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Auckland and into New Zealand’s Northland

Leaving Sydney for the next part of our adventure, we flew to Auckland where we were met with wonderful sunshine and blue skies having left Sydney in a rain cloud. The views over the city as we came in to land were pretty spectacular too with the harbour bridge and Auckland Museum easy to pick out, even from this altitude.

 

 

We were greeted by our friends who we hadn’t seen for some time. We stayed with them the first night and caught up on life the universe and everything before setting out the following morning in our hire car. They had kindly given us the keys to the family beach house, known locally as a bach, in Mangawhai – we were heading to the Northland!

We headed out via Kumeu where we stopped to pick up sushi and a few bits and pieces for the road, then we took a short detour to find The Hunting Lodge vineyard which had been recommended to us and I got to taste some of their lovely wine as I wasn’t driving. The journey northwards seemed to take no time at all despite the odd stop for a leg stretch when we spotted something interesting like a nature reserve or viewpoint.

Having arrived at the bach by lunchtime we decided to make the most of our time there and take a short drive out for an afternoon exploring. We headed up the coast through the small town of Waipu and headed out to Waipu Caves to see whether we might find some glowworms. Having not done any research about this first, we found that in order to get to the glowworms you need to be proper kitted out, which we weren’t. Nevertheless, we had a bit of a wander around and found a few things of interest. The first was lots of this unusual flower which we have since discovered to be an introduced species, Tradescantia fluminensis. It may not be native but it was very attractive in the dappled shade by the entrance to the cave.

 

Tradescantia fluminensis, Waipu Caves

 

Making our way back towards the coast we stopped for a quick photo just outside Waipu, the view over Bream Bay was too good not to capture!

 

Bream Bay

 

We continued on past the town of Mangawhai to Te Arai beach on the other side of town. We found we had the whole beach to ourselves and it was lovely.

 

Te Arai beach

 

There were Variable Oystercatchers and New Zealand Dotterel foraging along the tideline but I had left my long lens in the car so we contented ourselves with watching their antics. Returning to the car we came across a rather lovely male California Quail singing from a sandy hummock on the edge of the carpark. I managed to get my camera out and snap a few photos – I was particularly amused that he closed his eyes as he reached the peak of each song.

 

 

Making our way back towards our bach, we decided to investigate the area a little more and spent a little time sitting watching the waders feeding in the harbour before heading back for the evening.

We had been given a heads up that there was a native bird called a Tui calling from the New Zealand Christmas tree outside the house. Sure enough, it was there and loud as you like but try as I might, it was not wanting to be photographed. Instead, I photographed a Silver Gull in the last light as it sat on the lamp post at the end of the drive.

 

 

The following morning, we were woken bright and early by the Tui. Needless to say it was less exciting at this point than it had been on our arrival! We hadn’t made any plans for the day but decided to head north and see if we could get up to the Bay of Islands. We spent an enjoyable day exploring the winding roads of the Northland, ate a delicious lunch in the restaurant of a vineyard that we stumbled upon, were taken by surprise when an Australasian Bittern wandered across the road in front of us, missed last closing of another glow-worm cave that was more accessible and stopped briefly to take in Whangerei falls on the way home. But in all of this, I barely took a photo with the exception of this pair of endemic Paradise Shelduck in a field beside the road.

 

Paradise Shelduck

 

The next day began in the same fashion, the Tui was rapidly losing his appeal with his solo dawn chorus. We had been more organised for today and arranged to go on a Glass Bottom Boat tour at Goat Island. After a short drive, we were waiting on the beach beneath a Pohutukawa or New Zealand Christmas tree, so called because they flower in December. It was not yet December but they were just beginning to flower here and we could only imagine how spectacular they must look in full bloom.

 

Pohutukawa on the beach

 

 

Goat Island was not very large but the waters around it are a marine reserve and the island itself provides a sanctuary for birds no doubt as it is thickly wooded on the shore side.

 

Goat Island

 

It wasn’t long before our craft arrived, complete with slightly eccentric captain. The shallow draft allowed it to pull right up to the beach and we boarded from there.

