One of the greatest and healthier pastimes for New Zealanders is tramping. Why wouldn’t it be? The place is full of natural reserves conveniently marked with multiple level trails and a remarkably low number of murders ever happening on these trials. I decided to get into it!
Prior to moving to NZ I had always imagined myself to become one of those down to earth hiker chics who wore khaki shorts and monster backpacks and stopped to chat with locals to either ask for directions or just to appreciate their simplicity over a sip of roadside tea. Solo. Perhaps somewhere in the Himalayas too!
Most of that is still to happen, however, after talking about it for 2 years I did make some headway into this whole thing by joining a few hiking groups on meet-up (Feet First, Auckland Hiking Group, Hiking and Skiing Intrepid Walking) I did most with Feet First as they have one going on every month at the very least. Feet First is led by this veteran hiker Stephen. You really don’t want to mess with his safety rules. Also he doesn’t like anti-social behavior such as listening to your jams, tutorials etc whilst hiking with his group. He knows his trees and plants and sometimes gets the group to stand still, close their eyes so they could hear birds! Being from the pacific, birdsong is really not a moment of “aaaaah!” for me but I did find the cicada cries quite fascinating whilst I was running at the Totara Park.
I must mention that Totara Park was an excellent introduction to Auckland’s many trail running parks. Set in the south of Auckland right behind the Auckland Botanical Gardens, Totara is 8km loop and is an easy run with 50 or so steep steps half way through to shrink thighs – if done regularly that is. It’s usually quiet with a few dog walkers and joggers like myself that appreciate fresh air, cicada noises, occasional view of clear streams trickling away as you dash by and generally a little bit more excitement than sweating away on boring pavements in view of everyone. I started running this route with my flat mate at the time and a few “yes” friends and then started doing it solo. Depending on fitness you can finish this in 40 mins to 1.5 hours.
Id’ put up tantalizing shots with maps but I didn’t take any. Google is your friend for this one.
Anyways back to tramping with Feet First.
So I decided to brave the Waitakere Regional Park, which is located west of Auckland and boasts many a walking tracks! I walked from Dam road to Summit track to Hamilton track through to Christie’s track back to Dam road again. All in all about a 5 hour hike.
This is actually a bit of challenge for first time trampers – there’s much hill climbing and then we went downhill so much I was surprised we didn’t end up at the bottom of the ocean! The walk did not allow for much scene viewing, especially for me since I was busy trying to catch up with the others! Also I was apparently breaking into new shoes. And I am still breaking into them! So much so that I put them up on trade me! DO YOUR NECESSARY RESEARCH BEFORE BUYING HIKING SHOES!
But there were some interesting face-booking moments with some fun girls I met which made the journey even more memorable! It so happens that Dam road is pretty close to the massive Piha beach. Black sanded, mammoth of a beach re-known for being murderous! I did have time to dip my aching feet into the incoming tide and feel the power of its surge back into the sea. It could take me easily if I took a dip!
Also there’s organic honey sold for $12 at the nearby art gallery.
Enjoying lunch after a few hours of hefty climb – seasoned hikers know to travel light and pack dried fruits, chocolates, energy bars and nuts etc. I wasn’t seasoned yet and it was only a day hike so went all out with a tuna sandwich! But I did feel proud that I had already invested in a 2 liter hydrator, the handiest hiking tool ever!
We came across these interesting rock formations which are lovely to take photos around!
There were some easy stream crossing and I took out time to pose!
And Piha beach at sunset
Puhoi Valley – Dunn’s bush in autumn .Puhoi valley is located an hour north of Auckland and is known for its cheese-making. The cheese can be tasted and bought at the Puhoi Valley cheese café at 275 Ahuroa Road. This is also a great stop for a feed or some ice-cream.
Again with Feet First I explored the mixed terrain bushes for 5 hours. There were no tracks and when this happens one is supposed to look for orange markers hanging off trees or placed somewhere in site, unless of course there is a written sign post!
What orange trail markers look like:
There was some excitement as we couldn’t locate our next orange trail marker anywhere and Stephen announced that we were officially lost! I think this was the best part, felt like we were in the “survivor” series.
We were instructed to sit under the trees and snack while he went looking for the track. This opportunity was taken away from him as soon enough a passing trail runner guided us all back on track.
This was a fairly easy hike, pleasant starting off with some amazing scene viewing over the Puhoi valley and ending up with a drink and fish & chips at the rustic Puhoi Pub which was holding some sort of bikers convention at the time. Never had I seen so many leather clad dudes all at once! Too cool! Wish I’d taken photos but my phone died.
