Internet In New Zealand

In which Miles paints the picture of internet in New Zealand, with a focus on travelers.

Broadband

Broadband in New Zealand has improved a lot since I lived here 10 years ago.  Service is now available for around $70 per month, with good fast speeds, and unlimited data.  Of course this isn’t what a traveler needs.  Note that on inquiring with a hotel in Bay of Islands about the reliability of their internet, I was told that Northland doesn’t have fast broadband.  I’m not sure what that means.  Maybe only some parts of New Zealand have access to high-speed internet.

WiFi

Early in my 2015 travels I met a young Canadian couple who asked me why WiFi in New Zealand so often failed to work at all.  The girl asked whether there might be some incompatibility between their hardware and New Zealand WiFi.  I was familiar with the experiences that lead to this question – businesses that offer free WiFi, handing you passwords of 10-15 characters on small slips of paper that you type in to connect, but you never actually get any internet access.  I told them that their equipment is fine, that many businesses buy a kind of package deal that involves a 3rd party providing WiFi for their customers which never works, or works inconsistently, and they themselves can do little to fix.  This kind of experience is common enough that a person may well start to wonder if they are the problem.

Reliable WiFi is not yet something that business owners in much of New Zealand see as an added value that they want to use to attract more business.  Many try, as noted, but have not yet, apparently, made it enough of a priority that it is convenient, or in some cases even actually works.  This means that, for travelers, finding access to the internet can be problematic.

Recently I spoke with an Irish couple about WiFi in New Zealand and Australia.  They said that the quality and availability in Australia was shocking, especially after traveling through Asia where WiFi is available and easy to access everywhere you go.  I met them at a campground in the Bay of Islands area that they said that it was the first in their travels of New Zealand that offered free unlimited WiFi to guests.

AT HOP

The AT HOP card is a convenient method paying for your mass transit in the greater Auckland area.

I had to go to their office in the Britomart and have human intervention to complete my registration, which is supposed to be a simple matter of signing up online.  That didn’t work, so I had to spend some time working with a representative to complete my registration.  I tested the WiFi and it wasn’t working, but he told me that sometimes it takes a while, and that I should come back if it didn’t start working.

It never did.  And I never did.

Having reviewed the caveats and conditions attached to using AT OP WiFi, I opted not to invest any more time in it.  The following is copied from the AT HOP WiFi page (https://at.govt.nz/bus-train-ferry/at-hop-card/at-hop-wifi/):

To access AT HOP WiFi you need to have:

  1. a valid AT HOP card,
  2. registered your AT HOP card,
  3. topped up or used your AT HOP card within the last 5 days, excluding the day when the WiFi is used,*
  4. an account balance on your AT HOP card that is not negative.*

What you need to know

* Please note, if:

  • your AT HOP card has a negative balance; and/or
  • you have not used your AT HOP card within the last 5 days; and/or
  • you have not used your AT HOP card for a period of 5 days, and then you use it again,

it may take up to 48 hours for your Wi-Fi access to be restored from the time of top up and/or travel.

In other parts of the world, the transit company would simply offer free WiFi in their stations.  Or, offer free WiFi to customers who have a card and have registered.  The additional caveats and conditions, to me, are a good indication of how WiFi is seen here in New Zealand – it’s kind of a big deal, there are hoops through which to jump, and in the end it may just not work.

Auckland free Wi-Fi service

http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/parksfacilities/wifi/Pages/home.aspx

I haven’t tried it lately.  If it’s good it would probably be very helpful when in Auckland.  But obviously it won’t help outside of Auckland.

Mobile Internet

Apparently New Zealand has both the fastest and most expensive mobile broadband in the world.  Both are explained by the very low density of users in all parts of the country.  This information comes from a blog that is no longer available, but cached at this link:

http://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=site%3acitiesofterra.com&d=4867131369460886&mkt=en-NZ&setlang=en-GB&w=3fS8tj3NMVClULHFojIRCQzEcf43SfbQ

As I’ve described, there will be times when good free WiFi will not be available, so I did some comparison shopping to find the right combination of prices, quantity of data, and the kind of features/limitations that always seem to come with mobile service.

