Drones!

In which Miles makes a hesitant foray into the world of drones.

You can view the full gallery of 9 photos below; to view them on imgur, click here.

My friend has gotten pretty heavily into drones, and I’ve enjoyed watching and flying them as well.  But it quickly became clear that the hobby presents endless opportunity to upgrade, i.e. spend more money, so I hesitated to get into it.  But then my friend offered me his used Syma X5C-1 quadcoter for $40NZ.  I took it for a test flight and was hooked.

Syma X5C-1 Quadcopter
Syma X5C-1 Quadcopter. With prop guards, which my drone friend and mentor calls training wheels, and also landing gear.
Syma X5C-1 Quadcopter
Syma X5C-1 Quadcopter. Prop guards and landing gear removed. The quadcopter is lighter, faster and more maneuverable without them.

My drone friend and mentor teaches a class at Auckland University, and was asked to start a regular meetup of drone enthusiasts.  I attended the first meeting.  It was a great opportunity to see a number of different drones in action.  The smaller ones were flown in the room in which we met, and later the others were flown in a larger classroom.  Other than my friend’s micro drones, they shouldn’t really be flown indoors.  We discussed meeting outside before the next meeting.

Drones brought to the Auckland University drone meetup
Drones brought to the Auckland University drone meetup
My friend's DIY drone
My friend’s DIY drone. He built this drone from parts ordered from China. He flies first person, using the view provided by the camera on top of the drone, viewed through the goggles he wears while flying.
(Without modifications, the Syma X5C-1 can only be flown line-of-sight)
ImmersionRC Vortex drone
ImmersionRC Vortex drone. This drone belongs to a drone racer ranked 5th in New Zealand.
Hexcopter, brand unknown
Hexcopter, brand unknown. The owner of this drone flies it FPV, but without goggles – although he really appreciated the benefits of googles after trying them at the meetup.
Quadcopter, brand unknown
Quadcopter, brand unknown

For a couple of weeks I would fly my Syma in the morning or early afternoon, then charge the batteries, and fly again just before sunset.  I’ve flown a lot at Rosedale Park North, a large sports park in Rosedale that has field hockey and baseball fields and a number of rugby and/or soccer fields.  There are a number of large open areas, and plentiful opportunity to fly with no people around.  I got good at flying line-of-sight, that is, simply watching the drone while working the controls.

Roseale Park North
Rosedale Park North. I have often flown just before, and sometimes after, sunset. Sometimes the wind drops off after the sun sets, and darkening skies makes it easier to see the lights on the drone, which help with navigation. These trees are loud with birds during sunset.

The first time I went out with my friend, he let his Syma X5C-1 get too high, the lights started flashing signaling that battery power was low, and the wind took it across the field, across the street, and somewhere behind the row of houses.  That was the last we saw of it.  Sadly, I lost my own Syma in a similar way one afternoon in Roseale Park North.  It got too high, and i wanted to cut power and simply let it drop, but it looked like it could be blown into a nearby wooded area.  I managed to steer it away from the woods, but the wind took it over the field hockey fields and far way from me as I tried in vain to lower the altitude.  I watched it eventually descend, but was unable to find it in spite of hours of searching.  Thus I returned to spectator status in the world of drones.  My friend is offering another of his used drones, but I haven’t decided if it is the way I want to go.

A drone pilot must be aware and considerate of people when flying, as people can have negative reactions to drones. Some animals take offense to it as well.

Magpie
Magpie

I’ll leave you with that cliffhanger, and my promise to fill you in on the details in a near-future post.

You can view the full gallery of 9 photos below; to view them on imgur, click here.

Gills Scenic Reserve

In which Miles explores another small scenic reserve.

There is a gallery of 22 photos at the end of this post.  To view the full gallery on imgur, click here.

Having discovered the  Upper Harbour Walking Guide, I quickly made use of it again, and found Gills Scenic Reserve to be well worth the visit.

