Raglan and Hamilton

Why we suddenly decided to go spend a weekend in (or around) Hamilton is part of a mystery that has been going on for more than a year and will be explained at a later date… Hamilton being apparently New Zealand’s most boring city, that may seem to be a strange weekend destination, but anyway…

Beach near Raglan
Beach near Raglan

Our first stop is at Raglan, a well-known surfer spot. The beach is indeed beautiful, and it’s only too bad that the it is already a bit too late in the season for a swim.  We should definitely come back…

On the way back to Hamilton, we stop at the Bridal Veil falls, which is well-worth the detour. A short walk leads us to the top of the waterfall, and from there, an infinite staircase leads to the bottom of the falls. It’s easy to go down, a bit less to climb back up 🙂

Bridal Veil falls

 

Bridal Veil falls

We spend the night in Hamilton after a short stroll in the Hamilton Lake domain. The next day, the city is stuck in a very deep fog that doesn’t seem to want to go away and prevents us form doing what we really came to Hamilton for… Instead, we visit the Hamilton Gardens. It is my first autumnal visit to the gardens (having previously visited in spring and summer), but no matter the season, it is always very nice to walk amongst the different parts of the park.

Hamilton Gardens

Pictures

Map

Around Auckland 2018

The year starts with the visit of Auckland art gallery and the Yayoi Kusama Obliteration Room. Great, we get to stick coloured dots everywhere, including on ourselves 🙂

Let’s take advantage of Waitangi day for a day trip to the West coast. A short hike along the cliff followed by a swim at Bethells Beach.

Obliteration Room, January 2018
Short Hike near Bethells Beach, February 2018
Auckland CBD from Devonport
Dinner picnic at Point Chevalier, February 2018

Seun Araromi takes the opportunity of a conference in Brisbane to make a short trip in Auckland. During the weekend, day trip to the black sand dunes at Bethells beach. Walk in the river and around the lake Kawaupaka, with copious amounts of mud.

Sand dunes near Bethells beach, May 2018
Shakespear Regional park, June 2018

June 2018, we take the opportunity of a sunny day for a short walk in Shakespear (note the absence of e) regional park.

Fast forward a few months (we stayed inside in winter, and travelled to Europe), and spring is finally coming, announced by the blooming of the cherry blossoms  in Cornwall park, and the hundreds of people rushing to see them. We were clever enough to park in one of the side streets…

Cherry blossoms, September 2018

In October, we drive to Manukau heads and its lighthouse. Auckland’s skyline seems so close, but what a trip to reach the tip of the peninsula! In front of us, we see Whatipu beach, where Josh fell in the water a few months ago…

Lighthouse at Manukau Heads

In May 2018, most of the hiking tracks in the Waitakere ranges have closed due to the spread of the Kauri dieback. We need to find other places to go hiking, and we decide to try the Hunua ranges, south of Auckland. Our first attempt is a failure because the park is closed due to the use of poison to kill rats and other pests, but a few weeks later, we come back for a hike in the forest.

Hunua Falls, November 2018

On our way to the French market in Parnell, we walk through the domain. There was a memorial to the New Zealand soldiers who fell during the war, such as the infamous battle of Gallipoli in 1915.
Auckland Museum, November 2018

Still in November, we visit NZ sculpture OnShore in Devonport, an open air sculpture exhibition on the grounds of an old war fortress .

NZ sculpture OnShore, November 2018

With the nice weather coming back, it’s the perfect opportunity for a visit to the west coast. Today we drive to Karekare and its waterfall. Looking for tunnels of an old tramway line, we mistakenly take a path that climbs up the hill, but are rewarded by a very nice view of the beach
Karekare Waterfall, December 2018

To end 2018, we take the boat (with the captain Ben and his deck hand Junior) to Motuihe island for some hiking and swimming. The day seems to have been exhausting…
Mothuihe island, December 2018

Pictures, Auckland 2018

Wellington

So what do you find in Wellington, New Zealand capital city?

There is Kelburn and the botanical garden, at the top of a hill that we reach with the iconicred cable car.

And of course, in a capital city, one expects to find the government… Wellington is famous for the architecture of the Beehive, which appears to be quite divisive, between the “Hey, but that’s quite original” and the “I hope the architect has been shot”. It has appeared once on a list as the world’s third ugliest building, but I think it is mild in comparison with the Boston City Hall….

