I get up reasonably, but not too early (07:30), because I do not have a specific sunrise location to go to. I start with getting supplies for the next few days. The stores are a bit weird. Strange products and little choice. The bakery for instance has only one kind of bread (white).
An Extraordinary Ecosystem
I drive directly to the coast, south west of Auckland to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. This is an impressively beautiful area, where one can see the original vegetation of New Zealand. Nearly all of New Zealand (over 90%) has been cut down in less than 100 years. All trees have been chopped for the wood industry, destroying the rest of the ecosystem as well. New Zealand was, like most of the other southern continents, part of a huge super continent: Gondwanaland. Around 130 million years ago, New Zealand split off en floated to the south like an ark. All vegetation of that time has experienced its own evolution and the results of that are exactly what can be seen here. These forests could very well look like the habitat where the dino’s once roamed.
The following photographs show some foliage examples of these trees.
Manuka also known as Tea Tree, has exceptional antiseptic capabilities.
Kauri can become very old and grow to gigantic proportions.
Rimu with its typical leaves.
The last time I was here, I already wondered what is so different about these forests. It’ still a bunch of trees and bushes. But this time I find out. The vegetation is different than ours: lots of ferns, palms and trees we do not have. But the variety really makes it special. If you look at a random square meter, you sea lots of greens and various kinds of leafs. A couple of meters next to it, the scene looks completely different. A sign that is posted here indicates that this relatively small patch of forest houses a larger variety in species than all the forests of Western Europe together. Impressive!
Surrounding the Arataki Visitor Center are a couple of tracks and I walk a some of them. Along one of these paths, hang a lot of box shaped webs, that are quite firm.
I ask later about them and they belong to the Nursing Web Spider. During the day this spider hides below the web at ground level, while at night it guards the web sitting on it. Within the web are hundreds of baby spiders. I also spot a small bird that appears to be a Tomtit. A couple of years ago these birds were almost extinct, but currently it is seen reguarly again.
There are a lot of Possums here. Very beautiful animals, but here they are exterminated with poison. Possums have been imported from Australia in the past for their fur, just like stoats and weasels. Possums are protected by law in Australia but here they do not belong. They strip trees completely from their leafs and plunder nests. Harmful for both vegetation and birds.
This area is completely infested with cycades. A deafening noise these little critters produce. I really wonder how many decibels they produce. It is really loud. They make a sound like tsjiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirp followed by tac-tac-tac. That latter sound is produced by clapping their wings. They do this with hundreds of them at the same time.
View from the Visitor Centre looking south west.
I drive to Karakare Beach. You have to walk a long way through loose sand to get to the beach. This has been a movie location for ‘The Piano’. Personally I think it is not that special. I am surprised by a large Fur Seal which looks like it is ill. It does not look good at all, as you can see its bones through the skin. I can approach it up to a few meters for a couple of shots.
Fur Seal on Karekare Beach.
Kitekite Falls & Karekare Falls
I continue in the direction of Piha Beach, where two nice waterfalls can be visited. The weather is very unpredictable today. One moment it is nice sunny weather and a half hour later the sky is completed clouded and it is raining heavily. It rains at the moment I arrive at Piha, so I wait for half an hour to let things clear up. Walking to the waterfalls through the rain forest, takes 40 minutes. Here I can make a few nice photographs.
Kitekite Falls in full glory.
Kitekite Falls in detail.
After a while a couple of Japanese people arrive with flash units, camera’s and a just married couple. The woman is dressed in a white wedding dress and is walking on sneekers. The photographer seems to be a little annoyed that I am on the centerspot and after a while decides to use a location more to the side of the waterfall once he realises that I will not be finished for a while. After a couple of photographs the groom takes a few steps backwards and slips. They can grab and hold him just in time to prevent him from falling into the water (-;
Dangerous Dogs and an Old Woman in Panic
Something weird happens on my way to Muriwai Beach. The GPS directs me via an unpaved road. ‘There we go again’, I was already thinking. Let’s see where this is going to bring us. After a while it seems to be a through road after all. Apparently, these small roads are faster, then the main roads indeed. Suddenly I see a quite disturbing scene right in front of me. An old woman lies at the side of the road in a ditch screaming and two dogs are running madly around this woman and are barking. A car stands still on the road some 30 meters further. What is happening here?
As I come closer, the dogs are going berserk completely. The woman looks bewildered and it seems like she is nuts. I continue a bit further and stop beside the other car. The dogs are running like idiots while barking and disappear at the front of the car. They are so close that I can not see them anymore. We both open our windows and it appears that the man does not dare to leave his car because of these dogs. He thinks they have attacked the woman and is calling the emergency services. I am not so sure about these dogs either, but I just can not leave that woman in this situation.
