Tiritiri Matangi, Pt. 3: Birds of New Zealand Pt. 2

As the complicated title of this post indicates, this is the third installment of my Tiritiri Matangi chronicle and the second of those featuring the birds I found.

Without further ado, let’s get back to it!

North Island robin

The North Island robin, which resembles the robins in the US not at all, is a cute little bird that is fairly common across the central part of the North Island. They don’t seem to make their way up to the Auckland region, though, except for transplants like the ones on Tiritiri. This makes them cool to see for me since they’re so uncommon around these parts.

If you’re birdwatching on Tiritiri, you don’t have to make any special efforts to find North Island robins. All of the ones I saw came up to say hi while I was photographing other things.

Whitehead

Photograph everything.

When sorting through my photos I discovered that I had snapped this shot without bothering to identify the bird (I suspect I thought it was a robin at the time).

Much like the North Island robin, whiteheads (or popokotea in Maori) are fairly common in the Central and Southern parts of the North Island, but not so much up near Auckland and above.

This one I actually knew what I was photographing :)

Kokako

While Taylor and I were at the feeder in the morning, this guy just waltzed up behind us like it weren’t no thing.

The kokako is practically a dinosaur, and their sonorous, almost haunting call is loud and piercing enough to travel a long distance through the forest.

These little guys are a big victory for New Zealand conservation efforts. There are no kokako left in unmanaged areas, but sanctuaries like Tiritiri have kept them around.

We later saw another one in the trees as we were out walking and birdhunting. I’m glad we got a chance to observe some of these cool birds.

Red-crowned parakeet

I introduced the red-crowned parakeet, better known as the red-crested whatever, in my post on Tawharanui. This shot is sadly pretty blown out due to my incompetence with camera settings (I had the shutter speed super high and had cranked the ISO to compensate, but didn’t crank the ISO back down as the morning drew on and the day got brighter, with predictable results).

I was able to use Flickr’s photo editor, amusingly called Aviary, to fix the exposure slightly on this photo.

We encountered several of these colorful birds on our walks. This one is a little less terrible of a shot, and he even obligingly stuck his mug in a well-lit patch.

Brown quail

As we were walking not too long after landing, Taylor grabbed my arm and said “look, kiwis!”. Turned out they were just some brown quail (in his defense, he’d never seen a kiwi in person before, while I’d seen some at the zoo and at Rainbow Springs).

Brown quail are annoyingly hard to get a good photo of, because they tend to like shaded places and tend to scurry quite fast. This is a bad combination, because either your photos will be too dark or too blurry.

I did manage to get a few salvageable shots, though.

A brief interlude on night-time photography

At night, hikers are supposed to put red cellophane over their torches. This makes photography quite difficult. I used an ISO of 25600, a shutter speed of 1/10, and an F-stop of 4.2. I was at max zoom on the small lens, and since autofocus is worse than useless under these conditions (even more than usual), I set the manual focus to about mid-depth and hoped any birds that popped up would be obliging enough to do so at the correct range to be at least approximately in focus.

In short, all the night photos will be red-tinted and possibly a bit blurry.

Taylor and I were lucky to meet a tour guide and conservation expert called Barry. He loaned me one of his torches (mine had given up after about an hour because I stupidly forgot to change the batteries before leaving) and showed us around. Thanks to him we were able to see some really cool birds.

Blue penguin

The adorable blue penguin is the world’s smallest penguin. They spend most of their day at sea, returning to land only at night to nest.

Their population is declining on the mainland due to predators and humans. Sadly, my first encounter with a blue penguin was seeing one as roadkill on the South Island. The populations on the predator-free offshore islands are generally stable.

Grey-faced petrel

When walking along at night, you will quite possibly encounter a grey-faced petrel sleeping in the middle of the trail (the kiwis use the British spelling of gray in the name of this bird, which the Maori succinctly call oi).

These birds are not threatened, but they are native. Barry told us that they are not so great at landing, so if you’re walking around at dusk you may hear grey-faced petrels flumping down in a semi-controlled crash.

I like to think that if I were a bird I would be something cool, like an Australasian harrier or a California condor. But I suspect in reality I would be a grey-faced petrel.

Brown Kiwi

Sorry, I’m such a tease. We saw two kiwis, but I got no clear shots of either of them. They tend not to hang around for very long! The leftmost quarter or so of this photo is the out-of-focus rear end of a female brown kiwi we encountered on the trail.

