A return to Whatipu, Pt. 2: Kura Track

As introduced last time, I’m at Whatipu again! I’m doing the same hike I did nearly a year ago, taking the Kura track up to Omanawanui track and then back around to the carpark. Let’s see how I got on.

You may recall from my previous trip here that I spent a bit of time wandering about looking for the trailhead. Fortunately, this time I was able to recall that you have to walk down the road a bit to get to the start of the Kura track.

(Yes, I did reuse this picture from the previous post. I try not to do that, but I only took one photo of the gravel road. What’s a guy to do?)

Once you get to this bit, you will need to notice the orange blaze on a lonely post in the field and follow the vaguely-defined trail to the gate. Through the gate is the proper start of the Kura track.

There is also a sign for the more clueless, such as myself.

Let’s be fair: it’s still Winter here in New Zealand, and it’s been raining. Expecting the trail to be pristine would be unreasonable. But even so, the Kura track is not great.

As you can see, between the beach and the walk I changed into my boots. But by the end of the walk my boots — as well as the cuffs of my Action Khakis ™ — were covered in mud! Note: this picture is of the trail, not of a stream next to the trail.

In addition to being yucky, which comes with the territory sometimes, hiking through mud is slower and also more dangerous (well, those two are related; it’s slower because it’s more dangerous). Be careful in tricky terrain conditions, especially if you’re by yourself.

I like this lone palm tree in a sea of ferns.

The Kura track borders, and frequently crosses, this stream.

The fords are all unbridged, and in the Winter there’s really nothing for it but to just wade in.

There are a total of five crossings. Be prepared for this when you set out. It’s no good being taken by surprise!

Though there are no bridges, in a couple of places where the trail is just completely washed out, there are boardwalk sections installed.

As the trail leaves the stream and starts to climb through the woods, the muddy conditions (plus wet feet from the fords) makes for slow going.

I will say this: though the trail still sometimes gets confusing at times, it’s better marked than it was last time I was here.

This is where I missed the path previously. Someone’s put a tree across the fake path to help folks like me not make the same mistake again!

(The pink ribbons, while somewhat helpful, are not trail blazes. They mark traps and bait stations for pest control. They roughly follow the trail, but can sometimes lead you astray. It’s the orange triangles which are the proper blazes.)

I should create a Where’s Wally style book called Find the Trail.

Eventually, after quite a bit of climbing, we reach the Puiri Ridge track. From here, it’s possible to continue Northeast to Huia (which we’ve been to before) or go along the coast on the Omanawanui track. We’re interested in option 2.

The time estimate on the sign at the bottom is 1 hour 45 minutes, and the camera timestamps show that I did it in 1 hour 35. Thanks to trail conditions and multiple rocky fords, don’t assume that you’re going to outpace the trail signs if you’re hiking this in Winter.

The Puiri Ridge track does pop out onto the road for a very small way.

Just a bit down the street and now we’re on the Omanawanui Track.

I’ll save that bit for next time!

A return to Whatipu, Pt. 1: The Beach

I first visited Whatipu in October of 2015, from which I got 72 photos and two posts.

As this lovely location is one of my favorite spots on the West coast, I decided to revisit it. At 178 photos I got over 100 more pictures than last time. I intentionally did not re-read my original posts before going because I wanted to see how the shots I got this time around compared to last year’s shots. I’ll leave it to you to determine how I got on.

What I didn’t mention in my previous posts is what an ordeal it is actually getting to Whatipu. The trip involves some very windy switchbacks, some dodgy gravel roads, and even fording a small stream with your car! If I had recalled what a pain the drive was, I would maybe have rented a car. But I didn’t, so my longsuffering Alfa made the trip with me, and thankfully held up well!

The carpark is right beside this cozy-looking retreat, which is probably a nice place to spend some time away.

The toilet hut continues to be picturesque in a weird sort of way. Very…uh…rustic.

The same picnic table is still there, but it was nearly 2pm when I arrived thanks to some earlier-morning phone calls I needed to make, so no lunch here this time.

I looked at the pond for a little bit, but fortunately having been here before I didn’t waste any time being lost and trying to find the trails!

Not that this bridge is hard to find, of course, but cut me some slack. I was young and stupid.

A quick jaunt down the black sand pathway leads to Whatipu beach. Despite still being Winter and the area’s general seclusion, I still encountered some other beachgoers!

