The Kiwi Chronicles- Day 5 Part 3

…As we wrapped up the morning leg of the tour, we changed from our minivan to a bigger bus where we met our guide, Kevin, and other tourists who had signed up for the wilderness part of the tour – two old American ladies who were not up for walking much, a quiet Australian, and another mum and daughter pair, also American. Everyone was lovely and chatty, exchanging pleasantries till our first and most important stop…lunch. Lunch was at a bakery, the pies of which Kevin swore by. We sampled a bit of the warm vegetable pie, but with a long day to go and my tummy’s abysmal track record, I decided on a  safer alternative – a banana, salted crisps and a nibble of the cake we’d picked from a Japanese bakery opposite our hotel.

We drove from the Pacific coast all the way across to the Tasman coast. Our destination was the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park , a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the city of Auckland. What I found rather amazing was how incredibly close everything is, it’s just about an hour’s drive from the heart of Auckland to the ranges which is way shorter than my work commute used to be! At the ranges, we took a tour of the Arataki Visitor Centre, picked up some souvenirs (I admit I’m a sucker for 3D puzzles and now I’m into wooden puzzles).

Arataki Visitor Centre

Arataki Visitor Centre

But for me, more than the visitor centre which is trying to preserve the Maori heritage, I was drawn by the splendid view, made even more splendid by the clear day which meant we had visibility all the way till Sky Tower. It really means something else to live on an island…surrounded by all that water. Here we learnt how Auckland is pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to their water supply- being blessed with good rainfalls, Auckland’s dams, like the one in the Waitakere, provide upto 80% of the city’s water. Coming from a desert, albeit with beaches in every emirate, I find it surreal to be surrounded by all this water.

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

We enjoyed the view with the help of some handmade vanilla ice-cream and strawberry syrup in a yummy waffle cone (Danish Delight- you can’t miss it) and then made our way to the Karekare Falls. The road leading to Karekare reminded me of the road up to Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka – being narrow, winding, two way with speeds to thrill, but it was not dizzying which is a definite plus! Now I almost didn’t get to see the waterfall, because mum was scared off by Kevin’s warning of a steep initial climb down. She finally relented when Kevin said he errs on the side of caution and was exaggerating how steep it was…and so I got to see my first waterfall ever and what a fall it is.

Karekare Falls

Karekare Falls

Surrounded by greenery, faced with a waterfall with a sound to calm your soul, and a bench to sit on, I was ready to pitch tent here as another place I’d love to live. In the rock face off towards the left, you can in fact spot some houses and I couldn’t wonder what it would be like to live in a place so remote. It wasn’t easy to part with Karekare but since getting left behind is not an option, we had to move on, this time towards Piha, with its famous black sand beach with a diversion first into the rainforest.

As we headed into the rainforest, we had to first disinfect our shoes. Kevin explained that the Kauri were currently being faced with a disease called dieback which spreads through the soil and the root system (I know understood why biocontrol at the airport had been so strict about bringing soiled shoes and equipment into the country). We saw a number of native trees such as the Pohutakawa but the main purpose was to see the stump of a Kauri, a pitiful legacy of an era of logging (30m to the first branch…they probably felt like they had stumbled across a goldmine). The size of the stump itself was so big that you had to wonder just how magnificent the whole tree would have looked. Just thinking that made me feel upset, so I opted not to take a picture with the stump, as many tourists do, simply because it felt cruel to smile next to silent dead stump.

We left the rainforest and continued towards Piha. The first view of Piha is stunning, with the imposing Lion Rock standing guard, but it is nothing compared to actually being on the beach itself.

First glimpse of the black sand beach

First glimpse of the black sand beach

It was so incredibly sunny that day that trying to take a picture to capture just how black the sand was, was a lost cause, which was not necessarily  a bad thing because it meant we had more time to enjoy ourselves and take everything in. The black sands are comprised chiefly of iron and titanium and glittered in the sun as far as the eye could see. It was as though someone had liberally sprinkled glitter all over the beach. It was a relief to know that no one has yet figured out how to separate the titanium from the sand… when that day comes I wonder if Piha will stay the same.

Lion Rock on Piha Beach

Lion Rock on Piha Beach

And while it was sunny, it was equally cold, with bracing winds which meant we couldn’t stay out for too long, but it was a sight I’m not likely to soon forget. I wish I lived here point three of this tour. As we wrapped up at Piha, we were taken to one final stop… to see a living Kauri. I cannot decide what made me sadder, seeing the stump of the Kauri, or seeing this magnificent Kauri surrounded by none of its kind. We had to see the Kauri from an elevated platform, further precaution to protect the roots by preventing any possible contamination). There is one thing I found decidedly spooky about this place…the absolute silence. Where are all the animals I wonder? No sound of a bird, no rustle of leaves, no insect to swat away… nothing but a forest seemingly without residents.

Lone Kauri Standing

Lone Kauri Standing

As we headed back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but think of what Kevin told us of how native animals have been pushed to the brink of extinction thanks to the introduction of cats, dogs, rats, pigs and possum.