And other cool things as well

I was, sadly, unable to photograph the kiwis. I also didn’t get any shots of the two tuataras we saw. A tuatara is an ancient reptile (not actually a lizard, though they resemble them) native to New Zealand. They’re really super cool and also in need of conservation, and since they don’t do enough damage to the birds that they’re considered a dangerous predator, they’re also on the island intentionally.

We saw a pied shag sleeping under the pier, but he awoke and flew off before I got a photo. As I already had a decent (daytime) photo of a pied shag from my trip to Karekare, I didn’t shed any tears over that one.

The ones that got away

I would have loved to see a moorpork on our nighttime excursion. We heard a couple, but never saw them.

I was also hoping to see a rifleman, a spotless crake, and an Australasian harrier, none of which we encountered.

Which is fine, because it leaves something for next time. I’d love to come again in the Summer, just to see the difference.

I am very glad that Tiritiri Matangi exists. Thanks to the conservation efforts of many heroic men and women, our children and grandchildren will be able to see these cool birds.

If you sign up to be a conservation member, the prices for the ferry and bunkhouse are a little cheaper. It ends up being worth it if you make multiple trips per year, but even if you don’t then I think it’s worth it just to think that future generations will be just as amazed by birds like the takahe, the kokako, and of course the kiwi as I was.

We’re not done with Tiritiri Matangi yet, so come back next post to see more of this amazing island!

Tiritiri Matangi, Pt. 2: Birds of New Zealand, Pt. 1

As described last time, I (and hiking buddy Taylor) took what shaped up to be one of my favorite trips of the year to Tiritiri Matangi, an island and bird sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf.

While there, I got enough photos of birds to tide my ornithological passions for quite some time. Enough, in fact, that this entire post is dedicated just to bird photos! It’s like a dream come true!

In fact, there are so many birds photos that this post itself became two posts! This is part 1 of part 2.

This guide was hanging in the bunkhouse, and while it’s slightly faded and not definitive, it was definitely a help in field identification.

If you want some easy bird photos, these stations are where you want to camp out. On Tiritiri, the nectar feeders are bellbirds, stitchbirds (called hihi by the Maori and by me throughout the rest of this post) and tui. Tui are too large to actually enter and drink from these feeders (they have their own feeders up near the bunkhouse), but they hang around anyway just to assert their dominance. The feeders are mostly for the benefit of the hihi, who are the lowest on the totem pole and might otherwise starve during the Winter months.

Here is about a minute-long video I took on my cell phone of all the avian activity you can see around the feeder. As the video shows, there’s plenty of birds to photograph there.

Hihi

The hihi are very sexually dimorphic, which is a fancy way of saying that males and females look different. This colorful guy with a black head is a male.

And this would be a female. The drab coloration of the female means it takes a bit more effort to distinguish them from all the other brownish-gray birds flitting about, though if you’re at a hihi feeder you can have pretty high confidence that you’re seeing a hihi.

Hihi are cute little birds native to New Zealand. They have an upward-pointing tail like the fantail and a high-pitched call. They’re sadly quite rare on the mainland, and are considered vulnerable.

I’m glad that the folks at Tiritiri are working to preserve the hihi, which can be found in reasonable abundance on the island.

Bellbird

Called the korimako by the Maori, the bellbird is another native New Zealand nectar feeder. These birds are a bit more aggressive than the hihi and correspondingly are not currently threatened. Introduced predators are still affecting their numbers, though, so their presence on Tiritiri provides a good surety that they will remain unthreatened.

This particular shot of a male bellbird is one of my better bird photos. He does not look particularly happy to be photographed.

Their song is extremely variable but is all clear, high notes (hence the name). These birds are loud and enthusiastic contributors to the dawn chorus.

The female bellbird is apparently much shyer, since all I have are rubbish photos. Here’s the best of the bunch.

To make up for it, here’s a photo of a hilariously fat bellbird we saw lumbering about the trees. More like ballbird, amirite?

I am right.

Tui

The iconic tui can be seen throughout New Zealand and are, thankfully, not threatened.

At first glance, they appear mostly black. But upon further examination, the greenish-blue coloration starts to stand out.

Tui calls are not particularly tuneful; their grunts and blats put me in mind of an old-timey dot matrix printer warming up.

The tui use their size to their advantage and communicate both while perched and in flight. They can even be seen harassing larger birds en masse.

Boring birds

I feel bad classifying any bird as boring, but let’s be honest: some are less interesting than others.

The contradictorily-named brown teal is a species of duck native to New Zealand. It was once threatened but is now recovering, which is Good News. Unfortunately, when I look at these ducks, all I see is “normal duck”, so they bear no especial attraction to me.

