games with the tide and head on back up to the road.

Once back up, I appreciated the view off the cliff.

I also stopped to admire these torch lilies, which are quite prevalent along the coast here.

(These flowers, also called red-hot pokers, are native to South Africa. I first encountered them in 2013 in Cape Town when I was exploring Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.)

Achilles Point

Moving along, I then proceeded to Achilles Point.

Achilles point, as the placard suggests, is named after the HMS Achilles: a light cruiser loaned to the New Zealand navy by the British in the 1930s. The Achilles participated in the Battle of the River Plate, the first naval battle of World War II, in which the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was defeated, hounded, and ultimately sunk. The whole story makes for fascinating reading if you are so inclined. The Achilles survived the war, was later sold to India, and eventually was scrapped. May all implements of war suffer the same fate.

Achilles Point itself is a great lookout spot.

Another picture of foggy Auckland and the Harbour Bridge.

Brown’s Island, with Waiheke nearly occluded by fog in the background.

This is a cool shot, if just for how the water looks and the tiny little warning marker.

The shot down into the water shows that even on such an overcast day, the lovely blues of the bay are still there.

Glover Park

Speaking of lovely blues, by the time I had walked to Glover Park, the sky started showing some blue as well!

Glover Park is a neat little area. It’s mostly soccer fields, with some well-paved trails running up to the North.

These trails run through some nice deciduous trees. The climate here is so warm that even in Winter it really feels like Autumn.

At the crest of the hill, there’s a nice view of the bay.

Looking out (and again marveling at the nice weather compared to earlier, we can see Musick Point and Brown’s Island. If you Zoom and Enhance considerably, you can even make out the communications center on top of Musick Point. So cool!

The bit of land in between would be West Tamaki Head. I should note that almost all these names (including St. Heliers itself) are recorded in the Gazetteer as unofficial. Not overly surprising given the casual attitude New Zealanders seem to take toward naming geographic features.

Looking back over the park, we can see a soccer game in progress. Note the military-bunkereque water tower there in the background. I spent a good 15 minutes walking all around the block trying to find a way to get to the tower without walking through private property, with no success.

(Side note: I think these being soccer and not rugby fields is a hallmark of St. Heliers being an affluent area. I’m not sure if it’s just that rich people are more reluctant to pound the stuffing out of each other, if soccer is just more popular among the more worldly and cosmopolitan elite, or perhaps if I’m reading entirely too much into it.)

Churchill Park

A short walk from Glover Park, we come to the much larger Churchill Park.

I don’t know if I was tired or if I’m just that bad with directions, but I kept getting hopelessly turned around in Churchill Park. I’m fairly certain I walked enough to cover the entire park but only explored about a quarter of it.

I spent some time birdwatching, but the only decent shot I got was of a butterfly.

The park does have some nice trails and pathways winding through it.

Not all the pathways are contiguous, which is part of the problem. Exploring the whole park would require either a map or a lot of patience (and a better internal compass than I have).

Got some nice Fall colors here in the middle of Winter :)

Very little in New Zealand is flat, and Churchill Park is not an exception.

And, as we close out our time at Churchill Park, a cool tree.

After walking back to Achilles Point, I had to take one last photo of Auckland, this time less mist-enshrouded.

So that’s St. Heliers! Hope you enjoyed exploring it as much as I did. Next time we’re going to explore yet another part of the extended Auckland area! Stay tuned :)

Chilling in ‘Straya: Melbourne

The SPA (South Pacific and Australia) churches held a retreat in Melbourne, and I decided to go. This is just a bunch of pictures that I took on my trip.

The city

Melbourne is a big city. More people live in Melbourne than live in the entire country of New Zealand.

Melbourne is not known for its distinctive skyline, but it does have a few interestingly-shaped buildings.

Such as this skinny tower (and you know I’m going to use that bird I caught by accident as an excuse to use the birds tag).

The city has an extensive tram network, which is free inside the city center. Somewhat like Denver, I guess, except much larger scale. The trams running down the middle of the road sometimes make driving even more awkward than it would otherwise be. And driving in Melbourne is pretty awkward.

Speaking of awkward, I’m not sure what this is a monument to. Possibly a potato with a tumor. Or maybe a dessicated eggplant.

Side note: some people here (I think it’s a UK thing) call an eggplant an aubergine. People here also call zucchini and other types of squash courgettes and a bell pepper a capsicum, so all bets are off when you’re in the vegetable aisle.

Fortunately, this monument is (at least comparatively) more normal.

This car is driving me absolutely insane trying to identify it. I feel like somebody tried to dress an old Lincoln limousine up as though it’s a Packard from the 1930s and then bought the wrong hood ornament off eBay.