 

Glass Bottom Boat, Goat Island

 

We were soon out on the water watching all manner of fish such as Eagle Rays, Moki and Snapper.

 

 

There was so much to see from the fish to reef, so many types of seaweed, sponges and urchins. All that was beneath the waves but there was plenty above too. The captain took us to the far side of the island where the rock had been eroded by the rolling tides and a number of sea caves and arches had formed. This was the largest.

Sea cave, Goat Island

 

Above it on the rocks were some Southern Black Backed Gulls and nearby, a nesting colony of Silver Gulls with young. The chicks were tricky to spot and well camouflaged, if you look closely there are at least two in this photo…

 

 

On closer inspection, we found that another group of birds lower on the rocky shore was a small flock of White Fronted Terns.

 

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the boat and despite his loud character, our captain proved very knowledgeable and helpful in pointing out all the different species. All too soon though, we were back on dry land. We went for a short walk before climbing in the car and exploring a bit more round the local area. We stopped in Matakana for a lovely lunch before heading back to enjoy the beaches round the bach a bit more.

Back at Te Arai beach, I took my camera with me and made the most of the empty beach once more to get some lovely shots of the Variable Oystercatchers foraging.

Variable Oystercatcher

 

There was also a New Zealand Dotterel on the beach and although I managed a grab shot it wasn’t quite so confiding as the Oystercatchers and so it isn’t nearly as sharp as I’d like. Still, I thought I’d share it as these little waders are an endangered endemic species and not a common sight.

 

 

The following day saw us returning to Auckland via a very special island, Tiritiri Matangi. I took so many photos there and it was such a wonderful place that I decided to write a separate blog piece for it so that will be the next post. In the meantime though I still have a few tales to tell from the rest of our time on North Island and so I’ll continue…

We spent the day after exploring the Waitakere Ranges on the western side of the island. Our first stop was at Bethel’s beach where, contrary to earlier in the week, we found the sand to be black or at the least a dark brown. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a contrasting shot to that at Hyam’s beach (see my previous post if you haven’t already!) so here are my pudgy little feet in the darkest patch I could find!

 

 

We arrived to a little cloud but decided to have a wander and make the most of the tide being out. We walked round to the far side of a large rocky outcrop and up the dunes to where we had a good view back at the beach.

 

Bethel's Beach

 

Walking on up the dunes, we found ourselves at a great viewpoint overlooking O’Neil Bay and we sat for a while watching kids play at the water’s edge, dogs fetching a frisbee out of the surf and a bunch of surfers taking on the biggest of the waves. It was a little surreal though that beside us on top of a native flax plant, sat a singing male British Yellowhammer, just one of the introduced species on the island.

 

O'Neil Bay

 

There was lots of lovely Hare’s Tail grass here although that isn’t native either. I’m rather fond of this grass and enjoy finding it in its native Mediterranean habitat.

 

 

Walking back to the car, the sun had come out a little and we were staggered how quickly the sand had warmed up. We did fantastic impressions of those desert-dwelling lizards that run in quick bursts over the hot sand before standing on alternate legs to cool their feet! There were a mass of lovely lupines flowering on the dune backs by the car park. I discovered afterwards that these are also introduced. It seems we humans have a lot to answer for here…

 

Yellow Bush Lupine

 

Our next stop was a brief one at Piha beach jut along the coast where another introduced plant was growing all over the edge of the beach, Gazanias.

 

 

The large yellow daisy flowers made for an impressive sight but knowing that they aren’t native makes it less pretty somehow and I couldn’t help but wonder what native flowers they were replacing.

We did soon find a native flower though, a slightly unusual one at that. It is not uncommon but not something that we Brits see terribly often. This is the flower of the Mahoe tree and it grows directly from the branches beneath the leaves.

 

We found this tree growing beside a wonderful viewpoint from where you could see the entire of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf beyond. The light was too hazy to make a good photograph but we spent a while taking it all in before heading home to our friends.