First, some info on cell phone plans.  In the US I used Cricket Wireless – NOT a choice that I would recommend, but it was one of the least expensive, and the one I started and stayed with.  For about $40 per month I got unlimited talk and text and 2GB of data.  In New Zealand I use 2 Degrees Mobile.  I pay $19 per month for 100 voice minutes, which I never use (and they do roll over), unlimited text, and 500GB of data.  A 1GB value pack is an additional $20, and does not roll over.

As you can see, mobile data is where the difference lies; it is what makes mobile phone service in New Zealand more expensive.  People use mobile internet differently in New Zealand.  For example, people generally don’t watch video on their phones.

Spark is a mobile service provider that has WiFi hotspots scattered throughout the country.  You can use these if you use their mobile service.  You can also sign up for a plan that will let you just use these hotspots.  You can use up to 1GB of data per day with their plan.  That’s up to 30GB per month.  The Canadian couple I mentioned above found this service useful.  I felt that it would be an inconvenience to seek out a hotspot when I had serious work to do.  But it is an option to consider.

https://www.spark.co.nz/wifi

2degrees 12GB Zone Data Pack costs $99, and lasts for 6 months.  The drawback is that it can only be used within zones – most of the larger cities (see their zone map – http://www.2degreesmobile.co.nz/mobile-data/zones).  This is the best deal available on mobile data, but a traveler will probably need a plan for connecting outside of those zones.  My pre-pay phone plan includes 500mb, and that will help me avoid finding myself unable to connect to the internet, but obviously that will go fast.  Another backup is needed.

http://www.2degreesmobile.co.nz/mobile-data/zone-data-packs

By using another provider, I can increase my chances of avoiding situation in which I need to work but have no coverage.

Vodafone offers 5gb of mobile data for $80.  It isn’t limited to zones, and they have a fast network that can be accessed in more of the country than 2degrees.  This too lasts for 6 months.

https://www.vodafone.co.nz/mobile-broadband/prepay/

In the Auckland and Rotorua areas I used my phone as a wireless hotspot, using 2degrees mobile broadband.  In the Bay of Islands I used a Vodafone USB dongle to connect to their mobile broadband.

It is good to have this mobile connectivity, however it is quite expensive.  My Piha photos occupy 84mb of disc space, and I uploaded them to 2 different locations.  And this blog is not the only heavy use I make of the internet.  Obviously I will save a lot of money if I supplement mobile internet heavily with free WiFi.  Thus, traveling New Zealand is a constant quest for that place that offers good, free, WiFi.

Internet Cafes

Internet cafes vary quite a bit.  I don’t have any recent experience with the kind that is full of PCs, and are often gaming cafes.  I much prefer the places that are cafes of the variety where you sit down and have a coffee (and preferably also some food), and also have WiFi.  I find them a much more comfortable place to spend a day working.  It helps to be able to have a good meal without changing locations.

Cafes and restaurants with WiFi

Find a place with good WiFi, and you have found a real gem.  As I mentioned, not all cafes and restaurants and such see internet for customers as part of their business model, abd a lot of them use a system where they hand the customer small slips of paper with long access codes.  It is common to have to ask for another after something like an hour, or after using some limited amount of data.  It isn’t uncommon for these to not actually give internet access, even after successfully connecting.  It is also common for such establishments to be serviced by internet providers that require a charge to your credit card for access, in the best cases to be used in a variety of different locations, in the worst they simply don’t work.  I stayed in a hotel once where this happened, after I had paid for their expensive breakfast for the purpose of sitting down for a few hours of internet use.  I was refunded for the internet, and had to seek a connection elsewhere.

To clarify what I mean by good WiFi – you walk in, and if you have used that WiFi before, your phone simply connects.  Boot up your laptop and it does likewise.  Whether or not a password is required, it doesn’t expire after some brief period of time, and if there is a data cap, it is reasonably high.  One restaurant indicated that they were happy to give me a new password after I used up my allotted 20mb, but that went by so fast I didn’t bother to ask for a second.  I just used my mobile internet.

