On New Years Eve I had the opportunity to act as a tour guide. I usually try to go someplace I’ve never seen, but as tour guide I opted for the safe and familiar and sure to please – a pair of Auckland’s famous west coast beaches.
Any good tour guide will treat the uninitiated to a view from above Piha Beach on the way in. Search “Piha” to see several posts about this great icon among Auckland’s west coast beaches.
It has become normal for summer to start late in New Zealand, especially perhaps in Auckland. December didn’t offer any consistent summer weather, but there were some hot sunny days, and we even managed to string a few together toward the end of the month. The last day of 2016 was one of the beautiful ones.
We went directly, if leisurely, to Lion Rock for a walk to the top and another overview of Piha Beach.
Aucklanders abandon the city between the middle of December and the middle of January as much of the country goes on holiday. Last year was my first Christmas in Auckland, but I joined the exodus just after Christmas. 2107 would be my first New Year in Auckland.
Depending on where you are, the changes can be subtle. The crowd doesn’t look like much in the pictures above and below. And I’m sure these beaches get much more crowded. But it was very easily the most people I’ve ever seen at Piha Beach, or any of the west coast beaches.
At the top of Lion Rock I snapped my 40,000th picture with the digital camera I’m currently using.
There’s much more to do at Piha, but it was a hot day and I had a shady spot in mind for lunch. We walked along the beach to return to my car, and set out for the second of the day’s west coast beaches.
The carpark at Karekare Beach suggested even bigger crowds than at Piha. Search “Karekare” for my posts about another of Auckland’s great west coast beaches.
We didn’t head immediately toward the beach, but inland, across the bridge on Lone Kauri Road, to Karekare Falls.
This picture from 2015 shows what I had in mind. The picnic table wasn’t there on New Year’s Eve, so we made do with the low branches.
After we arrived the area quickly filled with people. Some took the opportunity to go for a swim. The pool offers a calm alternative to the hazards of the Tasman Sea found at Auckland’s west coast beaches.
For anyone who hasn’t seen Auckland’s west coast beaches, a tour like this can’t miss. Home-cooked Mexican food with kiwi beer followed by brief and uninspired fireworks from the Sky Tower, viewed from a crowded to capacity Sulphur Beach, brought us to the end of 2016.
You can view the full gallery of 13 pictures below. To view on imgur, click here.
I haven’t personally ever heard Auckland referred to as “The Big Smoke”. But over the course of last summer, traveling around the South Island, I got to hear a lot of what kiwis outside of Auckland think about New Zealand‘s largest city.
A while back I was having drinks with a native Aucklander who was having endless fun with all of the many easily ridiculed aspects of the USA – easier than usual after the 2016 elections. Eventually I reminded him that the term “JAFA” is used in the rest of New Zealand to mean both “Just Another F*cking American” and “Just Another F*cking Aucklander” …that for the rest of New Zealand, Aucklanders and Americans are kind of in the same category. His response was a surprised “You get that!”
Guide books more or less advise tourists to sleep off the jet lag, buy any needed supplies, and head out of Auckland. But Auckland is part of New Zealand, and it is highly underrated.
In Defense of Auckland
I don’t really want to get into the list of negatives attributed to Auckland, or even to defend Auckland from those claims. Fortunately, I’m able to link to a blog post that does that beautifully. It is better in many ways than anything I could have written. It offers a native’s perspective* on the debate, and offers insight on how taboo it is to say anything positive about Auckland, among kiwis outside of Auckland. Consensus is enforced by browbeating on a number of topics in New Zealand, and this article offers some insight into this aspect of kiwi culture.
Most importantly, the link above tells us in detail what non-Aucklanders think of Auckland, and does a good job of setting the record straight.
I couldn’t have said it better. But maybe I can add something to it.
It is important to point out that Auckland is the name for both a citywith a population of 1,454,300, which constitutes 32 percent of New Zealand’s population, and one of the sixteen regions of New Zealand, with by far the biggest population and economy of any region of New Zealand, but the second-smallest land area.
I have never heard anyone mention this distinction though. For Aucklanders, other kiwis, tourists… for everyone I’ve ever met… Auckland is Auckland.
Both city and region are governed by the Auckland Council, which began operating on 1 November 2010, combining the functions of the previous regional council and the region’s seven city and district councils into one “super council” governing a “super city”. This is probably the most important blurring of any remaining distinctions between city and region.
Auckland is about the size of The Greater Los Angeles Area, with fewer than 2 million people.
What Else Is Auckland?