This miniature replica of Pride Rock is one of Whatipu’s distinguishing features. Meanwhile, the gray sky to the North is a harbinger of things to come. This is why I’m getting the beach out of the way first!

The tide was in further this time than last time, so I didn’t walk even as far toward the lighthouse as I did then (I did at least have some sandals on; my boots were in the car waiting for me to change before the hike).

(I have discovered that the rocky bit the lighthouse is on is called Ninepin Rock, for some reason. At low tide it’s pretty accessible, and apparently it’s a fairly popular spot for fishing.)

Last time I came I didn’t go toward this part of the beach at all. I decided to rectify that this time around.

There’s a small pass through the rocks with some dunes on the left-hand side.

These dunes can be climbed with some little effort (the more Sherlockian among you will notice by the footprints that I took this photo after having already climbed them).

The pathway gets pretty steep, but being moderately packed sand the penalty for a fall is pretty light. Thankfully I avoided that penalty, or else I’d still be cleaning sand out of my camera and pack!

Further up from the beach, the scrub starts to take hold. This makes the ascent easier, but make sure you don’t mistake a gorse bush for a handhold!

Those of us who find heights problematic might at this point want to be cautious about looking back down. The wind was so strong I took my hat off and put it in my pocket so it wouldn’t blow away! By the time I got to the top, I also took my glasses off. That’s how strong the wind was blowing!

The view, though, makes it entirely worth the climb!

The water is such a clear blue.

This shot is looking back along the mainland with the Southern bit of the Manukau Heads on the right-hand side.

Probably not a great spot for a cliff dive, given that there seems to be some submerged rocks. If Taylor had come with me he might have tried it anyway, but he was busy so there were no fatalities on this trip.

My elevated vantage point also gives a great shot of Whatipu stretching out to the horizon with the aforementioned Ninepin Rock on center stage. What a lovely beach!

Geography note: This beach is at pretty much the Southern tip of the North Manukau Head (nobody calls it that, but that’s what it is, and if New Zealand got serious about naming things properly that is what they would call it). As you can see, it curves around and starts running North along the Western coast.

Afterward, I walked back along the path and returned to my car to prepare for the hike ahead. You’ll have to come back next time for that story!

Goat Island 2: Goat’s Revenge

[Note: This post is from quite a long time ago. I had held the draft out in hopes that I would get some additional photos of the event from Taylor, but sadly that never happened. But since I did write this post, I figured I’ll post it as-is so you can enjoy what bits of it are there.]

tidy-4

Photo Credit: Jordan King

It was another holiday weekend (Waitangi Day), so the band got back together and we went out to Goat Island. You may recall from my  previous posts on that location that Goat Island is a popular destination for snorkelers, divers, and other maritime revelers. I went in the winter and did none of that, but this time my friends were keen on checking out the more watery bits.

This will be a pretty short post unless I manage to convince Taylor to send me some of his photos. He and Jordan have GoPros which have waterproof covers; my camera has no such thing and thus remained on the shore.

We arrived around high tide, so we started out with some hiking. We did the Coastal Walk again, so not a lot of new photos. I do have a new camera, though, so maybe I can get some better photos than last time? You be the judge.

I don’t remember what Taylor was photographing down here, but knowing him it probably involved climbing a tree.

We had a lovely day, and the hills were suitably rolling and sheepful.

Taylor also tried being the Cow Whisperer again.

…with his usual inexplicable results.

Destination: Goats.

The marine center with the island in the background.

Such a pretty place.

After our hike, we went down to the beach and swam around for a bit. We swam out to Goat Island — twice, in my case, as my tender little feet couldn’t handle walking on the sharp rocks so I swam out, back, then swam out again wearing my sandals so I could explore a bit. Sadly, unless Taylor ever sends me some of the photos he took I won’t be able to include anything from that here.

I did take one parting shot of the guys standing on these posts though. They wanted a shot of everyone jumping. As you can see, one out of four is actually ready to jump.

As expected, one out of four actually jumped when I said to jump. Oh, well. This picture kind of sums up the crew anyway, so we’ll leave it at that!

So that’s my second trip to Goat Island!

Tiritiri Matangi, Pt. 4: The Walks and the Views

We looked at the island, and we looked at some birds (OK, quite a lot of birds). Now I want to take you on a tour, looking at stunning sights both on and off the island!

The Walks

out

You may recall this map from the first Tiritiri post. I figured I’d include it here in case you felt you needed a refresher.