We visited the parliament, and it was quite interesting to learn a few things about the political system of my adoption country.  However, we didn’t get to meet the Queen Bee as part of our visit of the Beehive…

The  visit of Te Papa museum gives the opportunity to learn more about New Zealand, such as the Gallipoli campaign during WWI,  during which 2779 New Zealander gave their life, and which is remembered yearly during ANZAC day.  On a lighter note, the Department of Conservation is trying to save a flightless parrot named  kākāpō from extinction. Everything is attempted to increase the number of chicks. The museum’s humorous movie, mission kākāpō copulation,  has been posted on Youtube (but sound is bad)…

 

 

Wairere Falls

2 trips to Wairere falls in February 2018 and November 2018. Here are some pictures:

Map

New Plymouth

Road trip to New Plymouth for Labour day. Yes, it’s LABOUR day, and we get a holiday… However, it would be unwise to complain. We drive via the forgotten world highway, which is very green, very hilly, and very forgotten. In the middle, we reach the village of Whagamomona, which declared its independence in 1989 following some discontentment over being assigned to a different region. It now has its duly elected president, and although the current one is human, previous presidents have included a goat who won by eating the ballots of his opponents, and a poodle who resigned after an assassination attempt.

Mt. Taranaki

Nice view of Taranaki from New Plymouth once we arrive. The next day, we want to hike on the sides of the volcano, but it is much more cloudy, so we only do a short hike in the rain forest. Apparently, the forest is called “Goblin Forest”, but I do not believe in Goblins… That is until I just saw one behind a stone.

A goblin in the Goblin Forest

We then drive to Cape Egmont lighthouse that we saw on a post card. Once there, we recognise the lighthouse, but an important component of the postcard is missing, or should I say hidden… We go back to New Plymouth via the garden of Pukeiti with its giant and numerous Rhododendrons.  Like the French humorist Sim, I don’t like Rhododendron: it’s too difficult to spell.

Yep, it’s the right location, but something is missing

Photos

Map

Gordon Walters

Admittedly, before moving to Auckland, I didn’t know many famous New Zealanders. As a scientist, I could name Rutherford, although I thought he was British before visiting Nelson in 2012. And Sir Edmund Hillary of course. Ah, and Kiri Te Kanawa. One year after arriving, I’ve discovered a few more. The last of the them was this Sunday.

Every weekday, I walk to work on Ponsonby road, and my eyes are systematically caught by the window of a shop selling NZ-made objects, exposing some kind of cloth with intriguing geometric patterns. So regular, yet with random variations that play with your brain.

It took a visit to the Auckland Art Gallery, to discover that this was the work of Gordon Walters (1919-1995), a Wellington-born artist. Fascinating temporary exhibition!

Let’s not forget a visit to the gift shop

An unexpected journey through New Zealand, December 2012

From September to November 2012, I had the opportunity to work at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. Before flying back home, I took 4 weeks to visit the country, with my friend Daniel joining me from the start, followed by Florent 1 week later. The log book (in French) is available on this page, but here is an illustrated summary of this trip in English. Judging by my drawing talents, choosing engineering was probably a wise choice 😉

Our trip starts at the end of November 2012, a few days before the world premiere of “The Hobbit: an unexpected Journey”. By New Zealand law, nobody is allowed to ignore this national event, and the Auckland airport has therefore hired an annoying fake dwarf that I must endure while waiting for my friend Daniel, whose plane is unfortunately delayed

As Daniel discovered while going through immigration, having über clean hiking shoes is more important to enter New-Zealand than a Visa or a Passport.

 Of course we want to taste local product such as wine (which I didn’t have much opportunity to test during my three months stay at the Auckland Bioengineering institute, as male kiwis say no to wine (but yes to beer!)). However, we were quite surprised by the indications on the bottle (although it appears that flocculation of suspended particles using egg whites is also quite common in Europe, but producers are not required by law to write it on the bottle, and they don’t…). I suppose that it makes this wine non-Vegan. Well, that’s their loss!

We are then on our way for the Abel Tasman coast track and its tidal crossings with clearly stated rules defining when it is safe to cross. Apparently, DOC rangers follow other rules, but they are wearing adequate clothing (not very photogenic)…

As a visitor in this beautiful country, it is very important to adapt to the local customs and laws and not end up in jail. On the other hand, the ubiquity of the word “kiwi” and its different meanings may seem confusing at first, especially as only one of them can be legally eaten. The following guidance should help the unsuspecting visitor to stay out of trouble.

We met some German tourists. They seemed to like us…

The nice think about hiking, is that you have the time to discuss about very important matters, such as the optimal shape a seal should have (they are not yet there…)

We were quite surprised on our way back to Marahau using the Aqua-taxi that we actually got to stay on the boat while they loaded it on a trailer and drove through the village…

After the Abel Tasman coast track, we headed towards Christchurch, where our friend Florent is due to land and join us in our adventures. We stopped on the way at Maruia hot springs, where sandflies are enjoying themselves and our heads (the only part of our body emerging from the water). We have to watch out not to be too badly bitten, so that Florent can recognize us at the airport.

We are now near Mt Cook, ready for a small walk along Hooker Valley, but we first have to deal with a small incident.

