Hamlins Hill and Mutukaroa Regional Park

Just East of the city, right off the motorway, is a hill and a park. The name…is a little complicated. Fair warning, I’m going to start out this post with some boring geography nerd stuff that you can skip if you just want to see the pretty pictures :)

Naming things in New Zealand is a bit tricky. Many places and geographical features have Maori names dating back hundreds of years. Often, these places will have been given completely separate names by European settlers which also date back hundreds of years. As New Zealand embraces both its Maori culture and heritage and also its European culture and heritage, official place names are decided in conjunction between the New Zealand surveyors and gazetteers and the local iwi (Maori tribal governing bodies). As a result, many features and locations have official names both in Te Reo as well as in English (for example, the official name of One Tree Hill is Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill — maunga means mountain and kiekie is a native climbing vine).

Which brings us to Mutukaroa.

(I don’t actually know what Mutukaroa means. The scant research I did says that mutu is a type of snare set for a bird and karo or karoa is a verb meaning to evade or dodge, evoking the meaning of a bird escaping or evading a snare. Not sure if that’s the intended meaning, but I like it enough to provide it here in a parenthetical).

The hill itself is officially named Mutukaroa / Hamlin Hill and colloquially named Hamlins Hill (New Zealand, as I believe I’ve mentioned previously, has adopted the trend of dropping apostrophes from place names). Fair enough. But the hill exists within a park named by the Auckland Council, and they can’t seem to figure out what they’ve named it. The website calls it Hamlins Hill Mutukaroa, but as you can see above the sign calls it Mutukaroa Hamlins Hill Regional Park. Not ones for attention to detail, are the Auckland Council it seems.

Anyway, whatever it’s called, I went there.

The carpark is pretty blink-and-you’ll-miss-it and features all of six spots, which to be fair is probably sufficient almost all of the time.

The gravel track and nice signage (complete with color-coded trail blazes) suggest that these trails will be well marked and maintained. Suggest incorrectly, as it turns out, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pretty much all these photos are taken with the 35mm, so prepare yourself for some lens flares.

I caught a flare when taking this photo, re-took it, and still caught a more subtle flare that I didn’t notice. Sigh.

Anyway, you can see the lush green grass and that the previously wide gravel track has already dwindled to a mere strip (it’s actually two strips, one for each tire of a vehicle).

The Hill Track is about 70% under tree cover. As you enter the gate, a sign reminds you to not break branches. I’m sure none of my readers would engage in such ill-mannered behavior, though to be fair (as you will see) the condition of the track might tempt people to break branches for use as walking sticks. Still not a great reason to mutilate a tree, though; try to find already fallen branches to use as a stick.

Though it’s Winter, the bare trees still form a pleasing archway over the path. I really like tree tunnels!

The pathway here is still well-paved and there are stairs when the elevation changes (gravel paths and hills do not mix particularly well, so stairs are important to prevent all the gravel from winding up at the bottom).

There’s even a wooden footbridge over the stream. So far, big props to the council!

I will quibble that the path could be better-marked though. There are points here where it splits, with no indication of which fork to take.

The path I took led me to a mystical portal exit from the trees.

Hamlins Hill lacks the height of say Mt. Eden or One Tree Hill, but there’s a nice view or two even so.

You can also see plenty of muddy grassland. And speaking of One Tree Hill, there it is in the distance!

And there’s the airport and Mangere Mountain.

(Mangere Mountain does not, to the best of my knowledge, have an official name. I believe the Maori call it Te Pane-o-Mataoho, but I haven’t researched it.)

There is a nice picnic bench here, getting some of the afternoon sun. Can’t say I’d consider Hamlins Hill for a picnic location, if only because I prefer not to get muddy on my way to eating.

Moving back under the trees, there’s a supply shed here. Probably used to store bait for pest traps and the like.

The trails in this forested area are much worse. They meander all over the place, split and rejoin with no markings, rhyme, or reason, and sometimes just disappear into mud pits without warning.

If you find yourself having a wander around here, this random metal object / possible crashed UFO is a good landmark.

Wander enough, and you’ll find your way back to Great South Road!

Once you’ve had enough of wandering and of mud, back into the portal you go to find Totoro return to the carpark.

To be honest, I do not think on my trip to Hamlins Hill with great fondness. I went there not just to do a hike but to do some birdwatching, but I found no interesting birds to photograph. The trails were meandering and muddy, and while I was there a minor emergency cropped up via text message that distracted me from my walk and robbed much of my enjoyment of the moment.

Even so, I have to say that although Hamlins Hill is definitely an also-ran compared to most of the other hills in and around Auckland, it’s a pleasant enough place with charmingly suburban appeal. Perhaps I’ll visit again in late Spring, turn my phone off, and sit at that picnic table and see what birds show up.

In the meantime, back to Auckland.

