Iceland Log: Skógar Museum and Skógafoss

One of the first stops along our trip around Iceland was Skógar. At any given day (especially in the summer), Skógar probably has two to four times more tourists than residents — that’s how tiny the town is. In spite of its tiny population, however, Skógar is definitely worth a stop for two reasons: its museum and its waterfall.

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Iceland Log: Vík í Mýrdal

In summer of 2022, my wife and I took a trip to Iceland. We drove all around the country (literally; the country is encircled by a ring road and we drove the entire thing) and got a chance to see (and learn) quite a few things!

Our first trip took us to Vík í Mýrdal, commonly just called Vík. Vík in Icelandic just means “port”, which is kinda funny because Vík does not actually have a dock. Earlier in Iceland’s history, an important resource was driftwood and flotsam which washed up on shore. Vík was a place where much of these things washed up, and so a small settlement spring up.

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New Zealand Farewell Tour, Pt. 3: Cape Reinga and Tapotupotu

Thanks for joining me on my Northlands adventure! If you’re new here, I recommend you start at part 1 first so you know what’s going on. Or not! I’m not here to tell you what to do.

After spending the night in Paihia, I embarked on the next leg of my journey: driving North until I run out of road. Although actually said trip North began by driving South! My intention was to join the Highway 1 at Pakaraka, slightly Southwest of Paihia, and then head Northwest along 1 until hitting Cape Reinga. And although I could have cut directly over on the B roads, I had experienced enough twisty turny roads for a while and wanted to stay on the main motorways.

Of course, even on the motorway sometimes you run into traffic.

The drive up to Cape Reinga is actually not too bad. It’s mostly farmland, of course, but there’s the occasional interesting view or quaint little town. One does have to take some care to manage petrol correctly, as filling stations (or signs of civilization in general) can be few and far between!

After about three hours of driving, depending on how many herds of cattle you have to slow down for, you get to the Northernmost point of the North Island!

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga is, to be honest, full of tourists at nearly all times. Several busloads came and went while I was there. It’s a pretty neat little place, but it’s so overrun. And this wasn’t even at peak tourist season! I can’t imagine what it’s like in January and February.

It’s also full of photo ops, such as the above signpost (which is the subject of a much deeper discussion I get into here).

Despite its tourist-filled nature, however, Cape Reinga is mostly walking trails. There’s some well-paved tracks, but a lot of the cooler views are footpaths like this one.

There are some amazing views to be had just from the carpark and the paved areas, however. I spent most of my time here looking contemplatively out to sea.

If you were to sail due North from this point, you might run into some small islands just North of the Equator, such as Butaritari or Bikati, which belong to the Republic of Kiribati; a country that is totally real even if it sounds like I just made it up. But if you happened to miss those, you would run into Attu Island, the Westernmost piece of land in America (despite currently being uninhabited and generally being a barren wasteland, Attu Island has a fascinating if brief history and in addition to being geographically distinctive is also the site of the only WWII land battle on United States soil).

I, however, did not make this journey.

The waters of the Tasman Sea meet those of the Pacific Ocean here at Cape Reinga. This location is sacred to the Maori people, and it’s not hard to see why. Even on a chilly and somewhat overcast day, the water is gorgeous and almost luminescent.

Perhaps equally as famous as the signpost is the Cape Reinga lighthouse. It’s an easy, well-paved walk over to its base (where the signpost itself is), and lighthouses are unarguably very cool.

This particular lighthouse is automated and self-sufficient. Though it is a tourist attraction, it’s not just for show either. Its flashes can be seen 35 kilometers (nearly 22 miles) away, and it is operated by Maritime New Zealand as part of their network of lighthouses keeping ships safe.

You might expect me to have walked some of the trails and tried to access some of the more remote parts of Cape Reinga, but to be honest the cold weather plus the mass of tourists dissuaded me. Instead, I decided to go somewhere different.

Tapotupotu

If you head back down the motorway from Cape Reinga and turn off at your first opportunity, you will find the beachy haven of Tapotupotu.

This small reserve and camping area is right at sea level, so it involves losing a decent amount of elevation from up on the Cape. Compared to tourist central up above, though, this little spot is relatively quiet.

I could feel myself de-stressing almost immediately. I took the time to breathe, sit down, relax, and photograph the flowers :)

It’s not the most beautiful views of New Zealand, or even of this general area, but it has its own relaxing charm. Probably on a different day I would not give Tapotupotu a second look, but right then it’s exactly what I needed!

On this path to the beach, I noticed the small sparrow sitting on the path. I decided to sit down at a park bench and see what birds might land near me.