The wind is blowing fiercely in the Hooker valley. In French, we literally say that the wind is strong enough to ‘dehorn’ a cow. As no cows were around, we couldn’t really check if it was true, but at least the wind was strong enough to take Daniel’s cap away…

When we think about New-Zealand’s untouched nature, we imagine breathtaking landscapes in absolutely peaceful surroundings. Well, this is generally true, except when a group of 40 teenage girls arrive where you are. “Sorry for deafening you” said one of their adult supervisors.

We are now around Te Anau, and on the Kepler track more precisely. Our first camp ground is a very lovely spot at Brod Bay, on Te Anau’s lake. Apparently, the sandflies are also fan of this location, and of us…

We also need to fill our bottles with water. Florent doesn’t like the idea to drink water that stagnated in a tank, and I try to convince him otherwise, until I see the colour of the water.

Any tourist guidebook on New-Zealand will tell you that the country is absolutely free from deadly predators and consequently extremely safe. This is of course a state-sponsored lie aimed at attracting the unsuspecting visitor. I have already mentioned one of those blood-thirsty beasts: the sandfly. Today we discover another one of them, as it seems that some monsters have been left behind after the filming of the Lord of the Ring trilogy, judging by this very official DOC track closure notice:

In Queenstown, it is time to use my gift certificate for the highest bungee jump in New-Zealand, generously offered by my colleagues of the Biomimetics lab, who naturally tried to scare me beforehand by telling me everything that can possibly go wrong. What they didn’t know is that even though bungee jumping is not a Swiss invention, we have also a strong tradition in killing tourists this way, thanks to a company named adventure world who managed to use too long a rope… In the end my jump was a lot of fun. The bungee company has a dubious sense of humour, judging by the signs posted on their bathroom doors and they apparently require all of their male employees to grow a 70’s porn-star style moustache. What are they doing during the low season?

Driving in New-Zealand implies of course to drive on the wrong side of the road (as opposed to driving on the right side…), but it’s quite easy to get used to it and we therefore laughed at the arrows painted at the end of every one-lane bridge to tell stupid tourist where they should go. Well we shouldn’t have laughed, because after all, we too are fucking stupid tourists…

After crossing Cook strait, we find a small camping near a beach that has a small bookshelf working on a leave one / take one principle. However the choice is scary as it is almost uniquely composed by cheap cheesy love stories not worth the paper on which it is printed, such as “The Texas ranger and the tempting twin”, “He is just a cowboy” or “The laws of attraction”

We then head for Mt Egmont (Taranaki), the lonely mountain. Why it is all alone on the West and not with Tongariro and friends is explained in a Maori legend by the fact the he was caught red-handed with Tongariro’s lover, and was condemned to a life of exile far from the volcano tribe. For all the Kiwis and sheep living between the Egmont and Tongariro national parks, let’s hope that Taranaki never decides to head home…

Last hike of the trip: the Tongariro northern circuit. During the first day, we passed a hiker with a golf club, which starts a nice conversation among us: What is he doing with this on a volcanic zone? However, after a bit, the conversation changes to a subject that kept us busy for the past few weeks: what is the drawing on the Cerebos salt-shaker? a) a puddle of salt (the kid is just emptying the salt saying “see how it runs” out easily)? or b) a chicken (in which case the kid should learn that before putting salt on poultry, it is necessary to kill it, pluck it and cook it. In addition, throwing salt on a live chicken is mean: imagine if it gets some in the eyes? Evil Kids!)

But interestingly enough, a golf club is not the strangest object we have seen people carrying along this hike, because a few hours later, we saw a girl with a Hula-Hoop. I don’t know if Hula-Hooping on the top of Tongariro is one of the “must do” activities in New-Zealand…

I already mentioned two deadly predators (sandflies and Nazgûl) inhabiting this country supposedly safe, and today, we discovered a third one, and probably the fiercest of them all: the volcanic flying rock, which attacks innocent hiker from above, devour their soul and feast on their entrails. We cross the zone cautiously, keeping an eye on the sky, with sweat dripping in our backs, until relieved, we see the sign indicating the end of the dangerous zone (the advantage of those deadly rocks is that they attack only in very well-defined zones). But what is Daniel doing? Oh, my gosh, he is taking a picture of the “flying rocks zone ends” and by doing so, has stopped in the deadly zone! Unbeknownst to him, but knowst to us, danger is lurking…

Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky with the weather, as it has been raining for most of the hike. However, the ranger at the hut tells us that is should get better today. It is still lightly raining when we start the 3rd day, but trusting the ranger, we expect the rain to stop anytime…

Last stop before Auckland: hot water beach on the Coromandel peninsula, where you can dig your own private spa in the sand. Of course, you need to dig at the right spot or you could be surprised.

In the afternoon, we reach Auckland. Dinner with part of the Biomimetics laboratory at the Sky Tower restaurant. As today is December 21 2012, the world is supposed to end, and I bet that the restaurant is Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe.