Ngarua Caves

In which the weather cries wolf and Miles heads west.

To view the full gallery of 25 pictures on imgur, click here.

All week the weather reports threatened rain.  Rain did not arrive.  Wet weather was predicted for the weekend, then it wasn’t, then it was again.  When the week ended without precipitation, I was in much more of a mood for a new adventure than for hiding indoors.  I filled the tank and headed west.

Kahurangi National Park is huge, and it wasn’t long before the road was climbing into its mountains.  I pulled over to enjoy the view several times, but the short walk to Hawks Lookout brought me to the best spot.

View from Hawkes Lookout
View from Hawkes Lookout

The clouds hung low over the mountains.  I had a few destinations in mind, but as the weather was looking ominous now, I stopped at Ngarua Caves at the top of Takaka Hill for something underground.

Takaka Hill is typical karst country.  The rock is mostly marble, and it has weathered into many strange shapes, sink holes, and caves.   There was once a marble quarry here.  Takaka Hill is 791 metres at its highest point and separates Golden Bay from Tasman Bay.

Karst landscape of Takaka Hill
Karst landscape of Takaka Hill

The gentleman who led the tour is president of a local camera club, and gave me some very helpful info on using my camera.  I was lucky enough to be part of a small tour group.

Entrance to Ngarua Caves
Entrance to Ngarua Caves

With the info given to me by our guide, I was able to take pictures in the caves without a flash.

Ngarua Caves
Ngarua Caves

The person who discovered the caves, and various visitors after, until the caves were protected, took souvenirs, wrote their names on the walls, and did other forms of damage to the caves.

Ngarua Caves
Ngarua Caves

Various animals fell into the caves over the centuries, including the now extinct Moa.

Moa bones
Moa bones

I’ll let you view the full gallery of 25 pictures on imgur (click here), and continue my journey west in my next post.

I first visited caves in New Zealand in Waitomo, in 2005.  They’re always interesting, and offer some cool rock formations.  I was left with the urge to revisit Carlsbad Caverns however, and I did so in December of that year, and confirmed my memories of something on a whole other level.  I’ll include one picture, below.

Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns

I have not however visited my last cave in New Zealand.

I had to leave the campsite I’ve been staying at because they have not been able to return the internet there to a usable state.  I’m at another campground in the area now, and I’ve discovered that here too they have the same company, The Internet Kiosk Specialist, deal with the vending of internet for them.  When I’ve seen this form of delivery in the past, it has frequently gone the same way – in addition to charging you, and giving you a small slip of paper with login details, the internet provided works poorly, if at all.  Where the internet works as it should, the proprietors usually deal with the ISP directly, and provide WiFi to customers for free.  IKS actually worked well in Collingwood for days, then went horribly, unusably wrong.  Tonight it is usable, but I’ve needed to shepherd it through the process of uploading images, frequently reconnecting and/or restarting uploads.  The campground in Richmond, where I’ve been at my most productive since arriving on the South Island, uses IKS, and I can only hope that things won’t be as problematic when I return there.  I’ve been forced to consider cutting my visit to this area short unless I can find WiFi that I can rely on.  Tonight I’m up late trying to finish this post.  My apologies if the next is delayed as well.  I’ll try to go back and add captions to the imgur gallery later.

Nelson Lakes National Park

In which Miles visits Nelson Lakes National Park.

To view the full gallery of 45 pictures, click here.

It was a busy week, and I hadn’t dedicated much time to planning my weekend.  I had talked to a Czech couple about Nelson Lakes.  They mentioned steep climbs up a mountain, beautiful views, and ferocious sandflies.  They had also mentioned a couple of campgrounds.  I typed something like “Nelson Lakes campground” into Google Maps, and when it was found, I headed out along highway 6.

Hope Saddle Lookout is a good, safe place to pull off for a view of the mountains you’re entering.  It also allows free camping for self-contained vehicles.

View from Hope Saddle Lookout
View from Hope Saddle Lookout

I arrived at the DOC campground at Lake Rotoroa, and found a small flat area with a couple of picnic tables.  I got out to stretch my legs and look around, and met the sandflies.  It hurts when they bite, although they are small, and when convinced to move on, they leave behind a small bead of blood.  And they were many.

I coated all exposed skin with both insect repellent and sunscreen – it was a hot and sunny day.  With bug spray applied, I still felt the sandflies brushing against my skin – many of them – and although few actually landed, and fewer actually drew blood, they were still extremely annoying.

Payment in many DOC campsites involves envelopes and drop boxes.   I had the right change to pay for one night, or for two nights, but not the right change to pay for one night, then pay for another night later.  It hadn’t yet set in exactly how annoying the sandflies were going to be, so I paid for two nights.

Pro-tip:  Take change to DOC campgrounds, so that you have the option to pay for one night at a time.

