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December 21, 2016 … an island, a wedding, some volcanoes and home

Man o'war Bay
Man o’war Bay, Waiheke Island

The day before the wedding, Mary and I explored the Eastern end of Waiheke. I suppose the woeful state of the roads in what is legally part of the city of Auckland is some sort of social engineering mechanism to keep the peasants at bay. Well it got us to at least one bay – after 20 km of narrow, uneven edge-crumbling single-lane road we arrived at Man o’War Bay. There is a restaurant vineyard  and upscale accommodation, but we were just touring. The view to the East is delightful on such a day as this. Tarakihi Island and Pakatoa are in the foreground with the Coromandel Peninsula a hazy blue in the distance. We completed the loop back to the suburbanized part of the Island and had a picnic lunch on a quiet part of Onetangi Beach.

The distant city … Auckland across the blustery Hauraki Gulf and Brown’s Island

Mary did a long walk in the afternoon while I explored some of the bays and side roads near our accommodation. Somewhere above Kauaroa Bay, there was a long view back towards Auckland City. Just above Brown’s Island the Sky Tower and Auckland’s high-rise buildings were visible through the wind-driven salt haze.

With this ring, I thee wed. Neil places the ring on Jo’s finger with the blue waters of the Hauraki Gulf as a backdrop

The day of the wedding was fine and calm. It was an absolute picture post card day, and all that any bride could wish for. Our niece, Jo married Neil in a nice lodge above Palm Beach  in a joyful ceremony combining his Indian and her Kiwi heritage. Their ceremony was a happy mix of tradition and modern elements, and the hundred or so guests from near and very far were treated to some wonderful hospitality as they celebrated with Jo and Neil.  We were privileged to be there.

“When you come to the end of a perfect day” … looking down on Rocky Bay, Waiheke

Mary and I left younger guests to carry on and went back to our accommodation about 8 km to the East. As we get near to our Summer solstice, the sunsets happen late in the evening and this view from our balcony looking back towards Auckland brought the day to a perfect close.

Honey bees and pohutukawa – Waiheke

The next day we began the journey South and after a coffee with the happy couple, and Jo’s dad, Mary’s brother and his wife, we went to wait for the ferry at Kennedy Point. Summer comes to Auckland early and perhaps even earlier to Waiheke. Pohutukawa were in prolific flower, and I was happy to see what I believe to be many feral honey bees. Then we drove across the South Eastern suburbs of Auckland and onto SH1, all the way back as far as Tokaanu.

Early morning drizzle at Tokaanu, Lake Taupo

Next morning, the last day of our round trip dawned soft and grey over the lake. There was no wind and the lightest of drizzles. The old Tokaanu wharf seemed like a place to start. The Southern end of the lake was covered with black swans grazing on the weed below. There were scaup and dabchicks, shags and swallows and in the reeds behind me I could hear bitterns booming. Spoonbills flew overhead and it was just a wonderful place to be.

Black scaup pops to the surface

Despite its somewhat rickety state, I braved the wharf and walked as quietly as I could along its ancient creaking structure. Occasionally a scaup would emerge alongside me from a long dive, take a moment to realise that there was a human very close before squawking and flapping off.

Welcome swallow on ancient wood

Another frequent flyer in the neighborhood was the Welcome Swallow. They flit about with regular changes of direction harvesting airborne insect, and then resting on the wharf. This one was as close as it could be while still in focus, but for some reason when it flew it came towards me. It would have been a great shot if it had not come inside my focus ability.

And then we drove home.


Adventure Auckland Birds flowers Landscapes Light mountains night Sunset Volcanic Plateau Waiheke Weather

December 15, 2016 … home and gone again

From the heat of Queensland and Victoria, I came home to rain and wind and the flax in full bloom.

Singing in the rain … tui on the flax

Flax flowers bring about peak tui season and the rain deters them not one bit. In fact I suspect that the rainwater assists in the extraction of the nectar from the flowers.

The multi-theatre cinema complex and underlying car park are unsafe after the earthquake so they must come down. Note the “pop up” arrow in the bottom corner

The earth was still moving regularly, though from my perspective, the tremors were small and of of more interest to the seismographs than to real life.  The consequences of the big shake on November 14 are still being felt in Wellington and elsewhere. Many thousands of city workers are unable to return to their normal places of work because they are deemed unsafe, or are yet to be proven safe. Some are already being demolished including the movie theatre complex and the Eastern half of the car park at the Queensgate shopping mall in Lower Hutt. This is unfortunate for the owners of the New World supermarket across the road. Though their store was undamaged, they were not allowed in because of risk posed by the weakened building and the mandated demolition process. A large marquee has been erected in their car park behind the shop and they have created a “pop-up” supermarket to tide them over for the next week or so.

Weather is happening before my very eyes, near Turangi

Mary and I are in Waiheke at present, to attend the wedding of a niece.  We decided to drive to Auckland and then catch a ferry across to the island. but to have a day’s stopover in Tokaanu, just to the North of the mountains. The wet weather persisted and we caught no glimpse of the mountains from the Desert Road. However, as we neared Turangi the weather started to improve and I saw the spectacular cloud above through the windscreen.

Clear morning from the Ponanga Saddle lookout

Mary is a great walker, so she wanted to do the walk around Lake Rotopounamu on the South side of the Ponanga Saddle. Early on our layover day, we drove up the saddle from where I paused to construct a panorama if the view to the North over Lake Taupo.

Bush track leading to Rotopounamu

Then we reached the walkway to Lake Rotopounamu. Put this on your bucket list as one of those small jewels to see before you pass on. It sits inside the Tongariro National Park which is itself a World Heritage site. The track to the lake climbs steadily for twenty minutes through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful bush I have ever seen. Mighty trees and beautiful ferns are made more special by the unceasing birdsong all around.

Lovely Lake Rotopounamu … the only sounds are the birds and the wind in the treetops

Down at the lake all was still and peaceful. I set about making images while Mary set off around the 5 km lakeside track. As you can see, the weather had significantly improved.

Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and far in the background, Ruapehu

Since we were on the South side of the saddle, we decided to visit the mountains. There is a Maori proverb or whakatauki which goes “Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei!”  …. seek what is really important and let nothing but a mighty mountain get in your way. There in front of us, were three mighty mountains, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. But out here the wind was bitter and there was moisture in the air. We went up the mountain past Chateau Tongariro to the “Top of the Bruce”. Since the ski lifts were running for tourists, the restaurant was open, and we were told the ride on the lift was $35 per adult but quietly advised “don’t go, it’s too darned cold”. We agreed and settled for our tea, coffee and hot scone and then headed back towards Tokaanu.

Mapuhia Rapids

Just past the junction with the mountain road and highway 47, we came to an unspectacular bridge across the Whakapapanui River and the quite spectacular Mahuia rapids which is apparently popular with people in kayaks with a death wish. It was lovely to look at but nothing on Earth would persuade me to get in.

Sunset from the deck of our Waiheke accommodation

Yesterday we set out early from Tokaanu bound for Auckland and Waiheke. From Karapiro onwards, the roads are so changes since I was last in the North that I felt like a foreigner in my own land. We followed SH1B (whatever that is) and emerged at Taupiri Mountain beside the Waikato river without ever sighting Cambridge or Hamilton. The GPS in my smartphone guided us through an Auckland that I never knew, to Half Moon Bay and an unmemorable trip on the vehicle ferry to the island. The greyness and the wind did not offer the welcome I hoped for but the sunset was a delight.

City Lights
Auckland’s night sky from the deck. These are the Eastern suburbs, Howick, Beachlands and Maraetai.

I had gone to bed but chose to look out the window back towards the city and decided I needed one more shot.

Auckland Aviation Melbourne Wellington

February 27, 2014 … such sweet sorrow

Melbourne airport is very quiet at 4:30 am.

Jetstar Dreamline on the ramp
Very little was moving at this early hour. She was loading bags and freight for a 6am departure

Even with the aid of online check in to reduce the mandatory lead time, you still need to drop your bags an hour prior to departure, so there I was in a barely functioning airport. Few of the usual food amenities are open at that time. Even the outgoing customs desks had just two operators who seemed more interested in talking to each other than in the people they were processing. Time to install those “Smartgates”, Melbourne. Anyway, I was there to take the 6 am flight back to Auckland. Not just any flight, but the inaugural flight of Jetstar’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner which will be on the Melbourne to Auckland service for the next month. I went past the windowless departure lounge to find a place where I could see the apron, and there, in the pre-dawn darkness was VH-VKA, the very same aircraft whose engine change I had photographed a week earlier. She gleamed in the apron lights with a little added lustre from a waning crescent moon and a distant star.

