We returned to Bethells with some Trinidadians last weekend to show them the raw beauty of Auckland’s west coast. The tide was out and the wet surface of the sand gleamed like a mirror, perfect for reflections. As a surfer left the pounding waves and I caught him as he passed the distinctive headland of the beach. The result is the fastest amount of views I have ever had on Flickr so I thought I’d post it here. I converted the image to black and white using Silver Efex Pro2 and upped the contrast by a fairly extreme amount creating what is almost a silhouette.
At the latest count we have 35 regional parks in the Auckland region, most of them set in glorious countryside along the coast. When it comes to walking, hiking, swimming, running, surfing, mountain biking, hang gliding, picnicking —we are spoilt for choice. Every year thousands of Auckland schoolchildren spend educational days, sometimes camping overnight, in the parks learning about the value of an unspoilt, well maintained environment and the simple beauty of nature. Future custodians undergoing early training. It’s a truly invigorating thing to recharge one’s batteries in such places. A couple of weeks ago we took some visitors from England on a walk over the hills of Shakespear Regional Park on the Whangaparoa Peninusla. I haven’t spelt Shakespear wrong, it’s the name of the man who once owned the land. Like many of our regional parks, areas of Shakespear remain part of a working farm, bought and run by the council for the enjoyment of Aucklanders and our visitors now and forever. Shakespear is one of our favourites because of the views it affords looking over the Hauraki Gulf to the city of Auckland. Over the hills, not far away.
It’s a fantastic sight, a tall ship in full sail on the horizon. We sped towards it in our little boat, thoughts of fishing suspended in favour of really getting close-up. No pirate ship this but a magnificent modern vessel whose name speaks volumes about our adopted homeland and its maritime history and traditions. The Spirit of New Zealand is manned by young people who are sent on board to develop “qualities of leadership, independence and community spirit through the medium of the sea”. The ship is a ”three-masted barquentine” and was commissioned in 1986. It carries 14 crew and 40 trainees. The Spirit of Adventure Trust say that she is “believed to be probably the world’s busiest youth ship” and is expected to be able to continue operating youth voyages until around 2035. A day out fishing on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf is always special, but when you run across a sight like this it becomes truly memorable.
While we have been aware, down under in New Zealand, of the endless winter grinding on up in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the UK, we have been too preoccupied with our endless summer to care. As I write another cloudless day has dawned and the difficult decision has to be made: should I water the veggie patch? While farmers in New Zealand have been struggling with the worst drought in 70 years the rest of us have been enjoying every day of it, none more so than those in our wine industry. It’s predicted that the vintage of 2013 will be, well, vintage! We tried out some local chardonnay and merlot/rose at the excellent Mahurangi River Winery north of Auckland in the middle of the region’s “wine country”. The view from the restaurant window sums up summer —incredible! The food was pretty excellent too.
I came across this lady surfing at Christmas at Taupo Bay in Northland near the top of the North Island of New Zealand. What drew my attention was not just the red wetsuit against the brooding, stormy sky, but how good she was. Pretty full-on surf at Taupo, scary, but she just glided though the powerful waves like she was riding a bike. It looked that easy. The wave above was not big, but some of it was — see below. I can hold my own when it comes to body surfing, but I always wished I had learnt to use the board. The real thing.
A belated seasons greetings and best wishes for the New Year to all who stumble across this blog or to those who actually follow it. This is New Zealand’s Christmas tree, the pohutukawa. It bursts into brilliant red flowers around Christmas. You’ll find these wonderful, old, gnarled trees along the coastline of the upper North Island, sometimes hanging precariously to seaside cliffs. They are my favourite New Zealand tree. This young tree was shot at Christmas at Taipa Bay in the far north of New Zealand, with my family wondering onto the beach. Hope your year turns out to be as colourful as this tree!
