New Zealand 2020 – Part 9

The past couple of days have been a mixture of culture, friendship and memory lane. As Tuesday dawned rather grey and uncertain, we decided to find something to do that was inside rather than out, so we set off for the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The museum is an imposing building within a tranquil park, which has beautiful views of the harbour. Since 1929 it was also served as a place of remembrance for the many New Zealander’s who have sacrificed their lives in war.

New Zealanders take their history in combat very seriously and choose to honour the memories of the sacrifices made by so few, for so many. Therefore, every year on ANZAC Day, there is a very well attended dawn parade service at the cenotaph, which stands on consecrated ground.

We spent most of our time there browsing the Maori collection. For me, the highlights of this were the wharenui, which is the Maori name for a ‘big house’ – more commonly known as a whare. And the waka. The whare is a communal house, generally situated as the focal point of a marae, which is a fenced in complex of buildings that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapu (sub-tribe), or whanau (family). It is very much a place of belonging for the Maori people. Wakas are Maori watercraft, usually canoes, variously used for fishing, travel and for war. They are often beautiful and ornately carved.

I was curious as to why the museum had hung a map of NZ on the wall, on its side, rather than the ‘right way up’. As we looked further around the exhibits, we came across a digital depiction of Captain Cook’s mapping of the country in 1769, and it is clear that he arrived from the east, first stopping on the east coast of the North Island. Therefore, Aotearoa – The Land of the Long White Cloud – would have been seen from this angle! It was quite interesting to have my perception of the shape of NZ so challenged!

There were many beautiful things to see in the museum.

One thing I really liked was that there was free entry for Aucklanders, and that New Zealander’s from elsewhere were invited to make donations. The only fixed charge was for tourists, and I did not have a problem with paying for the privilege of going there. I think it is such a good idea to make the treasures of the museum as accessible as possible for the local people.

After leaving the museum, we went onto the Winter Gardens, further down the Domain. Despite their name, they were actually full of wonderful summer flowers! Such a spectacular show of colour!

In the grounds of the Domain, an old tree was particularly eye catching, as it seemed to take on a tangled, animated life of its own, sprawling its way across the grass.

The next day the blue skies returned, and I revisited some old haunts, spending some time in Devonport and Takapuna.

Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano, which last saw active service some 800 years ago. It is still an imposing sight, standing resolute in the Hauraki Gulf. People may come and go, but Rangitoto remains steadfast. If the old island could talk, I’m sure it would have many interesting tales to tell!

I particularly enjoyed seeing the old colonial style houses that can be found all over NZ, but especially in this part of Auckland.

My time in NZ is going way too fast. I am already over half way through my stay. Perhaps by the end of it, I will feel ready to go home. But then again…

New Zealand 2020 – Part 8

Another day, another waterfall, another beach!

Today I went to the west Auckland town of Piha. Our first stop was the Kitekite Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the Waitakere Ranges. Due to current problems with kauri die-back, NZ’s most famous, and mighty tree is experiencing all sorts of ill health, including root rot, bleeding resin, defoliation and ultimately mortality. As a result, all public entry to the bush is being monitored, and everyone has to ensure their shoes are clean as they both enter and leave the bush. To facilitate this, there are purpose built ‘turnstiles’ through which all visitors must go. First you scrape your shoes on a bristly brush. Then, you step on a footplate that dips the bottom of your shoe into disinfectant. It doesn’t take long, and people seem to be happy to comply, which isn’t surprising. Anything that we can do to help minimise, and hopefully eradicate, the die-back should be wholeheartedly supported!

Once we had cleared immigration (!), we started the walk up to the falls. The track had some parts boardwalk, but mostly it was the kind of uneven ground that would be expected in the bush.

I was glad to see some young kauri was thriving. When I say young, perhaps 100-200 years old.

The climb to the falls gradually became steeper. To the left of the track, the ground fell steeply away, which was an incentive to be sure to look where you were going!