With my campsite paid for, and my body slathered in bug spray and sunscreen, I went for a look at Lake Rotoroa.

Lake Rotoroa
Lake Rotoroa

The view is along the length of the lake.  Walking tracks circle the lake, and lead beyond, and there is a DOC hut at the far end.  The water taxi is apparently always there.  The water was high, just an inch or two from covering the pier.  A black swan and her goslings circled, hoping for a handout.

Black swan in Lake Rotoroa
Black swan in Lake Rotoroa
Black swan's goslings
Black swan’s goslings

A half-hour nature walk offered a scenic route back to the campground.  The walks I had been told about did not start at Lake Rotoroa, so I took the nature walk.  That was a bit short for me, so I followed the Lakeside Track for a while.  A sign warned about a lot of downed trees, and when I reached one that looked like a lot of effort to climb over I turned back.

Nature Trail near Lake Rotoroa
Nature Trail near Lake Rotoroa

The trail offers frequent glimpses of the lake through the trees.

Nature Trail near Lake Rotoroa
Nature Trail near Lake Rotoroa

As long as I kept moving, the sandflies didn’t bother me much.  But when I stopped, it didn’t take them long to find me.

Nature Trail near Lake Rotoroa
Nature Trail near Lake Rotoroa

Returning to the campsite, I got out my guidebook to try to find a good walk for the next day.  The sandflies descended.  I grew tired of that quickly.  The guide book mentioned a Sunday Night Barbecue at the Alpine Lodge in St. Arnaud, and that sounded like a wonderful alternative to the hovering cloud of little vampires.

I got a good look at St. Arnaud in daylight, and had all the barbecue I could eat.  The CamperMate app told me that the DOC campground near Lake Rotoiti offers showers to the public for $3, so I knew where I would be the next morning.  I also learned that some good tracks up the mountains start near St. Arnaud.

It was overcast and cold in the morning.  Sandflies don’t seem to like this, so I kind of did.  The campground and it’s showers are right at Lake Rotoiti, so I got a great view of the lake, the St. Arnaud Range, and Mount Robert.

St. Arnaud Range, Mount Robert and Lake Rotoiti
St. Arnaud Range, Mount Robert and Lake Rotoiti

A group of tourist girls were taking pictures at the end of a pier, and I set out to do the same.  A young girl sat alone near the back of the pier, peering intently at some ducks, or so I mistakenly assumed.  On my way back down the pier I looked closer, and saw that she was feeding a writhing mass of eels.

Lake Rotoiti eels
Lake Rotoiti eels

By holding a piece of meat above the water, she had them breaking the surface to try to reach it.

Lake Rotoiti eels
Lake Rotoiti eels

The eels at Nelson Lakes National Park are protected.  The girl’s mother told me that the ones they were feeding are babies, and that some get quite old, and quite huge.

Eels are protected in Nelson Lakes National Park
Eels are protected in Nelson Lakes National Park
Lake Rotoiti eel
Lake Rotoiti eel

The girl was petting them as well as feeding them.  She said they are quite slimy.  They flinched at her touch.  They were able to lure them into shallow water, but they weren’t able to get them to come essentially onto the gravel shore as they said they had done on a previous visit.  The ducks and seagulls vying for the food were suspected of causing increased shyness in the eels.

Girl petting Lake Rotoiti eels
Girl petting Lake Rotoiti eels

After I had showered, the clouds had cleared from the top of Mount Robert, but not from the St. Arnaud Range.

St. Arnaud Range, Mount Robert and Lake Rotoiti
St. Arnaud Range, Mount Robert and Lake Rotoiti

At the visitors center, I was told that the track up the St. Arnaud Range goes through the bush, so no view is available until you get above the tree line, and at that point, if the clouds didn’t clear, I’d be within them, and still have no view.  Pinchgut Track on Mount Robert however zig-zags in and out of the trees, offering views the whole way up.  I drove to the highest carpark to start my walk.

The gravel road let me do a good bit of the climb in my van, so it didn’t take too long to get great views of Lake Rotoiti.

Lake Rotoiti from Pinchgut TrackLake Rotoiti from Pinchgut Track

Pinchgut Track is steep, and the sun was hot, and before long I was taking a break every time the trail cut back into the shade.

Pinchgut Track
Pinchgut Track

The look of the forest changed as I climbed.

Pinchgut Track
Pinchgut Track

The views over the lake changed as well.

Lake Rotoiti from Pinchgut Track
Lake Rotoiti from Pinchgut Track
Lake Rotoiti from Pinchgut Track
Lake Rotoiti from Pinchgut Track

Eventually I emerged from the trees.  It was clear the top was near, and the climb grew less steep.  Near the top there is a small hut, not for sleeping, but for having a rest.  The hut for spending the night was further than I walked.

