Te Ara Hura (Path of Discovery) is a new walking promotional idea to attract visitors to the island. It’s mostly an amalgamation of existing tracks, and there are many, linked by roads and some new tracks, to create a round-the-island walk. Doing the whole lot might take 2-3 days, so I’m setting off with my British friend Ros, to dip into parts of Te Ara Hura before she meets up with her serious walking partner to take on more challenging parts of New Zealand.
We start off locally at Rocky Bay, walking down the hill to Kuakara Bay where there is a picnic area with a sculpture and a new children’s playground. We climb up the steep stepped path around the cliffs and down into the deserted bays which make up the Te Whau peninsular. There are still some late Pohutukawa trees in flower, adding some red to the ocean blues and forest greens. We’ve taken advantage of the cool morning, but by the time we reach Te Whau Drive, which runs along the peninsular ridge, it’s blazing hot.
We dip down to Okoka, aka Dead Dog Bay where once many years ago a small boy reported a dead dog on the beach. We then climb up to a little-used track which skirts around the houses nestled in the bush and emerge on Bella Vista, almost back where we started. After an afternoon snooze, it’s time to cool off in the high tide at Rocky Bay.
I notice in the local papers that free guided twilight walks ending in a sausage sizzle, have been arranged on Tuesdays, so I set Ros down at Little Oneroa to join in a walk of northern beaches, while I take the ferry to swimming training in Auckland. On Wednesday it’s Rotoroa Island so we drive along the island to Orapiu and catch the Auckland to Coromandel ferry. Rotoroa is only twenty minutes away, barely enough time for a cup of tea. Still, we manage to get to know Christine, another Rocky Bay resident. She hasn’t seen me before, so is surprised to learn that I live just up the road from her. Another connection is made.
Rotoroa is a small island once owned by the Salvation Army. General Booth made several visits to New Zealand and chose this island as a drying out place. Drunks were picked up on the streets of Auckland, brought over by boat where they sobered up to find themselves in a cell to dry out. There was little opportunity to escape as it is too far to swim and of course there was no alcohol to be had. The accommodation catered for men and women and there is a well curated museum near the pier, telling the story of the almost self sufficient farm which used the inmates/patients as labour. The island had been cleared of trees to graze stock, but now a trust has taken it over and thousands of native trees have been planted by volunteers. We walk around the island along well made tracks and everywhere there are Wekas.
These are chicken-sized brown birds which are very tame and amusing. Being ground dwellers, they thrive in this predator free environment. Recently Kiwis have been released here, so hopefully they will multiply, but as they are nocturnal, won’t be as evident as the Wekas.
We find ourselves at Men’s Bay, presumably so-named because the male inhabitants would swim here. It’s very hot and we are grateful to cool off in the sea before continuing on around the island to North Tower where we can get a panoramic view of nearby islands, including Waiheke.
We descend to look at the island cemetery, perched on a promontory. It contains staff and patients. We end up at Ladies Bay which is in fact just around from Men’s Bay and cut off at high tide. We’ve brought lunch and sit on a grassy bank eating sandwiches and enjoying the beautiful and dramatic beach.
The ferry returning from Coromandel, collects us after we’ve been counted out by the deputy conservation officer. She had counted us all on to the island and given us an introductory talk.
We chat to Christine on the way back – she’s been in Coromandel to shop for the day and is loaded with bargains. When we disembark and the ferry this just leaving, she exclaims ‘Where is my Daughter.’
‘How old is she?’ I ask.
‘Forty’ is her answer.
The ferry is hailed and stops just in time to let two women off. They had been unaware that we had arrived.
On Thursday I decide to take Ros on the ‘Friends of Dorothy’ route from the November walking festival. It’s another scorching day, lucky that we’ve set out early. We start at Oneroa Beach where there is a very high tide and then up along the high coastal paths and beautiful bays, all the way around the headlands to the ferry port at Matiatia.
On the way we pass some dramatic and architecturally impressive houses, presumably owned by the super rich. The following week we do the biennial Headland sculpture walk, beginning at Matiatia and ending at Church Bay. Four years ago I was a volunteer, but arrived on the island too late this time to get involved.
