Category Archives: ZN Travel

Walking the West Coast Beaches

First sight of Piha
First sight of Piha

It’s not actually that far from central Auckland to the west coast beaches of Piha, Bethells and Karekare,  Aucklanders just think it is.  Michael and I are driving from Waiheke which adds a car ferry journey.  Even with a morning coffee stop over at Point Chevalier, we are driving down the long steep drive of the Waitakere Estate Boutique Hotel before lunchtime.  Unfortunately, something has gone wrong with our booking causing the very nice receptionist to fly into a bit of a panic.  It turns out that I’ve only booked for one night – tomorrow night – and there are no spare rooms.  As we’re heading for Piha, the nice woman gives us a number to call, but they are full.  Helpfully they tell me that Black Sands Lodge has a vacancy and I call them.  Yes, proprietor, Bobbie, tells me we can have the Tui suite.  It’s more expensive than the hotel, but what can we do?  The first view of Piha from the road is dramatic then we wind down the hill, following directions to Black Sands Lodge where we are met by an ‘older’ lesbian couple, Julia and Bobbie.  We click instantly and feel at home.  Bobbie is a gardener and has created a fabulous secluded place here with trees and grasses, seemingly growing in wild abandon.  We are given directions to the café for lunch and to the Returned Servicemen’s Association for dinner.  This means that we can cancel the booking we made for dinner at the Hotel.  There’s an interesting art gallery/shop around the corner and we mistake the shop for the café, which is next door and set back from the road.  We grab some lunch and head to The Kitekite Falls track.

at Kitekite falls
at Kitekite falls

We tramp through the forest to find a very tall waterfall with a large dark and very cold pool at the bottom.  Two huge eels are swimming around expecting to be fed.  There are several other people here and it is quite clear from the reaction of one young man diving into the pool that it’s freezing. His girlfriend takes our photo.

With the light fading due to dramatic black clouds covering the afternoon sun, we go down to the sea to explore the beach, look at Lion Rock and the flocks of surfers patiently waiting for that one big wave, rushing to catch it and then desperately trying to stay up and ahead.

Late surfer at Piha with Lion Rock
Late surfer at Piha with Lion Rock

These moments are rare but beautiful when they happen.  We take the Tasman look-out track, a short walk south over the cliffs to The Gap. Its low tide now and we can walk back on the sand under the crumbling cliffs.

The Gap Piha
The Gap Piha

As instructed by Bobbie, we arrive at the RSA for dinner, go straight to the kitchen and ask to be signed in as guests.  The beer is good and we order Gurnard (fish) which is also good.  There’s still some daylight, allowing us to sit outside on the decking where we fall into conversation with two other couples who are also dining.  The chap on my right asks if I’m a member.  ‘No’, I say, ‘but my grandfather was at Gallipoli and my father in Egypt and Greece.’  He is a member so I ask him if he was at Vietnam.  Oops, he’s too young for that.  Turns out he was in the Falklands war and claims to be Scottish.  He’s not got any accent and he and his wife live in Dorset.  They are enjoying New Zealand for the first time, visiting friends and going to out of the way places.  It turns out that he’s a keen sailor, and so has a good conversation with Michael.  We reveal that we are swimmers and there is a slight pause in the conversation when we announce that we swim with a gay club, but they quickly recover and continue talking.  As there are too few guests, the staff want to close early.  We’ve finished anyway and walk back to our Tui suite in anticipation of longer walks tomorrow.

Coman's Track The Piano Bay
Coman’s Track The Piano Bay

We manage to find the Piha Café, which is excellent for breakfast, erring on the overgenerous.  They don’t really do takeaway stuff for lunch, but the shop next door does us some great chicken salad sandwiches to order.  It’s a short drive up the hill to begin our walk on the Mercer Bay loop, which takes us along a spectacular cliff walk past the location where the ‘piano on the beach’ scene was shot in the film The Piano.  There’s a site of an historic Maori pa at Te Ahua point with great views of the coast-line.  We then link up with the Comans track which takes us down to Karekare beach where we eat our chicken sandwiches.