Near the top of Mount Robert
Near the top of Mount Robert

The top of Mount Robert offers views in all directions.

Near the top of Mount Robert
Near the top of Mount Robert
Near the top of Mount Robert
Near the top of Mount Robert

I could have taken a different track back, but returned down Pinchgut Track instead.  My descent offered another perspective on how steep the track actually is, and I was feeling it in my knees by the time I reached the carpark.

I had another shower at the campground, and another dinner at the Alpine Hotel.  With the day turned hot, I was mobbed by sand flies.  They hadn’t been a problem in the morning, or on the mountain, but they were back now.  I had work to do the next day, so I said no thanks to the campground I had paid for, and drove back to Nelson, and tried a night in a carpark that a small shopping center offers to campers in vehicles for free, making up for the $6 I had spent on the DOC site.

Nelson Lakes National Park is beautiful.  I left thinking I would return, but I really don’t think I’ll brave those sand flies again in the near future.  I believe that many equally amazing sights will present themselves.  Nelson Lakes was a good reminder of what sets the North and South islands apart though, and my subsequent adventures only get better.  I look forward to showing you what I mean in a couple of days, if the kiwi internet doesn’t fail me!

To view the full gallery of 45 pictures, click here.

Ambrosia Cafe

I’m looking forward to taking you to Nelson Lakes and Mount Robert, but I’ve run into more problems with New Zealand internet.  I’m staying at a fairly remote campground with WiFi, not free, but not too unreasonable, by New Zealand standards.  It went out three days ago.  For two days, the owners were told that the guy was coming from Nelson.  Apparently the only guy for a rather large area (Nelson is a slightly more than two hour drive away).  Today they were told that a new modem was being shipped to them.  It isn’t clear who diagnosed the problem, or why a modem wasn’t shipped before, or whether there is anyone here who can actually do anything with the modem when it arrives.

My mobile data options allow me to post, but it would be prohibitively expensive to upload the number of images I want to share with you.  I’ve only posted reviews of businesses that offer free, reliable WiFi, so I’m posting about Ambrosia Cafe, which has been very helpful to me since I arrived in the South Island.

Ambrosia Cafe is centrally located in Richmond, New Zealand.  As far as i know, there’s only one table that has a place to plug in, but I haven’t totally confirmed that.  The WiFi is free, fast and reliable.  It requires a password, which is written in chalk on the menu board.

Ambrosia Cafe’s menu is relatively small, but the food is good.  Many go there for the coffee.  I enjoy the tea.  The atmosphere is good, and the staff is friendly and helpful, and don’t mind me working there from 10am until closing at 5pm.  For more details visit Ambrosia Cafe’s website.

The South Island has reminded me what is has to offer, and I’m excited to post about what I’ve seen, and also about the fact that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I hope to show you soon.

Nelson

In which Miles revisits the sunniest place in New Zealand.

To view the full gallery of 15 pictures on imgur, click here.

I had the week off work between Christmas and New Years, so I decided to use that time to get down to Nelson and make sure that I had time to find one or more places that I can use the internet that are sufficiently fast, reliable, and inexpensive – and preferably free.  Somewhere that I can plug in is also important.  I’ve discussed previously the challenges presented by internet in New Zealand.

January is peak tourist season, and what really pushes it over the top is the number of kiwis on holiday.  Campgrounds in the Nelson area were mostly booked solid, so I went to a budget campground in the Mitai Valley, less than 15 minutes from the Nelson city center.  I asked about the WiFi there, and was told that it is pretty fast.  So I went to my camping spot, got out table and chair and laptop, opened a beer.

With my VPN running, the internet was unusable.  And my legs were being eaten by biting insects.

It took the days I had left to find usable WiFi in Nelson.  It took longer to find WiFi that is convenient and comfortable.  Nearby Richmond proved to have better options, and things looked up.  Oh, and so far most – but not all – of the campgrounds I’ve stayed in since are free from pestilence.

This quest consumed a lot of my time in Nelson, so I haven’t taken any pictures of the coastline.  I will be back there, and I will get some more pics of Nelson.  For now, here are a couple from 2006.

Tasman Bay, Nelson
Tasman Bay, Nelson
Tasman Bay, Nelson
Tasman Bay, Nelson

In 2006 I didn’t visit The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill, so I made up for that in 2016.  At the bottom of Botanical Hill is the site of the first rugby match in New Zealand.

Site of the first rugby game in New Zealand
Site of the first rugby game in New Zealand

A short walk on the Centre of New Zealand Walkway brought me to a viewing platform offering views in every direction.

Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Mitai Valley from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Mitai Valley from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill
The Centre of New Zealand, on Botanical Hill

Is it really the center of New Zealand?

Short answer: No.

Medium length answer: C’mon, the site of the first rugby game is just down the hill!

Long answer: http://nelson.govt.nz/recreation/recreation/parks-and-reserves/centre-of-nz

TL;DR: No.

