Leaving Sydney for the next part of our adventure, we flew to Auckland where we were met with wonderful sunshine and blue skies having left Sydney in a rain cloud. The views over the city as we came in to land were pretty spectacular too with the harbour bridge and Auckland Museum easy to pick out, even from this altitude.
We were greeted by our friends who we hadn’t seen for some time. We stayed with them the first night and caught up on life the universe and everything before setting out the following morning in our hire car. They had kindly given us the keys to the family beach house, known locally as a bach, in Mangawhai – we were heading to the Northland!
We headed out via Kumeu where we stopped to pick up sushi and a few bits and pieces for the road, then we took a short detour to find The Hunting Lodge vineyard which had been recommended to us and I got to taste some of their lovely wine as I wasn’t driving. The journey northwards seemed to take no time at all despite the odd stop for a leg stretch when we spotted something interesting like a nature reserve or viewpoint.
Having arrived at the bach by lunchtime we decided to make the most of our time there and take a short drive out for an afternoon exploring. We headed up the coast through the small town of Waipu and headed out to Waipu Caves to see whether we might find some glowworms. Having not done any research about this first, we found that in order to get to the glowworms you need to be proper kitted out, which we weren’t. Nevertheless, we had a bit of a wander around and found a few things of interest. The first was lots of this unusual flower which we have since discovered to be an introduced species, Tradescantia fluminensis. It may not be native but it was very attractive in the dappled shade by the entrance to the cave.
Making our way back towards the coast we stopped for a quick photo just outside Waipu, the view over Bream Bay was too good not to capture!
We continued on past the town of Mangawhai to Te Arai beach on the other side of town. We found we had the whole beach to ourselves and it was lovely.
There were Variable Oystercatchers and New Zealand Dotterel foraging along the tideline but I had left my long lens in the car so we contented ourselves with watching their antics. Returning to the car we came across a rather lovely male California Quail singing from a sandy hummock on the edge of the carpark. I managed to get my camera out and snap a few photos – I was particularly amused that he closed his eyes as he reached the peak of each song.
Making our way back towards our bach, we decided to investigate the area a little more and spent a little time sitting watching the waders feeding in the harbour before heading back for the evening.
We had been given a heads up that there was a native bird called a Tui calling from the New Zealand Christmas tree outside the house. Sure enough, it was there and loud as you like but try as I might, it was not wanting to be photographed. Instead, I photographed a Silver Gull in the last light as it sat on the lamp post at the end of the drive.
The following morning, we were woken bright and early by the Tui. Needless to say it was less exciting at this point than it had been on our arrival! We hadn’t made any plans for the day but decided to head north and see if we could get up to the Bay of Islands. We spent an enjoyable day exploring the winding roads of the Northland, ate a delicious lunch in the restaurant of a vineyard that we stumbled upon, were taken by surprise when an Australasian Bittern wandered across the road in front of us, missed last closing of another glow-worm cave that was more accessible and stopped briefly to take in Whangerei falls on the way home. But in all of this, I barely took a photo with the exception of this pair of endemic Paradise Shelduck in a field beside the road.
The next day began in the same fashion, the Tui was rapidly losing his appeal with his solo dawn chorus. We had been more organised for today and arranged to go on a Glass Bottom Boat tour at Goat Island. After a short drive, we were waiting on the beach beneath a Pohutukawa or New Zealand Christmas tree, so called because they flower in December. It was not yet December but they were just beginning to flower here and we could only imagine how spectacular they must look in full bloom.
Goat Island was not very large but the waters around it are a marine reserve and the island itself provides a sanctuary for birds no doubt as it is thickly wooded on the shore side.
It wasn’t long before our craft arrived, complete with slightly eccentric captain. The shallow draft allowed it to pull right up to the beach and we boarded from there.
We were soon out on the water watching all manner of fish such as Eagle Rays, Moki and Snapper.
There was so much to see from the fish to reef, so many types of seaweed, sponges and urchins. All that was beneath the waves but there was plenty above too. The captain took us to the far side of the island where the rock had been eroded by the rolling tides and a number of sea caves and arches had formed. This was the largest.
Above it on the rocks were some Southern Black Backed Gulls and nearby, a nesting colony of Silver Gulls with young. The chicks were tricky to spot and well camouflaged, if you look closely there are at least two in this photo…
On closer inspection, we found that another group of birds lower on the rocky shore was a small flock of White Fronted Terns.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the boat and despite his loud character, our captain proved very knowledgeable and helpful in pointing out all the different species. All too soon though, we were back on dry land. We went for a short walk before climbing in the car and exploring a bit more round the local area. We stopped in Matakana for a lovely lunch before heading back to enjoy the beaches round the bach a bit more.