The New Zealand wood pigeon, or keruru, is definitely a pigeon. If you’re hiking and you hear a bird taking off with all the grace and silence of a military transport helicopter, it’s probably a wood pigeon. These guys are not threatened, but are given some special treatment just on account of being native.

When we were hiking the Cascade Trail, Taylor and I heard about fifty of these guys. Good on them for not dying out, I suppose, but at the end of the day…they’re pigeons.

Moving on from the boring birds, we come to:

Takahe

At first glance, you might be tempted to identify this as a fat pukeko, a bird so boring it didn’t even make the boring birds section (sorry, pukeko. I still love you). But this is actually a takahe, something…much more special.

We first encountered the takahe in Te Anau, you may recall, where I told the story of their rediscovery last century. These fat and lazy birds are not only flightless, they can’t even be bothered to die off properly. Fortunately for us (and for them, I suppose), as they are now being bred in sanctuaries such as Tiritiri Matangi (and, apparently, Tawharanui, though I didn’t see any while I was there).

This one even kindly posed in front of a rainbow.

This was Taylor’s first time seeing takahe, and he was quite taken with them. I can understand why, since these birds are really quite cool.

Fantail

Yeah, these guys probably belong in the boring birds section, but they’re just so cute and cheerful I can’t help but give them their own little space here.

I haven’t heard anyone call them by their Maori name, piwakawaka, but I like saying it because it sounds cool. They make a cute “cheep, cheep” sound that matches their appearance perfectly.

Saddleback

It’s not hard to figure out how the North Island saddleback, or tieke, got its name. These birds are recovering after having been seriously threatened earlier, being found on just one island in the gulf. Wildlife experts did a great job translocating and saving the species. They’re now in recovery; I got a few poor photos of a couple of them at Tawharanui as well.

They’re not common yet, but I have hopes that their piercing, repetitive call and vibrant roan back features will become a feature of North Island forests once more.

To be continued

Come back next time for even more birds, including some really rare, cool ones. Cooler than the takahe? You’ll just have to wait and find out!

Tiritiri Matangi, Pt. 1: The Island Tossed by the Wind

You guys!

I am so excited to finally be posting about this. This is one of my favorite adventures of the year so far. Taylor and I went out to the island of Tiritiri Matangi — a bird sanctuary and conservation island — and spent the night in one of the conservation huts. We got a full 24 hours of birdwatching, hiking, exploring, and photography.

It was great. So great, in fact, that I got nearly 400 photos from the trip. Even being very choosy about which photos I show and which stories I tell, this is going to be multiple parts.

So let’s get started!

We have encountered Tiritiri Matangi before, actually; this shot is from Shakespear Regional Park (if you check out that post you’ll see I have another photo of the island as well, even mentioning it in passing). This photo is from my old Canon Powershot (add Shakespear to the list of places I need to revisit with the Nikon), but if you Zoom and Enhance you can even see the lighthouse!

Those who have been paying some attention to New Zealand geography (or at least those who went back to re-read the Shakespear post) will not be surprised to hear that the island is right off the tip of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.

out
(Map courtesy of the New Zealand Department of Conservation.)

As islands go, Tiritiri Matangi is not large. It’s possible to walk around it in an afternoon. The island, as we have already seen, houses Auckland’s first lighthouse. The lighthouse was brought to New Zealand in sections from Britain, which even in the 1800s can’t have been the most efficient way to do it.

The ferry to Tiritiri runs Wednesday – Sunday, so be aware of this. During the Summer, you should buy your ferry tickets well ahead of time, as there’s only one ferry per day and it sells out quickly.

If you want to stay overnight, you also need to make those bookings in advance.

Once landed, you must listen to a short briefing, plus a longer briefing if you’re staying overnight. Some tens of thousands of visitors stop by the island every year, so the rangers and tour guides have distilled the information down pretty efficiently. You can pay for a guided tour if you would like, but if you’re staying overnight you should probably (as we will discuss later) make friends with one of the many conservation experts there and wrangle your own personal guided tour after the hordes have departed.

The bunkhouse is quite nice (I characteristically failed to get any photos of it, either inside or outside) and is overlooked by the lighthouse. As you can see, the day was quite overcast.

Just kidding! The difference in time stamps on these two photos is literally less than 45 minutes.

Climbing up to the observation house (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but I called it that because it’s high up and suitable for observing things) you can look over the backyard of the ranger station. There are many pukeko around.