McDonald’s

People often mentioned McDonald’s.  I had some time one evening, was in close proximity to a McDonald’s, and decided that rather than delay the inevitable moment when that was my only option, I’d find out whether it would even help me in an emergency.

Apparently all McDonalds offer free WiFi.  Or maybe that’s too optimistic, they are found all over the world.  I’m told that all McDonalds in New Zealand offer free WiFi.

The Terms and Conditions didn’t answer my next big question, but the post-login screen did:

“Your Remaining Download Limit is:       50 MB of 50 MB”

I can do something with that.  But not much.

I was able to browse reddit, but Avast! SecureLine VPN was never able to connect to a server.  McDonald’s Terms and Conditions did have a lot to say about the possibility of my passwords being acquired by someone, and this made me want to take the precaution of using VPN, but it wasn’t happening.  Yahoo! Messenger never connected, and neither did Skype.

McDonald’s is an option.  But I’m not lovin’ it.

Good, free WiFi

So, the holy grail is a comfortable place to spend some time and access the internet conveniently, reliably, and for free.  Fortunately I’ve been lucky.  I’ve found places that served my purposes well enough everywhere I’ve traveled so far this year.  Admittedly, my travels have not been extensive.  But these places are indeed gems, and deserve to be acknowledged.  My favorite place to work is Henri Café in Devonport, so I’ll start with them.  But they deserve their own post, so I’ll end this post on a bit of cliffhanger, and talk about Henri Café in more detail in the near future.

WiFi - cliparts.co

ClipArts

Waitemata Harbor Wonders

In which Miles enjoys unusual sights on Auckland’s harbor.

A day spent working on Prince’s Warf in Auckland is always scenic, but frequently I’ve enjoyed something surprising and unexpected.

I posted previously about the Hōkūleʻa and the Haunui, boats built to demonstrate the ability of ancient Polynesians to sail across oceans.  More recently I was treated to the sight of a building being moved across the harbor by a pair of tug boats.

20150501 Floating Event Center 2

20150501 Floating Event Center

I haven’t been able to find out what exactly was happening.  best guesses include the building being an event center or restaurant, probably built to float where it was first located.  For no reason that I can discern, some guessed that it was being relocated to Waiheke Island.

 

 

 

Piha

In which Miles visits Kitekite Falls and spends the weekend in Piha.

There is a gallery of 41 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Kitekite Falls

I decided to visit Kitekite Falls on Sunday, a short hike near Piha, on the west coast of Auckland.  It is a short walk through dense bush, but the walking paths themselves are well maintained.

En route to Kitekite Falls
En route to Kitekite Falls

As with many walkways in New Zealand, there is a bench strategically located at a nice viewing point above the falls.  From here you can see the full height of Kitekite Falls, and the five or more different levels they descend.

Kitekite Falls
Kitekite Falls

From the bottom of the falls you can only see the lower three levels.  There is a nice pool at the bottom, but it was cold for a swim.  If I’m not mistaken, you can sometimes see eels here.

Kitekite Falls
Kitekite Falls

I had some time after returning from Kitekite Falls, so I decided to drive a few minutes to Phia Beach.  Piha Beach is just north of Karekare Beach, which I posted about recently, and shares characteristics will most of the west coast beaches.  I ended up staying at a nearby campgrounds, and continuing to explore the next day.

Piha Beach

The Tasman Sea is rough, wet, and dangerous, and so are all of the west coast beaches that I’m aware of.  Signs warn of rip tides and strong waves and other dangers, but people still venture into the water to surf or just to swim.  Too often they don’t come out of the Tasman Sea alive.  The waves come crashing in, rather than rolling in gently as they do on the Pacific Coast.

The landscape is just as rugged, if less deadly.  Piha, Karekare and other beaches on Auckland’s west coast are suddenly visible from the road, before the visitor begins a descent of some steepness to reach them.  In places cliffs line the coast, in others large rocks or bluffs provide distinctive landmarks to black sand beaches.

The light contributes to the mood of the west coast beaches as well.  After mid-day the sun begins to light the Tasman side of features like Lion Rock, leaving them dark, even silhouettes, to viewers on shore.

