MistyNites

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Archive for the tag “City of Sails”

Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf

Feeling sick has to have its perks. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself after wasting the whole weekend lying on the couch at home with a virus. Due to a mix of life, travel and mental health lows, keeping up with my blog has been very hit and miss this past year, and as such, I’m a whole year behind in recounting my travels. So I might as well take the opportunity that the virus has provided me, to try and catch up.

I had the luxury of having my birthday off work for several years in a row, so when last March I worked on my birthday for the first time in a while, I decided to try and get a weekend away to make up for it, booking flights to Auckland and a trip to do something I’d wanted to do for some time. My partner had been up to Auckland two months prior for a family event so I was supposed to be heading up on my own, but after he decided later on that he’d join me, we found ourselves at Christchurch airport booked on two separate flights with two different airlines. We effectively raced each other up the country. My flight was scheduled first but was delayed causing a bit of jovial banter between the two of us. In the end though, it didn’t matter. We made it to Auckland well enough and were met at the airport by my partner’s friend who drove us into the city.

It was a scorching sunny day in the City of Sails, and New Zealand’s largest city was living up to its name that weekend as the Volvo Ocean Race, the World’s biggest ocean race was currently taking place in the city. It brought back memories of my time in Cape Town in 2005 when the race had stopped by there, and the vibe around the harbour front was incredible. The race itself was on a break the day we arrived, but there was plenty of action on shore with the teams milling with the sponsors, drinks flowing and exhibits for city goers to have a look at. This event oozes money, and it was very clear to see this walking around, but it was still really interesting, and even without the event running, I just love the views of the Auckland skyline with the sails in front of it.

 

We spent the morning walking around the Viaduct and Wynyard Quarter where we grabbed some food at one of the pop-up venues that had been erected. I had been living with anxiety by this point for nearly 2 years and a message from work put an end to my buzz. For all that social media can do to suggest that people are constantly on a travelling high, I’ve had several trips away tarnished by having to fight through some rather low bouts of mental health. My partner and his friend did their best to buoy me up, and thankfully there was plenty going on to distract me and pull my mind away from my thoughts. Before heading into the city to check into our hotel we managed to squeeze in amongst the crowds to see some boats take off on a race around the harbour. Beyond that we had an evening planned out at Western Springs for the Speedway, an event which I’ve been to a few times with my partner and his friend. It’s a fun night out with a variety of race styles and good family entertainment. Sadly, at the time of writing, Auckland City Council has very recently made the Speedway homeless, and its future in the city is unknown.

I had an early rise the next morning to head off for the trip that was my whole reason for coming up. My partner was to spend the day hanging out with his friend, but I headed down to the ferry terminal to catch the Fullers ferry out into the Hauraki Gulf. One of my favourite things about the region is the myriad of offshore islands that can be visited, offering anything from wineries and swimming to camping and volcanoes. In the first few weeks of my time in New Zealand, I explored the wilderness of Great Barrier Island (to this day, still one of my favourite parts of the country), cycled around the popular Waiheke Island, and explored the volcanic landscape of Rangitoto Island. This time I was headed to Tiritiri Matangi Island, one of the country’s pest-free islands that is open to visitors. Like Ulva Island in Southland that I’d visited the month before, Tiritiri Matangi is promoted as a bird-lovers’ paradise, and being a bit of a closet birder, I was keen to get out there and see what was on offer.

As always, getting out on the water in Auckland is a delight, seeing the city skyline from an alternate viewpoint as well as getting amongst the myriad of boat traffic that plies the busy waterway. Leaving the city behind, we passed Devonport then Rangitoto and headed up to Gulf Harbour where we collected more passengers. From there, it was just a short hop across to the island itself. I’d left the city in sunshine and unfortunately arrived in a bit of a haze. Being a Sunday, the boat was also very full and as we all disembarked, I was keen to get moving and leave the crowds behind, but the rangers stopped us at the wharf to give us a briefing on how to conduct ourselves on the island, taking up a bit too much of the precious time that we had before the sailing home.

 

From the wharf, there were several routes to choose from: a direct road to the lighthouse to the south, a meandering route along the headland to the same destination, or a beach walk to the north. This meant that there was at least a bit of immediate dispersal of the large amount of people that had arrived on the boat, and it was possible to start seeing some wildlife quite early on. I took the Wattle Track, the non-direct route to the lighthouse, and straight away saw some Hihi, or Stitchbirds, and some large Weta, a rather incredible insect that is endemic to New Zealand. Although we’d sailed a good bit away from Downtown Auckland, it was still possible to see the distinctive Sky Tower in the hazy distance, and the volcanic dome of Rangitoto Island stood off to my right.