Back to the city, though.

We got an opportunity to climb up to the roof of a 9-story church building (more on that in a minute), so I was able to take some decent photos.

Australia is generally North of New Zealand, but Melbourne is on the South coast and as such is about the same latitude as Auckland. I was hoping for some nicer weather, but as you can see it’s about the same as back home.

(I just annoyed any of my North Carolina friends who are reading this by referring to Auckland as “back home”. Sorry folks :))

Walking through Melbourne is a generally interesting and not unpleasant experience.

The tour

Those of us from out of town were given a great opportunity to take a city tour with a twist: instead of looking at tourist stuff, we would examine the income gap and look at the city from the eyes of the homeless.

The tour was given by Urban Seed ministry, an organization designed to help the poor and homeless in Melbourne. These tours are an important part of the ministry’s efforts; raising awareness is necessary if the problem is going to be addressed at scale.

Jordan is shocked by everything we’re hearing! Or possibly just scratching his head.

Collins St. Baptist Church started Urban Seed several years ago. This church is quite old and ornate; definitely impressive!

The inside is just as impressive, and was also dark enough to make exposures somewhat tricky.

The graffiti

As part of the tour, we went to an alleyway where graffiti is not just permitted but encouraged. I wonder if something like this would help to abate Auckland’s graffiti problem?

Possibly not, but some street artists certainly have gone all out here!

I find it interesting to see beautiful, intricate street art defaced by common tagging or someone choosing just to write over top of it. I think it’s even more impressive to see these artists expending so much time and energy on such an impermanent medium.

Despite its legitimacy as a graffiti site, the alleyway is not entirely on the up-and-up. Our guide said that sometimes his tours (which he often gives to school groups) can be interrupted by drug deals or drug users.

Perhaps as much as anything, coming here as middle-class tourists to a place where people clearly have spent the night in the recent past illustrates the gap we were meant to be observing.

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

Tourists! Woo!

The dilemma

One of the activities of Urban Seed ministries is to give drug users a safe place to go, get needles and clean water, and consume their poison of choice.

Our guide believed very strongly and vocally that doing so is part of the ministry of Jesus. Others might argue that when Jesus instructed his followers to give cups of water to “little ones”, he didn’t expect said water to be used for dissolving illegal pharmaceuticals.

Ultimately, we have to reach people where they are. If we create a ministry that excludes the marginalized, the repressed, and the judged, Jesus won’t be there. He will be outside, ministering to the people we’ve excluded. This isn’t license to discard our convictions or our morality, but it is a challenge to step outside ourselves just a bit and, most importantly, to love more and judge less.

The end

Afterward, we went kangaroo hunting. Look, we found some!

Come back next time to see where the rich people live in Auckland!

Tawharanui, Pt. 2: The Views and the Birds

“The Views and the Birds” sounds like an album name from a trendy modern band that would be playing at Starbucks.

As you might recall from last time, I’m at Tawharanui Regional Park, Marine Reserve, and Bird Sanctuary. If you’re interested in the walk I took around the peninsula, be sure to check out the last post. But if you’re just interested in some great views, you’ve come to the right place. But first…

The Birds

Pukeko are not exactly uncommon, but they are birds. I shall include them here for the sake of completion.

These are paradise shelducks. The one with the white head is a female.

These ducks are not at all rare; they are in fact New Zealand’s second most common waterfowl, following the mallard (i.e. the boring duck).

Their survival might be directly related to the fact that these ducks have no chill and will flap noisily off, honking and hollering, if you so much as think about moving in their direction.

Speaking of common birds, there were many fantails present. These birds are cute and cheerful but their plumage makes them look like they have angry eyebrows over their eyes! So funny. I love these little guys.

This is a rather poor picture of a saddleback, a bird that’s a first for this blog.

Saddlebacks have a pretty distinctive call. You’ll see some much better saddleback photos a few posts from now, so I’ll save more discussion until then.

I foolishly used autofocus for this shot, and of course it betrayed me. This is a red-crowned parakeet.

After I saw this guy I told Taylor about it. Later, when we were birdwatching together he saw one and said “look, it’s a red-crested whatever!”. So now I refer to these birds as the red-crested whatever.

These birds make the sort of “chattering” noise that a lot of parakeet-type birds make. These birds are exceedingly rare on the mainland; while they were once endemic, introduced predators killed most of them off. There are surviving (or reintroduced) populations on a number of islands, especially throughout the Hauraki Gulf, but on the mainland they are largely confined to sanctuaries such as Tawharanui. If you see one in the wild it is, much like the rainbow lorikeet, likely an escaped pet.