Taylor went full Solid Snake in his effort to get a photograph of some pukeko. He was wearing a rain suit, which protected him very nicely from the wet ground at the expense of skin breathability. In either case, pukeko are not a very exciting bird, so I’m not going to lie down for one even if I did have a rain suit. Which I didn’t. Sorry, pukeko!

The cloudy, rainy day. We alternated between nasty rain and clear skies until the weather pleasingly settled on clear. In the distance in this photo you can see it absolutely dumping out in the gulf.

We spent some time getting some artsy shots of the lighthouse. This one would probably be more enjoyable had I waited until the clouds broke.

Yes, we found some super comfy undergrowth.

Taylor’s attempts were much more acrobatic.

Someone who came before us had collected some shells and left them very nicely arranged. I like it when other people compose my photos for me and all I have to do is take the picture.

Likewise.

I’m not sure what bored this hole, but we found a few of these around. Some cursory Googling did not come up with anything. Very cool, though!

Speaking of cool, I’m quite pleased with this shot of the seawater in one of the coves we visited!

The colors in the sky here, too, are quite nice. As you can see, the weather just got better. The sky looks like a painting!

And ooh, that sunset. This may be my favorite shot of the bunch. It’s hard to pick, though.

Tiritiri Matangi is gorgeously beautiful and wonderfully birdful. If these morsels tantalized, don’t worry; we’re not done with it yet! I’m going to dedicate a whole post to just bird photos and another one to the views from the island. And I may be able to squeeze some good old fashioned adventure blogging in there as well.

I hope by the end of it you’ll fall in love with Tiritiri Matangi as much as I have.

Omana Regional Park and Maraetai

Clear, sunny Winter days are not to be wasted. I decided to use this one to visit Omana Regional Park and the Maraetai Beach Walkway.

We’ve been up to Maraetai before; that’s where Duder Regional Park is. So you know it’s beautiful.

Yep, still beautiful.

Omana Regional Park looks out over the Hauraki Gulf, with great views of Waiheke and Rangitoto.

To the West you can see the city.

Even better if you Zoom and Enhance a bit (in an uncharacteristic display of motivation I put the big lens on for this shot).

I tried for some time to find out if this crater on Waiheke has a name. If it does, I couldn’t find it.

Still thought it was worth zooming in on though.

With not a cloud in the sky to be seen, Maraetai is already endearing itself to me. I understand that the clear weather is not necessarily due to the specific geographic location, but you have to admit, this place just looks better with clear blue skies as far as the eye can see!

My plan was to walk all the way around the park, then walk East along the beach until I hit the Maraetai Wharf, at which point I planned on having a late lunch in a cafe there before heading back the same way.

The walking tracks around Omana itself are…not great. I have plenty of experience with muddy tracks, though, so I forged ahead.

Unsurprisingly, there are some sheep here.

Climbing the ridge lets me point my camera back over the mainland. Suburbia at its finest.

I was less worried about the cliff edge than I was about the morass along the trail!

The steep bits are, thankfully, graveled over. No slipping and sliding down the hill for me, thanks.

The super swampy bits are even boardwalked.

Though the wet ground is annoyingly swampy, the lush green here attests that the soil enjoys a frequent watering.

These guys possibly also contribute…

Eventually, we circumnavigate the park and start out along the walkway.

It’s a great walk! The sun is high, the sky is clear and blue, and the water is gorgeous, and the trees are…uh…doing this thing, I guess?

If it were Summer, I’m sure these beaches would be packed. This time of year I imagine the water is a bit…brisk.

As I approach the little town, I encounter…a helicopter pad? I never actually saw the pad, not that I could take my eyes off the beautiful views long enough to look too carefully.

That’s a lot of walking! Rangitoto is barely visible now!

Upon reaching the wharf, there’s…an old mini-achievement? I’m not sure. The walk wasn’t tough enough to deserve a full-on achievement, so that’s only fair.

If I wanted I could have kept walking all the way to Duder, but I was hungry.

Besides, the wharf makes a great stopping point, as does the Bach’n Cafe right across from it.

Before enjoying my lunch, I enjoyed looking at this classic Corvette. There’s a surprisingly robust group of American car enthusiasts here in New Zealand. Head out to Mission Bay or up to Birkenhead and you’ll see the occasional old Corvette, Mustang, or even the odd Chevrolet Bel Air or Ford Fairlane tooling on by!

So that’s a brief look at Omana and the Maraetai Beach area. If you’re looking for an easy walk to enjoy a clear Winter day, I cannot recommend this area any more highly.