Some say Englishman’s Bay is Tobago’s perfect beach and, on arrival, it’s easy to see why: a sliver of golden sand disappears beneath calm, blue sea in an idyllic crescent between two forested headlands. There’s barely a scattering of tourists, and not an ugly structure in sight. Yes, it’s my kind of beach. The snorkelling is excellent as is the visibility, and there is no current to speak of. A pretty restaurant, tastefully built beneath the trees, offers nice local food as well arts and crafts. The short track — I can’t really call it a road— over deep, water-filled potholes is not a prepossessing entrance to what is possibly Tobago’s best beach. While the Tobago House of Assembly wastes money ruining Pigeon Point with pointless structures Englishman’s Bay can’t even get a paved road to its carpark. It will take you about 90 minutes to drive from Crown Point and the airport to this beach, much of it along hilly, winding roads with few overtaking opportunities. So, don’t hurry, mon, take it easy, like de locals: open de window and let de breeze through to cool yuh down. Nice.
This will be my last entry for a month as I’m off to Trinidad and Tobago via San Francisco. So I thought I’d put up one of my favourite photos as a parting shot, as it were. It’s the original colour version of the black and white detail that makes up the header of this page. Piha is Auckland’s most famous surf beach, renowned for its dangerous rips and unpredictability. So dangerous can it be a reality TV series is made each year focusing on the work of the local life saving crews called Piha Rescue, which says all that needs to be said about the perils of swimming here. But that doesn’t stop hordes of holiday makers doing so every summer, some of whom get into difficulties after downing one too many beers in our unforgiving, burning sun. No danger of drowning, you’d think, when this mid-winter photo was taken. But Kiwis are hardy, and some might say foolhardy as, shortly after this was snapped, a man stripped off and ran into the freezing surf, though he didn’t stay submerged too long. I was so lucky to be there at the moment the sun peaked out of the clouds, bathing this scene is such a dramatic way. I feel it sums up the dangerous magnificence of Piha perfectly. Later the sun came out properly and so did the beach walkers, revelling in the beauty of this wonderful place.
We’re thinking about where to go in the summer holidays. Spring has sprung and if we don’t book somewhere soon all the best value spots will be taken, especially in the Coromandel. The Coromandel Peninsula is a forested finger of land sticking far out into the Pacific Ocean, blessed with countless pretty coves and sweeping golden bays. Unsurprisingly it’s the favourite holiday haunt for Aucklanders, including us. Just two hours from the big smoke it can, nevertheless, be a pain to get to at weekends and holidays when it seems the entire city has the same idea. But, once there and away from the main towns, it can feel surprisingly empty. Our favourite base in the Coromandel is Kuaotunu, a small holiday village with a nice beach, but surrounded by a wealth of really amazing ones. It’s that choice that makes it such a good place to stay. Kuaotunu beach is a great for a walk, or a run. This fellow was out jogging soon after the sun had risen. It gives you good idea of how uncrowded the Coromandel can feel. Bring on summer!
Auckland is known as The City of Sails and if you spend any time here you’ll soon see why. There are boats and yachts of every conceivable shape and size to be found all over our fair city, from expensive berths in grand marinas to those parked up behind the family car in any number of suburban driveways. It is said that one-in-four Aucklanders owns a boat. It’s no coincidence, I suppose, that all our gold medals bar one in the London Olympics were won on the water. The biggest sporting event in New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup is the America’s Cup, which we’ve also won, of course. Take a drive along the coastline of Auckland’s North Shore or any stretch of road bordering the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf and you will see sails of some kind billowing in the breeze, lots of them. I see them everyday form the deck of my home, regattas, flotillas, lonely specks on the ocean. Last weekend I saw Team New Zealand practising for the Americas Cup in their giant catamaran with its vast red sail. The picture above was taken in Devonport looking towards the city. I had no idea there was race on that day, just good luck and great light. The photo below was taken from a ferry heading into port near the Harbour Bridge. There wasn’t a race on; rather, it was a typical day on the Waitemata when the wind is up. Magnificent.