Piha Beach, Lion Rock in silhouette
Piha Beach, Lion Rock in silhouette

This visit to Piha Beach I explored some of the area immediately surrounding Piha Beach, and was well rewarded for the effort.

Lion Rock

Lion Rock is the identifying feature of Piha Beach.  It divides North Piha Beach from South Piha Beach.  Lion Rock is an eroded 16-million-year-old volcanic neck.  Part of Taitomo Island at the south end of South Piha Beach can at first look similar, but one quickly comes to recognize it as a smaller and lesser landmark.

South Piha Beach, Lion Rock on the right, Taitomo Island on the left
South Piha Beach, Lion Rock on the right, Taitomo Island on the left

“To Te Kawerau (a Māori tribe – Miles), Lion Rock was known as Te Piha, the name now given to the beach. Te Piha referred to the patterns of waves separating and breaking on the front of the rock, as on the prow of a canoe.

The important defensive pa, Whakaari, was on Lion Rock, and middens and terrace can be found on the buttocks and right shoulder. On the very top are terraces and pits. This was the last bastion of this citadel.”

The top of Lion Rock is closed due to unstable and unsafe conditions, but you can climb pretty high still, and the views are fantastic.

Pou to Ngati Tangiaro Taua looks over North Piha beach
Pou to Ngati Tangiaro Taua looks over North Piha beach

You can enjoy a number of pictures of different view from Lion rock in the gallery below.

Taitomo Island stops being an island at low tide, and visitors can walk through to areas south of South Piha Beach.

Taitomo Island from a track that connects with Tasman Lookout Track
Taitomo Island from a track that connects with Tasman Lookout Track

If you have Google Earth installed, it is worth a look at the geography of this area.

There are openings through the coastal cliffs, including one through Taitomo Island itself.

Hole through Taitomo Island
Hole through Taitomo Island

The Gap offers an interesting view of the Tasman and its interaction with the shore.  The waves look especially powerful crashing in through The Gap.

The Gap and the Blue Pool
The Gap and the Blue Pool

Just south of The Gap I found an opening through the cliffs that lets the Tasman roll in and form a small beach surrounded by cliffs.  I wanted to climb down to this little beach, but it looks like it would be very difficult to get back up.  Escaping via the Tasman is sure to be a very dangerous option!

Panorama of a hole in the cliffs and a small beach
Panorama of a hole in the cliffs and a small beach

I spoke with a man on Lion Rock who was working with a shovel to improve the footpath.  He mentioned an area called the Tennis Courts because it is covered with a native grass that stays very short.  He said that the Tennis Courts offer some great view of the coast.  I tried to find them, but I think I took a left when I should have taken a right.  I ended up ascending to a bluff overlooking Taitomo Island and Lion Rock, and arrived at Tasman Lookout.  These views are not to be missed.  I took Tasman Lookout Track back down to the beach.

Taitomo Island and Lion rock from a track that connects with Tasman Lookout Track
Taitomo Island and Lion rock from a track that connects with Tasman Lookout Track
Lion Rock.  It wasn't until this view, from Tasman Lookout, that I saw the similarity to a resting male lion.
Lion Rock. It wasn’t until this view, from Tasman Lookout, that I saw the similarity to a resting male lion.

After descending from Tasman Lookout I had little daylight left, and decided that further adventures at Piha would have to wait for another day.  I had managed to see more of Piha than I knew existed, and discovered that there is much more to do on my next visit just in the vicinity of Piha Beach.

The Piha website has lots of good information on the Piha area, including walks at Piha.

Enjoy the gallery of 41 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Okura Bush

In which Miles falls back to Plan B and enjoys a walk in the Okura Bush.

There is a gallery of 15 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Albany Scenic Reserve.  There was a problem with Plan A.  After a little more research, I think I know how to find out if an area is closed before I leave.
Albany Scenic Reserve. There was a problem with Plan A. After a little more research, I think I know how to find out if an area is closed before I leave.