The following day we had managed to get ourselves booked on a wine tasting tour of the island of Waiheke out in the Hauraki Gulf. Our friends kindly gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in Auckland Harbour and we set out for a truly touristy day. We were met on the island by a small bus and taken round 4 different vineyards and an olive farm where we ate and drank delicious wares before being put back on the ferry home. It wasn’t really a day for much photography but I did take a couple to share. We had a lovely lunch at Stony Ridge Vineyard…

 

…and had time for a stroll along the shoreline before catching the ferry back to Auckland. Waiheke certainly seemed an idyllic place to live and we found some amazing wines there which we wished we could bring back to the UK.

 

Waiheke harbour

 

The next day was our last in New Zealand and we decided to make the most of it by taking a ferry across the bay into the city. It was definitely worth it for the views of the skyline as we came down the harbour.

 

Auckland skyline

 

We did quite a bit of walking, first strolling down the harbour front from the Ferry Building (here’s the view looking back the way we had come).

 

Auckland harbour front and ferry building

 

Then visiting the Auckland Museum. This was a wonderful place and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There was so much to see and take in, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was there and so we visited that too as we hadn’t managed to get to the one in London. There was lots of information about the wonderful native species of New Zealand and some fascinating insights into Maori culture too. One of my favourite parts of that aspect was a Maori meeting house which you could enter called a Hotonui. It was a wonderful piece of culture and art all rolled into one with incredible craftsmanship having gone into its creation.

 

 

We enjoyed our walk out from the museum through some lovely park land and back down the hill into the city again. We stopped for a sushi lunch before heading back to the ferry so that we could pack. The ferry journey back was just as good with a particularly good view of the harbour bridge having passed beneath it.

 

 

The last impression made on us though was the astonishing number of South Island Pied Oystercatchers sitting on the little harbour wall in Hobsonville ferry terminal. Among them was the odd Southern hemisphere subspecies of Black Winged Stilt too. It was a fascinating idea that so many beautiful wading birds could thrive in such a busy harbour area. Perhaps Auckland Harbour could teach us some lessons about living alongside wildlife?

 

Our final day coming to an end, we packed up and headed out to the airport for our late night flight to the last stop on our adventure, Singapore. I’ll be writing about that part soon too… watch this space!

Jervis Bay, a wonderful stop on the way to Sydney

Returning from the Snowy Mountains via Tidbinbilla we had a few more days in Canberra with the family before Jervis Bay called us to the coast. We spent them exploring parts of the city we had yet to visit, the National Capital Exhibition was our first port of call. It was a fascinating insight into the history of the city from deciding where it should be based to choosing a winning town plan. The victorious designer was an American, Walter Burley-Griffin and the grand artificial lake in the centre of the city bears his name to this day. The view over the lake from the exhibition is a fine one and at certain times each day you can also see an impressive fountain reaching over 100 metres into the air, which forms part of a memorial to Captain Cook, along with a globe nearby on the shoreline which details the voyages he took.


Captain Cook Memorial Fountain, Canberra

The park behind the museum is also worth a wander, not only is it a beautiful, tranquil place for a walk, but for the naturalist it holds additional interest in the form of a Flying Fox roost. These are Grey-headed Flying Foxes, the largest of Australia’s fruit bats and their roost here is a little bone of contention for some of the locals who consider them a pest due to tree damage and their fruit based diet can bring them into conflict with fruit growers. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures and so we went for a walk in the sunshine.

Flying Fox Roost, Canberra

The noise was the first indicator that we were approaching the roost, despite them being nocturnal there was quite a bit of chatter and presumed disputes among them as they jostled for the perfect spot to hang out for the day. We were also lucky to see a few flying around trying to find a suitable perch and while my photos were not the best I thought I’d include one anyway because it gives a really clear indication of how the bat’s wing is basically adapted from an arm and hand structure not dissimilar to our own.