The coloration isn’t as stunning as the rainbow lorikeet or the rosella, but it’s still quite cool to find one on the mainland.

The Views

This lagoon is right near the ranger station at the entrance to the park. Even in this shot you can see how lush and green everything is here.

The presence of houses might make you think that this is a photo of the mainland, but I believe we are actually looking at Kawau Island, a fancy place where people who can afford to live on their own island go to stay. There’s not a lot of infrastructure on the island; so much so that most of the houses are connected to their own private dock rather than a road.

This view is from the lookout at the tip of the peninsula. I believe that island there would be Little Barrier Island, with Great Barrier Island being barely visible in the background.

For an amusing glimpse into the variability of weather here in New Zealand, compare the sky color in each of these shots, taken over a period of just under six hours.

You can see Little Barrier Island again in the distance.

Yep, clouds.

Tawharanui is just…so pretty.

On my return hike with the sun setting I kept having to remind myself that I didn’t want to be caught short after dark. All I wanted to do was look at the scenery in the light of the setting sun.

I promise I haven’t done anything to these photos. The green really is just that vibrant.

Looking back along the peninsula to the mainland.

Tawharanui will always stand out in my mind as being utterly beautiful.

I hope you enjoyed these photos! I knew I would have to make a separate post to make sure I got in all the amazing views!

See you next time. There might even be some more birds in the future :)

Tawharanui, Pt. 1: The Walks

I’ve been wanting to go here for ages. On an overcast late Fall day, I hopped in the car and headed North to Tawharanui Peninsula.

Incidentally, Tawharanui is pronounced as “tough-anui” by locals; it’s another victim of the New Zealand War on Syllables.

Like Whangaparaoa, Tawharanui is a peninsula jutting a few kilometers out into the Hauraki Gulf. It’s covered in walking trails and, as it turns out, is an official New Zealand bird sanctuary!

I arrived at about noon, giving me nearly six hours of daylight for exploring.

One of the first things you will notice is the predator fence. As you can see, the fence has an automatic gate for vehicles.

I chose to park outside the fence. You can’t get trapped inside something you’re outside, as I rarely say, and it also gave me an opportunity to photograph the coastline.

Being a peninsula, Tawharanui has quite a bit of coastline.

Taking a look at the map, my plan was to follow the South Coast Track up to the Tokatu Point Lookout track, take that track to the eponymous Tokatu Point at the tip of the peninsula, then come back and finish the loop along the North Coast Track.

No plan, as they say, survives first contact with the enemy. But that was my plan. Lest I be accused of hyperbolic foreshadowing, I will say that my plan actually survived until the third or fourth skirmish, if I may be permitted to stretch the analogy nearly to its breaking point.

It should also be mentioned that Tawharanui, typically, has plenty of cows and sheep wandering around. We will see more of these animals later on.

The start of the hike leads along a gravel road bordering the lagoon.

Even if you choose to park inside the gates, you’re going to spend at least a little bit of time on this road just to get to the trails.

Soon enough, though, the trail head comes into view. It even has a nice map! If you stop by the ranger station near the gate you can grab yourself a spiffy folding paper map, but if you didn’t do this then a top tip is to take a photo of the map on your phone for later reference.

The first bit of the trail involves a boardwalk over the swampy area. The whole peninsula is quite lush and damp, but the trail is pretty uniformly good throughout.

To engage in some now-traditional patting myself on the back, I feel like this shot is a great establishing shot for the walk.

Climbing the hill gives some of the first proper views of the day. The overcast sky is not contributing much, but the views are so nice it doesn’t really matter. I’m going to make a separate post with more of the best views, so this one is going to focus on the walk itself.

Looking back, it’s clear how steep this climb is. It’s a short climb, though, so no worries. Most of this track is a bit up-and-down, but this steep climb at the beginning is the only one that stands out as being potentially challenging.

See what I mean? The terrain is rolling, but it’s not too bad! And the views make up for any small exertions necessary.

The path here is in pretty good condition. It does get grassy and muddy in spots, but it’s never terrible.

This is called a stile, and if you hike in New Zealand at all you will become very familiar with them. In America, jumping a fence or going through a gate is generally frowned upon. In New Zealand, it’s practically de rigeur. If you’re on public land like this, unless there’s an explicit sign telling you not to then you can go over fences and through gates — they’re for the livestock, not for you.

Later on this same walk, the path hits a fence with a locked gate, making the above point not just academic but very practical. I don’t know why the gate was locked, and I spent a long time with the map trying to figure if I had wandered off the correct path, but ultimately I ended up jumping the fence — which was, apparently, the correct procedure. Obviously things are a bit different when on private property, but on public land so long as you are respectful of your surroundings and obey all posted notices, you have a lot of freedom to go where you please.