My plan was for a short walk in Albany Scenic Reserve.  On pulling into the small car park, the sign pictured above informed me that it is closed to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease.  I have since Googled ”Albany Scenic Reserve” and followed the link to the Department of Conservation page for the Albany Scenic Reserve Track – there I found a notice that the reserve is closed.  I’ll take this precaution in the future.

I had a Plan B ready, but hadn’t left myself much time to enjoy the longer walk offered by Okura Bush Walkway.  I saw more than enough to know that it is worth visiting again when I have more time.  The walkway continues to Karepiro Bay and historic Dacre Cottage.  The DOC’s Okura Bush Walkway page offers more information.

Enjoy the gallery of 15 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Sir Edmund Hillary

A new TV drama named Hillary, on the life of Sir Edmund Hillary, who in 1953 with his Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the ones first to reach the summit of Mount Everest, is filming on location in Nepal and New Zealand.

This photo was shot in mid-March at Bayswater Marina in Auckland, from the Bayswater-Auckland ferry.

Tom Scott has adapted the series from his biography of Sir Edmund Hillary.

Sir Edmund Hillary was born in New Zealand on 20 July 1919.  He ventured to both North and South Poles as well as summiting Mount Everest.

Andrew Munro will star as Sir Edmund Hillary.  The program will air in 2016.

Sir Edmund Hillary

Karekare Beach

In which Miles visits a west coast beach.

There is a gallery of 23 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Back in Auckland and busy, I made a day of visiting Karekare Beach for the first time.

I arrived at about noon, and with lunch as the first order of business, I was happy to find that Karekare Falls is just a 5 minute walk from the car park.  After crossing a small bridge just past the car park, the falls are almost immediately visible from the road.

Karekare Falls.  View from the road, a short walk from the car park.
Karekare Falls. View from the road, a short walk from the car park.

There is a picnic area right at the falls, with plenty of shade and a great view.

Karekare Falls picnic area
Karekare Falls picnic area
Karekare Falls
Karekare Falls

After lunch I set out to find the beach.

Like many beaches on Auckland’s west coast, perhaps on much of New Zealand’s west coast, Karekare Beach is rough and potentially dangerous.  A sign near the car park proclaims the area to be “Wai Karekare: the bay of the boisterous seas”.  Visitors are warned of strong rips/currents, large waves, deep holes, and unstable cliffs, and also not to swim unless lifeguards are posted.

Walking path to Karekare Beach
Walking path to Karekare Beach

Like neighboring Piha Beach, Karekare has black sand, and a dark, foreboding landscape to match.  The west coast is remote and rugged, and those in search of relaxing, sunny beaches are advised to look on the Pacific coast of New Zealand.  Karekare, like the other west coast beaches,  offers a different kind of charm.

Karekare Beach 360° panorama
Karekare Beach 360° panorama

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Note that the beach shots are all 360° panoramas, or close to it.  Enjoy the gallery of 23 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Kauri Coast and Waipoua Forest

In which Miles looks at some really big trees.

There is a gallery of 12 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Waipoua Forest is on the west coast of the northern North Island of New Zealand.  It is some of the best surviving kauri forest in New Zealand.  Waipoua Forest features the main attractions of the Kauri Coast.

It is sometimes hard to tell how big a kauri tree actually is, when you’re looking at pictures of a kauri, and sometimes even when you’re standing right in front of one.  The largest are surprisingly wide, and it’s clear that you’re looking at a very large tree.  But most tower above the other trees, and you’re often looking at the upper half of a kauri through the foliage of smaller trees.  What’s more, the top half of a kauri tree is often getting direct sunlight, making it significantly brighter than the lower, shaded half, and close to white in color, and therefore in less contrast with the sky.

Tāne Mahuta

Tāne Mahuta is the largest known kauri tree in New Zealand, and therefore in the world.  He is estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years. Tāne Mahuta stands 45.20 meters high, and has a diameter of 491.6 centimeters, and a girth of 1544.4 cm, according to the latest measurements of the New Zealand Tree Register.
http://register.notabletrees.org.nz/tree/view/800

Tāne Mahuta, "Lord of the Forest"
Tāne Mahuta, “Lord of the Forest”

Tāne Mahuta means “Lord of the Forest” in Māori.