I’ve been told more than once that Nelson is the sunniest place in New Zealand.  Is it really?

Short answer:  No.

Long answer:  http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/64614113/where-is-the-sunniest-place-in-new-zealand

It is certainly fair to ask if Nelson is really the site of the first rugby game in New Zealand, and my brief Google research has revealed no reason to believe that this isn’t an actual claim to fame for Nelson.

Nelson can also claim an actual cathedral, with an actual bishop.

Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral

I’ll bring you back to Nelson in the near future.

To view the full gallery of 15 pictures on imgur, click here.

Southbound

In which Miles brings MileSteppin.com to the end of 2015 with the recounting of the journey from North Island to South Island.

To view the full gallery of 55 pictures on imgur, click here.

I mentioned Auckland’s rainy Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day clearing up to become sunny and beautiful.  The weather remained hot and sunny with blue skies.  I had some desire to experience Auckland in January, when the locals have gone on holiday.  But the kiwis clear out gradually over the first two weeks of January.  I have seen a lot of Auckland, and I was feeling the urge to head south.  That urge won out.

I met some friends who I hadn’t seen for years for lunch in Mission Bay.  After lunch I crossed the road for a look at the beach, and the last look at Rangitoto I’ll have in some time.  It was a beautiful day, and Aucklanders were out enjoying the beach and the sun.  This is probably the best picture of the island I’ve taken.

Rangitoto Island from Mission Bay
Rangitoto Island from Mission Bay

I said farewell to Rangitoto and Auckland, and headed south.

I had a couple days to get to Wellington, so after four or five hours of driving, I decided to spend the night just south of Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo, late afternoon
Lake Taupo, late afternoon
Lake Taupo after sunset
Lake Taupo after sunset

Lake Taupo is the caldera of the Taupo Volcano.  It is a huge lake with a surface area of 616 square kilometers (238 sq mi) and a perimeter of ~193 kilometers.  Any view I’ve seen takes in only part of the lake.   The deepest point in Lake Taupo is 186 meters.  The supervolcanic eruption that formed the lake was one of the most violent eruptions in the last 5000 years.  There is still hydro and geothermal activity in the Taupo area, and it extends through Rotorua and the active volcano White Island.

I had never actually been on the lake before, so I caught a morning cruise to the Māori rock carvings.  These were created in the late 1970s by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and John Randall, and draw a lot of tourists on boats and kayaks.

During the cruise to and from the carvings, Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films), and Mount Tongariro, key features of Tongariro National Park, are visible on the horizon.  These are all active volcanoes.

Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doon), and Mount Tongariro from Lake Taupo
Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom), and Mount Tongariro from Lake Taupo
Boats on Lake Taupo
Boats on Lake Taupo
Māori rock carvings
Māori rock carvings
Māori rock carvings
Māori rock carvings
Māori rock carvings
Māori rock carvings
Māori rock carvings
Māori rock carvings

The Māori rock carvings are a very cool and worthwhile destination, and a great reason to get out on Lake Taupo, but they are topped by their setting.

The town of Taupo
The town of Taupo

South of Taupo the highway enters a high desert as it passes the eastern edge of Tongariro National Park for even better views of the three mountains.

Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doon), and Mount Tongariro from Lake Taupo
Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom), and Mount Tongariro
Mount Ruapehu
Mount Ruapehu
Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom)
Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom)

I drove about four hours and spent the night just north of Wellington.  My ferry wouldn’t leave until 6:30pm, so in the morning I visited Mount Victoria Lookout for its panoramic views of Wellington.

Wellington from Mount Victoria Lookout
Wellington from Mount Victoria Lookout
Wellington from Mount Victoria Lookout
Wellington from Mount Victoria Lookout

Then I had a late lunch, bought some supplies, and headed to the ferry terminal.

The Interislander
The Interislander

I still enjoy the novelty of driving a vehicle onto a ferry.  About nine years ago I watched a train being driven onto the Interislander.  This time I had to settle for joining the long row of cars boarding.

Onboard the Interislander
Onboard the Interislander

Crossing from the North Island to the South Island takes about three hours.  The scenery is spectacular, and the change between the two islands is striking.

Wellington from the Interislander
Wellington from the Interislander

The weather had become cloudy and cool during boarding, and the breeze on the top deck was cold.  People’s spirits were high, and I had some very pleasant conversations before the weather chased others indoors.

Leaving the North Island
Leaving the North Island

People emerged again when the ferry entered Queen Charlotte Sound.

Queen Charlotte Sound from the Interislander
Queen Charlotte Sound from the Interislander

It was dark when the ferry arrived in Picton.  I drove off of the Interislander, and headed southwest, stopping at the first campground for the night.  The next day was New Year’s Eve, and the next morning I arrived in Nelson, the subject of my next post.