Going up the hill, I see why there’s a fence. Cows, you have the whole field to roam in. Why are you hanging out right on the path?

In fact, this group of thugs cows is clearly looking for trouble. Cows can be intimidating because of their size and weight, but ultimately they are prey animals and will behave as such. So long as you are determined but nonthreatening, the cows will back down. I approached with a confident, deliberate gait and the cows moved off the path to let me pass. This advice also works surprisingly well at navigating most uncomfortable social situations.

There are a number of places where you can turn off to go down to the coast. I have no desire to hike along the pebble beaches, the weather’s too cold for swimming, and the views are better from the top. I did go down to check it out though.

So worth it! The water is such a pretty color, and this cool little point must be a great fishing spot. I wouldn’t mind having a picnic here if I hadn’t eaten before I came!

Moving back up, the trail entered into a more forested area…

And when I popped out the other side, I was treated to some blue in the sky!

Even better, I got an achievement!

This marker, denoted with a triangle on the map above, sits just about where the trail splits off to the lookout.

The path to the lookout is a very nice forested trail with a number of birds around. Plenty of fantails and saddlebacks, and I caught a glimpse of either a bellbird or a silvereye. I will post bird photos in a separate post, though.

The lookout itself had some great views, which will also be coming up in the next post. But here’s a shot downward to the amazingly clear water. So clear, in fact, that the bottom is very visible! Superb.

Once emerging from the woods, it was time to hike the North Coast Track back along the peninsula.

Along the way back, though, I encountered the Ecology Trail. I waffled about for a bit trying to decide whether to continue along the North Coast Track or go down the Ecology Trail, but I ultimately decided on the latter.

I did plenty of bird hunting under the cover of the forest, and managed to get a couple of snaps I’m looking forward to sharing with you!

The Ecology Trail is well-marked and in fairly good condition. It’s a bit steep, but coming from this direction it’s all downhill.

There are stairs with railings for the steep bits, too. Definitely an easy walk!

More stairs.

At the end, we pop out back on the South Coast Track. It’s possible to take the Ecology Trail and not wind up on the South Coast Track, but a map-reading error on my part put me there and it was getting late enough that I didn’t want to backtrack. No worries, because I got to enjoy the views again. But wait…that’s my car!

I used my elite photo-editing skillz to help you locate it in case you haven’t been keeping up with your Where’s Waldo’s Car training.

(What we call Where’s Waldo in the US was actually created by an Englishman and called Where’s Wally?, which it’s called here as well. Fun fact: in France, it’s called, inexplicably, Ou est Charlie?)

And just like that, my adventure was finished. Just as the sun was starting to make its way below the horizon.

Tawharanui was amazing. I had such a good time on my hike, and the scenery was just beautiful.

This post has already gone on much longer than I like them to be, so come back next time and I’ll show you some more of this lovely place.

Cascades Walk, Pt. 2

You may recall that last time, Taylor and I were slightly foiled at the Waitakere Dam by a dodgy cliff face.

We had walked up the Cascade Track to the Fence Line track, over the dam, and intended to go down the Tramline Walk to the Anderson Tack and then back to the carpark. We weren’t sure how much of a detour we would have to take, though. Worst case, we might have to take the Waitakere Dam Walk all the way to Scenic Drive and then hike north and join the Anderson Track where it hits the road.

Since we were being turned back from our prize, we decided to console ourselves with a bit of exploring. We took the bridge over the outflow stream…

…and followed this grotty old path back up to the dam. This wound up popping us out about 100 meters before the dam on the track we’d come in on originally, but it was a fine bit of exploring which restored our spirits immensely.

Restoring our spirits even more, however, was discovering that less than 200 meters after the end of the dam was a stairway leading to the other side of the closed tramway! Yes, it’s only a small stretch of the Tramline Track that’s fenced off, so we could continue with our original plan. Huzzah!

Something that possibly only I appreciated was the quality stairs we got to descend, seen here.

We were both well pleased with this turn of events, and even more so when we saw how cool the Tramline Track was!

The tramway runs along what is basically a cliff, so the look out to our left was superb.

Running along the ground to the right is a quite substantial pipeline. I am not sure whether or not this particular pipe is still used, but further along there are signs of fairly recent repair and retrofitting of more modern equipment.

(This photo, in a rare concession to the art of photography, was taken at about knee height. The railing to the left is not so massive as to be head-height on me!)

After a bit of tramping (pun retroactively intended), the tramway swings around enough that the dam itself is visible at a distance. And…hm, what’s that peeking out underneath? Why, it’s a waterfall!