This year everyone is bussed to Church Bay and pointed the other way, ending up in the massive marquee where you can look at and buy sculpture, listen to bands and taste Waiheke food and wine. It’s a retail opportunity. It suits us to start off at the Marquee and walk the other way – it’s less congested. As usual there’s a range of exhibits for all tastes. A trail of wooden Maori figures emerging from the sea and coming ashore to be buried in the sand represents the sculptor’s loss. He had twin boys, one of whom died at birth and was scattered at sea. Small brightly coloured bundles of plastic cable clips cover objects hung like litter in the trees. Gigantic silver-like dandelions impose on a promontory.
There’s a dramatic mirror installation that reflects according to where you stand while the only traffic lights on the island (so far) are spaced throughout the walk and change colour. At night you notice them from the ferry and hopefully no one has confused them for nautical port and starboard lights. James Bond takes a selfie while telegraph T bars and cables are arranged like string instruments with sound effects to match.
The winning sculpture has been attacked overnight so we are not able to judge it and there’s another one which has been destroyed by the wind. Right at the end, which is really the beginning there’s a sound sculpture which requires my mobile to scan a bar-code. I can never get these things to work and suddenly can’t be bothered. The volunteer sitting under a gazebo tells us we’re walking ‘the wrong way’. It was apparently designed to be enjoyed ‘the other way’.
‘No, it’s not the “wrong way”, just another way of looking at it,’ I respond. I’m getting quite cross, particularly as we enjoyed ‘the wrong way’.
I’ve wanted to go to Rangitoto for some time, and this is the perfect opportunity. The island is a dormant volcano, a mere 600 years old, with a classically shaped cone. I pass it every time I take the Waiheke ferry. Today we have to go all the way to downtown Auckland and then get another boat to Rangitoto. There used to be quite a community here but new batches have not been permitted since the 40’s so only a few remain and the place is now a wildlife sanctuary. You can take a tour in carriages pulled by a tractor, up to a walkway leading to the summit, but we opt to go by foot up the dark grey pumice track.
There are still great areas of lava which has only been colonised by lichens. It’s a perfect example of ecological succession which should eventually end up as forest. The closer we get to the top, the more established the bush. Everywhere are mature Pohutukawas which must look amazing in December. We take a detour to walk through lava tunnels. The map guide provided on the boat, recommends us to bring a torch. Lucky that I’ve managed to find the light widget on my phone and that the battery is charged.
The Views of the mainland from the crater rim are fantastic, with the city of Auckland nestled away to the South West. We descend onto the wooden walk-way and take a westerly track. It takes an hour on a hard and hot pumice road to reach McKenzie Bay.
By this time we are melting and gratefully plunge into the sea. A few others have gravitated to this beautiful beach. There’s a yacht anchored in the bay and suddenly two old guys appear, get into a tender and row ashore. They have a net and proceed to sort it our on the front of the tender. One of them rows out and round in a semi-circle, returning further along the beach. They have caught quite a few small fish which they tell me will be used for bait to catch snapper. They offer some to me and other on the beach, but I have nothing to carry them in or any way of keeping them cool on the journey back to Waiheke. It’s another hour or so to walk back to the pier past the historic batch sites and the few remaining ones in good repair. It’s been a lot of hard walking, but worth it.
Ros’ walking friend, Michael arrives and I drive them to Awaawaroa to walk over the hill to Te Mauku. Later I collect them at the other end as there is no public transport on that part of the island. The big walk is from Rocky Bay down to Whakanewha, past the endangered Dotterills on the beach and then up though the most amazing forest, much of it Nikau Palms. This is the coast to coast walk I did in November in pouring rain. Today is sunny and hot and I’m glad to be in the shade of the forest for most of the time. We stop at Peackock Sky winery for coffee and then continue down though the Onetangi Reserve, looking at Kauri trees and then to the beach where we can have a late lunch. Michael is impressed by the Waiheke walks, which is a bit of a relief. He’s also quite impressed by the beer in New Zealand. They go off to explore Northland the next day leaving me a couple of weeks to get ready for the next lot of visitors.