To view the full gallery of 55 pictures on imgur, click here.

Atiu Creek Regional Park

In which Miles visits one of Auckland’s northern-most Regional Parks.

To view the full gallery of 13 pictures in imgur, click here.

No other Regional Park that I have visited offers views from the carpark as stunning as Atiu Creek Regional Park.

To the north, the visitor looks across the northern border of Auckland into southern Northland, over Hargreaves Basin and Kaipara Harbor.

View over Hargreaves Basin
View over Hargreaves Basin

To the south, the visitor enjoys a view over Kaipara Harbor.

View over the Kaipara Harbor
View over Kaipara Harbor

This rooster was there as soon as I got out of the car. I had lunch at a lone picnic table, taking in salad and peanuts and the 360° view.  Big Chicken stayed close, made warbling begging noises, and accepted one bit of carrot, but left the next. He didn’t approach visitors who arrived after while I ate. When I returned at the end of my walk, he greeted me again. I offered him peanuts, and it seemed he would eat as many of those as I would offer. I had to lure him away from the car so that I could see him as I backed out.

Rooster greeter
Rooster greeter

I walked Oruawharo River Trail, which loops most of the park.

View over Kaipara Harbor and Hargreaves Basin from Oruawharo River Trail
View over Kaipara Harbor and Hargreaves Basin from Oruawharo River Trail

I found several locked gates along Oruawharo River Trail, sending a very mixed message. The info boards near the carpark mentioned no trail closures. There were no styles, so climbing over was the only way forward.  Usually gates can be opened and closed using the kind of hook seen dangling below, and the rule is to leave the gate as you find it.  Styles are also very common.  It is quite unusual to need to climb so many gates.

Locked gate on Oruawharo River Trail
Locked gate on Oruawharo River Trail

Rua was a favorite sheep dog.  I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the importance of dogs to New Zealand sheep farmers, and probably sheep farmers world-wide.  Rue is buried in a paddock named after him.

Rua's grave
Rua’s grave

An interesting Pou whenua overlooks Hargreave Basin.

View of pa and Hargreaves Basin from Oruawharo River Trail
View of pou and Hargreaves Basin from Oruawharo River Trail
Pou at Hargreaves Basin
Pou at Hargreaves Basin
Pou at Hargreaves Basin
Pou at Hargreaves Basin

After descending to Hargreaves Basin, it was time to begin the big climb back up to the carpark.  The trail takes its time though, and along the way it proved that there is greater diversity to the Atiu Creek Regional Park landscape than it had revealed so far.

Solomons Bay is a small bay filled with mangroves.

Solomons Bay
Solomons Bay

This forest area offered a change of scenery and a nice break from the sun.

A different landscape at Atiu Creek Regional Park
A different landscape at Atiu Creek Regional Park

The drive to the Courtyard house, still a  private residence, lined with trees of a very different variety.

Drive to the Courtyard House, still a private residence
Drive to the Courtyard House, still a private residence

It was nice to see the Big Chicken again on arriving back at the carpark.  He gave more of a friendly vibe than any of the many birds I’ve encountered at Auckland’s Regional Parks, but maybe it was because he is the only one I’ve fed.

Atiu Creek Regional Park was a very nice experience, and I’ll certainly go there again one day.

To view the full gallery of 13 pictures in imgur, click here.

Orewa

In which Miles find more beautiful views of the beach in Orewa.

I spent a few weeks in Orewa right before Christmas.  As Christmas drew near, the campground filled up with kiwis on their holidays, but before that it was quiet and peaceful.  It grants access to two different beaches on Puawai Bay, one near the mouth of the Orewa River.  I found a couple of photos beautiful enough to justify a blog post.

Both of these photos are from the beach close to the river.  This one overlooks the main beach in Orewa.

Orewa Beach
Orewa Beach

I enjoyed the view of this small secret beach, not far away from the photo above.  But I didn’t climb down to enjoy it at sea level.

Secret Beach in Orewa
Secret Beach in Orewa

There’s one more nice regional park to post about, and I can start telling you all about my migration to the South Island!

Mahurangi West

In which Miles visits another non-contiguous part of Mahurangi Regional Park.

To view the full gallery of 13 pictures in imgur, click here.

Previous I visited a very small part of this park at Scott Point.  Mahurangi West is much lager.  Mahurangi East is accessible only by boat.  A map is available here.

Otuawao Bay is visible from the road.  A number of small sailboats contributed to the view, and a number of small islands.

First view of Mahurangi Park
First view of Mahurangi Park

These beggars greeted me the moment I stepped out of the car.

Ducks asking to be fed
Ducks asking to be fed

Tui played and sang in the Pohutukawa trees that line the beach.

Beach near the carpark
Beach near the carpark
Beach near the carpark
Beach near the carpark

The tide was right, so I walked the coast the entire way, declining to ascend to the hilltops.