Nigh-immediately, this seagull plopped down close enough that I didn’t even need the big lens! Seagulls are loud and annoying and a bit gross, but they do have a certain appeal. Perhaps only because of what they signify: the proximity of the coast!

As I’m sitting and musing, a couple of these fine fellows alit on a branch.

I haven’t photographed one of these birds before, so let’s Zoom and Enhance(tm)!

Why, it’s a welcome swallow! These are native to Australia and surrounding islands.

I still have a ways to drive before my day is up. I found myself surprisingly reluctant to head back up these hills and back down South.

Cape Reinga is a sacred spot for the Maori people, but I found my peace here at Tapotupotu. I’m glad I went to Cape Reinga, but I’m even more glad I took the time to stop here and regroup!

Come join me next time as I start my journey back South. See you then :)

New Zealand Farewell Tour, Pt. 2: Russell, Haruru Falls, and Paihia

Welcome back! For those just joining, this is part 2 of my New Zealand Farewell Tour. I recommend starting at part 1!

Screenshot from 2019-01-01 12-21-39

After spending the night in Whangarei, I drove North to the small town of Russell. As you can see from the Google Maps shot above, taking Russell Rd over the hills is a bit of a squiggly experience. To be honest, I found little about the drive to recommend it: it was slow going and full of switchbacks, blind curves, and extremely poor roads. By the time I got to Russell, I was in dire need of a break.

Russell

Thankfully, the town of Russell provided precisely the respite I was after. Although it’s a very historically significant town (it’s the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand and its role in Euro-Maori relations was key in the development of the Treaty of Waitangi), it is a sleepy spot with fewer than 1000 residents. At this point in my trip, this was exactly my speed.

I took some time wandering around Russell, an exploration endeavor which can easily be completed on foot in less than an hour. One of my very few regrets in Russell is that I didn’t spend more time at this old church drinking in the serenity of this historic spot. It almost felt like I would be trespassing, though, so I chose to move on.

Russell’s sole school is, in fact, on Baker St, a fact I took much delight in.

Russell is unsurprisingly home to a vibrant waterfront and marina.

I spent much time on and around the waterfront, enjoying the lovely late Spring day.

Normally I’d have been tempted to do more exploring, but the drive up was quite enough adventure. I was also acutely aware that my day’s journey had not yet ended. Russell was my lunch spot, not my final destination for the day.

Nonetheless, this rock outcropping looks like it would be a lovely spot to venture out to.

All in all, I had a delightful time in Russell. I found myself quite reinvigorated and ready to start the next leg of my journey!

I also found something which, at the time, nearly brought me to my knees in thankfulness: a car ferry. A quick drive down to Okiato led me to a quite cheap car ferry which took me over to Opua. From there it was a mere doddle over to my final destination for the day: Paihia.

Thanks to this car ferry saving me time, energy, and perhaps my life, I had time for an unplanned stop: Haruru Falls, outside of Paihia!

Haruru Falls

Haruru Falls are just a short drive away from Paihia, a location which we shall visit anon. They’re right off the motorway, so no real need to do a lot of hiking to get there.

The accurately-named Haruru Falls Rd. goes right over the Waitangi River.

This river flows slightly down from the bridged crossing. There’s a convenient carpark on the North bank of the river for those wishing to access the falls and / or the Waitangi Track.

The river reaches a dropoff point just several meters from the bridge, creating these spectacular, if somewhat small, waterfalls.

These falls are a nice sight, and will take less than an hour of your time if you are already in Paihia!

The Waitangi River broadens somewhat after the falls and meanders off to the town of Haruru, from which the falls draw their name.

Paihia

The small town of Paihia is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, but in November the tourist season hadn’t yet entered full swing. Fine by me; I got some nice weather without having to battle intense crowds!

(Haere Mai means Welcome in Te Reo, the Maori language).

I arrived as the sun was getting low in the sky. I ate dinner at this restaurant at the end of the pier, giving a fantastic view of Te Ti bay.

The area around Paihia and Russell is called the Bay of Islands, for reasons that become apparent when looking at a map or nautical chart. It is an incredibly beautiful area, and after dinner I took a walk and got some fantastic views. This time of year it seems like it takes ages for the sun to set!

Paihia has some nice statues and sculptures, including this one of what I guess is a swordfish. I really love this shot!

Once I was showing this photo to a friend, and he thought I had actually caught a swordfish leaping from the water! I wish :)

Eventually, the sun did fully set. I walked back to my hotel (pretty much everything is walking distance in Paihia). This day, November 23, happened to be Thanksgiving Day in the US. I spent some time sending messages of goodwill to people that I love and making sure I let my friends and family know I was, and am, thankful for them.