We could hear the falls before we could see them, but when we got to the point on the track where we could catch the first glimpse, it was spectacular!

We then began a descent to the foot of the falls, which was quite busy with other people. Some were swimming in the pool at the bottom of the falls. Others were exploring the rocks around about. I dipped a toe into the pool. It was quite cold! I was definitely not one of the hardy souls who were happy to dive straight in – or indeed, dive in at all!

You can walk from here another track to the top of the falls, but we felt we had already seen the best of Kitekite (original Maori name being Ketekete), so we retraced our steps back to the start. Along the way we were rewarded by seeing a fantail, flitting around the bush. It had its tail properly fanned out and was a delight to behold! I was told that fantails have a life span of only three years and that probably because of this, for Maori’s, they are a sign of death.

After a brief lunch break, we went to South Piha beach, which in common with Raglan is a world famous surfing beach. There seemed to be a surf school going on at the southern most end of the beach, as a constant stream of wet-suited, board-carrying people of all ages made their way into the sea. Also like Raglan, it has black, volcanic sand which today was scorching underfoot! We took the foot friendly route along the estuary to the main beach, where the wet sand was easier (and much cooler!) to navigate.

Standing in the middle of South Piha, the iconic Lion Rock, which juts proudly into the sea, was to our right. It really was an impressive sight.

This was the busiest I had yet seen a NZ beach, but there was still plenty of space and you didn’t feel like you were right on top of your neighbours. Lifeguards were on duty and swimming was only permitted between the flags. It didn’t take long to work out why. There were many different currents operating in the bay – some pulling left to right, some pushing in from the sea and others dragging you out and, if you weren’t careful, sucking you under.

We spent quite a while out in the surf, bodyboarding back to the shore. It was such fun! But I was also aware of how far ‘off course’ the tide would take me and was very grateful for the watchful presence of the lifeguards.

What a truly awesome place!

One thing I have learned about the black sand of Piha is that it likes to stick around long after the visit has been made. This sand does NOT want to leave your clothes, or your skin! But it was such a beautiful, fun, worthwhile visit and I would highly recommend it!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 7

Today I visited Maraetai Beach – a place I used to go to a lot back in the day. It has changed very little in the 20 years since I have been there, although the parking is a little more organised these days and, of course, there are way more houses than ever there was. It seems that NZ has expanded quite rapidly during the past ten years or so. I suppose the same could be said for many places, but it seems particularly obvious in a land where there used to be so much, well, land!

It was a sparkling day, with a bright blue sky, punctuated by fluffy white clouds.

The water shimmered in various shades of turquoise, while across the water, Waiheke Island framed the view with lush greens.

After lunch at the Maraetai Wharf Store, we went for a stroll along the beach.

We saw two wakas, which belonged to the Maketu Marae, which oddly enough is a little bit further south of Raglan, where I was the other day!

They were directly across the road from the Umupuia Marae, so I assume they were visiting for a while.

It was another lovely trip down memory lane/beach. What a privilege it is to be here.

New Zealand 2020 – Part 3

Today has been a day of four distinct quarters.

This morning, I had the great pleasure of reacquainting myself with some friends made over 30 years ago, and have not seen since 1990. I surprised them by turning up at their church and waiting at the entrance for them to arrive. I was rewarded by a huge smile and the words, ‘I know you! It’s Katrina!’, before being wrapped up in the first of several enormous hugs.

This lovely lady made me feel like the most special thing to have happened to her in a long while and as we chatted, she told me she had always considered me a special person and often thought of me over the years.

The older I get, the more I am of the opinion that amassing great fortunes, or having expensive things is NOT what we are put on this earth to do, and will ultimately leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled. However, to touch the hearts of others, and to love and be loved, is precisely what we were designed to do.

I came away from that meeting feeling humbled, but also lifted up. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I am nothing if not contrary!