Coastal walk at Mahurangi Park
Coastal walk at Mahurangi Park
Coastal walk at Mahurangi Park
Coastal walk at Mahurangi Park

After rounding Tungutu Point I reached Otarawao Bay and another long beach, Te Muri Beach.  Just off of that beach is a very quaint historic graveyard.

Historic cemetary
Historic cemetary
Historic cemetary
Historic cemetary
Historic cemetary
Historic cemetary

I knew that Wenderholm Park is just south of Mahurangi West, across the Puhoi River, so I walked around Te Muri Point to see that view.

View of Wenderholm Park from Mahurangi Park West
View of Wenderholm Park from Mahurangi Park West

On the way back I saw sheep being herded by two guys with a truck, a quad bike, and a pair of dogs.

Sheep herding
Sheep herding

I love a good walk along the coast, and Mahurangi West has a lot of beautiful coastline and a lot of great harbor views.

Coastal walk at Mahurangi Park
Coastal walk at Mahurangi Park

To view the full gallery of 13 pictures in imgur, click here.

Tapapakanga Regional Park

In which Miles enjoys a beautiful day of beaches with cliffs and pōhutukawa, and pastures with cows and sheep, at a Regional Park in South Auckland.

To view the full gallery of 15 pictures on imgur, click here.

Since finding the full list of Auckland’s Regional Parks, and realizing how close I am to having visited all of them, I can’t help feeling the compulsion to do so.  It was good to have this list of things to do with my days off, but it now somehow felt like a chore.  This is surely psychological, and no reflection on Auckland’s Regional Parks.  Time for a change!  Completing my Regional Parks card will have to wait.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy these parks more for it.  Three more posts after this one, and I’ll bring you down to the South Island with me for a real change of scenery.

The original owner of Tapapakanga Regional Park became good friends with the chief of the local Māori.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find information about the family online.  These mark the entrance to the park.

Pa at the entrance to Tapapakanga Regional Park
Pa at the entrance to Tapapakanga Regional Park

The panorama below shows the historic homestead and the pōhutukawa-fringed white sand beach in its front yard.

Historic homestead and its front yard
Historic homestead and its front yard

Long walks along the coast are possible, when the tide is right.  Blooming pōhutukawa made regular appearances during my hike.

Beach with pōhutukawa
Beach with pōhutukawa

The trail turned inland and ascended to the hilltops for views across the pastures, the surrounding hills, and Firth of Thames.

View from the high pastures of Tapapakanga Regional Park
View from the high pastures of Tapapakanga Regional Park

These cows wanted to go where I was standing, so they stood and stared at me. They posed for pictures, then grudgingly parted to let me pass, and went on their way.

Patient cows
Patient cows

To view the full gallery of 15 pictures on imgur, click here.

Bay of Islands and Kauri Coast

In which Miles improvises an adventure, gets a good tip, and sees a kiwi in the wild!

To view the full gallery of 11 pictures on imgur, click here.

In 2015 I spent a lot of time in Auckland.  This blog has been mostly focused on Auckland’s parks and other attractions in and around Auckland.  That was not my intention.  There are a lot of good websites about places to hike, and other activities, in the Auckland area, all good and useful for finding info on all things Auckland.  I always meant to travel much more widely.

In 2016, I’ll be posting about my adventures on the South Island of New Zealand.  But first I need to catch up on just a few more posts from December of last year.

In December, I felt the need for a break from Auckland, but was busy with work and needed good internet access, so I decided to return to Beachside Holiday Park in Paihia, the only campground I’ve heard of in New Zealand that offers free, unlimited WiFi.  It also offers a place to plug in and work on the computer, and everything else I need for a comfortable stay.  Beachside Holiday Park deserves a post of it’s own, and maybe I’ll remedy that soon, although I am anxious to start posting about the South Island.

I shared my space in the back lot of Beachside Holiday Park with a host of birds, including the quail below who greeted me each morning right outside my door.  The other birds were less cooperative about posing for photos.

Quail
Quail

Paihia and Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands was beautiful as usual.

View from the main drag in Paihia
View from the main drag in Paihia
Cruise ship in Bay of Islands
Cruise ship in Bay of Islands

At the holiday park I met a couple of young girls from Taiwan who are traveling New Zealand on a working holiday visa.  They mentioned seeing a kiwi in the wild near Trounson Kauri Park Campground.  I had spent one night there at the end of my weekend on the Kauai Coast, and I knew that the bush where they saw the kiwi was accessible right at the end of the campground, offering an easy walk to the kiwi’s domain at night, when these reclusive creatures are active.