It was a good way to end what, despite a harrowing drive, was a good day. I need to end more days letting loved ones know how thankful I am for them.

If you have read this far, I’m thankful for you too! Join me next time as I make it to the tippy-top of the North Island!

Long Bay and Some Birds

Much like the eponymous Road, this blog has taken its share of twists and turns. One such twist is that many of my excursions in late 2017 were not so much adventure hikes as they were bird-watching expeditions. Which is a bit of a chancy proposition, really; adventure can be found most anywhere if you try hard enough. But no amount of effort can make rare and interesting birds appear where they are not (or even where they are but are feeling shy).

In a quest for some birds, I headed North to Long Bay. Although the purpose was not adventure or scenery, it did wind up being pretty and I did have a short brush with, if not adventure, at least a slight bit of discomfort.

I don’t quite know what an aggressive pukeko does, but fortunately I didn’t find out (that’s not an adventure I would much relish!)

Long Bay does provide quite nice views of the Hauraki Gulf, dominated of course by the iconic Rangitoto.

There are multiple opportunities to head down to the many beaches along the bay. This one is apparently Grannys Bay.

I took a brief break from stalking shorebirds to snap another shot of Rangitoto.

Also, a boat.

As well as another boat of somewhat smaller proportions.

The bay is certainly very pretty, and this would probably have been a very worthwhile trip even sans birds.

I was also amused to see the Sky Tower peeking up over this hill upon my return journey!

The Birds

I first wet my beak, as it were, on this common Eurasian blackbird.

I also captured many duck photos on this trip. The ducks in Long Bay Regional Park are quite sociable.

I also offer for your consideration a rather poor photo of a European goldfinch, taken with the medium lens. I really only include it because I don’t yet have a photo of one of these birds on this site.

This photo of a kingfisher is not quite as good as the ones I took at Kendall Bay, but I cropped it so it looks better :)

I quite like this shot of an Eastern rosella. Getting this shot also required being far closer to the cliff edge than I was comfortable with, but I feel that it turned out well. This was taken at 550mm on the big lens!

And finally, another new one for this blog: some variable oystercatchers. These birds are really cool looking, and I found two pairs and a singleton wandering around the bay.

I hope you enjoyed this quick and birdful trip up to Long Bay! I’ve got a few more of these short trips to post, and then something a bit longer :)

Hobbiton

This is it! We’re making a journey Southeast to Rotorua. On the way, we stopped by Hobbiton!

I’ve been to Hobbiton before, pre-blog, but I was glad to have the chance to go again. My girlfriend is not a big Tolkien fan (or really a Tolkien fan at all), but she still wanted to go see it. She didn’t have to ask me twice!

(She asked very astute questions about some of Tolkien’s writings and geography so I thought for a moment she might actually be showing an interest in the Legendarium, but unfortunately no dice. She’s quite content to have me tell her what she wants to know and remain blissfully ignorant of the rest!)

I was worried that traveling further South would mean it would be colder (because that’s how it works in the Southern Hemisphere), but thankfully we got a warm and occasionally sunny day for our Hobbiton exploration. (I hear my girlfriend’s voice in my head correcting me that it was not a warm day, just not as cold as it might have been. I happen to like the cold more than she does.)

Hobbiton is many things. A tourist center, certainly. But it’s also a movie set, as well as part of a functioning farm! As a side note, the last time I came to New Zealand a few bits of Hobbiton were closed off by New Line Cinemas because they were finishing up work on some of the Hobbit trilogy (this was late 2014 so I’m assuming it was either photography or reshoots by that point).

Coming in Winter means fewer people, but it also means there’s renovations and upkeep going on. Bag End is covered in scaffolding and there’s a definitively non-hobbit-sized stepladder intruding on the shot.

There are two different sizes of hobbit holes: big ones, for the hobbit actors to stand by so they look small, and small ones for the non-hobbit actors to stand by so they look big.

There are also ones like this, small enough to be (pardon the expression) dwarfed by any of the adult actors. I’m assuming that these are just used as part of the background and are sized in such a way as to promote some sort of size illusion or another.

I briefly thought about trying to use forced perspective to make the ducks seem enormous relative to the hobbit hole behind them, but the tour guide was bustling us along and the ducks weren’t cooperating anyway.

This is the Party Tree, which you will recognize if you’ve read the first few chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring or seen the movie. Apparently the presence of a suitable tree was one of the criteria for choosing the location for Hobbiton, and this one fit the bill.

