O’Neill Beach

O’Neill Beach is most often reached via Bethells Beach (also called Te Henga).  These are black sand beaches located on Auckland’s west coast, between Anawhata and Piha to the south and Muriwai to the north.

Bethells Beach
Bethells Beach

I’ve taken you to both Bethells and O’Neill beaches before. Below is a picture of O’Neill Beach taken from Te Henga Walkway in July of 2015.

O'Neill Beach and Bethell's Beach
O’Neill Beach and Bethell’s Beach

I returned in April of 2016 as a tour guide.  We were drawn to Ihumoana Island, and wasted no time removing our shoes and crossing the Waitakere River.

Crossing beach rivers like this one is an interesting challenge.  It’s often difficult to tell how deep they are.  We looked closely at various points along its length, and were still surprised when it was deeper than expected.  It was a cloudy day, and the water was cold.

Ihumoana Island
Ihumoana Island

On the other side of Ihumoana Island I pointed out the locked stairway up the rock.

Ihumoana Island
Ihumoana Island

Later I noticed for the first time the small building hidden among the trees on the top of the Island.

Ihumoana Island
Ihumoana Island

I also noticed that there is a house on the small peninsula that separates Waitakere Bay from O’Neill Bay.  The rocks here would be an island as well if not for the high sand dunes on this peninsula.  Click here to check out this very interesting address on Google Maps. Note that Google Maps doesn’t show an address on top of Ihumoana Island, and I don’t think that building is someone’s house.

The sand dunes between beaches provide a great view of O’Neill Beach and Kauwahia Island.  At high tide these islands would actually be separated from the beach by water.

O'Neill Beach
O’Neill Beach and Kauwahia Island

O’Neill Beach was nearly empty.  We decided to walk the length of it.

O'Neill Beach
O’Neill Beach

Once we noticed the caves at the back of the beach we had to have a closer look.  As you can see below, one of those caves is actually a tunnel.  It’s large enough to walk into, but you’d have to crawl out the other side.

O'Neill Beach
O’Neill Beach

We walked back at the edge of where the waves reached, where the water was a mirror between waves.

O'Neill Beach
O’Neill Beach

Ihumoana Island and Bethells Beach came back into view from the top of the dunes.

O'Neill Beach
O’Neill Beach

We didn’t explore Bethells Beach any further than to recross the Waitakere River, then head back to the carpark.

Bethells Beach
Bethells Beach

O’Neill Beach is a small one, but a good one.  I haven’t often gone to the trouble to take off my shoes to cross those deep beach rivers, but it’s well worth doing.  Just walking in the sand in bare feet is enjoyable.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 14 pictures below.  To view on imgur, click here.

Mangere Mountain

Mangere Mountain is one of the largest volcanic cones in the Auckland volcanic field, with a peak 106 meters above sea level. It was the site of a major (Māori fortified village), and you can still see a lot of the earthworks there today.

Mangere Mountain from Ambury Regional Park
Mangere Mountain from Ambury Regional Park

It is a prominent landmark in south Auckland, and I had been visiting places in that area recently, so I decided to check out Mangere Mountain up close.

Mangere Mountain from near the Onehunga Mangere Soccer & Softball Club
Mangere Mountain from near the Onehunga Mangere Soccer & Softball Club

This is one of those places that panoramas are made for.  We parked at the Onehunga Mangere Soccer & Softball Club and walked up the cone in a clockwise direction.

Mangere Mountain
Mangere Mountain

A view of Puketutu Island opens up as you reach the western rim.

Puketutu Island
Puketutu Island

In the saddle between the two highest points you get a wider view of the Manukau Harbour that takes in Otuataua Stonefields, Puketutu Island, Awhitu Peninsula, Manukau Heads, the Waitakere Ranges, and Ambury Regional Park.

Manukau harbor from Mangere mountain
Manukau harbor from Mangere mountain
Details on the view above - Mangere Mountain
Details on the view above

The top also offers a good view of the cone, and what I assume is the plug.  Correction – that’s a lava dome, something that no other Auckland volcanoes have.

The large crater from the north rim
The large crater from the north rim

In the other direction you have great views over Manukau Harbor to the Mangere Bridge and central Auckland.

Mangere Bridge and central Auckland
Mangere Bridge and central Auckland

That view includes Mount Eden, the Sky Tower and One Tree Hill.

Mount Eden, Sky Tower and One Tree Hill
Mount Eden, Sky Tower and One Tree Hill

The perspective on the cone itself changed as we continued walking in a clockwise direction around the rim.

Crater of Mangere Mountain
Crater of Mangere Mountain

We continued clockwise around the smaller crater.

The smaller crater on Mangere Mountain
The smaller crater on Mangere Mountain

Soon after that we completed the circle, and returned to the carpark.