I go back a little to the woman who is still lying in the ditch. The dogs run around the car, while barking aloud. I open my window to ask what has happened. The woman panics completely and can only yell ‘ Whaaaaa I can’t’. On everything I ask here, this is what she answers. When I ask her if the dogs have attacked her, she replies ‘No’ loud and clear. I have a good look at the dogs again and think they look quite unreliable. Especially the eyes of one of them are weird, but I see also that their ears are not flat and they do not growl either. I guess that if I throw the door open firmly and step outside in a confident way, they will not harm me. And this is exactly what happens.
I do not understand what these dogs want. I walk to the woman an try to understand what happened. Meanwhile I have a sharp lookout at the dogs, but they keep their distance fortunately. I get these same answers again but she makes very clear that she needs help and wants to get out of that ditch. I grab her under her arms and lift her, but she does not have any strength in her legs. I put het down cautiously. At the moment I turn to walk to the other man in the car, one of the dogs grabs my leg. I turn immediately and yell loudly ‘Hey’ and give the dog an intense look. He recedes and leaves. I have not seen him afterwards anymore. He did not actually bit me but did grab me.
I walk back to the other car and tell the man that the woman is unable to stand but that she does want to get out of that ditch. The man still does not want to leave his car, because he has been bitten by a dog before. It seems the best way to drive his car back a position very close to the woman, so that we will be able to lift her in his car. He does not know her, but he does live in the neighborhood.
The other dog is now standing very close to the woman and he has no intentions at all to leave her. The woman tries to push him away, but that does not help. I am not going to bend so close to him. I still do not understand what he trying to do. His eyes look different than before and he keeps staring me right in the eye. I think now that he is actually protecting her, so I really have to keep a sharp lookout. I try to scare him away, but he still keeps his ground. Getting closer does not seem a very sensible thing to do. Very difficult to assess this situation. Acting friendly and trying to lure him away does not help either. Staring him right in the eye neither. I walked towards him up till the point I considered still safe before, but now I have to retreat and think of something else. This sucks of course, because he will become mentally stronger because of it. Hij wins the battle.
Then I remember something from the Dog Whisperer. If he does not trust a dog completely, he keeps some space by holding a tennis racket in front of him. I do not have one of those with me, but I do have my photo tripod in the car. I walk towards him very cautiously keeping the tripod between us and push him away gently. He does not bite and backs off calmly. Now he starts wagging his tail I know he does not mean any harm to me. I let him sniff my hand for a minute and caress his head. Now we are friends.
The man dares to leave his car now as well. The woman grabs my hand and does not want to let it go anymore. Gently I release her fingers one by one and take here under her arms. Then we carry her to the car together and put her in the front chair. De dog is completely happy now. He wags his tail wildly and keeps his head very close to the woman. She becomes calm now and she is able to tell where she lives. The man indicates that he is capable to handle the rest of it. The ambulance will arrive soon as well. The dog runs loud barking in front of the car to the house of the woman.
I continue my drive and run into a woman a bit further down the road. I open the window and tell her was happened. She knows the lady very well. I tell her also about the dogs and she confirms that they look somewhat unreliable, but that they are not at all. A bit further I see the ambulance and police arrive with yelling sirens. Police of course because the man indicated that the dogs might have attacked her.
Later I start to understand what most probably happened here. The lady does know the dogs well but she does not own them. They most probably heard her and understood that she needed help. Only now I remember that if I tried to drive forward, the dogs started nagging in front of the car and the same on the backside if I tried to drive backwards. I think that they tried to convince us to help. That bite happened after I had lifted the lady and left her after that. Now I think they only had good intentions, but how do you know? I am not a Dog Whisperer…
After this ‘adventure’ I continue to Muriwai Beach that houses a large Gannet colony. Arriving there, I ask a woman how to get there. She tells my that the Gannets usually leave by the end of march, but this year the departed already a month earlier. The sun will set soon and there is a broad band of clouds directly above sea. The sunset will not be visible.
A Long Dark Drive
I have to start finding a place to sleep and decide to continue north to Wellsford. Soon after it is pitch black while the road starts to become more and more curved. Quite tired I arrive around 21:45 and find a room for the night quickly. If I hadn’t found one I would have to either drive back to Auckland or continue to Whangarei.
Maps, Charts & Downloads
GPS Map with color coded altitude information
Color coded distance/altitude chart
Download the original gpx file gpx file here.