I wrapped up the day at the conference banquet were I met a Saudi from Um Al Qura University and a very Jet-Li kind of Chinese assistant professor working in Singapore. I was glad to have met each of them for different reasons. Mr. Chinese was very well-travelled and gave me a top tip, that if travelling to China, I should not miss out on the 6 hour climb up Mt. Hunashan in Hefei to see the Sea of Clouds, a feat he had accomplished three times. Mr. Saudi was flying out on the first day of Ramadan, and I was flying out on the second. When I told him I was concerned how I would be able to fast… in a word, he was able to make everything okay – Rahma.

And with that I had to get ready for Day 6, also known as the Day of the Presentation.

The Kiwi Chronicles- Day 5 Part 2

…and so we left the war memorial and moved down to the Winter Gardens. The gardens house two greenhouses separated by a pool on the corners of which are 4 statues, representing each of the four seasons. The first greenhouse housed all sorts of flowers and the second was a hot house for tropical plants.

Winter Garden Greenhouse

Winter Garden Greenhouse

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Corpse Flower

We were lucky, or unlucky, I can’t decide which, to be there just as the Corpse Flower was starting to blossom. The last time it blossomed, over 17000 people came to see it, braving its rotting smell. Not being too fond of the smell of rotting meat, we passed on coming back to see it in full bloom and finally left the warm and toasty Austen-like greenhouse to head to Devonport’s popular landmark- Mt. Victoria also known as Takarunga

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Postcard worthy views of Auckland

Up on the freezing Mt. Victoria (well, it really was freezing at that point), is an old disappearing gun installed for fear of pending Russian invasion (which obviously never happened). The gun, Dawn told us, was only fired once – a test round- after citizen’s complained of the sound. As we drove around Devonport we came across the Michael King Writers’ Centre, a great place for writers to find inspiration, we mutually concluded. Devonport has some great shops but we were pressed for time and instead headed towards Westhaven (which coupled as our toilet break). It was there that we finally realized how aptly named Auckland is, as the City of Sails, with almost everyone owning a sailboat. Incidentally, Auckland also has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world.

Westhaven Marina

Westhaven Marina

Auckland Harbour Bridge

Auckland Harbour Bridge

We got a great view of the Auckland Harbour bridge but were not daredevil enough to try the bungee jump. If I’m not jumping of Sky Tower towards a concrete pavement I’m not jumping of a bridge into the deep blue either. They have the option of a bridge climb too which looks like a much safer albeit less thrilling option.

This was the last stop before the wilderness tour in the afternoon and we made our way back after passing Kelly Tarton’s Sea Life Aquarium which we were amazed to learn was an aquarium built using unused underground sewage tanks. Who would ever imagine that such a place would house penguins one day!

Stay tuned for Day 5- Part 3

The Kiwi Chronicles- Day 5 Part 1

Also known as The Day Of The Full Day Tour. It’s really quite cruel when an alarm forces you to get out of your warm and cozy bed, but time it was to get ready for the trip. We started off with nice hot showers and an early attempt at breakfast. We stocked up on our snacks (mostly crisps and water because we weren’t quite sure what lunch would entail), together with our raincoats (which we forgot we had brought along on the trip) and were all set to go. We thought the tour had been booked with GrayLine but as in turns out the hotel had booked us with Bush and Beach, which turned out to be a good thing in the end. The morning city tour ended up being a private tour with our lovely English guide, Dawn, who had backpacked to New Zealand with the intention of staying for 3 months, only to end up staying there for about 28 years. It’s funny how things turn out.

Dawn was amazing enough to swap out our Queen’s section of the tour since we’d pretty much been everywhere. Instead, we started of with some fabulous views of the city. After yesterday’s umbrella incident, we were worried that it might turn out to be another cloudy day but we were incredibly lucky. While it was freezing cold, there was not a single trace of a cloud which meant visibility was absolutely stunning.

Sky Tower- always there to help find your bearings

Islands basking in the sun

From the deep blue so close to touch, we moved up to Achilles Point. There’s one thing about Auckland that I’ve got to point out here… every view seems decidedly better than the last, so much so that you’re hard pressed to pick a favourite. It was the same with Achilles Point- yet another place on my long list of “Ooooh let’s live here” places.

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A fine white line between blue and even blue-r

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To dive and swim off…

But since we couldn’t live there, we were forced to move on towards Parnell. Parnell is a world apart from Queen’s and Albert Street. While those places were packed with people on the move, Parnell had more of a laid back small-town feel, with cozy homes turned-shops and cafes lining the streets. It was not always such a place and the story of its transformation made it all the more charming.

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Anyone up for coffee?

It was at Parnell’s that we came across St. Mary’s Church, one of the oldest wooden churches, and known for two things. It’s first distinction is that it was lifted from its original location and moved across the street to accommodate some fancy new housing development. The second is that this is where Sir Edmund Hillary’s service was held.

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St. Marys Church in Parnell

Reminded that the main religion in New Zealand is actually rugby, we then headed to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Despite the schoolchildren on their trip, the mood was sombre…Lest We Forget.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget

We may never forget, but are our memories enough to stop us from repeating the same mistakes? It would appear not and that makes all the difference.

Stay tuned for Day 5 Part 2