Mangere Mountain, in Mangere Domain, is a small park with the terrain for good short walk with a bit of climbing and some great views of Auckland.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 12 pictures below.  To view on imgur, click here.

Pasifika Festival celebrates Pacific Island cultures

The Pasifika Festival, also called Pasifika, celebrates Auckland’s Pacific Islands cultures.  It has been held in Auckland’s Western Springs Park annually since 1993, and is the largest festival of its kind in the world, with over 225,000 visitors each year.  Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world.

Cook Islands stage - Pasifika
Cook Islands stage

Performance of music and dance are the main attractions, with plenty of good food as well.  I would have enjoyed Pasifika more if I had prepared myself mentally for the crowds, and to stay longer at some of the stages to better enjoy the performances.  I usually hike on my days off, and I spent a lot of time walking and exploring the park as I roamed between the various villages.

Western Springs Park - Pasifika
Western Springs Park

The Samoa Stage is said to be one of the best for performance.  It is one of the largest and most prominent stages and villages.  My timing was off, and I didn’t spend much time there.  When I arrived at Western Springs the Pacific Island Elvis has just taken the stage.

Pacific Island Elvis on the Samoa stage - Pasifika
Pacific Island Elvis on the Samoa stage

Fortunately YouTube has a bunch of videos from this year, so I was able to see a lot of what I missed.  If you enjoy the carefully curated Pasifika videos in this post, you can search “Pasifika Festival 2017” on YouTube for a bunch more.

Below is a clip from the Samoa Stage.

Here’s another performance featuring both male and female dancers.

The Cook Islands Stage is the other big one.  There was a performance going on every time I stopped there, and it seemed that as soon as one act left the stage the next walked on.

Cook Islands stage - Pasifika
Cook Islands stage

Below is Drums of the Pacific performing on the Cook Islands Stage.

In the Kiribati Village the group below sang and played mats.

Kiribati Village performance  - Pasifika
Kiribati Village performance

These youngsters on the Aotearoa (New Zealand) Stage were among the few acts I saw that did not wear traditional costumes.  They were excellent performers,  and put on a long and varied show.

Aotearoa Stage - Pasifika
Aotearoa Stage

I shot the video below of the boys performing an impressive haka (war dance).

People of Pacific Island descent seemed happy to be part of what everyone had come to experience and enjoy.  Even if they weren’t on a stage they loved having their pictures taken.  Some even requested it!

Festival goers - Pasifika
Festival goers

Every time I stopped by the Fiji Stage the MC was stretching (killing time between acts), so I’m glad someone uploaded the video below.

The ladies above performed on many stages at Pasifika 2017, so here’s one more clip from the Fiji Stage.

Hawaii Village is known for good food, so I tried some BBQ pork.  Then I went back for more.  While I had lunch I watched these kids performing.

Hawaii Stage - Pasifika
Hawaii Stage

Then I watched a group of women performing with a kind of bamboo stick.

Hawaii Stage - Pasifika
Hawaii Stage

Western Springs is a big park, and long walks are possible between villages.

Western Springs Park
Western Springs Park

I may have missed Tonga Village, fortunately YouTube has video of more performances on the Tonga Stage than any other.

French Polynesia had a small stage, but hosted some interesting performances.

French Polynesia Stage - Pasifika
French Polynesia Stage

No one at Pasifika enjoyed having their picture taken more than the lady below.

Drag queen poses for pictures - Pasifika
Drag queen poses for pictures

The Cook Islands Stage was still jumping when I made a second pass.  I spent some time on either side of the stage enjoying the acts and taking pictures.

Cook Islands Stage - Pasifika
Cook Islands Stage

The two nearest dancers below took the opportunity to pose for a picture almost every time they took a break.

Cook Islands Stage - Pasifika
Cook Islands Stage
Cook Islands Stage - Pasifika
Cook Islands Stage

I knew the performance at Tuvalu Village would be the last I’d see that day, so I stuck around until the end.

Tuvalu Stage - Pasifika
Tuvalu Stage

Every village was identified by the nation’s flag.

Tuvalu Stage - Pasifika
Tuvalu Stage

Most of the people in the tent above were just hanging out and grooving to the music.  It contributed to a real village feel, especially when the ladies below stepped forward to dance to one song for the crowd.

Tuvalu Stage - Pasifika
Tuvalu Stage

Toward the end they had some kids from the crowd join them.  Ignore the title of the video below, this was a Tuvalu Stage performance, and as far as I’m aware it had nothing to do with Tahiti.

Here’s a little something from Tahiti Village.

The various villages are arranged around the large pond in the center of Western Springs Park.

Western Springs Park
Western Springs Park

Of all the birds that live around the pond, this Australian coot was perhaps the most exotic.