“According to the Māori creation myth, Tāne is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. Tāne separates his parents from their marital embrace until his father the sky is high above mother earth. Tāne then sets about clothing his mother with vegetation. The birds and the trees of the forest are regarded as Tāne’s children.”
– Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C4%81ne_Mahuta

Visitors speak quietly in Tāne Mahuta’s presence.  There is a general feeling of reverence and awe.  Unfortunately, Tāne Mahuta is located a short 5 minute walk from State highway 12, so he tends to have a lot of visitors, including the kind of visitors who might decline a longer walk.  My first visit, many years ago, came at a time when I was privileged to enjoy a private audience with Tāne Mahuta, at least for some of my visit.

In a photo taken using panorama mode on my Galaxy S4, below, Tāne Mahuta is centered in the frame, so the image doesn’t noticeably “bend” him.  The top probably looks a bit smaller than in the other pictures; the trunk may taper a bit more.

Tāne Mahuta
Tāne Mahuta

The largest known kauri tree is located close to the raised walkway, making it somewhat difficult to take in his full majesty, so a path is provided just to take visitors ten or so meters away for a slightly more distant view through the bush.

Tāne Mahuta
Tāne Mahuta

State Highway 12 is a narrow road, and the forest seems to be in the process of spilling onto it.  The road offers some clear views of some very large kauri, such as the one below.  Of course the walking paths also offer good views of some big kauri.

Roadside kauri
Roadside kauri

At one point a one-lane bridge passes between two large kauri.

Roadside kauri
Roadside kauri

South of Tāne Mahuta on highway 12 is a car park that offers access to walking paths leading to the Four Sisters, Te Matua Ngahere, the 2nd largest known kauri tree, and Yakas, the 7th.

The Four Sisters

The Four Sisters are large trees, but they are not giants like Tāne Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere.  The Four Sisters are interesting for the fact that their lower trunks seem to have more or less fused due to their close proximity.  They are very close in size, and probably also in age.

The Four Sisters
The Four Sisters

The Four Sisters are very close to the walkway, so I wasn’t able to get pictures that do them justice other than this vertical panorama.  No one tree is centered in the frame, in the image above, so they appear to bow more than when viewing them in person.  They do bend somewhat away from each other at the bottom, but for the most part they are as straight as any kauri tree.

Te Matua Ngahere

After a walk of about 20 minutes, the path to Te Matua Ngahere creates the effect of a shrine as the walkway, which turns 90 degrees to reveal his huge trunk, the shape of the viewing space at the end of the walkway, and the natural arch of the trees that conceal the upper half of the big kauri until you approach more closely.

Te Matua Ngahere, "Father of the Forest"
Te Matua Ngahere, “Father of the Forest”

The viewing area is close enough to appreciate the size of the great tree, but distant enough to comfortably take in his full majesty, and the area around him is clear enough allow a relatively unobstructed view of his upper branches.

Te Matua Ngahere
Te Matua Ngahere

It looks like Te Matua Ngahere had a very large branch break at one point, apparently long ago, as what appears to be a large branch, which could pass for another tree, is growing from the break.

Te Matua Ngahere
Te Matua Ngahere

‘Te Matua Ngahere’ means Father of the Forest in Māori.  He is estimated to be over 1500 years old.  He measures 533.7 cm in diameter, 1676.6 cm in girth, and 37.40m in height, by the latest measurements of the New Zealand Tree Register.
– http://register.notabletrees.org.nz/tree/view/802

I didn’t visit Yakas this trip.

Lookout Track

The Waipoua Visitors Center is south of the Four Sisters, Te Matua Ngahere, and Yakas.  It offers access to Lookout Track, which is a steep uphill through kauri forest all the way to an old fire lookout offering a view over the forest canopy to the Tasman Sea.  The walk is one hour each way, and the lookout can also be accessed via an unpaved road.