For all their flaws, the Hobbit movies definitely excelled in the set design department. Tourist area or no, Tolkien fan or no, it’s just fun to walk around the set and see how much thought and imagination went into turning Hobbiton into what feels very much like a real community of sorts.

This is my favorite shot of the day, though less because of my skill as a photographer and more because the light actually cooperated and the subject lends itself to great shots.

That’s the Green Dragon there across the lake, home of the finest brew for the brave and true, etc. :)

On the first photo, I love the lighting but don’t love the scaffolding. On the second, the opposite. The struggle is real. Maybe you can combine them in your head into one well-framed and also well-lit photograph :)

Anybody home?!

Hobbiton is full of signs like this pointing the way to various fictional Shire locations. I suspect Tolkien’s Shire was fairly light on such signs, for the same reason that pre-industrial agrarian villages tended not to have them: the presence of people who didn’t know their way around was so rare that making them would be a waste of wood and paint.

A fun piece of set dressing.

Delving & Oatlock is entirely fabricated. There are a few places in the shire with Delving in their name (Michel Delving being the most prominent), so presumably these are place names and not hobbit names. Oatlock is, to be fair, an entirely reasonable-sounding name for a place in the Shire, so clever work on someone’s part to make something plausible-sounding yet original.

I don’t know if this water wheel is connected to anything, but I would not put it past Peter Jackson to have his set designers build a fully-functional barley mill so it can look authentic when it appears in a shot for three seconds.

This cat is called Pickles and has the honor of keeping the Green Dragon free from four-legged pests. Cats are canonically present in Middle Earth, but Tolkien was not a cat person (he admits as much in letter 219 of The Letters of JRR Tolkien) and thus, were Pickles canon, Tolkien would likely have had him belong to the Sackville-Bagginses.

Leaving the Green Dragon, we can see that some hobbits managed to score lakefront property.

Q: How did Bilbo keep in touch with his friends and relatives?
A: He sent them wee-mail!

I’ll see myself out now.

I hope you enjoyed our trip to Hobbiton as much as we did!

Next time, get ready…things are going to get a little explosive!

Back to Piha

Piha Beach is one of my favorite beaches in New Zealand. I’ve written about it before, and visited there several times.

When I first came to New Zealand in 2014, my friend Brendon took me to Piha. I loved it so much that I’ve been back many times since, and when my parents came to visit last year, I took them to Piha as well. It should come as no surprise, then, that when my girlfriend came to visit in late July, I took her there too! Brendon and his girlfriend Elise came along as well.

(She has requested that she not appear in any photos I put out on the open Internet, so you won’t find her pictured here. I promise she’s not imaginary though!)

Being essentially the middle of Winter, the weather was not the ideal beachgoing climate. We made do.

Awareness of the tides is important for exploring Piha, because if the tide is in then a lot of the cool stuff you might want to check out will be underwater. Fortunately, we arrived as the tide was coming in so we had a chance to take the low route over to the Southern end of the beach.

Along the way is this little keyhole. That’s the Tasman Sea on the other side.

The tide wasn’t at its lowest point, so we did have to climb along the rocks to avoid it occasionally. We all made it though!

At the far Southern end of the beach are these breakers, gating the entrance into a big tide pool. I spent a while here trying to catch a wave crashing on the rocks. I think this is the best of the bunch.

There’s an alternate high route from the South end to the carpark; we took that route back to get some high-up views. I keep looking at shots like this and thinking “if I had a drone, I could get these views all the time”. Maybe one day….

We also climbed Lion Rock, the large and easily-recognizable rock formation on the more Northerly side of Piha. Here’s Brendon demonstrating his excellence at sign-reading and direction-following.

I do quite like this shot of the beach I got from atop Lion Rock (my girlfriend made fun of me for busting out the big lens just to spy on some tourists, so I took this shot to justify getting it out. Turned out to be quite a neat shot. Partial credit to her, I guess!).

We also decided to hike to Kitekite Falls, since we were already basically there at the trailhead.

Sometimes on a hike you see things that you just can’t explain and you really want to know the story behind. Why this pram got abandoned in the bushes is definitely one of those things.

It’s always fun to see your objective peeking through the trees as you get closer!

And there it is! The Waitakere Ranges boast some of the most impressive falls in the Auckland region: these, Fairy Falls, and Karekare Falls all stand out in my mind as being really cool. The falls at the Waitakere Dam are also pretty top. Come here if you want to see waterfalls, is what I’m saying.

The stream is that remarkably clear green-brown which seems to be the trademark of most New Zealand streams.

Winter and rain may not improve the trails any, but they do improve the waterfalls!