Australian coot
Australian coot

Pasifika is a unique event, and a good day or two out.  If you’re familiar with Pacific Island performing groups you can check the schedule to make the most of your time.  I enjoyed wandering around and stumbling onto interesting acts, but I also missed a lot.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 20 pictures below.  To view on imgur, click here.

Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve

I discovered Otuataua Stonefields in the summer of 2014.  It is said that Auckland was born here; the local Maori tell stories of people settling in this area around 835 AD.  The reserve is waahi tāpu (a sacred place) to descendants of Te Wai-o-Hua and Waikato Iwi
of the Tainui waka (canoe).

Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields

Otuataua Stonefields is located on the Ihumātao Peninsula in the suburb of Mangere.  The 100 hectare reserve is full of volcanic rock, and features Māori stone garden mounds and Māori and European dry-stone walls.  I immediately recognized similar rock and stonework at Ambury Regional Park, about 7km away along the coast.

Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields

Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve is located on the Manukau Harbor near the Auckland Airport.  Sandy beaches on the coast here combined with the fertile volcanic soil, making this a desirable place to live for centuries.

Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields

It was a hot day in the summer of 2014, and I sought out the shade of some forest remnants along the long dry stone wall near the southern edge of the reserve.

Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields

My feelings about graffiti in a reserve, especially one of great historic significance, are mixed at best – but this is some pretty cool graffiti.

Graffiti near the coast
Graffiti near the coast

The pictures above surely look pretty green compared to many parts of the world, but by New Zealand standards, the summer of 2014 was apparently a fairly dry one – compare with the pictures below, taken in the wet March of 2017.

Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields

I was surprised at how much I found myself adjusting the saturation of these pictures downward in order to make them look real.  The grass was probably a brighter green than you see here.

Otuataua Stonefields
Otuataua Stonefields

With a friend, I explored the southern part of Otuataua Stonefields as I had in 2014.  But this time, on the way out, we found the avocado orchard.

Avocado orchard at Otuataua Stonefields
Avocado orchard at Otuataua Stonefields

There were several families using very long sticks to get avocados from the trees.  I hoped that someone would leave a stick behind for me to use, but that didn’t happen, and I couldn’t be bothered to find a harvesting stick of my own.

Avocado orchard at Otuataua Stonefields
Avocado orchard at Otuataua Stonefields

I regretted not taking any avocados home with me, as I had never picked one from a tree.  So on my next visit in May, I visited the orchard first.

There was a wedding party taking pictures.

Avocado orchard at Otuataua Stonefields
Avocado orchard at Otuataua Stonefields

There were fewer trees with fruit in May, and the low-hanging fruit had long been taken.  It was a lot of work – the avocados weren’t ripe and didn’t come off the tree easily, and it took a while to find a branch that I could reach by jumping to pull the fruit down into reach – but I managed to collect my limit of 5 small ones.  I let them sit at home for weeks before they ripened, and when they did so, it happened very suddenly.  Fortunately the flesh stayed nice and green, and the seeds were the easiest to remove of any avocado I’ve had.  This summer avocados were as cheap as I’ve ever seen in New Zealand, but by May the price was again so high that I don’t even consider it, so these free avocado were nice to have.  I enjoyed them with lemon and salt.

My avocado harvest
My avocado harvest

The grass in May was an even brighter green.  This time I checked out the Puketaapapa Cone, the smaller of the reserve’s two volcanoes.

Puketaapapa Cone
Puketaapapa Cone
Puketaapapa Cone
Puketaapapa Cone

Puketaapapa Cone is part of the geology walk in the northeastern part of Otuataua Stonefields.  It offers some nice views of Mangere Mountain, another volcano closer to Ambury Regional Park.

Mangere Mountain
Mangere Mountain

One Tree Hill is visible across the Manukau Harbor; in the picture below it can be seen beyond the palm grove in the foreground.

One Tree Hill over Manukau Harbor
One Tree Hill over Manukau Harbor

The geology walk also visits the lava caves.  I only saw what must be the most obvious of the caves, which has bars mounted to prevent entrance.  You have to look closely at the picture below to see it (lower center).

Otuataua Stonefield lava caves
Otuataua Stonefield lava caves

Otuataua Cone is what remains of the reserve’s larger volcano.  It is located in the southernmost corner of Otuataua Stonefields.  The crater was once the site of a Maori pa, or fortified village.  It was quarried in the 50s, and some of the stone was used to build the Auckland Airport.  Partial reconstruction left the Otuataua Cone a shallow, grassy crater.

Otuataua Cone
Otuataua Cone

It took me 3 visits and some research online to feel that I had experienced most of what Otuataua Stonefields has to offer.  I recommend that you Google it before you go.  When you arrive, snap a pic of the info board for reference, and follow the various walks.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 22 pictures below.  To view on imgur, click here.