 

I detoured just before the lighthouse to follow the Ridge Track to the nearest high point to survey my surroundings. I spotted a Sacred Kingfisher on a flax bush, a shy bird that I’ve found difficult to photograph in the past, and I could see across to the dramatic cliff face of Gulf Harbour. The island’s visitor centre is next to the lighthouse, and here was the busiest place I came across on the whole island. I didn’t hang around long, passing it by to skirt behind it to the lighthouse itself. Although it’s not open to the public, it has a commanding presence on the headland and the lawn around it was filled with a mix of people and birds.

 

Round the corner was a house used by staff that had a glorious viewpoint out over the ocean, and from here the east coast track took a northerly route. This track was glorious. Leaving the lighthouse behind, it stuck to the cliff top and skirted round the various coves as it went, losing and gaining altitude as it needed to, and providing a fantastic and near constant view of the rocky coastline and the pounding waves below. There were various viewpoints on route and I caught glimpses of pied shags in the trees and got close ups of the melodic birds that live in the New Zealand bush, such as the tui, one of my favourite birds to hear whilst out hiking. Tui are present in pockets of the South Island, but aren’t common around Christchurch where I live, so it’s always a novelty to see and hear them when I’m somewhere away from home. I’m yet to capture a photograph of them that truly displays their shining feather colour, but I did finally manage to get one that showed off their pretty ‘bow-tie’ feathers.

 

On the headland before Pohutakawa Cove I spotted another Sacred Kingfisher, and beyond here, I took the option to skirt round a couple of lakes that created a small wetland. It was peaceful here with surprisingly little visible life compared to other parts of the island, but it did provide a bit of shade. There may have been some wispy high cloud and haze but it was hot and there hadn’t been much in the way of shelter from the strong sun overhead. Just beyond here the path came to its end at the most northern end of the island, and then it was time to work my way back to the pier via the west coast.

 

As I followed the Ngati Paoa track to the Ridge road, I was in a little bit of a reverie when I was startled by the movement of two grey birds in the bush to my left. It was a fleeting glance that was over before I knew it, but I was excited to realise that what I’d just seen was the North Island Kokako. This bird is really rare to see in the wild, and its South Island variant is thought to be extinct. That being said, suspected sightings in the not-too-distant past have resulted in a $10,000 reward being issued to anyway who can provide verifiable proof of the South Island bird’s existence.

 

I was only on the Ridge road for a brief while before I cut down to the Tiritiri Matangi Pa where I once again had a view across to Gulf Harbour. I took a bush walk round the Totara track where I found a quail with her chicks, and then followed the Kawarau Track through thick bush past the loud North Island Saddleback, and down a steep decline to reach Hobbs beach. The clouds had moved in by now turning the water a cold shade of grey, and here I found a lot of the people that I’d come over with, who were lounging on the beach with their picnics whilst their kids played around the rock pools and the shallows.

 

As I meandered along the Hobbs Beach Track towards the wharf, the other visitors began to gather up their gear and join me on the meander back. I could watch the Fullers ferry draw in from afar as we plodded our way to meet it. There wasn’t an immediate need to board, so as the crowds gradually materialised from the various paths to congregate at the pier, I cut back up the road a little and found myself face to face with pukekos, dust-bathing sparrows, a lone kakariki and more quail. When I returned to the pier, the ferry was well through the process of boarding, and I frog-marched down the pier to head on board. I left the island very satisfied with the chilled-out day that I’d been much in need of, and a multitude of endemic birds spotted.

 

It was just a quick jump across the gap to Gulf Harbour where I disembarked. A large marina here seems to scream about the riches that live around here, but it was a more convenient location than downtown to meet up with a friend that lives away from the city. When we eventually reached her place I was quite jealous of the bird song that serenaded her back garden, and after tea and a catch up, she ran me to Albany where I met up with my partner and his friend for a belated birthday dinner at a much loved Mexican-themed restaurant. By the time we were heading back into the city, the light was dulling and we crossed the Auckland Harbour bridge as the city lights came on.

 

As I like to make the most of my weekends away and as I had been originally coming solo, my return flight wasn’t until late in the evening on the Monday. My partner would have preferred to return earlier, and when we woke to torrential rain that continued for the entire day, I was a little deflated to see that on this occasion, he would have been right. As it was, we hid out in shops and then at the cinema, trying to kill time before grabbing our stuff and heading out to the airport. It was a shame to lose the benefit of the third day, but I returned home satisfied. I always try to do something new whenever I return to Auckland, and bagging Tiritiri Matangi had been just the ticket.

Old Favourites

I regularly need to pinch myself when I think how unbelievably blessed and lucky I am to call New Zealand home. I will always be a proud Scot, but there’s something about New Zealand that makes me immensely happy. I love getting out and exploring new parts of the country but I also love revisiting some of my favourites. I love living in Christchurch in the country’s South Island, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now, but at least once a year, I try to get up north to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. It was the place where I touched down when I first arrived here, nearly 4 years ago, and I have spent many days here exploring different aspects of the city and its surroundings. I have my favourite places that I like to go each time, but I also try to go or do something new too.

This past weekend, I headed up for the first time in nearly a year. The weather played ball, and for the most part, I got to soak up the sun whilst making the most of the place. The greater Auckland population is over 1.5m compared with Christchurch’s roughly 360,000, and with the latter still in the throes of a post-earthquake rebuild, it is nice to escape to the Big Smoke and experience the goings on of a big city. Usually there is another reason to head north, and on this occasion it was to support some of my fellow pole dancers in a national competition. There were some amazing performances and it was lovely to see several people from the studio I attend winning awards.

But the most exciting thing about this trip, was the boat trip that I treated myself to the next day. Aside from travelling, I have a major love of all things cetacean, and am always eager to get out to sea at any available opportunity. I had discovered a couple of years ago that a whale and dolphin safari is available from downtown Auckland, and now was my chance to head out for a new experience. The weather conditions couldn’t have been better and it was a lovely calm trip east to the dominating Coromandel Peninsula that juts sharply out into the Hauraki Gulf. A convergence of currents here brings blooms of both phytoplankton and zooplankton which attracts Bryde whales and common dolphins on a regular basis, and Orca and bottlenose dolphins on a seasonal or sporadic basis. Any or all of these was going to keep me very happy indeed.

 

There was a while where it looked worryingly like there wouldn’t be a sighting. I’ve been lucky enough to have a multitude of whale watching trips under my belt, and not a single one of them has occurred without a sighting. But I’m always aware that there could be a first time, and I was starting to think it might be this one. But finally the call came out that a whale had been seen popping its head out the water straight ahead, and finally, not far off the Coromandel coastline, we came upon a Bryde whale lunge feeding. It repeatedly threw its head straight out the water before rolling onto its side. After a few lunges, it stopped feeding and swam around us from a distance. I’d last seen this species 10 years earlier in South Africa where the sightings had been so brief that I had managed no photographs, so it was fantastic to get a much better viewing this time round. We spent some time watching it move around us for a while before we went off in search of dolphins. Common dolphins are my favourite species of dolphin, and I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing them again. My memories from my only sighting of them are fading as again it was a brief occurrence in South Africa 10 years ago. We took a long route north then west back towards Rangitoto island, but alas it was not to be. The crew told us that it didn’t happen often, but I was gutted to see no dolphins on this trip.

 

The next day, I decided to revisit a place I hadn’t been for nearly four years: the observation deck of the Sky Tower. Auckland’s most iconic building, it was officially opened in 1997, three years after construction began. Like the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Sky Tower had its critics, but like in Sydney, it is hard to imagine the skyline without this building now. Next to the SkyCity Casino, the entrance is underground, and then the elevator with its partly-glass floor whisks you up to the 51st floor to the lower of two observation decks. From here there is a 360o view of Auckland and its surroundings. It was an awesome thing to do when I first arrived in New Zealand as it helped me get my bearings in such an expansive city, and on a second visit it was just nice to see everything from above again. Like many buildings of its type around the world, there are sections of the floor made of reinforced glass so that you can stand over the massive drop and laugh as people either jump up and down on them or scare themselves silly on them.

 

On the 60th floor is a smaller observation area, but the glass up here is tinted differently, so I personally prefer the view on this floor with regards to being able to take photographs. The day I was there, there were two men doing repairs on the outside, suspended off the side of the building in harnesses and inside a ‘bucket’. It’s definitely not a job for the faint of heart. There are a few adrenalin activities available from the Sky Tower itself. It is possible to do a Sky Walk where you are harnessed up on a platform outside the building on the 53rd floor for a wander round. From here, it is also possible to do a harnessed base jump down to the ground. I don’t remember there being the Sky Jump there last time (although it’s quite possible I was oblivious to it!), so although I knew about its existence more recently, I didn’t know a lot about it. As it turns out, you can be merrily looking out the window on the 51st floor to be caught off guard by a human being hurtling past the window towards the ground. It was funny hearing the gasps when people on the observation deck weren’t expecting to see this! I’m thinking next time round, this may be my new experience to try in Auckland!

 

A trip to the City of Sails isn’t complete for me without a wander along the foreshore past the ferry terminal, the viaduct and beyond Wynyard Quarter to the marina. With an estimated 1 in 3 households in Auckland owning a boat, there is a plethora of boats in the marina, and the harbour is always full of boats, both private and commercial, chugging past. In the summer months, large cruise ships dock regularly, dwarfing the neighbouring Hilton hotel. There is also a multitude of spots to get a different angle of the stand-out Sky Tower dominating the Auckland skyline. It’s a view that’s hard not to fall in love with.

City of Sails

Nestled on an isthmus between the Waitemata Harbour to the north, and the Manukau Harbour to the south, Auckland provides plenty of options for water-based activities, with a high-population of boat ownership in the city lending the city its nickname as the ‘City of Sails’. Living in a small city undergoing a rebuild and redevelopment, it can be refreshing to get away from it all and visit a vibrant city with such a beautiful skyline. Both within the city boundaries and within reach on its outskirts, there is always plenty to explore.

I have visited Piha beach, to the west of Auckland, twice. It is a winding drive across the Waitakere Ranges National Park, and as ruggedly beautiful as it is, I’m always slightly disappointed with the place when I get there. Piha itself is small with little to do there, and the water is too rough for my swimming capabilities, and on a sunny day, the black sand burns to the touch. On a poorer day, the wind whips in from the sea and it feels exposed and dangerous. The draw card back there for me is to climb Lion Rock, the distinctive coastal rock that juts out from the beach, and can be ascended when the tide is right. One of these days I’ll get up there.

 

The Waitakere Ranges National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Within easy reach of Auckland city, it is littered with hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties, as well as a golf course and some stunning coastal views. Again, I’m yet to manage any of the hikes, but on this visit I was taken on a drive through the park, and this time stopped at the main visitor centre from where the famous Sky Tower of Auckland was visible to the east, and the sea was visible to the west. It was a scorching day, and the surrounding trees were filled with the thrumming sound of thousands of cicadas. It is one of my favourite sounds in nature, and always makes me think of summer days in the countryside.

 

That night, my partner and I partook of an Auckland tradition: visiting Franklin Road on the edge of Ponsonby to view the famous Christmas lights. Every year, many of the properties on this street deck their frontage and gardens with all sorts of glowing festive displays and the street becomes jammed with locals and tourists alike who wander up and down, serenaded by carol singers and musicians. The pavements are crammed with people, and the last few nights before Christmas are particularly busy with everyone jostling through the crowds.

 

No trip to Auckland is complete without visiting Mission Bay and/or St Heliers. Round the harbour from the city centre, these lovely suburbs feel a million miles away from the towering buildings of the city centre, but Mission Bay especially gets very busy on weekends and public holidays. One of my favourite ice cream parlours, Movenpick, has a store here and I love to walk through the park and along the waterfront whilst I devour one of their milky delights. The beach here is relatively sheltered and the beaches at both suburbs are a good spot for a bit of swimming and paddling.

 

After a quiet family Christmas, on Boxing Day we headed into town and caught the ferry over to Devonport. I hadn’t been there since that first week after I moved to New Zealand 3 years ago, and we wandered round Torpedo Bay and up the hill at North Head to the old war gunneries on the headland. The pohutakawa (Christmas) trees were in full bloom, in glorious red, and the place was littered with families enjoying picnics on every spare spot of grass around. We followed the path to the summit and enjoyed the view back across the harbour to Auckland’s skyline before following the coast round to Cheltenham beach on the northern side of the peninsula. From this side, Rangitoto Island stood proudly across the waters. After a beautiful lunch in one of Devonport’s delightful eateries, we caught the ferry back to downtown. On route, there was plenty of opportunity to see why Auckland is known as the city of sails with a plethora of sailing boats dotted across the water.

 

One of the highlights of a trip to Auckland at this time of year for my partner is the Boxing Day Speedway. A sport I knew nothing about prior to meeting him, I’d been to a meet in Christchurch a couple of years ago where we got splattered in mud. In the baking late afternoon sun we roasted ourselves whilst the rounds were raced, viewed by an exceedingly packed crowd.

The following day we went to the second meet of the season as well, and sweated the hours away under another fiercely hot sun. The track ran differently both days, making for very different conditions which meant a thrilling watch on both days for very different reasons.

 

Our last day in Auckland was spent wandering round our favourite haunts, mainly the Viaduct and marina on the waterfront. Every time I go there, I walk to the same places and take the same photos over and over again, because it is such a beautiful sight. Like many cities, the commercial parts of the city is nothing to write home about, but like my favourite city, Sydney, Auckland has made good use of its waterfront position, and I love nothing more than to stare out to sea or to ogle at the Sky Tower from every possible advantage point. Auckland will always hold a special place in my heart because it was where I spent the first few weeks of my life in New Zealand, and I never fail to find an excuse to go and visit.

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