Karekare
Karekare
Karekare beach
Karekare beach

I go for a cautious swim in the sea (it’s pretty dangerous here) and Michael has a snooze.  It’s time to return, and the Ahu Ahu track completes the Comans track circuit by taking us more or less up a straight wide path at a punishing gradient but Michael behaves like a mountain goat and I have to keep up. We take the return part of the Mercer loop back to the car park.  We’ve left a bottle of wine, intended for dinner, at the Black Sands Lodge and have to go back to Bobbie and Julia, who have put it in the fridge.  We finally check into the Waitakere Estate Hotel and collapse for a snooze before driving to Bethells Beach for dinner with friend Sue, who was on tour with me to Bali and Morocco. The wine arrives still cold and is opened immediately.

Bethells Beach

Bethells Beach

It’s our third day in the Waitakere regional park and its back to Bethells Beach.  More dramatic black sand and cliffs are to be seen as we tramp up along the coastal path to the North. It’s hard work in the heat and we opt to descend to the beach for the return journey.  Each of the three beaches is unique and spectacular, so it’s well worth seeing all three and the full effect is only achieved by climbing up the cliffs for an aerial view.

Bethells from the Cliff walk
Bethells from the Cliff walk

School children are on a field trip, checking out the wild life in rock pools then going for carefully supervised swims.  There are few tourist buses pulling up and as we return to the Bethells Beach car park there’s an unbelievable sight.  A tourist has set up his tripod with screen attached and is launching a drone with camera which he controls from a consol. From here there is no view of the beach or cliffs, but he’s seeing it from the drone’s point of view.

Bethells Beach
Bethells Beach

I can’t believe that the visual quality of a remote tv screen can compare with a pair of eyes.  I’m shocked that someone can make the effort to come all this way and not leave the car-park.

 Bethells sand dune

Bethells sand dune

Our last walk is over the dramatic black sand dunes which are such a popular film location that there is permanent sign up warning of possible filming. There aren’t any today as we swelter over the dunes to find a long cool looking lake behind.  There’s a walking track around it, but we’ve walked enough and decide to swim up the lake instead.  This is just what our muscles need right now and our joints are grateful to be load free.  The fresh water is a good temperature and we are refreshed for our walk back along the stream which skirts the dunes.

 Dunes and stream

Dunes and stream

We’ve time for afternoon coffee at Swanson Station Café (recommended) before a quick motorway drive back to the car ferry and home to Rocky Bay.

The Bay of Islands

This is a plug for one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations, The Bay of Islands.  My friends Cathy, Claire and Lynn have been exploring the South Island and fly in to Auckland with the intention of picking me up from the Ferry Building.  Unfortunately, there are fire engines and ambulances everywhere outside, roads are blocked off and it looks like a disaster area.  I quickly text the girls to say there’s been an incident and I’ll meet them by the entrance to the Hilton Hotel.  No response to my texts, so I try phoning – no answer.  After an hour waiting, I retrace my steps to discover that there is no disaster, it’s a demonstration event, but still the roads are blocked off.  Somehow the girls spot me – their mobile phones are not working here.

Mangawhai
Mangawhai

 

 

 

 

 

We take several scenic detours on the way to Pihia, stopping at the dramatic Mangawhai Heads where locals are out in force, Swimming and surfing

 

Mangawhai
Mangawhai

Once we’ve checked in to our sea-front accommodation at Pihia, we stroll down to the tour booking office to find that the all day Cream Trip around the Islands is booked up for tomorrow.  It’s the height of the tourist season – mid February – and the only option is an afternoon trip out to the Hole in the Rock.

 

Our ticket includes a free ferry crossing to Russell across the bay.  This charming town is full of historic houses all beautifully preserved.  It’s hard to believe that this was once the capital of the country in the early days, with the Governor’s residence across the Bay at historic Waitangi.  Russell is so completely out of the way that communications must have made administration difficult.  Local Maori tribes apparently found trading with the Europeans advantageous, so that when the capital was moved to Auckland, local wars broke out in protest.

Russell
Russell

We spend the morning browsing and window shopping.  There’s a gigantic cruise liner anchored in the bay and the place is buzzing with tourists.  The Pompallier Mission house is a quiet haven at the far end of the beach.

Pompallier Mission
Pompallier Mission

We join in half way though the guide’s talk on how the bible was translated into Maori and printed here in these upstairs rooms.  It’s fascinating to look at the process and to realise that although this is all mechanised now, the principles of making a book remain and that many common sayings come from the print industry.  The museum has assembled working replicas of the equipment used and in some cases original stuff has been restored.  We have lunch before joining our boat tour out to the Hole in the Rock.

Hole in the Rock
Hole in the Rock

There are plenty of Dolphins around, much to the delight of all the tourists.  Last time I was here, doing the full day tour, we were able to swim with them and also spent some time following a pod of 40 Orcas.  No killer whales this time. Sadly the sea is too rough for the boat to sail through the Hole in the Rock but we stop on the beautiful Island of Urupukapuka and walk up the hill for spectacular views of surrounding Islands and beaches.  The boat drops us back at Russell with a voucher for the Pihia ferry.  The girls want to do more shopping and looking, while I go looking for somewhere for dinner.

Urupukapuka

Urupukapuka

Urupukapuka
Urupukapuka

It’s an early start the next day as Cathy and Claire want to look at the Treaty House where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed.  Entrance is free for New Zealand passport holders but as I’ve forgotten o bring mine along, I stay with Lynn and we walk up the road for great views out into the bay.  We’ve now got to drive across this thin part of the country to the Waipoua State Forest and the home of the giant Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta (the god of the forest).  Onwards to the Hokianga harbour and a coffee stop at Opononi where there is a touching story about a tame dolphin that used to play with the children.  It’s the view from the harbour heads which is the spectacular bit here. You come to the view point at the south end of the settlement. You can see the dangerous currents near the mouth of the harbour, swirling around and on the other side, a huge golden sand dune dazzling us in the sunshine.

We have to get the hire car back to Auckland and while the downtown drop would be convenient for catching the Waiheke Ferry. We’re not going to make it before they close, so we have to go to the airport leave the large suitcases at their motel then to the drop off depot, catch their courtesy bus to the terminal, then the bus into town to catch the ferry.  I’ve left my car at the top of the hill where there is free parking, so we have to walk up, pack the hand luggage into my small Rav 4 (it only just fits) and drive to Rocky Bay.

Local Politics in Palmerston North

 

I’m sitting staring out of my glass doors at the rain.  The tail end of cyclone Pam which has devastated Vanuatu has lost intensity and is now raining generously on Waiheke Island and much of the East Coast of New Zealand.  My trees are grateful and the Tuis continue to sing raucously as they voraciously eat the purple Mahoe berries.  It’s time to catch up on a few adventures.

I recently stole a few days to visit Palmerston North.  In New Zealand, Palmerston North is a bit of a joke, being branded the most boring place, so people look at you askance when you tell them you are going there voluntarily.  One of my oldest friends lives there and has led an artistically fulfilled and contented life for over forty years.  I went to Massey University, on the outskirts in the early 70’s and found the adjustment from a small country town to this ‘boring’ city quite manageable, enabling me to progress to Christchurch, Auckland then London.

The Scenic train
The Scenic train

I took the Auckland to Wellington train which leaves three times a week but on a Saturday, there is no ferry from Waiheke early enough, so I had to stay in town.  It’s a comfortable journey, with headphones if you choose to listen to the excellent commentary, pointing out interesting views and local history along the way.

Waikato region
Waikato region
The loop timber milling region
The loop timber milling region
Mount Ruapehu from National Park Station
Mount Ruapehu from National Park Station

There are stunning views from the Waikato area south through the Taupo volcanic plateau and the Tongariro National Park. The volcanoes were clearly visible, with hardly a cloud in the sky.  The journey continued to be spectacular though the ex- timber milling area of the upper Whanganui River and then into the deep ravines of the northern Manawatu.