Auckland is New Zealand – a place of awesome natural beauty.
Auckland is the mountains and bush of the Hunua Ranges in the east.
In the past 2 years I’ve taken you to almost all of Auckland’s 34 Regional Parks, and I’ve recently created a page to help you navigate my many posts about those parks. Follow the link above for 34 beautiful things that Auckland is.
There are few things I’ve enjoyed more than the North Shore Coastal Walk, with its rock shelves and tree-lined cliffs and constant changing views of Rangitoto Island.
Rangitoto Island is not just a nice bit of scenery visible from Auckland, Rangitoto Island is Auckland! Rangitoto is a beautiful place to visit, and returns the favor by offering fantastic views of the city.
Auckland may not have the wildlife that the South Island has. But it does have a great array of New Zealand’s native birds.
And naturalized birds as well.
I did meet a young seal on the coast below JFK Park.
There is a lone leopard seal that has moved into Auckland’s harbor. She’s been here since at least June of 2015.
I’ve been trying to get a look at this seal, but haven’t had any luck so far.
It Gets Better
I can’t really finish what I set out to do with this post, at this time – because it is possible, even likely, that I haven’t yet seen the best that Auckland has to offer. I plan to remedy that in 2017.
I’ve booked 2 nights on Tiritiri Matangi Island, with its abundance of threatened and endangered birds and reptiles. I look forward to the dawn chorus of native birds, and with a little luck I might get to meet little spotted kiwi, little blue penguins, tuatara, and other rare wildlife.
I hope to visit Kawau Island, with its four species of wallaby.
Wallaby are tenacious pests that do extensive damage to Kawau Island, but before they are eradicated, I want to see kangaroos in Auckland. Of course Kawau Island offers a lot of native, less destructive reasons to visitas well.
I’ll post soon about my recent visit to Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is one huge pohutukawa forest, so I may decide to go back very soon to see them all in bloom.
Whakanewha is the only regional park I haven’t posted about, and it is located on Waiheke Island. Sculpture on the Gulf is coming up, from January 26 through February 19. There are many other places I need to visit on Waiheke as well.
Anawhata is one of those regional parks that is really mostly just a beach. But as the Auckland Council page says “Anawhata is a spectacular beach that can only be reached by foot. Because it is less accessible, it is much quieter than other beaches in the Waitakere Ranges“. But on the map it looks like Anawhata Road will get you very close to the beach.
You can view the full gallery of 21 pictures below. To view on imgur, click here.
The Arataki Visitor Centre is on the way to Anawhata, so I stopped in to see what advice they could offer. The lady told me that Anawhata Road is an 11km long narrow gravel road, that the locals drive it very fast, and to leave no valuables in my car. These are all common to rural roads in New Zealand. She also told me that the walk from Anawhata Road is very short. She offered me another option – walking to Anawhata Beach from North Piha. I wanted a walk, and avoiding Anawhata Road sounded good, so I chose the latter approach. This involved walking in reverse part of the Marawhara – White – Rose – Laird Thomson Track Circuit in North Piha that I walked earlier this winter.
I started by parking in the carpark at the end of North Piha Road and walking north along the beach.
I was able to get a better shot of some interesting sea caves at the north end of Piha Beach.
At the north end of the beach a track leads up the steep coastal hills, with an option to walk out to Te Whaha Point.
I walked as far as the saddle before Te Whaha Point, and had lunch while enjoying the view of Whites Beach.
A look at these hills from near Te Whaha point gives no indication as to how steep the climb to Anawhata Road actually is. Most of that climb is a paved driveway, and the rest is gravel and not at all muddy, but it is a monster climb.
It was easy to find the trail at the end of Anawhata Road that leads down to the beach. You get some nice views of the beach as you approach, and the surrounding landscape is impressive as well.
A rock and pool at the entrance to the beach has a lot more character than they first reveal.
Other interesting features are likewise not immediately visible.
It was an overcast and chilly day. There was one person at the beach when I arrived, but she soon left. It took me some time to walk there, and I didn’t want to do the walk back in the dark, so I didn’t stay too long. The tide was in, and the stream was deep enough that I didn’t make it to the other part of the beach beyond the ridge!
The part of Anawhata Road I saw was well-packed gravel. That doesn’t tell me anything about the other 10km, but I might consider driving back at some point, depending on the kind of outing I’m looking for. Anawhata Beach has a lot of character, and I’d like to see the rest of it!
You can view the full gallery of 21 pictures below. To view on imgur, click here.
Steppin' the miles, enjoying the view, bringing it all to you.