Along the Away

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Archive for July, 2014

Along the Away NZ Trip Map Bay of Islands

The next stop on my Kiwi travels was the Bay of Islands, on the north coast of the North Island. I travelled up on a backpacker bus which was good as we stopped a couple of places along the way.

The McKinney Kauri Tree in Parry Kauri Park is estimated to be over 800 years old! It’s 125 metres tall and 25 metres around – a bit too wide to fit my arms around!

McKinney Kauri Tree

 

We stopped at Whangarei Falls where it was drizzling with rain, but luckily I had my new goretex rain jacket with me. It was an expensive splurge (even at less than half price in the Kathmandu sale) but worth it.

Haruru Falls Selfie

There is a circular track that took less than 30 minutes to walk with a view of the falls from the top and then from down below.

 

Whangarei Falls

 

The falls drop 26.3 metres!

Whangarei Falls

 

Look how lush and green the forest is, just beautiful.

Haruru Falls

We got back on board the bus and continued on our way to the town of Paihia, a handy spot from which to explore the Bay of Islands. I had read about an overnight cruise around the islands called Rock the Boat which sounded like a lot of fun so I booked it in while still in Australia, but then I arrived to a wet and windy scene… and the news the boat had sprung a leak! It’a always disappointing when travel plans don’t pan out, but there’s always usually a bright side to find and in this case I’m glad that I wasn’t on the boat while the weather raged (bad) or when it sprung the leak (very bad).

Paihia

In hindsight maybe the Bay of Islands would best be left to the summer months when the weather is dryer and the water more inviting, however despite the wild start the weather did fine up enough the next day to head out on a cruise around the islands with our eyes peeled for dolphins. The ocean was too rough to go out past the bay so we missed seeing the famous ‘hole in the rock’ but dolphins we did see!

Bay of Islands map

The important question one must ask oneself when returning from an outdoorsy coastal holiday is ‘how many dolphin photos can one person take, seriously?’ The answer is ‘freaking hundreds’. Most of them random shots of water with maybe a hint of a shadow of a dolphin under the surface. After a massive photo purge, I still really want to show these ones.

Look how beautiful the mist looks in the trees on this island, with the first sighting of dolphins in the water.

Bay of Islands Dolphins

And then they came closer! Yay!

Bay of Islands Dolphins

Beautiful, graceful, happy dolphins.

Bay of Islands Dolphins

With a baby!

Bay of Islands Dolphins

The skipper spotted a sailing boat moored near one of the islands which is part of a youth support program. Young teens who are selected to be a part of the program live on board the boat for weeks at a time with no phones, junk food or other modern conveniences, while they learn to sail, fish and other life skills.

Bay of Islands youth sailing boat program

 

Our skipper pulled up close to the boat and sounded the horn to wake them all up. He said that sometimes the kids come out on board and will perform the Haka for the cruise boat. We waited awhile and then signs of life appeared. A bunch of happy but shy looking kids came out on board, and three stepped forward and launched into a wonderful display of the traditional Maori war dance. It was really brilliant, and so unexpected!

Bay of Islands youth sailing boat program

We kept on cruising… and we saw more dolphins!

Bay of Islands dolphins

Bay of Islands dolphins

Bay of Islands dolphins

We had the opportunity to jump off the boat at Urupukapuka Island to explore for awhile.

Bay of Islands Seagull

 

Urupukapuka Island

The colour of the water was so beautiful, and constantly changing.

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Island

I headed for a water-logged path that ran past a ramshackle building, through a sweet gate and up a very steep hill.

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Walk

I trudged up to the top and was rewarded with a breathtaking view across the water.

Urupukapuka Island

Back on the boat we started heading back to Paiha where we had started the cruise; finally the sun was out and putting a sparkle on the water for us.

Bay of Islands boat cruise

We were given the option to hop off at the tiny town of Russell if we wanted. I thought it sounded like a quaint place to visit so when we docked I hopped off with a small group. The skipper gave us ferry vouchers so that we could get back to Paiha when we wanted inclusive of the cruise price we’d already paid.