On our way back home I stopped to take this photo of the rain over the sea.

Piha, thanks for the memories. I’ll be back. I promise.

Next time: I once again try to stitch together a coherent narrative of my adventures with my girlfriend using only photos that don’t have her in them. This is proving surprisingly difficult, but I will find a way :)

Shakespear Again, Pt. 2: The Birds

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

Getting things started with a magpie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, well nevermind.

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

A return to Shakespear Regional Park: The views and the birds

Welcome back!

As you may recall, I’m revisiting the fantastic Shakespear Regional Park. Last post, which you should really check out first if you haven’t already, showed the walk that I did around the peninsula. This post is showing off the things I saw on that walk, first of the scenic variety and then of the avian variety.

No time like the present, so let’s get cracking!

The Views

It is, I must admit, almost trivially easy to get lovely photos no matter where you point your camera. On Whangaparaoa Peninsula, you are almost always within view of the gulf.

Even if you point back toward the mainland, the peninsula zigs and zags in such interesting ways that you can’t help but get some interesting geography in your shot!

The bit sticking out here is part of Whangaparaoa Peninsula but not part of Shakespear Park. It’s a bit South of the town.

Of course, Rangitoto is visible from the park as well, and no scenery post would be complete without it.

Taking a bit of a closer look, we see in this shot I managed to find some sailboaters!

Zooming and Enhancing ™ even further, it is quite a lovely day for a bit of a sail, don’t you think?

While no Rangitoto, some other sailboats (or, possibly, the same ones, I suppose!) proved diverting photographic targets all on their own!

One sailed by when I was down on Pink Beach as well. I love how flat that horizon looks!

I’m not quite sure which bit of mainland this is a photo of, but it appears to be smoking!

This is Tiritiri Matangi Island, the island tossed by the wind.

A bit of zoom shows the lighthouse and ranger station. I still think back with great fondness on the night I was able to spend on that island.

Another thing I quite like is to get photos with Rangitoto and the city in the same shot.

And I suppose I’ll end this section with a photo of Auckland itself. Though I do remember my time on Tiritiri with great nostalgia, this is the photo that really sets my heart to yearning. Auckland City will always be very special to me.

The Birds

So enough maudlin. Let’s look at some birds. On this hike I actually talked to two council workers whose job it was to walk around the park and count how many of the various types of birds they saw. That sounds like a fantastic job, though as far as I know they were volunteers. I think being a professional bird counter would be a pretty fun gig.

Almost right through the gate, I saw the fattest wood pigeon I’ve ever seen!

I’m not sure this thing could actually fly, which is probably why it let me get so close without taking to wing.

I’m not entirely sure what this bird is. The head striping makes me think maybe a cirl bunting, but you could convince me it was a yellowhammer instead. Too bad the bird counting guys weren’t around to help me out.

(Edit: A kind Redditor called, appropriately, screamingkaka identified it as a greenfinch, an assessment which I agree with after looking them up. Thanks mate!)

This is a song thrush. Not usually featured here because they’re both nonnative and very common, but since I had gone to the trouble of getting a photo I figured I might as well post it :)

Fantail, or as the Maori (and I) call them, piwakawaka. These cute little birds are also quite common, but they are native, and they’re so adorable and iconic that I can’t help but photograph them.

Brown quail. These little guys are an oddity in that they’re non-native, but it seems efforts are still made to protect them. They were introduced from Australia, and they don’t particularly seem to like it in New Zealand. They’re pretty rare most places, but in Shakespear and Tiritiri they seem to have found a home.

Sacred kingfisher. Cool little native birds noted for their hunting skills.

Now. I’m walking along the shoreline, approaching the beach. And I see this:

Up until this point, I’ve seen some pretty interesting birds in Shakespear and have even photographed some, but to see not one but two Eastern rosellas is just fantastic.

Even more fantastic is that these two seem willing to let me sneak up reasonably close.

Much like the rainbow lorikeet, about which I have written much already, the Eastern rosella came from Australia. The NZ population is largely comprised of escaped pets and these birds are common enough to be tolerated rather than encouraged. But I personally have never photographed one before.

No doubt to a proper New Zealand ornithologist, this is not an exciting sight. But to me, it capped off an amazing hike. I was so glad to not only get a chance to see these colorful birds but photograph them as well!

And with that, I must bid farewell. Not just to Shakespear, but to New Zealand as well. Shakespear was my last solo hike before heading back to North Carolina.

I may have done a hike or two since coming back, though. Keep an eye on this space…maybe you’ll see some photos from this side of the world at some point. Until then!