Lookout Track Summit
Lookout Track Summit

Trounson Kauri Park Scenic Reserve was a goal, but I got there just before dark, and the next morning a solid day of rain began, and in any case a three hour drive awaited me.  Although I didn’t get to walk in the reserve, I did get to use the campground, which is basic and self-serve, costing just $10 per night, paid by placing payment in an envelope and into a box.  It is right next to the scenic reserve, outside of cell phone reception (like much of Kauri Coast), but equipped with hot showers.

Kauri dieback disease is threatening the kauri trees.  Read more about it, and efforts to manage it, here.

Enjoy the full gallery of 12 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve

In which Miles explores a beautiful spot on the mouth of the Hokianga Harbor.

There is a gallery of 18 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Before I first saw Hokianga Harbor I was surprised by what appeared to be a large hillside covered by yellow grass, reminiscent of Marlborough, if memory serves me, or the central valley of California, in the summer.  What I was actually seeing was the sand dunes covering most of the point opposite the Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve, across Hokianga Harbor.  They were a stark contrast to the green of the rest of the landscape of the North Island of New Zealand.

View from the northern point of Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve
View from the northern point of Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve

It was a bright, clear day after many days of clouds and rain, and the views were especially enticing.  Based on what I had seen on the map, it seemed clear that the scenic view offered by a road sign would not be far off the main road.  This brought me to my first glimpse of Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve up close.

Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve, view from near the car park
Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve, view from near the car park

The views from Arai-Te-Uru take in Hokianga Harbor, the reserve itself, the land north of the harbor, and the Tasman Sea.  Arai-Te-Uru includes a peninsula that reaches across the mouth of the harbor, offering excellent views in all directions.

View from the northern point of Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve
View from the northern point of Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve

It’s a short walk to the northern point, and not much farther to the beach.  It is possible to walk south along the beach for around 10km, although visitors are advised to check the tides.

Arai-Te-Uru Scenic Reserve needn’t take long to stop and admire, as you pass through on the way to the Kauri Coast for example, but it offers some good ways to spend a day, and probably much more.

Enjoy the gallery of 18 images below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Fishing the Bay of Islands

In which Miles it treated to a fishing trip, catches fish, cleans them, cooks them and eats them.

For quite some time now I’ve wanted to learn to fish, and to clean fish, but it hasn’t really happened.  With Fukushima dumping radioactive waste into the Pacific for the past few years I lost some enthusiasm for eating seafood from that ocean, but when I was offered the chance to go fishing in the Bay of Islands I couldn’t pass it up.

A kiwi lad named Mike was staying at the same campgrounds as I.  He was there for a weekend of fishing.  We got to talking about various things, and he invited me to join him when he took his boat back out that afternoon.

One is advised to get out on the water while visiting the Bay of Islands.  I considered, but didn’t take a boat tour.  This fishing trip and the ferry were the ways in which I enjoyed the aquatic aspects of the Bay of Islands.

Catching Them

The tide varies the water level quite a bit at the Beachside Holiday Park in Paihia, and it had to come in to get the boat out.  Mike’s boat is a wide, aluminum boat with a Yamaha outboard motor.  He backed his trailed down the boat ramp to float it.  It looked to me like four people could fish comfortably, but he said he usually limited it to three.

He had a spot in mind, very close to the campgrounds, but another boat was there so we went elsewhere.  We fished for about 10 minutes in that spot before we packed it in and moved elsewhere.  We used fish cut into pieces as bait.  I don’t recall the type of fish, but it is commonly sold as bait.

Mike claims that this particular area in the bay of Islands is the best fishing in New Zealand.  I definitely saw more fish reeled in more quickly than anywhere else I’ve ever fished, or watched, but my experience is quite limited.  Often I could feel nibbles before the sinker even made it to the bottom.

He chose a spot where the current was flowing.  Apparently the fish use currents like highways.  They also move in groups, and when they were biting, we often both got bites at about the same time.  Our lines had two hooks each, and once Mike reeled it in with a fish one each.