Flying fox

We also visited the Parliament Building which was very interesting and we were lucky to be there the day after the historic referendum for Gay Marriage was passed, which meant that we were able to witness some powerful and moving speeches in the Senate House. We spent an afternoon exploring the wine making region around Murrumbateman, particularly enjoying tasting at Clonakilla and lunch at Shaw Vineyard. At the suggestion of our niece, we also visited the War Memorial where we thoroughly enjoyed the museum exhibits. We were particularly moved by the tradition of sticking commemorative poppies into the gaps between the panels on the Roll of Honour.

We found ourselves in the right place at the right time as we were there for a Wreath Laying Ceremony too which was interesting to watch.

This marked the end of our time in Canberra though and having had a wonderful time with family we set out for the next leg of our Australian adventure. Having stopped for a few supplies for the journey, we set out towards the coast, heading for Batemans Bay. We stopped for a pastry in the small town of Braidwood and admired the views and the dense vegetation as the Kings Highway wound its way between Monga and Budawang National Parks. Reaching the coast we turned north before taking a right to get down to the sea. We ended up at Maloney’s Beach where Kagaroos lazed in a comical fashion on the short grass behind the sand and moody skies cut our visit a little short.

Our journey further north was a slightly winding one as we took the opportunity to explore a few side roads off Princes Highway and take in the scenery. We spotted a gorgeous Satin Bowerbird in a small residential area, watched Silver Gulls buffeted by strong winds, saw a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers flying over a rocky shore and passed some idyllic spots. We eventually arrived at our Airbnb for the next couple of nights in Vincentia, a small town on the shore of Jervis Bay, and having settled in we decided to take a walk. We headed out to Nelson’s Beach and found an Echidna wandering about on the edge of the sand. As the tide was out, we were able to walk round the headland at Plantation Point, along Barfleur Beach and onto Orion Beach before climbing up to the roadside to complete our circuit. As we neared the end of our walk, I came across an Orange Tiger Moth on the pavement. There are quite a few similar species and I’ve only narrowed it down to the Amata genus but it was something a little different either way and I took this image on my phone.

After a lovely meal in a local restaurant and a relaxing evening, we woke to find the garden of our Airbnb thronging with birdlife. These were new species to us and we enjoyed a happy half hour watching them over breakfast. They were feeding on flowering shrubs in the garden and it was a lovely start to the day. The first was a Little Wattlebird which seemed to specialise in reaching its food by hanging upside down.

Little Wattlebird, Jervis Bay

Next in were some noisy Rainbow Lorikeets, there were 4 or 5 altogether but they were constantly on the move and chattering to one another.

Rainbow Lorikeets, Jervis Bay

I did manage a clearer portrait shot of one of these stunningly colourful birds against a clearer background too. As a photographer I found them an enchanting subject albeit tricky to capture as they didn’t stay in one place for long.

They soon moved on, presumably to another garden full of flowers, and we set out for a day’s exploring around the bay. It was an overcast start to the day but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. We began by visiting what must surely be the best known beach in the area, Hyam’s Beach which is reported to have the whitest sand in the world. Of course, I couldn’t go there and not record how white the sand really was so I took a silly snap on my phone comparing the whiteness of my very British feet to the sand around them!

Hyam's Beach, Jervis Bay

It may not have seemed at its whitest on that grey morning but it was beautiful nevertheless.

Our next port of call was Booderee National Park at the southern end of Jervis Bay. Here, we drove the small road through the park and walked to Murray’s Beach. Stopping for a drink at a picnic bench we found ourselves close at quarter with a couple of wonderfully charismatic birds, male Superb Fairy Wrens. These tiny birds are really very wren-like in their characteristics although a perhaps little larger and with longer legs and tails, they still behaved like our wrens at home, hopping around with confidence and sticking their tails in the air. The most striking difference of course was their gorgeous blue and black colouring and I may have got a little carried away photographing them… I’ll let you decide!

By now the sun had emerged from behind the clouds and the day was brightening up. Moving on we entered an area of woodland that had suffered a bushfire. It was a slightly sobering experience as the area of trees affected was quite large but it wa fascinating to see how it wa regenerating. There was green growth in the understory and new shoots were emerging from the blackened eucalyptus trunks. The larger trees retained their uppermost leaves and provided some dappled shade while the smaller saplings beneath had kept only the dry, burnt leaves that signalled their demise.