The next posts will be from one of my favorite trips I’ve taken this year. I’m really looking forward to sharing them with you!

Randomblings from New Zealand

Time to dump all the random stuff I’ve accumulated into a post :)

What has it got in its pocketses?

I take EDC (everyday carry) very seriously. If necessary, I should be able to survive any reasonable situation I might find myself in just by the contents of my pockets.

I always have on my person my phone, a multitool, my wallet, my keys, a couple of pens, a pocket torch, my AT Hop card (for the public transportation here) and a rock.

My preferred multitool is the Leatherman Squirt PS4. I like it so much I’ve actually bought four of them (I lost one, I had one confiscated by the TSA, and one of them saw so much use the scissors broke).

Surprisingly, the most useful part of these is the pliers. It’s difficult to overstate how handy it can be to have a pair of pliers on me at all times. Each of these blades has seen multiple uses, though the so-called Philips blade should really be called the “strip your screw” blade and as such should only be used in an absolute pinch.

Why do I carry a pocket torch (a word I prefer over flashlight because it’s fewer syllables) when I have a phone? Several reasons. This light is brighter than the LED on my phone, it doesn’t use my phone’s battery, and I can take it into places where I wouldn’t take my phone (for example, exploring sea caves).

I am obsessed with writing implements and care deeply about finding the right ones. My favorite EDC pen in currently the Pentel EnerGel .35mm. Unfortunately, I lose or otherwise destroy pens at an astonishing rate, and it’s hard to get those pens in New Zealand for a reasonable price. I have yet to find a replacement I like as much as those, but I’m still looking. Next time I’m back in America I’m going to buy about a thousand of them and be set for life.

You can tell which pens I regularly keep in my pocket; they’re the beat up ones.

I really like my wallet. It has two zipper pockets, and folds up fairly flat. It also blocks RFID, which is important because most cards here have RFID chips and I don’t want anyone reading my debit card details just by waving an RFID reader near my pants.

My phone is an LG Nexus 5, which I’ve had for about two years and still think is one of the best phones ever made. It’s a great size for my hands, reliable, and has some great features. The battery isn’t quite enough for a full day of constant use, so in my backpack and my car I have a veritable cornucopia of batteries and charging cables. C’est la vie.

The camera is good enough for casual use (some of the photos on this blog came from its camera) and it’s pretty durable. Durability is significantly increased through the use of a tempered glass screen protector. I have never cracked the screen on one of my phones, but I have destroyed more than one screen protector. I can’t help but feel these two points are related somehow.

If I’m on a hike I’m also carrying my camera bag. Many professional photographers have third-party camera bags, but I find the bag that came with the camera to be sufficient.

I carry my camera body with two lenses, a spare battery and lens cap, some lens cloths, a shade, and some macro lenses and polarizing filters (I have a UV filter that permanently lives on the end of the small lens, a practice that I recommend for any lens that sees frequent outdoor daylight use).

So that’s what I carry with me.

The many colors of the Sky Tower

I’m not sure what the pink tower is for, but it’s pretty spiffy looking against the nighttime cityscape.

Yellow and red, as I found out, denotes the Chinese New Year. Why it was decked out in these colors in the middle of Winter remains unclear, but I think this is a nice color combo so I’m not complaining.

I really like the rainbow-colored spire effect. You can’t see it in a photo, but the colors actually move around.

Here’s another view of the rainbow tower.

It’s been a pretty foggy winter. Some days the Sky Tower is barely visible!

On foggy nights the spire is often lit red. It looks ominous, but I think it might be to keep helicopters from crashing into it.

For US Independence Day, the spire was decked out in a red, white, and blue. ‘Merica!

Lately for some reason it’s been orange and yellow a lot. Possibly in celebration of all the road works going on around Auckland. I hope that’s the actual reason, because that would be delightfully cheeky.

The pools behind St. Paddy’s are lit up blue at night, leading to some cool shots with the Big Traffic Cone in the background.

Other randoms

Buckle up!

We really want to put this bench here, but we also don’t want to cut down this tree. What to do?

Superman’s girlfriend lives here.

A cool flower and / or vegetable.

A fog detector has a bright light and a light sensor. It shines the bright light and measures the amount that’s reflected back into the sensor, which provides a quantitative reading for the fog density.

It works better when there’s not a plant growing right in front of it.

I was in Victoria Park recently and observed an amazing sunset. It looks like the Waitakeres are on fire!

Closing thoughts

New Zealand, keep being wild, wacky, and wonderful. I love this country so much.

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!