[When I wrote the original draft of this post, I wrote “after a bit of tramping (p.i.)”, apparently deciding that p.i. was shorthand everyone would understand to mean “pun intended”. A month later, future me, which is now current me but for you will be past me, had to spend nearly a minute trying to figure out what p.i. could possibly mean. You know you’ve failed badly at communication when you not only confuse your readers but confuse yourself.]

The vegetation made it difficult to get a particularly great shot of the falls, not that this stopped Taylor from leaping over the guardrail and trying for a shot anyway.

While he did that, I photographed a tui I found in a nearby tree. These are also called parsonbirds because of the tuft under their beaks. Not to be confused with Tui the dog!

We marched on until the dam was barely visible.

At which point, we encountered this thing! An interesting solution to keep a waterfall from eroding the tram lines, certainly!

I enjoy traveling with Taylor for many reasons, one of them being that as a great photographer he sees shots I don’t. I’m sure he’s the one who thought of this shot, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find that he got a long exposure of the water falling that looked super cool.

We left our little man-made waterfall behind, but it was definitely a neat bit of engineering.

Moving on, we got through the trees our best look yet at the falls below the dam!

Taylor, as expected, immediately decided that climbing a tree growing out of the edge of the cliff was the ideal solution. Not that Taylor has ever needed a reason to climb a tree.

I’m sure he got some great shots, though. These falls are amazing.

I’ve no idea how far down they go, but here’s what’s visible from this vantage point. Think about how high up the dam was, and then look at how many dam-heights the waterfall goes down. That is just mindblowing.

As we continued on, it became obvious that there would be no more views of the falls. The foliage was getting much thicker.

And then, a tunnel!

Duly noted.

Though I’m tempted to pretend like the tunnel went on for hundreds of meters, actually it’s pretty short.

Taylor and I had some good-natured debate about how long ago the tram still ran along these tracks based on our estimated age of the signs. We never did end up figuring it out, though based on another sign we saw we knew it had to be running at least through the 1990s.

After passing through the tunnel we completely left the cliff behind and were tramping through forest. Here we find an intersection of both trail and track.

Moving down the tracks, we found another tunnel, this one barred and locked. Ah, well, maybe an adventure for another time (or, more likely, not at all).

Once we hit Anderson Track, the trail conditions got much poorer. As you can see, the forest encroaches on the muddy dirt track in a way it didn’t on the tramline.

There is also the occasional morass, which we navigated with care.

Before reaching the carpark, the Anderson Track left us with the parting gift of a rocky ford. My favorite!

And that, as they say, is that. I’m grateful to Taylor for accompanying me (and in many ways guiding me, since he’d done about a third of that walk before) on this adventure! It was a great walk, and it deserves the fame it has received among the Auckland outdoor enthusiasts.

Join me next time as I head up North for some solo exploring! See you then!

Cascades Walk, Pt. 1

Ahh, the Waitakere Ranges. Less than an hour out of Auckland, but home to beautiful beaches, clear streams, majestic waterfalls, and kilometers and kilometers of walking trails.

On this particular warm Fall day, Taylor and I took a trip out to the Cascades Walk. As you can see from the map, there’s plenty of trails (and plenty of trail closures) running throughout the area.

(Note: do not get confused, as I was at first, by the fact that North is pointing downward on this map. I got completely disoriented before realizing. Even better, the smaller map in the lower left is the opposite, with North facing up.)

You get to the trailhead by driving through a golf course, but do not be dismayed: this park is no country club. Cross the suspension bridge and you’re in the bush. (The sign says no more than 20 people, not 20 kph, in case you were worried about people driving on the bridge).

The trail is alongside — and occasionally across — the Cascades Stream and its various tributaries. Some of the crossings require either balance (which I have none of) or a willingness to get your feet wet.

The trail is quite typical for the Waitakeres, starting off with near-rainforest and as the elevation increases transitioning to more standard New Zealand forest.

There are also some large kauri trees along the trail. Some of the tracks are closed due to kauri dieback, which is sadly killing off these old giants.

You can see multiple waterfalls along the Cascades Walkway, which you doubtless already deduced from the name. The first one requires some small effort to get to.

(I like this photo because with few frames of reference you can’t quite tell if it’s looking forward at two vertical rock formations or looking downward at two horizontal ones. It’s the former, in case the direction of tree growth does not make that clear.)

Taylor demonstrates one technique for getting to the waterfall.

And here he is demonstrating another technique, requiring less physical skill but more balance.

The waterfall itself is tucked away in this little grotto. The angle and the lighting conditions make photography difficult.

Here’s a completely blown-out photo showing a bit more of the surrounding detail.

That whole area is a pretty cool place, and Taylor and I spent a while there climbing around and taking photos.

Moving on: the trail really starts to climb, offering fantastic views.

Any NZ hikers will recognize this bird; it’s a fantail, called piwakawaka by the Maori. They will fly in front of you and do aerobatics in the middle of the trail, flipping and diving and looking like they’re just having so much fun being a bird.

These birds are so spazzy it’s hard to get a clear shot of them, but here’s a blurry one demonstrating why they’re called fantails. Autofocus is fairly useless for shooting birds. If you want to get a good shot of a fantail you will need to be good with manual focus and a very quick shutter speed.

What I’m saying is, if you want blurry or out-of-focus shots of a fantail, let me know. I’ve got heaps.

Walk far enough, and the trail joins up with another which is practically a gravel road. And moving along, we see…a bridge? No! That’s a dam! The Waitakere Dam, in fact.

I love curved dams. So cool looking.

The Waitakere Dam is actually the smallest of the five dams in the Waitakere Ranges in terms of capacity. It was completed over 100 years ago and maintains a quite large reservoir.

On the South side of the dam (again, recall the wonky map orientation if you referred back to it and are confused) is the reservoir, looking quite pretty and also a bit low. Don’t worry, by the end of Winter I’m sure it will be fuller. Believe it or not, in the 1920s this reservoir actually overflowed the dam! While doing research, I saw pictures of the water right up to the spillway. So intense!

To the North, we see out along the valley (I believe this area is called the Waitakere Saddle).

I couldn’t find out exactly how high the dam is, but according to the water levels charts I discovered that the spill level is 20 meters (as I write this, the reservoir is 55% full and slowly increasing. Sadly, the site doesn’t allow me to check the historical levels to find out how full it was when we visited). The dam was actually raised by 4 meters many years ago! Much of the water used by Auckland comes from these reservoirs.

(Have I mentioned that I think dams are cool? I wasted so much time while writing this post doing research on the dams in the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges).

When the reservoir is full, this stump will be completely submerged.

For obvious reasons, swimming in the reservoir is highly discouraged.

In order to get to the tramway, the next part of our journey, we had to climb down the stairs on the other end of the dam. This took us down the North face.

The water flowing from the dam drops down into an amazing waterfall, but we won’t actually see those falls until later.

Unfortunately, the trail we wanted to take is currently in bad shape and blocked off. So we are going to have to go back up and around. But that will be for next time, because this has already gotten pretty long. I’ll see you then for the conclusion of our adventure!

Fairy Falls

Waterfalls are great. There’s just something about so much water…well…falling. Taylor, Lukas, and I saddled up and headed out to Fairy Falls in the Waitakeres to get some photos.

When it comes to hiking the Fairy Falls, you can either park on Scenic Dr and hike down to the bottom, up to Mountain Road, and take the loop back to the carpark via Old Coach Rd, or you can park on Mountain Road and take the clockwise loop, walking up from the bottom of the falls. I personally voted for the Mountain Road start, but I got outvoted.

(The only main difference is that parking on Mountain Road means that you’re going downhill between Scenic Drive and the Mountain Road carpark leading to a nice down-up-down pattern, while parking on Scenic Drive means that your initial hike will be all downhill and then you’ll be pulling uphill all the way back. It’s basically the same amount of uphill and downhill either way though.)

The Fairy Falls track is in excellent condition; in fact, most of the way it’s boardwalk. Fairy Falls are a staged fall, and the boardwalk likewise alternates between stairs and landings.

Don’t get so caught up in the falls that you miss the forest, which features some nice and fairly tall kauri trees.

It’s not too much of a walk before the top of the falls’ first stage.

After each stage there’s a little pool before the next, providing nice photo ops.

I should note that the water here is fantastically clear.

Going down a couple of levels further, we reach a spot where you can sort of climb back up to get some good shots. It’s actually easy enough that I did so too, though not quite so confidently as Taylor and Lukas.

Climbing up is the best way to get a shot of this stage of the falls, which doesn’t have its own landing on the boardwalk.

I would imagine after a heavy rain the falls would be even more impressive, but as they are they’re still pretty cool.

Each stage is just a bit different than the one before.

Which brings us here; the top of the lower falls.

The falls end with the most precipitous drop of them all, finishing in a large pool before becoming a river and flowing on.

And here we are at the bottom! Quite picturesque, if perhaps not a raging torrent on this clear Fall day.

We stopped here for some photographic shenanigans.

This is the short of shot we were messing about with; a long exposure that makes the water look like a sheet of silk running down the rocks. This is the sort of waterfall shot photonerds love to get.

Unsurprisingly, then, despite my lack of tripod I too monkeyed around with the camera for a bit to get some long exposures.