Unlike Fernhill Escarpment, Gills Scenic Reserve is too close to the sounds of traffic to forget that you’re in the city, at least in the lower parts of the park, but it is a pleasant and relaxing place regardless.  There were few other people there during my visits.

Benches on both sides of the river offer relaxing views of the falls.

Waterfall Track
Waterfall Track

The bush is beautiful as well, especially in the higher parts of the park, which also offer some nice views of Albany.

Main Loop bush view
Main Loop bush view
Main Loop ascends for views over Albany
Main Loop ascends for views over Albany

The graffitied area beneath the bridge over Dairy Flat Highway is interesting, and I found it a relaxing spot as well, although very different from the rest of the park.

Under the bridge
Under the bridge

Enjoy the photos, with captions that tell more about Gills Scenic Reserve, below.  To view the full gallery of 22 photos on imgur, click here.

 

 

 

Fernhill Escarpment

In which Miles finally finds his way into a small upper harbor reserve.

To view the full gallery of 6 photos on imgur, click here.

I had driven pasts this wooded area many times, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to find a way in, and had done some research online as well, with no luck.  Same with Burnside Reserve, right on the other side of Bush Road.  I had come across the Upper Harbour Walking Guide before, but apparently not while researching Fernhill Escarpment/Burnside Reserve.  Once I noticed my oversight, the guide opened the door to several other area reserves as well.  Google Maps only puts me next to many of these small parks, but doesn’t direct me to a trail head.  There are usually car parks, which are also very helpful to know about.

Fernhill Escarpment is best accessed from within a small residential neighborhood.  Next to a small parking area is a long narrow strip of grass on the south side of the river.

Fernhill Escarpment
Fernhill Escarpment

The river is just past the treeline; walking through the narrow strip of trees takes you to a very different space of shade and fairly dense bush. A path follows the edge of the river

River path
River path

Visitors are warned that rain can triple the depth of the river in a very short period of time. I suspect the variable river depth, and related safety concerns, are behind the closing of crossings like this one.

Closer river crossing
Closer river crossing

Across from the stairs (below), if you look closely, you can see the submerged board I used to cross one branch of the river. It was several inches under water.

River crossing
River crossing

Crossing the main fork of the river was a bit tricky.  It was necessary to walk a short distance through the back lawns of Massey University to reach a bridge that gave me access to the north part of the park.

The walking guide says “This is a bush walk through a stand of primarily Totara. The forest is of very high ecological value. Some trees within this reserve likely pre-date Maori arrival in New Zealand.”  These big trees seem concentrated in the more remote parts of the park – although as I’ll admit shortly, not necessarily so remote, if the river is low.

Fernhill Embankment is home to some very old trees
Fernhill Escarpment is home to some very old trees
Fernhill Embankment is home to some very old trees
Fernhill Escarpment is home to some very old trees
River bank root structure
River bank root structure

The limited river crossings make Fernhill Escarpment seem larger and more remote than it really is.  At times it is easy to forget that you are actually near the center of Albany.  On the trail on the north side of the river, farthest from the campus bridge, I saw only one other person and his dogs – on a Saturday.

I expected to have to return the way I had come, but I saw a couple of girls finding a way across the river at this point. After doing likewise I found myself very close to where I had parked.

River crossing
River crossing

To view the full gallery of 6 photos on imgur, click here.

 

Browns Bay

In which Miles takes a walk along the beach at Browns Bay.

Browns Bay is a small beach community on the east coast of Auckland.  I’m told that you can walk the shore along most of the east coast, but must venture inland at Browns Bay.  The beach itself is good for a walk of an hour or so, or for sitting or lying in the sun.  Like the rest of the east coast, Rangitoto Island is a prominent feature of the harbor view.

Beach at Browns Bay
Beach at Browns Bay
Rangitoto Island From Browns Bay
Rangitoto Island From Browns Bay
Rangitoto Island From Browns Bay
Rangitoto Island From Browns Bay