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A Waterfall on the North Shore: Lucas Creek Falls

Last time we looked at Oakley Creek Falls, a waterfall just a short jaunt down the motorway from the city center. Today we’ll go up to the North Shore — Albany, to be specific — and check out another waterfall.

Or at least try to *foreboding music*.

There are basically three ways to get to Lucas Creek Falls. The first and ostensibly most scenic route starts in a little neighborhood on Perekia St behind a Super Liquor — an auspicious beginning, if there ever was one.

From the end of the loop, there’s a largely unmarked gravel walkway leading down into the scrub. It’s not at all clear where this walkway leads, but examining a map suggests that it meanders by a stream until it encounters the Gills Scenic Reserve and, subsequently, the waterfall.

Unfortunately, this plan is foiled by the world’s least imposing fence. Walking around the fence would be the work of but a moment, but (very occasionally) these fences serve to actually prevent one from walking into real danger. Additionally (much more frequently) bypassing one of these fences will sometimes lead one to construction workers who are quite cross at having to break their hearty regimen of shovel-leaning and dirt-staring to yell at intrusive tourists with cameras. I was not in the mood to risk either of these fates today; and besides, there are two other paths to the falls.

If you get back on Dairy Flat Highway and then turn onto Gills Rd, you will forthwith pass over this one-lane bridge. Immediately on your left is a dirt path with a tiny sign reading Gills Scenic Reserve.

Taking your car down this dirt path may indeed lead to bad things, especially if your car is a low-slung Italian convertible. A wiser individual may choose to park on the street, though there’s no street parking particularly near the reserve so your choices are the industrial park across the bridge (thus requiring you to cross the one-lane bridge on foot) or a neighborhood well up the road.

There is, sadly, no reason to bother with either (or with driving down yourself), as this route is also closed.

There is, be it known, one more option for accessing the falls. If you walk down on foot back to Dairy Flat Highway (again) and turn to the right, there is a near-immediate concrete pathway leading down, once again completely unmarked.

(This does imply that parking before the one-lane bridge is the wiser of the two options, as it makes this third pathway more accessible should it become necessary).

As is often the case in New Zealand, make sure you’re walking down the correct path and not, say, the walkway to someone’s front porch.

Say what you will about this path, however; it is well-paved.

Quite soon, the path arrives at a single bench and placard.

You can descend this most excellent set of stairs to meet…

Lucas Creek Falls!

Yes, after all that we finally made it.

Looking across the muddy and unappealing stream, we can see the path on the other side that I first intended to take. Unfortunately, this third option is on the wrong side of the stream and, while that means it’s accessible when the other path isn’t, it also means that the nice walk through the reserve I was planning just wasn’t going to happen.

If I really wanted, I could have used this fallen tree as a bridge and gone over to the other side, but if I wanted to go over that badly I’d just have walked around the fence.

I’m charitably assuming that during the Winter work is being done on the path to ready it for foot traffic again in the late Spring or Summer, so I won’t flagellate the Council too badly over this mishap. But I will say that if you would like to see Lucas Creek Falls you certainly can, but don’t expect a nice walk to get there.

Next time we will not only go up a hill but down it as well! Stay tuned!

A Waterfall in the City: Oakley Creek Falls

I like waterfalls. You might have noticed.

I recently discovered that there are a couple of waterfalls quite close by: Oakley Creek Falls in the West City, and Lucas Creek Falls on the North Shore. I visited the closed one first: Oakley Creek Falls.

There are a few ways to get to the falls, but I suggest parking at the North end of the UNITEC campus (it’s not the easiest place to get to; here is where it is on the map) and walking down the walkway.

Due to all the road works in the area, the walkway has seen some construction. It should be open, though. As you might imagine, cyclists obey this sign about as well as they obey traffic signals, but which I mean not at all.

When you get to this part, you will want to stay to the left and not go up the ramp. That footbridge is very cool and useful if you are going that way, but it does not lead you to the falls. It does lead you to a footpath that parallels the motorway for a super long way and eventually winds up at Lincoln Road, which must be quite convenient for bike commuters!

This is what you want!

There is also a map which, in addition to being only moderately helpful, indicates that you are in two places at once. The dot at the top of the map is correct (this map appears in two places, and I suppose rather than printing two different maps with the dot in different places, they put both dots on both maps and left figuring out which one is correct as an exercise to the reader).

The walkway itself is not in great repair, but it’s miles better than a dirt path, which this time of year would really be a mud path.

The path is short but reasonably scenic, featuring some cool trees.

For much of the way, it borders a stream. There’s some interesting debris along the bank.

This impressive bridge goes over the motorway. As always, New Zealand gets high marks for pedestrian accessibility!

Keep following the stream….

If you get to these stairs, go the other way. These go up to, uh, somewhere else (I’m not sure where. I think maybe that bridge over the motorway actually.)

The path remains reasonably paved throughout.