After lunch, we drove out of Papakura to the Hunua Falls. As a much younger person, I used to come to this place reasonably often, and I knew exactly what to expect. However, I was surprised by the large number of people who had a similar idea. Back in the day, it was a much less well beaten track!

In the winter months, and after heavy rain, the falls increase in width to span the whole of the top of the falls. In the summer, however, it is a thinner ribbon of white. That being said, it still lets out a mighty roar as the water rushes inexorably over the edge.

We took a short walk through the surrounding bush. The lush New Zealand foliage did not disappoint.

The sky was overcast, but became increasingly, and unusually dark. As we left, an eerie yellow hue had crept into the shadows, giving everything a sepia stain. The tragic reason for this is the terrible bush fires that have been ravaging Australia since last November. The whole of Auckland and many of its outer reaches had been affected by a plume of smoke which had traveled thousands of kilometres and which had blocked the sun and filtered out the blue light in the spectrum.

While the strange skies we were experiencing were a little unsettling (especially for the wildlife), it was nothing compared to the horror the Australian people are going through, and a reminder to take nothing in life for granted.

In the late afternoon, I drove from Papakura to Cambridge to visit some ex-pat English friends. Years ago, I regaled them with too many stories of how wonderful New Zealand is, and after a while they took me at my word and decided to emigrate! England’s loss is New Zealand’s gain – and has the added advantage of an extra reason (if one were needed) to come back to visit!

I enjoyed the drive down, and had to chuckle at some of the road names that I feel could only be found in this brilliant country!

It definitely lived up to its name!

When is a box not just a box..?

Sometimes you come across the most unlikely examples of human kindness and ingenuity, that it rekindles your hope for the long term prospects of all of us.

I am currently spending some time in the small, South Auckland town of Papakura. I lived here, many years ago, and am experiencing a weird sense of familiarity alongside change. I kind of belong here, but then again, I really don’t. Mind you, thanks to a transitory childhood/ early adulthood, that seems to be the story of my life!

Papakura has put into place a fabulously cool idea of communal gardens, in boxes, where its people are invited to pick from a selection of fresh herbs and vegetables. You can find the boxes dotted all around the town.

They call them ‘Urban Edibles.’

I call the people who have made this amazing idea into a reality ‘Urban Legends’!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 2

After arriving yesterday, and having slept for 11 beautiful hours, today I went with some of my friends from Papakura, where I am staying, to Devonport on the North Shore of Auckland.

We took a detour to Takapuna on the way, and the place where I lived for four years after first arriving in New Zealand. The navy housing in that area is gradually being demolished and the land redeveloped, but I was pleased to find my old house is still standing and although it looks quite sorry for itself, I regarded it with much fondness.

We took the ferry across to the city. The sea was quite choppy, but the journey was surprisingly smooth. It was slightly overcast, and there was some light rain, but we were soon city side.

Due to the earthworks going on in downtown Auckland, which will see a new rail network (including some underground routes) linking parts of Auckland together, the route to Queen Street was a little hampered. But we managed to get through, and spent a couple of happy hours wandering up one side of the street, and then down the other.

We went as far as Aotea Square, where we also stopped for lunch at a burger place called ‘Carl’s Jnr’.

I was really pleased to see the iconic Farmers Santa still smiling down on all Aucklanders, as I understand there is some doubt about how many more years he will be a Christmas feature. I hope it’s for a long time to come!

The journey back to Devonport saw bright, sunny skies and we sat on the outside upper deck, which gave great views of the city as we retreated from it.

Back in Devonport, we had a little look around. It’s such a pretty place, with small independent shops and cafes lining the street. I was particularly struck by a very large and unusual tree next to the library. It is a Moreton Bay fig tree (Australian, I think) and was planted in 1883. I’d like to think it will still be there in another 137 years!

On the way back to Papakura, we stopped at Sylvia Park, a large shopping mall in Mt Wellington, where amongst other things, I had my first experience of frozen coke!

It was such a lovely way to kick off my NZ trip. I can’t wait for the adventures to follow!