september 10, 2000
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The weekend was spent seeing some of the natural beauty north of Auckland, with thanks to Mark from UNITEC who was my driver and tour guide.
On Saturday we toured the Waitakere Range, a large area north and west of Auckland. The majority of this area is preserved as a regional park. The day started gheavy with grey, rain threatening clouds. Our first stop, importantly enough, was for a cup of coffee in Titirangi ("Tears of the Gods"), a hilly residental area a few miles from UNITEC. A short drive up a hill led to the top of Mount Atkinson. On a clear day it would have been a spectacular view of Auckland City and Manukau harbor.
Next was a visit to the visitors center for the Waitakere Regional Park. "Arataki" means "pathway to learning" and the center features a vast collection of educational displays, not to mention commanding views. The front of the building features a prominent pole of Maori carving, honoring the god who is the guardian of the forests.
Nearby the center is a nature trail that takes us down through what trulky is a tropical forest, dense with wet trees, ferns, palms, and such. The trail leads to a stand of Kauri trees, the "Sequoia" giants of New Zealand. These wide girth trees can be hundreds of years old, and their thick trunks rise uniformly, straight up before exploding as a crown of leaves.
Most of the Kauri trees were felled be eager European settlers, who as boat builders and industrious buggers had chopped most of the great trees by the early 1900s. Let's hear it for progress!
today's photos - all photos o o o o
o o Waitakere Range
o o Tiritiri Matangi
After that it was more driving until we dropped down to the quaint town oh Piha, home of Piha Beach, a black sand strip with some world class surfer waves (I would now know first hand, I read that in a book ;-) The town is mostly cliff hugging homes, some that would take your breath away. We stopped in at the Piha store to get local lunch, a greasy bag of fish and chips. Yum!
Next, we hiked up the trail on Lion Rock, the huge volcanic rump that sticks out of the sand. Sadly, we could not walk all the way up since the upper 1/4 was washed out. But the trail certainly provided some excellent views of the beach and the hills above town.
The last stop was a trail to Cascade Falls, which was a water fall that pretty much eluded us. At the end of the trail it was supposed to be were some huge boulders blocking a narrow entrance. With some climbing around, the falls could be barely seen and are really tucked away beyond its narrow rock entrance. But like everything else today, the trees and plants along the jungle trail made it all worth the walk.
After a long day of driving and sightseeing, I joined Mark's family for another home cooked meal. And I even watched and learned a little about the game of rugby.
Sunday morning brought a better looking sky and a god day for an island trip. Today's destination is the nature sanctuary on the small island Tiritiri Matangi. This island has some of the more endangered birds from New Zealand and preserves them on this island that is kept free of the predators that have endangered them elsewhere.
Mark picks me up in the morning and we drive north of Auckland on the "motorway", through rolling green countryside until we approach Whangaaparoa and then follow this peninsula east through areas of newer homes and shops, all clinging the green hills and vying for views and proximity to the sea.
We park at the boat laden Gulf Harbour Marina, and purchase our tickets. A ferry will take us on a 20 minute boat ride to reach the island. The air is crisp and refreshing from the upper deck seats.
Once at the island, we get a greeting an overview from a salty old gent who lives on the island as one its stewards. Then we are sent out in smaller groups with our tour guides, all volunteers who devote time to supporting the island. Our path is northwest along the coast, past Hobbs Beach, named for the family that had farmed here through the 1970s.
The route we take next is uphill via the Kawerau Track, a boardwalk trail that winds through a thick dense, moist forest. Here we see a large number of birds such as saddleback, fantail, whitehead, quail, tui, and the large wood pigeon which flies fearlessly through the thick trees. We hear even more from the bellbird, stitchbird, and more tuis. All it takes is to sit still, wait, and listen. The birds are not too fearful of us humans (though given our history, maybe they should!).
After a good hour and half of taking in birds and such, we reach the ridge top trail and cross east back to the visitors center near the lighthouse. This lighthouse was put up in 1865 and was at times a critical navigation guide for boats. Xenon lights installed in the 1950s made it the brightest in the southern hemisphere, they say. During World War II defenses were constructed here as well. Now the lighthouse is dimmed a bit, and is fully automated. Two lighthouse keeper cottages are used by the people that watch over the island now. It is a nice place to set up home!
The other important residents here are the wildly colored takahe birds. These large, lumbering birds were not accustomed to predators before European settlers and were quickly decimated by mammals introduced by the settlers. One thought completely extinct, an isolated colony was found on the South Island, and currently 200 are left in the world, 20 of them here at Tiritiri Matangi.
After eating lunch in the little seating area and picking up some postcards and trinkets at the gift shop (all proceeds support the conservation efforts), we explored the rugged views from the coastal trail that winds along the northern coast. The brush here is not as thick as the Kawerau Track, but we still encounter numerous tui, saddleback, and some larger green parakeets.
The last part of the day is walking down the Wattle Track, another lush area rich with birds life. "Wattle" are trees that actually came from Australia, and I was told they grow like weeds. The upper part of the track is dominated by the palm like "cabbage trees".
At one spot we stop to sit in front of a water feeder and wait for the show to start. This was the highlight of the day, as for five minutes it was a frenzy of bird activity, with a pair of saddlebacks flitting above, and a set of 4 or 5 tuis and bellbirds that took turns or shared dipping in and out of the water. The sound of the tuis is hard to describe, but it resonates, and sometimes is like someone blowing across a glass bottle, other times a crackling warble, and other times a series of clicks and whistles. We were told they excel at imitating sounds, even the mewing of cats.
After this it was a brisk wind whipped ferry boat ride back to "civilization". I would most highly recommend a visit to Tiritiri Matangi, even if you are not much into bird watching- the place is a gem.
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