My friend, Stephen wants to show me the good news first so he took me to see the newly expanded Globe Theatre http://www.globetheatre.co.nz/

He’s very proud of the new space with flexible seating.  There’s also an enlarged café area and space for exhibitions.  This community theatre has been well funded by the local council over the years with top-up fundraising from globe supporters.  It is a universal fact that community arts provisions have their detractors and champions on local councils.  When times are tough, it’s often the arts which get cut first.  It is therefore no surprise when I see some journalistic mischief on the front page of the Manawatu Evening Standard.  There are photos of all the projects the Council is planning to cut and top of the page is the ramp the theatre needs to build to allow disabled access from the auditorium to the café.  I don’t think whoever has suggested this realises that the building will be non-compliant.  But then the Globe has always had its enemies.  While I was there, the Mayoral elections were in full swing and each candidate was promoting their own achievements.  One young candidate, who has consistently tried to block Globe development attempted to claim that its success was due to him.  The interviewer pulled him up sharply.  Needless to say, that candidate did not win the election, but will no doubt live to stick a few more oars in the works.

Plane tree stump on Broadway
Plane tree stump on Broadway

One of the best local council stories I have heard so far, was happening right here in Palmerston North.  Here is my fictional dramatisation of what happened to the Plane trees in Broadway – one of Palmerston North’s main shopping and entertainment streets.

 The Plane Trees of Broadway

 Scene1: Council offices, meeting room

Council official:        We’ve had loadsa complaints about the birds in                                                Broadway at night. (He slides a huge file over the                                                  desk to a councillor)

Councillor 1:             This comes up every year; we’ve got to do                                                             something.

Councillor 2:             What’s the problem? No one goes to Broadway at                                          night, it’s dead.

Councillor 1:             I do, to the cinema and theatre.  You see, my dear,                                           the birds roost in the trees.

Councillor 2:             Birds tend to roost in trees.

Councillor 1:             If you park your car under one of the trees, it gets                                          covered in bird shit.

Councillor 2:             Don’t park under a tree.

Councillor 1:             Just because you ride a bike, in fact you are the                                                 only one I know who rides a bike around.  All                                                      those cycle lanes we put in, just for you.

Councillor 2:             Don’t be silly, lots of students cycle in the term                                                time.

Councillor 1:             Anyway, they’ll have to come down.

Councillor 2:             Can’t we get a falconer in, or play Shirley Bassey loudly?

Councillor 1:             There would be complaints about both of those                                               suggestions.  No, the only way is to cut them                                                       down.

Council official:        Do you wana do a consultation?

Councillor 1:             No way, there’ll be an environmental protest.                                                     We can’t afford that.

Scene 2

Councillor 1:             We can’t afford that.

Contractor:                Well, we can reduce the price by $xxx,000 if we                                               cut the trees two metres above the ground.

Councillor:                What happens to the stumps, won’t they send                                                    out shoots?

Contractor:              Get the parks department to paint them with                                                      something. They’ll eventually rot away … in time.

Councillor:                Just do it mate.

Scene 3

Arts Councillor:        We are appalled by this decision, done                                                                     without consultation.

Councillor 1:             Well, we can’t put them back now.

Arts Councillor:        They are an eyesore, and there’s already a surge                                               of opinion about this.

Councillor1:              The cutting down of the trees?

Arts Councillor:        Interestingly, no. They’re unhappy about the                                                      ugly stumps.

Councillor1:              What can we do?

Arts Councillor:        It just so happens that the Arts Council has                                                          discussed this and suggests that the stumps are                                                turned into works of art?

Councillor 1:             Art?

Arts Councillor:        Yes, we suggest either commissioning a wood                                                    carver or an artist to paint the trunks. It could re-                                            vitalise Broadway.

Councillor1:              Have you done a costing?

Arts Councillor:        Yes we have, it’ll be $xxx,000.

Councillor 1:             Do you have funding for this?

Arts Councillor:        No, we thought you should fund this.  Could be a                                              good re-election move.

Councillor 1:             (Head in hands) I’ll have to go to finance and get                                                 back to you on this.

The end – or not

20150208_104301
the Lido – still looking good and shorter than I remember

I enjoyed Palmerston North. The drive around my old university grounds to marvel at the changes; training at the Lido where I swam as a student preparing for the inter-varsity meet; watching a powerful live recording of The Crucible from the Old Vic in London; a French movie and a great Thai meal all made the journey worthwhile.  Of course the connection with old friends is always a delight.  The flight home gave me a fantastic aerial view of Mount Taranaki and the West Coast.