Swamp, Bush and Beach

Last Monday was New Zealand’s Labour Day, which meant our first three-day weekend since June! Yet, since we are saving up for a two-week road trip in the South Island over Christmas, we spend this holiday visiting new parks around Auckland.

On Saturday, I had my volunteer gig at the bird rescue and it rained most of the day, so we stayed inside and recovered from the week. On Sunday, the weather was better and we decided to venture out to Waiatarua Reserve, which was only about a 15 minutes drive from our apartment. M decided, however, that we should stop for some Labour Day sales so we parked up and went shopping. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any deals since clothing in NZ is stupidly expensive, but one of M’s old coworkers mentioned that a sporting goods store was having one of its rare, massive sales. Since the store was close to the park and I wanted some new clothes for running, we postponed the park trip and headed to the sports store. In the same parking area we spotted this:

I wonder what they sell, it looks like a large store!
I wonder what they sell, it looks like a large store!

By the time we were done at the sports store, though, we really just wanted to go to the park as a quick one-hour trip had turned into quite the excursion, so we didn’t go into the American store. Next time!

Once we finally reached the park, we started walking along the wetland loop. The day was nice and the park’s wetland was surrounded by grassy fields, so many people were out walking their dogs. The park even had a small pond for doggy swimming! Of course, parks good for dogs are not necessarily good for birds but we were hopeful as several birds we hadn’t seen yet– a cuckoo and a small wading bird called a spotless crake– had been reported in the park. As we slowly ambled around the wetland, we heard the cuckoo calling from the neighboring golf course (since the cuckoo is a small brown and green bird, we had no hope of actually seeing it). We also listened for the spotless crake, which sounds like an engine that won’t catch, but with no such luck.

A pond in the wetland (no dogs allowed).
A pond in the wetland (no dogs allowed).
Hello friends.
Hello friends.

It was still a nice outing: the wetland was scenic (for a swamp) and the resident pukekos were quite bold.

Sunday was, shopping aside, a fairly laid-back day so we wanted to be a bit more ambitious on Monday. We drove along the winding roads to the Waitakere Ranges, a large mountainous area of native rainforest to the west of Auckland. Many other people had the same idea: we were lucky to find a parking space at the Arataki visitor centre, where we bought a detailed map of the area. However, the track we chose– the Cutty Grass Track– was totally abandoned, both by people and, sadly, birds. Though this area does have predator traps it is not as protected as other places, such as Tawharanui, so birdsong was only occasional and far away.

Not pictured: muddy red clay.
Not pictured: muddy red clay.

The track itself was a muddy, red clay path following some phone and power lines that led to some of the surprisingly many residences in the Waitakere Ranges. It wasn’t very interesting, so we turned back halfway through and hiked back to the car. Access to the track was along a gravel road and we decided to keep following this road to a remote beach, Anawhata. Along the way, we stopped for a quick walk up to an overlook:

The view across a valley.
The view across a valley.
The overlook tower itself, perched in the middle of the rainforest.
The overlook tower itself, perched in the middle of the rainforest.

The rainforest here is quite dense, but again it was too quiet, lacking the raucous bird calls that we’d become used to.

After a few more gravelly and windy kilometers of road, we reached the end. From the road we could see first Piha, a far more popular West Coast beach, and then we saw Anawhata Beach.

Piha Beach, featuring Lion Rock.
Piha Beach, featuring Lion Rock.
Anawhata Beach, a bit wilder.
Anawhata Beach, a bit wilder.

It became very clear that Anawhata was less popular not just because of the rough road, but also because access to the beach was down an extremely steep, half-hour track. Despite this, the parking lot was full of other people who were undeterred by these access issues. We joined them and made our way down to the beach.

This feature is called Keyhole Rock, according to our map.
This feature is called Keyhole Rock, according to our map.
The view back up the hill. Notice the bach (beach house) halfway up.
The view back up the hill. Notice the bach (beach house) halfway up.

The beach itself was quite windy, and we sat on some rocks behind the large outcrop to avoid it while we had a snack. The sand on the beach was surprisingly soft and difficult to walk on and we had to cross a stream that was slightly too wide, resulting in some wet feet. We decided that this beach was not worth the effort required and reluctantly started back up the hill. It was not as rough as we imagined but we were glad to reach the top, resting on a bench overlooking the beach.

Should've just gone here instead of all the way to the beach!
Should’ve just gone here instead of all the way to the beach!

All in all, our adventures this weekend were not as fun and successful as we hoped, but at least we visited some new places. Now that it’s spring/almost-summer, we’ll be going on a lot more of these small excursions– stay tuned!

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