Puhoi valley-Dunn’s Bush walk scene and this beauty (I mean the horse)
Probably my favorite of the year .Nikau Caves is located 1.45 hour south west of Auckland. It was a last minute decision for me to join the hike with Feet First and I had done the worst thing imaginable – I didn’t read the brief so I didn’t know what I was up for! Turned out it was very special hike! We were going caving to see glowworms and we’d be wading in and out of water and that too in winter! Thank god I got me a spare pair of knickers and socks! But caving! I feared small spaces and the dark! But a certain friend who was game for all things cool instilled some courage in me! Sure others would’ve gone and come out alive before….
Once we all made it to the Nikau café we were briefed to leave our belongings (including cameras) back and just take torches. We will be underground for possibly 40 mins to an hour! The excitement began. As we all trotted curiously into the cave I noted many a limestone (initially mistaken by me as ice cubicles) hanging off the ceiling looking lethal! There was much slippery moments at times when we bravely waded knee deep in ice-water. Like in the movies we slithered through icy streams using our bellies and elbows and after a few more slipping and wading we sighted the glorious glowworms. You had to turn off your torch and stand around in complete darkness for a minute though. Like a million stars they appeared hanging right over your head! Pretty cool. They were so cool that I totally forgot that they were wiggly moist creatures ready to fall onto my awestruck face!!!Whenever I think about it now I kind of feel icky. I think it’s the crawling and wading that I will proudly talk about for the rest of my life. More wading in darkness ensued .We finally saw the light streaming in at the end of the cave and it was like being born again!
It really is the best business idea to have an overly priced café right there with a fireplace and cute little stream flowing by, waiting on return of warriors such as myself. We stumbled downhill through much cow dung, bad-haired, muddy and tired. We ate hungrily, dried ourselves by the fireplace and rolled around in the backyard like kids. I had once considered Waitomo Caves for glowworm watching, however, I am glad I fell upon this because this was far, far more exciting for me then a touristy kayak ride would’ve been.
Courtesy of Nikau caves website since I couldn’t take my camera (but now I see on the internet that others seem to have done it before uuuuumph!):
I really must start taking better pictures – the fireplace and the views out the (“french?) windows could provide a cute date venue – so romantic!
Eastern Bay Fishing Round 1
Eastern beaches are located in the east of Auckland (no surprises there) and are usually jam packed in summer with water lovers. Friends of mine, crazy about fishing managed to finally drag me out late last summer only to discover that the tide was way out and large part of the area banned for mussel collecting. The boys decided to walk out to a promising lagoon, however, lost their pretty lure and just as we decided to call it a day my good mate happened to read the information boards! Apparently, the area in front of our mats was ok for oyster collecting! We rose, skipped and danced to the prospect of killing anything at all!
It’s common to eat oysters raw in New Zealand. All one needs is a squeeze of lemon and some tobasco! You sometimes see these being sold for $5 for 4 in markets. Friends of mine, however, love their oysters fresh and charcoal bbq-ed with morocco spice and I after hearing this ran to give a helping, drooling !
Turns out you don’t find them lying around! One has to pry them apart from all sorts of coral growth and driftwoods that you see on beaches with a suitably shaped coral or stone or knife .It takes some training in identifying and prying the oysters but I am sure I’ll be super on my own when I go oyster collecting again!
What Oyster home looks like in case you’d like to try caveman type dinner- & grilled oysters – try them with cheese and herbs or some teriyaki sauce and spring onions I say!
Us trying to make the most of the day:
The Rotary Walk
The rotary walk is a 9km stretch from Panmure basin, which is central Auckland, to somewhere near half moon bay, east Auckland.( I am sure you can Google up the nitty-gritty details) You can either return the same way or catch the bus back after a few drinks at the half moon bay marina. One needs to look up bus timetable because ……..Auckland transport!
Plenty of interesting things to see .The walk goes along the Panmure river and on a good day could prove quite scenic with usual river activities in progress – rowing teams practicing, men desperately fishing and boats bobbing about.
The other side is lined with awesome private houses (something to dream of later on) and a bit of a stretch of public lawn opening up into a mini park. There we found a public swing that My friend and I took great advantage of until a little boy quietly walked up and took hold of the swing ( was it really private?) We also came upon a park at some point –ideal for a break. Though this walk is no Tongariro Crossing, it does provide a good opportunity for a chat with a mate or if you decide to go solo, some great “me” time jams!
Swing and walk photos and the marina:
Hunua Falls track
I’d been to the Hunua falls before! In 2013. To admire the waterfall and to take photos sitting inside the extra- large photo frame provided by council! Whilst being touristy I saw a few trampers and wondered when I’d get to do the tracks! From what I heard from my companion it took a couple of days to do tracks in Hunua. Little did I know that some tracks could be done in less than a day!