If you see ducks, you’re almost there!

(Using ducks as a landmark is a terrible idea.)

Eyyy, look at that! The falls!

The area near the falls features one solitary bench and a whole lot of mud. It’s a nice little walk (you can also climb up to the top of the falls. I did that the second time I visited here with my friend Brendon, but I didn’t take any pictures of that).

I hope you enjoyed visiting this nice little waterfall tucked away right in the city. Next time we’ll look at the falls on the North shore!

Shakespear Again, Pt. 2: The Birds

You know the drill: I take photos of birds, they’re not very good, I post them here anyway :)

Getting things started with a magpie.

There are a number of different types of birds called magpies. They share black-and-white coloring but not a lot else — unlike the European magpies, these are not corvids (crow-like birds) even though they do kind of look like them.

They’re native to Australia; here, they’re considered an invasive species and are basically pests.

The Pukeko, or Australasian Swamp Hen, is a common sight in New Zealand.

Another common sight, and one I’ve written and posted about many times before, is the fantail. I love these birds.

I’m not 100% what this bird even is, I just wanted to post this photo because I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a better shot of a bird on the wing before :)

I told this story before, but every time I see a brown quail I’m reminded amusingly of how Taylor once thought they were kiwis. You don’t have to try hard to see these little guys at Shakespear Park.

I honestly don’t quite understand why you see brown quail in all these protected bird sanctuaries when they’re not at all endangered or threatened (and are, in fact, introduced from Australia). But hey, I’m glad they have a safe place to chill out and be quail.

The New Zealand wood pigeon, or kereru, are also not threatened and are also quite frequently present in sanctuaries such as Shakespear.

They’re a real comical sight, being the 747 jumbo jet of New Zealand birds. I saw so many of these guys, but I just took the picture of this one.

The boisterous tui is one of the most iconic birds in New Zealand (in addition to the fantail, the pukeko, and of course the kiwi). Instantly recognizable either visually or by their song, which to me sounds kind of like a fax machine, tui are not threatened, and thanks to the hard work of NZ conservationists will hopefully never become so.

You may recall last time I was at Shakespear I got to photograph these birds, the Eastern rosella, for the first time. I just happened to see a few of them sitting in a field and managed to snap some decent shots.

There were two pairs, one set in the trees and one on the ground.

Lovely! Now if you could just stay there while I sneak a bit closer….

Oh, well nevermind.

Thank you for indulging my bird nerdery. Next time we’re going to go someplace I only learned about recently and have already been there twice and really like! See you then!

Shakespear Again, Pt. 1

My friends, it’s time for a drive.

Specifically, a drive up to Whangaparaoa and Shakespear Park. That’s right. Get ready for some sheep.

Longtime readers will recall that I’ve been to Shakespear several times, so much so that I wasn’t quite sure how to title a post about a place I’ve posted about so many times before! I’m going to try and make this post just a highlights reel, since I’ve documented the walking trails sufficiently by this point.

Hopefully this post isn’t too boring to those who have read the previous ones!

As always, I started out by going through Waterfall Grotto. Since I had my tripod with me, I tried a long exposure of the waterfall just for fun. Compare the below to the above and let me know what you think!

(This one is a 5-second exposure; anything more than that and it started to get pretty blown out.)

Walking up the hill to the lookout yields the usual lovely views :)

I like this one looking back at the town of Whangaparaoa.

Of course, Rangitoto.

Notice something weird in the left-hand part of the photo? Yeah, me too. Let’s Zoom and Enhance(tm) using the big lens:

Why, it’s the HMNZS Otago! She’s a patrol vessel in service to the Royal New Zealand Navy. It’s nice to have a big enough lens that “hey, what’s that boat?” questions can be answered pretty definitively :)

I love New Zealand and her rolling hills! What a beautiful country.

It’s Tiritiri Matangi! Every time I see that island it warms my heart. My overnight stay on Tiritiri last year is one of my fondest memories of the last time I was here.

Whangaparaoa Peninsula sticks out far enough into the gulf that the city is visible in the distance. This is Auckland at paltry 200mm zoom.

We can do better :)

At these distances, atmospheric refraction actually becomes an issue. It’s 27 km (16.7 miles) from the lookout to the Sky Tower, and 27 kilometers’ worth of water-laden air makes a difference.

Still cool looking though!

Looking out the other way…oops! Looks like it’s raining out over the gulf. Maybe I should start to hoof it around the track!

As I continued to walk, the clouds rolled in. Fortunately I managed to complete my hike and make it back to my car before the precipitation started.

I absolutely love Shakespear Park. I could come here every week. Once I decide to retire from my desk job I’d love to work as a conservation ranger in the NZ park system! But for now I need to take the path back home.

Don’t worry, though, we’re not done with Shakespear yet! Next post will be the obligatory Bird Photo post! See you then :)