Among the dessicated branches there was still birdlife foraging. We saw a lovely Eastern Spinebill in the higher canopy which was amazingly camouflaged in this tawny, orangey dappled world, while a New Holland Honeyeater came amazingly close overhead.

Continuing on our path, we came to a clearing out towards the peninsula where a rowdy gang of Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos were feeding on the green seedpods of a type of Banksia, using their dextrous claws to hold the pod while stripping the seeds with their beaks.

Every now and then one would move to a different tree, prompting the rest to adjust their positions accordingly. Only in flight were their striking yellow tail feathers really evident.

We concluded our walk with a flutter of butterflies which were under the trees on the edge of the carpark and went for a lovely lunch in Huskisson before spending the afternoon enjoying some more of the local beaches.

The following day dawned bright and we decided to head out to the other end of Jervis Bay, aiming for Point Perpendicular. This is located on part of a military base and so you have to gain permission at the gates before entering. A rough, corrugated track then takes you the 8km to the end of the peninsula where the Point Perpendicular lighthouse stands proudly atop the cliff.

This spectacular spot not only gives a great view over the entrance to Jervis Bay but is also reputed to be a fantastic place from which to watch for cetaceans. This became my husband’s new mission in life and so we ventured carefully toward the edge for a better view.

Finding a safe spot to stand and scan the waves for telltale signs we settled in for a while to peer through binoculars in the hope of spotting something. I must admit I soon got a bit bored and wandered back into the bush behind to find things to photograph while he was happily occupied. There were some quite nice flowers, several I recognised as Banksia and Tea Tree species and several which were less familiar. I haven’t narrowed down this rather attractive and seemingly fluffy one but if anyone has any idea I’d be glad to hear!

I took a few more photos of flowers but I won’t bore you with them all. I did find a few with interesting critters on though so I’ll share one of those. This one is a rather nice dark purple beetle which was clearly enjoying its dinner.

There were also a number of robber flies around which hunt other insects. They were impressive beasts and I couldn’t resist a snap of a particularly smart one with red legs resting on a small dead twig.

After a little while my husband came looking for me. He said he had seen a dolphin with a calf. I went back to look with him but they were gone. Nonetheless he had seen something of what he was looking for and we moved to the other side of the peninsula to take a walk down a track a short way. The view from here looked back over the whole of Jervis Bay and was equally lovely as the one out to sea. Here though, the low shrubby vegetation was also recovering from a previous bushfire and there were all sorts of lovely flowers blooming beneath the bare, blackened branches. We saw an incredible, green Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo briefly perched on top of a shrub and on the way back to our car, a Wallaby which stopped grazing to sniff a flower.

As our second full day in Jervis Bay drew to a close we knew that we had made the right decision to spend some time here. We had had a wonderful stay, visited some lovely places and seen some great wildlife too. We celebrated in style with a lovely dinner out and prepared to make our way back to Sydney in the morning.

Setting out the next day we made a fairly routine journey back to Sydney, following the main coastal road north till we hit the city. We dropped our hire car off and caught the train to our hotel before hopping on the Manly ferry. We may not have done this if not for the fact that we were meeting up with a dear school friend of mine who lives in Manly with her husband. They are both doctors and were scheduled to work nights so if we were to see them it would have to be in Manly. The journey was great though as we got a wonderful view of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the rest of the Harbour while on our way. We met up for drinks and they then took us to North Point to have a walk. The heavens opened while we were there but we carried on regardless with an umbrella and were rewarded with the most extraordinary view of Sydney Harbour in the afterglow of the rain storm. It was a truly memorable afternoon. We even saw Brush Turkeys as we left the car park and we ended our stay in Sydney with dinner in a restaurant overlooking Manly Beach before catching the last ferry back to the city. The following day we would leave Australia for the next leg of our adventure, New Zealand.

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