So when Auckland Hiking group put up a notice to cover Hunua east in a day I jumped in. After a good 40 minute drive through scenic farmland I ended up not doing the walk at all. I thought I forgot to turn the oven off and although it was in no real danger of burning our building to the ground I was still concerned so after a good gaze at the magnificent waterfall I took a scenic drive back. Another day another time. I heard they had lunch at the dam!!!Aaaaargh!
The waterfall is no Niagara Falls really but still soothing to watch. I especially love to see the ducks bobbing around at the edges of the fall. Ducks in Auckland are always super grand!
The ultimate frame – courtesy of Google
Hunua Regional Park
Finally Feet First put up a hike through Hunua Regional track late in spring. This was the coastal side of Hunua and included an optional dip in Miranda Pool with some fish & chips for dinner and even an overnight camp opportunity.
The track we covered is called the Waharau Loop – a 14km easy to medium walk with some scenic viewing, however, the highlight of my trip was the hour drive following the Clevedon- Kawakawa road! Clevedon in South Auckland is known for its scenic farmland beauty and the Orere point coastal drive was a complete bliss. At one point I had to halt driving at 100 km/hr because mother duck was crossing with 3 little ducklings-does not only happen in fairytale books! Then I was followed by a throng of leather clad bikers! Were they gang members so famously feared in NZ? Much to my relief I had to make a turn and off they sped by.
I later learnt that these coastal roads are ideal for friendly bikers out on a riding spree. When on my return I met some I slowed down on the side and let them pass by. I got a big thumb- up from one of them!
Waharau Loop ( well some of it)
Stephen became all gamey and decided to take us through a sheep gathering!
Duder Regional Park
Is one park that I feel I must do all over because I don’t think I covered quite enough on a 40 minutes walk with my flat mate sometime in mid-2013. I will never forget the walk though as it happened to be birthing season for sheep! Whenever I turned I could see sheep popping out blobs of mini sheep and all this while casually grazing away. Like it was an everyday event!
There were tons of tiny balls of wool bobbing about happily here and there and I would’ve loved to cuddle one or two but I feared the mums who followed my every move with wariness.
So watch this space! I will cover Duder again.
The grand finale for 2015 (the Pinnacles)!
The mother of all hikes. It must be because I’d put on some weight by this point ( due to an injury) or I as just hopelessly unfit but this proved to be the most trying day of my life!
The pinnacles, as you will Google is located at Karaeheunga Valley near Thames Coromendal – those new NZ it’s about 2.5 hours’ drive away from Auckland. It’s a continuous 2 to 4 hour climb to the base of the valley, depending on fitness. We I happened to be stalling behind the crowd and ended up in the slower group (thank goodness for that) and made it in 4 hours! Now the real climb is actually closer to the tip of the hill – a million stairs and rock formations to go through before you can get to the very top. Before you attempt this there’s a welcoming hut where one can rest for a few hours, even overnight.
To my dismay the guide announced that if we were to make it back down on time we’d have to either skip lunch or skip climbing to the very top. This is because apparently we were the slowest ever! “But what’s the point of huffing and puffing all the way to up to here if we can’t make it to the very top!!” I cried out wild-eyed! I skipped lunch in favor of energy bars and convinced the other ones in the “slow group” to do the same. The guide offered to look after our backpackers while we soldiered on, led by myself ( to my won surprise)! We lost one to the cool shade of trees and we placed our drink bottles on the track to lighten up! The sun was merciless that day.
I’d never said f*ck so many times in my life!
I ran up multiple stairs like these because whenever I stopped I realized how close I was to quitting.
I forgot that I was an acro-phobic and climbed super-steep stairs such as these:
I heaved myself up rock after rock and when I did finally heave myself over the final rock I found myself looking over a steep fall!Back down I went and we finally made it to the safe site seeing part of the pinnacles right at the tip. Magnificent! Worth it!
On the way back I decided not to take the Billy Goat track as it was an hour longer!
I will highly recommend that beginners stay at the hut after the climb and return the next day. Doing it all in a day proved too challenging for me and I ended up having to slide down half the way, then use my hands to swing myself from low tree branches and then eventually just accepting my guides walking stick and doing an old woman walk right there. I also discovered that if I ran down instead of walking my feet will be in lesser contact with the ground and I will make it the bus faster, however, my thighs refused to cooperate! That if you took the swing bridge avoiding the rocky stream then you’ll face an even direr prospect – the climb down for by the third swing my calf muscles had gone stiff, that stopping wasn’t a good idea – it was a f*cking teaser! My toes felt like they were smashed in a nutcracker every time I took a step and I just about gave up. I later discovered that due to the heat my feet had swollen up and formed blisters! Some forums highly recommends buying a bigger size shoe for this reason.
It is then that I decided to put my hiking shoes up on trade me.
If anyone ever asks me how’d the pinnacles go? I’ll say it was worth it! The magnificent views were great but the best part was knowing that I could’ve stopped at the base and returned but I didn’t.