Trounson Kauri Park

When my weekend arrived, I headed across to the west coast.  The road is unpaved most of the route from Paihia to Trounson.  I passed one other car on the gravel road part of my journey, which lasted about an hour.  The landscape is mostly farm land, with plenty of sheep, of course, and hawks circling the fields for prey.  I also saw a number of magpie along the road, and the ubiquitous pukeko.

First view of the Tasman Sea on the road to Kauri Coast
First view of the Tasman Sea on the road to Kauri Coast

Trounson Kauri Park is referred to as a “mainland island”.  It doesn’t have a predator-proof fence, like Shakespear Park or Tawharanui Open Sanctuary.  Although I read the various literature posted about the park, I don’t really understand what makes it an “island” (you can educate yourself on the subject here), but one effort to protect the kiwi birds involves training local dogs to leave them alone.  Kiwi have no breast bone, so even a playful jostle can damage them fatally.  Rats, cats, cattle, sheep, goats, stoats, rabbits and possums are some of the other imported species that threaten kiwi birds.  Between 1993 and 1997 however, dogs were responsible for 76% of known kiwi deaths in Northland.  In Waitangi Forest in 1988, in a space of six weeks time, a single dog killed more than half of the kiwi that were radio tagged, thought to be in the hundreds of birds.

A young couple from The Netherlands who shared the campgrounds spoke with a ranger at Trounson Kauri Park who said that there were currently 300-350 tagged North Island brown kiwi in the park.  He also said that the eggs for the season were hatching, and the male kiwi, who sit on the nests, would be freed of this duty, and hungry, making this an excellent time for kiwi sightings.

Most of Trounson Kauri Park is reserved for research, leaving just a 40 minute loop trail for walking.  Along this trail there are a great number of large old kauri trees.  Kauri have very thin shallow roots, like a mesh of fibers not far below the surface of the ground.  This makes them susceptible to high winds, especially when the surrounding forest has been cleared leaving them to bear the full brunt of the wind.  The fallen trees become host to a variety of new life.  Fortunately Trounson is home to a lot of healthy kauri.

Kauri tree in Trounson Kauri Park
Kauri tree in Trounson Kauri Park
Kauri tree in Trounson Kauri Park
Kauri tree in Trounson Kauri Park
Four kauri trees with conjoined trunks
Four kauri trees with conjoined trunks
Kauri tree towering over Trounson Kauri Park Campground
Kauri tree towering over Trounson Kauri Park Campground

The Three Kiwis

Kiwifruit
Kiwifruit

I mentioned seeing a kiwi in the wild to a Chinese girl at a cafe, and she stared at me in silent confusion.  She was trying to understand what was so special about seeing a human citizen of New Zealand in his or her natural habitat, an every day occurrence in Auckland.  I had to clarify that I had seen a kiwi bird.  She claimed to have never seen a photo of these birds, so I showed her one online.  She said “That bird’s mouth is too long”.

Much of the world uses the word “kiwi” to refer to the bird, the fruit, and the people of New Zealand.  Kiwis – kiwi people, that is – refer to the fruit as “kiwifruit”.  They offer no such help in distinguishing themselves from the birds however.

Kiwi Birds

North Island brown kiwi, Apteryx mantelli
North Island brown kiwi, Apteryx mantelli

The kiwi bird is endangered and protected in New Zealand.  It is easy to see one in captivity, but challenging to see one in the wild.  They can be shy, although at times they don’t seem that way at all.  They are nocturnal, and therefore mostly active at night.  And they are somewhat rare, although they are reportedly breeding very successfully after being reintroduced to different reserves in New Zealand.

In the Trounson Kauri Park Campground  kitchen hang posters offering advice for spotting kiwi.  A red bulb is recommended for seeing them without disturbing them.  I didn’t have a flashlight or electric torch with a red bulb, so I had to settle for wrapping a plastic grocery bag several times around my flashlight to suitably dim the beam.  I tried to let me eyes adjust to the natural light of the moon alone, but with the tall trees I was never able to see the forest floor without additional light.

Within two minutes at most, I heard rustling just off the path to the right.  My light did not penetrate the bush enough for me to see any sign of the creature causing the noise.  I waited.  The sound came no closer, but didn’t stop.  I grew impatient standing there, and walked on.  I walked the whole 40 minute loop in the dark.  When I passed benches, I would stop and sit with my light off, listening to the sounds of the forest.  Various bird calls were to be heard, as well as some sounds that I hesitated to identify, knowing full well that New Zealand is home to no species of ape.  It turns out that the local cows make some very strange noises at night.

At the end of my walk I heard similar rustling in the bush in nearly the same place as before, very near the campground.  Again I waited, and again the noise continued, but drew no closer.  Visitors to any kauri forest are asked to stay on the path, as the roots of the kauri tree are easily damaged, so I didn’t move into the bush to get closer.