Cockpit of the 787
We saw a shot of this same cockpit a week ago, in the hangar. This time it is live and active

My seat was in the front row of the business cabin, and as I put my carry-on bag in the large overhead lockers, I could see that the cockpit door was open and that there were a lot of four-ringed captains on the flight deck, including the airline’s chief pilot. I asked the one who was standing outside in the forward galley if I could take the shot of the preparations for departure. It’s an amazing cockpit, though the glare from outside lights reveals the need for a good soft cleaning cloth to wipe the fingerprints off the glass of the Head Up Display (HUD).

Somewhere East of Melbourne
Still dark at 6:05 am … summer is almost over

The front bulkhead row has nowhere to store carry on items, so for take-off until the seat-belt sign went off, my camera had to remain in the overhead locker, and I missed the best of the magnificent spread of Melbourne’s lights. I am not sure where we were when I could finally retrieve my camera, but I think it was somewhere over the Eastern suburbs of the city.

Main cabin
Light and spacious but a lot of seats as you would expect in the low-cost carrier model

The Dreamliner cabin is tall and open, even on a high-density low-cost carrier such as Jetstar. The big windows, with cabin pressure regulated to a mere 6,000 feet instead of the more usual 8,000 feet, and humidity set to 15% instead of the usual very dry 4% gives a much more comfortable experience. This shot was taken from the entrance to the rear galley looking forward over 314 economy seats and 21 business seats.

Water cannon welcome
Auckland extends a traditional welcome to the newcomer

Our arrival over Auckland was covered in cloud and I think I caught a glimpse of the surf at Piha as we crossed the coast. We flew over the city and came in from the East to touch down ahead of schedule. Since this was an inaugural flight, the traditional archway with water cannon from the crash tenders was provided. I struggled to get a shot that included the water without obscuring the tender.

Media pack
Despite all the cameras, I saw little in the media. I would envy them except that I was on the very aircraft they were photographing.

Of course it was a good public relations opportunity, since Air New Zealand’s first 787-9 delivery is still several months away. Local media were on the apron all kitted out with orange fluoro jackets. An Airbus A320 which normally serves this run sits behind them preparing for a trip to Sydney.

With the excitement of that  trip over, it was home to Wellington. I was in the domestic departure lounge about to board the plane to Wellington when I realised I had left my iPad on the 787.  I went back down to the check in counter, and explained my stupidity to the team leader of the Jetstar ground staff.  “We’ll get it for you,” she said, and sure enough, just as they were about to shut the door on the Wellington-bound A320, a member of ground staff came panting up the outside stairs of the air-bridge with my iPad. Excellent service, team. Thank you.

So now I am at home again, glad to be here, grateful to Catherine and Mark for their generosity and hospitality, and ready to resume normal service.

It’s a beautiful day.

Auckland Aviation harbour Light Maritime

February 4, 2013 … the drought has broken

Grey overcast.

It’s almost a relief, and it might bring to an end the low moaning sound of the gardeners who want rain, but for today at least, the bright sun has gone. With it has gone the buoyant mood that accompanied the bright weather.

This may be less to do with the weather and more to do with my failure to seize any photographic opportunity during yesterday’s return trip to Auckland and Pukekohe. Of course, it was a purposeful trip in my capacity as secretary to one of the standing committees of the Photographic Society of New Zealand, but somehow, I missed every opportunity to grab a shot until the very last minute.

at the sharp end
The “glass cockpit” of an Airbus A320 at Auckland Airport

On the way home, I sought permission while we were sitting on the tarmac, to take a photograph of the cockpit since the door was open. The genial crew were kind and allowed me into their domain. I can remember a time when it was possible to get permission to visit the flight deck in flight. For understandable reasons, it is no longer possible.

I love that all glass instrument panel, and note the two laptop computers tucked into the slots just below the main displays. The aircraft is an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 ZK-OJR, a recent acquisition, painted in the spectacular “All Black” colour scheme.

It was a comfortable and uneventful journey south, arriving in the Welling area with the setting sun, affording spectacular views of the Marlborough Sounds. Sadly, I was on the other side of the aircraft.

Late stayers at Wellington
The Voyager of the Seas (L) and Crystal Symphony (R) are both still in port at an unusually late hour. Apologies for the motion blur in the image.

As we drove around the bays (always our preferred route from the airport), I was astonished to see two very large cruise liners still in port. Almost invariably, they depart at 6pm and two see two here at night all lit up at 9pm was quite unusual. Since there was still some lingering light, I ventured a hand-held shot (supported on the sea wall at Pt Jerningham), but I fear I was too ambitious, or else my image stabilisation was turned off.

It’s now actually raining and I must venture out.