Russell was a really sweet place, but it wasn’t always that way!  This excerpt from the Russell Wikipedia page sums up some of it’s fascinating history:

When European and American ships began visiting New Zealand in the early 1800s, the indigenous Māori quickly recognised there were great advantages in trading with these strangers, whom they called tauiwi. The Bay of Islands offered a safe anchorage and had a high Māori population. To attract ships, Māori began to supply food and timber. What Māori wanted were respect, plus firearms, alcohol, and other goods of European manufacture.Kororāreka developed as a result of this trade but soon earned a very bad reputation, a community without laws and full of prostitution, and became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”.

Given how small and far away it is from everything it is unbelievable to think it was New Zealand’s first capital! It was also home to New Zealand’s first church and pub.

Russell - Bay of Islands

After about an hour we got back on the local ferry and headed the short distance across the water to Paihia. By this time the day was putting on a fine show for us and I can see how beautiful the Bay of Islands must be in the glory of summer.

Bay of Islands cruise

Back at Paiha the clear and sunny afternoon was too tempting to stay indoors so a long walk along the water and beach was called for.

Paihia Beach

Paihia Beach

 

I’m not sure what the story of these totem-like carvings are, but there was a row of them standing in the middle of an large reserve across the road from the beach.

Paihia Totem

I walked around the local library which is housed in a heritage home donated to the town by one of the earliest Anglican missionaries in Paihia.

Paihia Library

The Bay of Islands was a lovely place to visit, but best when the weather is dry and clear enough to enjoy the beautiful sights of the water and islands.

Along the Away NZ Trip Map Auckland

Auckland Arrival

The plane touched down just as the sun was setting so by the time I left the airport it was dark already. I kinda like arriving in a new place when it’s dark, waking up the next morning and everything looking so different from the night before. Like that time I arrived in Bangalore at midnight and had to help my cab driver locate the house I was staying in with street lights far and few in-between. I thought I was staying in some kind of ghetto only to wake up to a sunny, rather posh Indian middle class neighbourhood.

In Auckland I stayed at a backpacker hostel called The Attic, not far off Queen St on Wellesley St W. It has good reviews on Trip Advisor and is in a good location. And it has a pretty awesome cage lift (elevator), the kind where you have to drag open the cage door and close it so the lift will operate!

The Attic Hostel Lift

I opted for a single room here as the rates aren’t much more than the dorms (around the NZ$50 mark) and because I planned on mostly doing my own thing before meeting up with a local friend so I wasn’t looking to make exploring buddies there. The room was simple, clean and comfy, as were the kitchen, bathroom and rec rooms. Special shout-out for the hair dryer and straightener in the girls bathroom, seriously it’s the little things!

Attic Hostel Auckland

I was given a tour by the girl at reception and everyone was really friendly. I’d definitely recommend The Attic for any Auckland stayers – it didn’t feel party-like (though I was staying during the week) so all ages and personalities would feel comfy.

The Attic Hostel Lift

After dumping my bags I walked towards the water and then back up Queen St, I snapped pics of lots of things I want to come back to (mostly cafes and cute street corners, I’m so predictable).

Auckland Viaduct

But my eye was also caught by some cool street art; it pops up everywhere!

Auckland Street Art

Auckland Shipping Container Art

My friend recommended I check out the food options at Elliot St Stables. It’s an indoor cluster of small restaurants in a unique building circa 1910 – nice and cosy and easy to walk the perimeter past all the doorways to peruse the menu boards.

Elliot Street Stables

I decided on Torchon, a little French place with red checked tablecloths and candles. I had the most delicious mushroom crepe and glass of rosé and read up on things to do in Auckland.