Most of the fish we caught were snapper.  New Zealand has strict limits on the size of snapper you can keep; they must be at least 30cm.  This helps keep the population from being diminished to dangerous levels, although it sounds like they are still at least somewhat overfished.  The next most common was kauai.  I caught one yellowtail, a type of tuna.  There don’t seem to be restrictions on the size of these fish.

snapper

Unfortunately I took no pictures of these fish at any stage.  Like many things, the names of fish in different countries varies.  The picture above shows what the snapper we caught looked like, but the pictures I’ve found with searches for both “kauai” and “yellowtail” do not look like the ones we caught.

I also caught 6 snapper, but only two were keepers.  Mike caught so many snapper that he was throwing back fish he could legally have kept, hoping to catch something bigger.  He did succeed in catching a very large Kauai of about 8-10 pounds, in addition to one or more smaller kauai.

I asked why fish are weighed in pounds in New Zealand, but Mike didn’t know.  That’s just the way it’s done, even most things are weighed in kilograms.

We stayed out until it was nearly dark, but we didn’t succeed in using all of the bait he brought.

Mike said that I was a quick learned.  I felt that I started out too hesitant to strike after feeling those first nibbles, and ended up striking too soon.  I’m sure that my learning will require me to improve my timing and my feeling for what the fish is doing.

Eating Them

Mike cleaned a snapper and a Kauai right at the dock.  It was dark and he worked fast, so I could gain no lessons in the procedure.  He fried them in a pan with oil while I cooked rice.  They were, of course, fresh and delicious.

Apparently many people don’t consider Kauai good to eat.  Mike likes to catch them, and eat them, and I agree that there is no problem at all with the flavor.  He said that people find it necessary to do things like drain them of blood, or another operation that I don’t recall.  We enjoyed our Kauai without doing anything special at all.

The remaining fish we split up and put into plastic grocery bags, and froze them whole.  We did this because neither of us had bags that would seal, and if we froze them after reducing them to fillets the meat would get freezer burned.  I suppose the fact that it was late, and we wanted to get on with the eating, was also some factor.

Mike was very generous, leaving me with 3 snapper, a Kauai and the yellowtail.

The next day was Sunday, and Mike left for home and work on Monday.  This left me to find the best way of learning to get these fish from their current state to an edible one.

I spoke to a number of people, but the woman who worked the campground, who had pulled my van out of the ditch in an earlier episode, was able to give me advice in person.  The campground is equipped with a fish cleaning station.

The first good advice was to thaw them as I planned to eat them overnight in the camp fridge.  This way I didn’t have to worry about them going bad.

Gutting them was not too hard to figure out.  I found myself surprised how much of the tail is just meat, having never observed closely a fish being disassembled.  I got a bit stuck trying to work out the best way to remove the bones and skin, so I asked the man who owns the campgrounds for advice.  He wielded the knife long enough to remove one fillet, but then commented that he had forgotten how mushy they get after being frozen.  I could see what he meant, and that they were difficult to work with.

He suggested that I gut them and cook them whole.  I couldn’t see any way to know when they were fully cooked in that condition, so I went a step further and split them down the middle so that they’d lie flat in the pan.  After the first couple, I took the extra step of removing the head, which made it easier to fit them into the pan.

My friend Don has treated me to some “cuts” of fish that westerners don’t usually eat, but which waste much less of the edible portions, so I had previous experience with eating around bones.  Some parts of the fish, of course, were slow going, while others have no bones at all.  The spine lifts right out after cooking, and as I was inclined to waste nothing there was some meat to be removed before discarding it.  The skin was also removed pretty easily, although a lot of napkins were used removing scales from my fingers, as well as the usual fish grease.

They were all delicious, but the yellowtail was my favorite.  Mike provided me with dinners for 5 nights, but I think I value the experience even more.  I now know that the process of getting decent at fishing may not be as long as I expected, and that cleaning them is much easier than I expected.  I don’t believe filleting them will be too hard to get good at either.

To be clear, I do still have a lot to learn about catching fish however.  Snapper seem to be the most common fish in New Zealand to reel in, and they have very sharp spines on all of their fins that are filled with poison.  Handling them while they’re still alive is an important skill, and trial and error is a painful way to learn.  I’ll want to benefit from watching other as much as I can.

 

 

 

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