Eventually, though, we did move on. As you can see, the trail crosses the river at this point. The lack of bridge is the indication that the nice, pleasant boardwalk is now done. Enjoy your dirt trail.

(If you would rather be boring, you can of course walk back up the boardwalk rather than hiking the loop. But where’s the fun in that?)

The crossing is not difficult, and once again Taylor’s Vibram shoes proved quite handy.

Since we were already in a photography mood, I took a macro shot of this little mushroom we found. The macro lenses (especially the 10x, which I was using here) give a significant depth-of-field effect; you can see focus just drop right off on the peripheral.

I was a little hard on the trail conditions earlier; there are some bridged crossings even on this section of the trail.

And though you can expect to go up quite a bit, at least the steepest bits have some decent stairs rather than a slip-n-slide.

Go up far enough and…hey! There’s Auckland!

This far West it’s even possible to get a great shot of Auckland and Ragitoto very well-composed together. Quite nice, that.

Once nearer the road, the trail switches from dirt to gravel. Which is unsurprising once you realize…

…that you’re walking through someone’s yard. Not sure why you’d bother getting a secluded house out in the middle of the forest if there’s going to be hikers tramping through your driveway at all hours, but that’s New Zealand.

You do have to walk just a little bit on the road in order to complete the loop, but it’s not too bad.

So there you have it. Fairy Falls! A great day hike; it only takes a couple of hours even accounting for monkeying about with cameras, so it’s a great spot for a nice picnic or a casual walk.

See you next time for another Waitakeres waterfall!

Te Henga (Bethells Beach)

My relationship with the Western beaches is simple: I love them, and they continue to amaze and delight. In an attempt to wrest everything we can from the dying grip of Summer (really Fall by this point, but in such a temperate climate the boundaries are indistinct), I joined the dynamic duo of Tyson and Taylor in a trip out to Bethells Beach.

Geography-nerd sidebar: Te Henga means sand in Maori, but for semi-scrutable reasons the New Zealand Place Naming Association, which is not what it’s actually called but should be, decided to rename Bethells Beach to, and I am rendering this just as it is officially recorded, Te Henga (Bethells Beach). Yes, the parenthetical is part of the official name. Because this is both awkward and dumb, I will be referring to the beach as Bethells Beach and the surrounding area as Bethells.

The first part of this post is going to be mostly just beach scenery, because Bethells has a lot of that. It is, it must be said, very pretty.

As you can see, we had a fantastically clear day. The wind made things a little chilly, but it was overall quite good.

As with most of the Western beaches, Bethells is surrounded by the Waitakeres. Unlike, say, Mercer Bay, it’s possible to drive up to Bethells without having to scale said peaks on food.

The beach was rife with these little jellyfish. They’re pretty cool looking. I really don’t know anything about jellyfish; I assume these ones were dead.

Walking further along the beach, a cave appears in the distance! Let’s Zoom and Enhance(tm) to see what’s up.

No, I said Zoom.

There we go. This cave is just asking to be explored.

Explore it we did, but it was not very deep, fairly boring, and poorly-lit. I also left my camera outside, because getting to it required some wading.

I did take this super cool photo of the rock face near the cave, though! I love how neat the water looks.

The angle of the sun also made the view back toward where we started look nearly monochrome!

And here is a fantastic view of a feeder river.

The Dunes

Bethells is not just known for its beach, however. It is also the home to some frankly marvelous sand dunes.

Getting to the dunes requires a bit of a drive, unless you want to walk along the side of a windy mountain road (hint: you don’t).

A quick jaunt down a sandy trail, and then…

Someone dropped a piece of Arrakis in the middle of New Zealand.

Somehow — probably owing to a completely sensible geological explanation — there are some sand dunes surrounded by brush, forest, farmland, and a lake.

Tyson decided to strike a pose, which gives a bit of scale to this sandy expanse.

Were I a filmmaker, I would find a reason to shoot a scene here.

As you progress into the dunes, suddenly, you see it. Hills, a lake, greenery…the dunes just…stop.

Or so it appears. Actually, it’s what will probably eventually be a sandstone cliff.

I’m sure it’s not as steep as it looks. But my brain could not see it as anything other than a sheer drop off. How do I know my companions are insane, you ask?

Yes, they plunged off the edge. And called it fun! I will have none of that, thank you.

The payoff, of course, being that you have to walk back up and get covered in sand. Why would I want to do this again?

My friends’ insanity aside, the dunes are a fantastic place.

Bethells Disc Golf Course

On a completely different trip (with, as you will see, completely different weather) the three of us checked out the disc golf course near Bethells. The course shares ground with some public land featuring equestrian trails and, of course, pasture land for cows.