Torchon Wine and Research

Some people feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant by themselves but when you travel solo it’s important to do otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot, the people watching and immersion into the local scene for one, and decent food for another! I tend to look for cosier places with small tables for two that would work just as nicely for one :-) I avoid the places with large exuberant groups and rushed off their feet staff, instead choosing calmer places with smaller table groups and staff that have time to chat and share their recommendations both on the menu and around town. I never really have the chats I’ve had with restaurant and cafe staff when I’m with other people, when I’m on my own it just happens naturally. Eating alone gives you this plus the simple pleasure of focusing on and enjoying a meal without distraction and scene-watching which can be fascinating in a new place. If you’re nervous about eating alone while on the road don’t be – just do it!

I was later grateful to fall asleep in a comfy bed back at the hostel as I was exhausted after a long travel day. I had a weird turbulent dream, there was this awful honking noise and I tossed and turned trying to move out of the dream that was crossing in and out of reality. I bolted up in bed. What? This noise! Is it an alarm? I heard doors banging. Oh bloody hell it’s a fire alarm. Although it was more likely a false alarm set off by someone smoking in their room, at the back of my mind hovered the haunting reminder of horrendous news coverage of various backpacker hostel fires in Australia over the past couple of decades. I jumped up and grabbed my jacket, shoved my feet into boots and trooped out to the street with all the other oddly dressed sleepy people. There were about four fire trucks outside with lights flashing, so much drama for what my phone told me was 3.30am. Luckily the fuss was over in about 15 minutes and we were allowed back in.

False Hostel Fire Alarm

So the next morning started with a little sleep in to make up for things.

To be honest, when scoping out a new place and making a plan for the first day of exploration I start with a framework for brekkie and coffee and maybe lunch. I’m a cafe culture kind of person, so I Google for local blogs and figure out where the best places are in town for these three things. Then I frame the day’s plans around that. Maybe that’s just me, but I highly recommend this strategy!

Revel Cafe on K Rd (Karangahape Rd) has rave reviews online for being cosy, wholesome and located on the rather eclectic strip featuring vintage stores, cafés and ethnic flavour. So I started my day by walking there up Queen St about 15 minutes then turning right. I had a steaming bowl of organic porridge with stewed fruit, nutmeg and brown sugar – delicious and so filling I did not eat again til late afternoon!

Revel Cafe Auckland

I liked the offbeat vibe of K Rd, it’s got a vague familiarity to Sydney’s Newtown, though a bit seedier if I’m honest – but still cool to walk the length of towards Ponsonby Rd.

St Kevin’s Arcade is a treat to pop into, a beautiful building built in 1924 as the entrance to Meyers Park behind it. The light spilling in from the back was beautiful, there is a cafe making the most of it there plus an assortment of other bespoke stores.

Auckland St Kevin's Arcade

I intended to walk a certain route but I was distracted along the way and took detours where my fancy wanted to, the benefit of being on holiday!

Auckland City View

Auckland City View

I walked through Western Park, where there were marked ‘fitness trials’ (that’s cool) and lots of hilly paths.

Auckland Western Park

Auckland Western Park

There were these cool building cornices at the top; I tried to find out more info online but came up blank… tell me if you know their story!

2014 New Zealand (169)

I walked down Ponsonby Rd and past Ponsonby Central, a very groovy cluster of cafes, restaurants and food stores.

Auckland Ponsonby

I wandered through Victoria Park taking too many photos of the beautiful trees.

Auckland Victoria Park

Auckland Victoria Park

Auckland Victoria Park Trees

I ended up by the Viaduct Harbour where there is an interesting people-focused refurbishment happening.

Auckland Wharf

Auckland Wharf

Auckland Wharf

Auckland Wharf

The use of shipping containers for an information centre was pretty cool as was one converted into a library-living-room-book-exchange further along.

Auckland Viaduct Community Library Container

I loved the giant wooden deck chairs for people to take a little rest in the sunshine.