I resolved to return the following night, with a chair, to the area where I heard the rustling.  The young Netherlanders accompanied me.  We quickly met someone who thought he had heard something in the bush, and we set our chairs to one side of the path, and sat silently in the darkness. The campground had filled up as evening came, and the forest was filled with a shocking number of would-be kiwi sighters.   I thought our chances were approaching zero in these circumstances.  Still we sat and waited patiently, and silently, in the dark.  My eyes never did adjust to allow me to see anything but the sky above.

We waited patiently and quietly.  Fellow campers passed us on their way back to the camprounds.  Some joined our vigil for a short time, then moved on.

I noticed that the couple had turned on their lights, dimmed as they were, and were peering intently into the bush behind our seats.  I heard nothing in the bush, but saw the lights of a large group of people approaching along the path, still some distance away.  Then I heard a familiar rustling in the bush, behind a tree just off the path.  I turned on my own light.  Between the plants on the forest floor I suddenly saw what was very clearly the iconic New Zealand native we were seeking.  He moved slowly through the foliage, partially visible intermittently between stalks and leaves.  Then he made a sharp right turn, and crossed the path not more than a meter away and in plain view.

In the dim light, it was a bit like seeing a ghost.  He moved silently now, not quickly, his neck extended, his head slightly down.  My companions and I maintained a reverent silence.  I was between them and the bird, but this rare, almost legendary creature revealed himself to me, then disappeared into the bush on the far side of the path.

My comrades moved now, and shined their lights into the bush, but the kiwi was gone.  We heard his movement briefly, then he was silent.  I thought that he had stopped behind some plant or other and was standing still.

Then we heard the call of the male kiwi, loud and clear and close, about 10 meters from the path.  Shortly thereafter, we heard the reply of a female, similar but slightly hoarser, from maybe 30 meters into the bush.

I had heard these calls the night before, but could not be certain as to which type of bird was the source.

They had caught just a glimpse, so we waited some more, but were not rewarded with another sighting.

As we passed through the gate back to the campground we heard the distinctive bird call that we had heard earlier.  It came from close by, inside the campground.  We moved as quickly as we could toward the source, trying to be as quiet as possible.  We heard movement, but although these adventurous kiwi were close by, we were never able to see them.  The sound of their movements had suggested that they were heading back into the forest.

I find it interesting that the kiwi can sound like a person walking through the bush, or move in complete silence.  I believe that the reason they are sometimes noisy is that they forage on the forest floor for small invertebrates, seeds, grubs, and various types of worms.  They are the only birds that have nostrils at the end of their beaks, and this enables them to locate food that is underground using only their keen sense of smell, which is also unusual among birds.

I did not take my camera on these night-time trips into the bush.  I knew that photography would be challenging in that lighting, to say the least, any sightings would be fleeting and would require concentration on that one effort, and use of a flash would unreasonably disturb the birds.

Kiwi People

Kiwi people love the natural beauty of their country, including their native birds.  They happily identify as kiwis, namesakes of the bird that is only found in their mutual home.  I can’t think of another nationality that is so happy with their nickname.  Not all kiwi people have seen kiwi birds in the wild however.  It does require that you make a special effort to do so.  It is probably somewhat comparable to never visiting Alcatraz Island while living in San Francisco.

Various kiwi people have offered helpful advice for seeing kiwi birds, including one nice woman who recommended a guided walk at a campground very near to Trounson Kauri Park.  The New Zealand AA offer some helpful advice for seeing kiwi.

Last summer, at the top of an old fire lookout post offering views over Waipoua Forest, I enjoyed a conversation with a young French couple.  They asked about seeing kiwi in the wild.  I told them about Stewart Island, and some of what I had read, and the experiences of friends.

During this part of the conversation, a large, flabby, pasty kiwi person interrupted.  “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation, and I think there is some false information, perhaps being passed around between tourists”.  He went on to say that no one sees kiwi birds in the wild, not even kiwi people.  He told us that kiwis are not actually nocturnal, as their calls can be heard during the day.

Of course nocturnal just means that the animal is primarily active at night, not that they melt in the light of day like vampires.  This kiwi person knew that his claims were less than factual, because he mentioned school kids being taken out to see kiwi by conservationists at bird sanctuaries that have repatriated kiwi birds.  I have theorized that he believed that kiwi watching is harmful to the birds, and presented us with an alternate version of reality meant to discourage the activity.  He did so a very sort distance from Trounson Kauri Park, which is probably the best place to see wild kiwi on the North Island.

Fortunately the experts at the DOC and elsewhere don’t take the same view, or discourage kiwi watching.

There are also some kiwi people who still resent the French for their government’s terrorist attack on the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985.

Whatever the reason for this kiwi person’s disinformation, I hope that those nice French people got better advice, and were able to see a kiwi bird while in New Zealand.  And I’m glad that I returned to Trounson Kauri Park and its campround.

To view the full gallery of 11 pictures on imgur, click here.