Trail conditions were, to be fair, not great. The slippery mud was treacherous in the extreme. After slipping once, I cut myself a walking stick. Said stick betrayed me and broke, after which I decided to just walk more carefully.

At points, the trails are also not well marked. We took a few wrong turns and ended up backtracking a couple of times.

That said, the island is not large, and even with backtracking or getting lost you’re not out too much time overall.

There aren’t any rocky fords, though, so that’s a plus.

Early in our hike, we found this very muddy pond. If you want to see brown teals, this is the place to go.

We decided to be contrarian and go counterclockwise around the island, starting up the East Coast Track. You hit, in order, the amusingly-named Emergency Landing, then Fisherman(s) Bay, Pohutukawa Cove, and Northeast Bay.

[Note: On the official map above it’s rendered Fishermans Bay, but on the topographic map I’m using it’s written Fisherman Bay. According to the New Zealand Gazetteer, the official name is in fact Fisherman Bay. This sort of casual disregard for official naming is what makes the geography enthusiast’s life so difficult.]

I’m about to have an emergency because this landing is so beautiful!

Very yes.

I can’t get over how pretty the water looks in this shot.

Fisherman Bay, which was our lunch spot, is also very pretty.

Here’s the view from below. Taylor (characteristically) and I (uncharacteristically) climbed up that large flat rock and had lunch atop it.

Taylor’s fascination with tide pools and sea caves and my fascination with pretty much everything I see in New Zealand led to us spending quite a bit of time here.

See? Caves.

Hiking up toward Pohutukawa Cove takes you by the Arches. There’s an old, muddy, abandoned trail leading along the Arches; if you like danger and adventure you can take it until it becomes too overgrown and steep to traverse, but a slip to the right will give you a brief, stunning view of the arches from below before you encounter the rocks. One star, would not recommend.

I do, however, highly recommend viewing the arches from above.

Moving along further North, we see Little Wooded Island, an accurately-named island off the coast.

Taylor and I also took a break to admire the World’s Saddest Tree.

Since the rest of the hike was effectively more of the same, I’m going to switch it up a bit and head back down South to the sensitively-named Chinaman Bay (which is once again given the possessive on the map but not in the official name, though in this case that’s the least of the problems with this bay’s name).

Eagle-eyed Taylor noticed this little shed on the side of a cliff. We asked the ranger what it was about, and I don’t think he understood what we were asking about because the answer he gave didn’t make sense.

In any case, we chose to explore for ourselves. This cliff face is one of those areas that’s actually not too steep but convinces my brain that I’m getting ready to plummet to my doom.

The railings there are…not confidence-inspiring either.

We picked our way down (me, carefully; Taylor, seemingly instantaneously) and explored the little hut.

Still not quite sure what it is — my guess would be a WWII observation bunker — but a fun little exploration.

And heading down the cliff face gave a great view of this cool rock formation!

Speaking of great views…

The Views

Taking the ferry to, well, anywhere in the Hauraki Gulf results in some nice shots of Rangitoto.

From Tiritiri, we get to see a side not visible from Auckland City!

I love this shot. The one cloud shooting a rainbow down at the mountain!

If we Zoom and Enhance(tm) we find out why: because someone on this ship has a pot o’ gold!

Zooming out a bit, we can actually see Rangitoto and Auckland together!

Although it’s a bit hazy, even on a moderately cloudy day the city is in full view. And captured here along with a sailing ship!

Here’s a photo of the mountain at sunset. Sunsets are a bit tricky to capture sometimes, so I twiddled some dials in the photo editor on this one.

We were certainly blessed with a gorgeous sunset that evening.

When hiking around Tiritiri, the coastline of the island itself makes a nice photographic subject.

But don’t forget to notice the islands further away as well.

Looking out into the distance, the sharp-eyed viewer can see quite a bit out to see. On a decent day, the Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island are both visible.

The rocky coast of Tiritiri shows in miniature what happened to the whole gulf. Rocky volcanic islands abound.

There are even opportunities to get down close to the water and truly admire its amazing blue-green color.

And although we weren’t staying on the clearest of days, the many rainbows we observed surely made up for the rain we got.

In fact, here’s a double rainbow for your consideration. The more science-minded among you may be interested in Randall Munroe’s What-If column where he discusses the physics of rainbows.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed my trip to Tiritiri Matangi. Thank you for indulging me across four long posts. If you have a chance, I urge you to check out this lovely island for yourself!

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.

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(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 :)