Auckland Harbour Deck Chairs

Auckland Harbour Deck Chairs

I ended up back downtown in time to meet up with my friend Leah, who I met in India in 2011 when I was on an Intrepid backpacking tour of Rajasthan. I hadn’t seen her since then and was looking forward to a catch up and seeing her city through a Leah-tour. While I waited I had a quick cup of tea in the Shaky Isles Cafe where I sat at a large communal table and got chatting to two guys in suits having a business meeting. Like Aussies, the Kiwis are super friendly and it’s not at all unusual to fall into casual conversation with complete strangers. One of the guys has a convertible and his favourite thing to do is take it on road trips around the north island. They filled me in on all their favourite spots in NZ and I made mental notes to remember the place names.

Auckland Shaky Isles Cafe

Then my phone rang and it was Leah, warning me she was a minute away and to hop outside to the corner – apparently I wouldn’t be able to miss her. I ran outside and there she was in a small zippy car with Intrepid Travel blazoned on the outside! I jumped and off we went on a driving tour of Auckland.

Driving around Auckland

First we drove up to the Auckland Domain where the Auckland War Memorial Museum sits and then on to Mt Eden which was a real highlight. Leah was a fount of knowledge about Auckland. Can you believe that the city is built on a Volcanic field? There are volcanoes galore across the city, almost every hill it seems. They are all deemed extinct however the field is dormant meaning there is still lava flow underneath. New Zealand is a rugged country to the max, I knew the south is dominated by a fault line, responsible for delivering the infamous earthquakes that have done some serious damage over the past few years but I was fascinated to hear about the volcanoes. Mt Eden is an eponymous volcano which erupted 28,000 years ago creating a huge 50m deep crater at the top. I’m sure it was messy at the time (understatement) but it’s all lovely and grassy now, looking like it would be fun to roll down (as we used to do on hills as kids) but as the crater is a sacred Maori landmark people are discouraged from walking inside it. The views are fabulous though, and the big bare tree at the top is a Pohutakawa tree (also known as the Kiwi Christmas tree) which flowers cheerful red leaves once a year and is a beautiful sight to see at the top of the hill.

Mt Eden View of Auckland

Mt Eden View of Auckland

After nearly getting blown off the hill in gale force winds we hopped back into the car and drove to Piha Beach, on the west coast of the north island, about a 30 minute drive from Auckland. We caught our first glimpse as we drove high up along the coastal cliffs, looking down on the deserted, expansive black sand glowing in the slanted light of the afternoon sun.

Piha Beach

We drove down and walked across the sand passing some brave surfers heading back to their cars. Being winter it was cold and windy but moodily ethereal as I find winter visits to beaches can be.

Piha Beach

Piha Beach

In summer, the beach is home to Piha Rescue, a surf life saving reality TV program, similar to the Aussie show Bondi Rescue. Due to the dramatic cliff faces and surf fed by the Tasman Sea the beach is a notoriously turbulent one where fisherman deaths on the rocks are not uncommon; it’s a rugged, wild place.

Piha Beach

Piha Beach

We headed back to Auckland to Leah’s favourite Indian restaurant; seeing as we met in India it seemed fitting! Our last stop of the Leah-tour was a drive out to Mission Bay where despite the cold we indulged in some Movenpick ice-cream and braved the sea front to look at the city lights across the water.

After such a lovely time, I said goodbye to Leah as she dropped me back off at The Attic where the night’s sleep was uninterrupted this time, no fire alarms, just a nice long sleep… Zzzzzzzz!

Firstly, take a look at the gorgeous last look I had from the plane as I left New Zealand on Friday:
Bye New Zealand

And now… the sun waiting for me in Sydney as we prepared to land:
Hi Sydney

And so I am back home! Four weeks gone in a flash. I have so much to share with you about my wonderful time in New Zealand, the only reason you haven’t heard from me by now is dreadful technical issues getting photos to load from my iPhone while away. I even bought an iPad to circumnavigate the issue only to have the same problem. One I must get to the bottom of now I’m back.

But don’t fear, I have been writing along the away and snapping photos – oh so many photos!

Tales of my adventure in New Zealand will be coming at you over the next couple of weeks.