It turns out to be very poorly marked; the first hole has a hazard the size of a football pitch; and if you miss a throw you will very likely have to cross an electric fence. I didn’t take many photos, but here’s the ones I did:

The course is certainly pretty! You can see a tee box there in the ground with (if you Zoom and Enhance a bit) a basket a bit further on. Is this the correct basket for this tee? Who knows.

We had to take a brief break to shelter from the rain. As you can see from the state of my lens, the shelter was only mildly successful.

My lens is dry again and the skies, while not clear, are not dumping anymore. Unquestionably a pretty course!

This emu was hanging out across the street from the carpark. We stopped to say farewell before heading off back to Auckland.

So that’s three faces of Bethells. Hopefully you enjoyed! Next time, Taylor, Lukas, and I check out a waterfall. See you then!

Parks: Monte Cecilia, Waikowhai, and Waitawa

Today’s post will be a little different. Rather than recounting an adventure, I’d like to introduce you to three different parks around the Auckland area.

Monte Cecilia Park

Monte Cecilia is to the South of Auckland in Three Kings, between Mount Roskill and Onehunga. It’s a small park with lots of hills, trees, and open fields.

It’s a suburban park, and in addition to walking / jogging tracks it does command some nice Southward views toward Mangere. It’s a pretty neat spot for walking your dog, running around with the kids, or just hanging out.

There’s no disc golf baskets here, but you can play an obstacle course or use some of the more level fields for driving practice. Some folks associated with New Zealand disc golfing are trying to get a proper course installed here though!

I haven’t encountered any particularly interesting birds, but the more common ones can be seen flying around. There are some large shade trees and copious benches. I’ve spent quite a while here just sitting and reading.

If you need a small, calm place in South Auckland to hang out, have a picnic, or take the family, Monte Cecilia Park is a good bet.

Waikowhai Park

A kowhai is a native tree, and wai is the Maori word for water. Unsurprisingly, Waikowhai Park is a park with kowhai trees by the water.

This park is also South of the city, not too far from Monte Cecilia. You can park in the main carpark off Waikowhai Rd or the auxiliary one off Cape Horn Rd. I chose the latter.

The Cape Horn Rd carpark is more peaceful and secluded, but it also involves climbing down (and, subsequently, back up) quite a few stairs.

And more stairs.

And even more stairs. This building appears to be an old changing room. As you continue to climb down the stairs you are invited to reflect on the impermanence of human endeavor.

Finally, dozens of meters of elevation and one existential crisis later, you arrive at the shoreline. Somewhat less picturesque with the tide out; to give you an indication for how long the climb took, it was high tide when I started (that’s a falsehood; it really only takes about 10 minutes. It’s just all stairs).

There’s actually much more park than this little bit here, and the park also abuts Wattle Reserve, which is reachable by a walking track. For once, I had no intention of going exploring, as I was here to read and hang out.

The bench is not the comfiest in the world, but the view is great. If you need a quiet spot to read or meditate and Monte Cecilia isn’t doing it for you, Waikowhai could be just the ticket.

Waitawa Regional Park

If both these parks seem too near, too small, or too…civilized for your tastes, Waitawa is there for you. Located north of Hunua and not too far from the infamous Duder Regional Park, Waitawa is just a bit less than an hour’s drive from the city. I take the Hill Rd exit toward the Botanic Gardens, take West Rd. out toward Clevedon, then head out of Clevedon toward Kawakawa until I hit the park.

The park itself is rolling pastureland, featuring some fairly tolerant sheep and nice views of the gulf to the North.

This cute little dog is named Tui; she belongs to Taylor’s neighbor. When we bring her to Waitawa she experiences the Call of the Wild. Unlike Buck in Alaska, when New Zealand dogs experience the Call they turn into sheep dogs :)

There’s a quite challenging disc golf course at Waitawa, though be warned: both Brendon and I have lost discs here (the disc I lost actually belonged to Taylor, making it even worse). The course is not very forgiving to errant throws.

The views make it worth it, though. Even if I end the day 20 strokes over par for the course, I’m glad I came out just because it’s so beautiful!

On paper the park isn’t too much bigger than Waikowhai and Wattle Reserve, but since it’s open pastureland it feels absolutely massive. Even the forested bits are quite sparse, which is again quite handy for disc golf players.

Even if you’re not a disc golfer, I reckon if you came out here for a nice stroll you wouldn’t feel like you wasted the trip.

And I leave you with Tyson, Tui, and my backpack demonstrating how to chill.

I hope you enjoyed this nice stroll through some nice parks! Next time, please join me and my friends for a fun road trip to a really cool place (and mom, also please note my proper use of the subjective case)! See you then!