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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.


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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.