Back at Te Arai beach, I took my camera with me and made the most of the empty beach once more to get some lovely shots of the Variable Oystercatchers foraging.
There was also a New Zealand Dotterel on the beach and although I managed a grab shot it wasn’t quite so confiding as the Oystercatchers and so it isn’t nearly as sharp as I’d like. Still, I thought I’d share it as these little waders are an endangered endemic species and not a common sight.
The following day saw us returning to Auckland via a very special island, Tiritiri Matangi. I took so many photos there and it was such a wonderful place that I decided to write a separate blog piece for it so that will be the next post. In the meantime though I still have a few tales to tell from the rest of our time on North Island and so I’ll continue…
We spent the day after exploring the Waitakere Ranges on the western side of the island. Our first stop was at Bethel’s beach where, contrary to earlier in the week, we found the sand to be black or at the least a dark brown. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a contrasting shot to that at Hyam’s beach (Aurogra if you haven’t already!) so here are my pudgy little feet in the darkest patch I could find!
We arrived to a little cloud but decided to have a wander and make the most of the tide being out. We walked round to the far side of a large rocky outcrop and up the dunes to where we had a good view back at the beach.
Walking on up the dunes, we found ourselves at a great viewpoint overlooking O’Neil Bay and we sat for a while watching kids play at the water’s edge, dogs fetching a frisbee out of the surf and a bunch of surfers taking on the biggest of the waves. It was a little surreal though that beside us on top of a native flax plant, sat a singing male British Yellowhammer, just one of the introduced species on the island.
There was lots of lovely Hare’s Tail grass here although that isn’t native either. I’m rather fond of this grass and enjoy finding it in its native Mediterranean habitat.
Walking back to the car, the sun had come out a little and we were staggered how quickly the sand had warmed up. We did fantastic impressions of those desert-dwelling lizards that run in quick bursts over the hot sand before standing on alternate legs to cool their feet! There were a mass of lovely lupines flowering on the dune backs by the car park. I discovered afterwards that these are also introduced. It seems we humans have a lot to answer for here…
Our next stop was a brief one at Piha beach jut along the coast where another introduced plant was growing all over the edge of the beach, Gazanias.
The large yellow daisy flowers made for an impressive sight but knowing that they aren’t native makes it less pretty somehow and I couldn’t help but wonder what native flowers they were replacing.
We did soon find a native flower though, a slightly unusual one at that. It is not uncommon but not something that we Brits see terribly often. This is the flower of the Mahoe tree and it grows directly from the branches beneath the leaves.
We found this tree growing beside a wonderful viewpoint from where you could see the entire of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf beyond. The light was too hazy to make a good photograph but we spent a while taking it all in before heading home to our friends.
The following day we had managed to get ourselves booked on a wine tasting tour of the island of Waiheke out in the Hauraki Gulf. Our friends kindly gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in Auckland Harbour and we set out for a truly touristy day. We were met on the island by a small bus and taken round 4 different vineyards and an olive farm where we ate and drank delicious wares before being put back on the ferry home. It wasn’t really a day for much photography but I did take a couple to share. We had a lovely lunch at Stony Ridge Vineyard…
…and had time for a stroll along the shoreline before catching the ferry back to Auckland. Waiheke certainly seemed an idyllic place to live and we found some amazing wines there which we wished we could bring back to the UK.
The next day was our last in New Zealand and we decided to make the most of it by taking a ferry across the bay into the city. It was definitely worth it for the views of the skyline as we came down the harbour.
We did quite a bit of walking, first strolling down the harbour front from the Ferry Building (here’s the view looking back the way we had come).
Then visiting the Auckland Museum. This was a wonderful place and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There was so much to see and take in, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was there and so we visited that too as we hadn’t managed to get to the one in London. There was lots of information about the wonderful native species of New Zealand and some fascinating insights into Maori culture too. One of my favourite parts of that aspect was a Maori meeting house which you could enter called a Hotonui. It was a wonderful piece of culture and art all rolled into one with incredible craftsmanship having gone into its creation.
We enjoyed our walk out from the museum through some lovely park land and back down the hill into the city again. We stopped for a sushi lunch before heading back to the ferry so that we could pack. The ferry journey back was just as good with a particularly good view of the harbour bridge having passed beneath it.
The last impression made on us though was the astonishing number of South Island Pied Oystercatchers sitting on the little harbour wall in Hobsonville ferry terminal. Among them was the odd Southern hemisphere subspecies of Black Winged Stilt too. It was a fascinating idea that so many beautiful wading birds could thrive in such a busy harbour area. Perhaps Auckland Harbour could teach us some lessons about living alongside wildlife?
Our final day coming to an end, we packed up and headed out to the airport for our late night flight to the last stop on our adventure, Singapore. I’ll be writing about that part soon too… watch this space!