Otaki Sunset

Otaki, New Zealand – February 6, 2018

We were on the road shortly after breakfast.  We departed New Plymouth on our way to the visitor center at Mount Taranaki.  It was a very cloudy morning with scattered showers.

Arriving at the visitor center, there was virtually nothing to be seen of Mount Taranaki.  There was not a piece of it visible.  The clouds were in thick.  So, all we could do was look around the visitor center.

Back in the car, we set TomTom for Otaki Beach.  One of my colleagues at work owns a bach (summer home) there.  He was kind enough to allow us to stay there.

After nearly four hours of driving, we arrived at the bach.  It sits directly across the street from the beach.  It was so relaxing there, especially after some 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of driving.  I was beat.  I really enjoyed being by the ocean and watching the spectacular sunset.

Sunset at Otaki Beach.
Sunset at Otaki Beach 2.
Sunset at Otaki Beach 3.
Sunset at Otaki Beach 4.

Southern North

Cape Palliser, New Zealand – January 29, 2018

Cape Palliser is another of our favorite spots in New Zealand.  Located on the southernmost point of the North Island, it has a rugged beauty.  Add to that beauty a spectacular red and white lighthouse and herds of seals and one has the recipe for a wonderful outdoor experience.  There are very few trees at this location.  That adds to the stark look.

Nearing the small village of Pirinoa, one passes the small Burnside Presbyterian Church.  It was a beautiful day for photographs.  The church dates from 1875.  It has a small cemetery off to one side.  Other than flowers and trees, there is really nothing else around.

The Burnside Presbyterian Church. A sign out front noted the church dates from 1875.

The Cape Palliser Lighthouse is literally at the end of the road.  For much of its length, the road hugs the beach.  Because of that, storms can wreak havoc on the road.  In places, only one vehicle may pass at a time.  Not long after leaving the small fishing village of Ngawi, the sealed road ends.  The remainder of the way is simply a dirt road.

At the end of the road is a parking lot and, thankfully, a toilet.  Towering above the parking lot is a large, rugged hillside, at the top of which is the lighthouse.  I wanted a photograph of the lighthouse with the ocean in the background.  I was not able to get a decent photograph in the past because of the lens I had.  The issue is that one can only stand so far back from the lighthouse without risking a fall down the hillside.

Just like the first time Leslie and I visited, there were 261 stairs separating the lighthouse from the parking lot.  None of my traveling companions were interested in taking on that many stairs.  Being not quite as bright as the others, I decided I must go up.  The reward for my ascent was a spectacular view of the lighthouse and the ocean.  As a bonus, I was there all by myself.

The Cape Palliser Lighthouse.

As I was ready to descend, I saw three people had just begun their ascent.  The stairs are very narrow and very steep.  I decided to wait until they made it up to the lighthouse before I started down.  It is hard to say which is more taxing; the journey up or the journey down.  Regardless, I shan’t have to worry about ever making the trip again…been there, done that.

Also, it is 261 down!

While I had been on my little adventure, my traveling companions explored the beach near the parking lot.  At that point, the beach is very difficult to travel across.  That is due to the fist-sized stones covering the beach.  It is hard to get stable, suitable footing.  Regardless, they did locate a lone bull seal napping on rocks at the water’s edge.

A yawning bull seal.

We got back in the car and began the return trip, stopping to look at various seal herds along the way.  Just prior to the tiny village of Mangatoetoe, there is a small piece of land that juts out into the sea.  The tiny peninsula forms a small, protected bay and some tidepools.  Every time we have visited, we have always seen seals there.  This day was no different.

By far, my favorite seal of the day was “Cruiser.”  I am not sure if the youngster was a male or female, but it was certainly mobile.  That seal cruised all over the area.  It seemed not a centimeter of the area was left unexplored.  There is something mesmerizing about watching seals in their natural habitat.  I know that is one of the things about New Zealand I shall miss when we depart.

“Cruiser,” the very energetic seal pup. He or she cruised all over the rocks.

On our way to the lighthouse, as we drove through Ngawi, I noticed the Captains Table food trailer was not open.  That meant if we wanted lunch, we would need to drive to Lake Ferry.  As we entered Ngawi on our return, it was open.  That was great news!

Adjacent to the Captains Table is a small camping area.  We ordered our lunches and then waited at a picnic table.  That did not last long.  The sun was very intense, so we gathered our food and sat in the air-conditioned comfort of the car to eat.

The food trailer. This is the only food commercially available in Ngawi. When it is open, it is a must stop!

After lunch, it was a leisurely drive back home.

The Burnside Presbyterian Church near Pirinoa.
View from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. This is part of the Matakitaki-a-kupe Reserve.
Truly in the rocks.
Just barely raising its head. Sorry to have disturbed you.
This must be how seals enjoy life.
Cruiser going up a “cliff.”
Ten seals.
One seal playing in the small inlet.
Life on the edge.
Two seals and a gull.
Cruiser and, maybe, mom.
That just cannot be comfortable…
Shortly after this shot, the seal had to abandon its post because of an incoming wave.
Cruiser checking out the photographer.
Another gull on the rocks. That sounds like a New Zealand cocktail…
“Cruiser,” the very energetic seal pup. He or she cruised all over the rocks.
Lounging seal. I guess the rock close to her head is a pillow??
A gull on the rocks.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse in the distance.
After a hard morning of swimming, this seal could not make it very far before a nap took over.
The nearby rocks must provide a sense of protection. Regardless, the flat rock seems much more comfortable than some of the other resting spots observed.
A female Paradise shelduck.
Gettin’ a little sun on the belly, ahhh!
Rocky beach near Mangatoetoe.
Awaiting lunch from the Captains Table food trailer in Ngawi.
In the backyard, waiting for the grill to heat up. This was after a hard day of seal watching.

Gannet Safari

Te Awanga, New Zealand – January 31, 2018

I guess one could say Napier is our favorite city in New Zealand since we visited thrice.  One of our favorite spots to visit in the area is the gannet colony.  So, with my parents in tow, we drove from Napier to the Gannet Safari headquarters.  It is a short drive, maybe 20 or 25 minutes.

We departed headquarters on a bus at about 09:30. In less than one kilometer, the bus turned from the highway onto the private road to Robertson Lodges.  These are exclusive accommodations.  They range in price from around NZ$1,000 per night to NZ$13,500 per night.  The 18-hole golf course there is currently ranked as number 16 out of 100 by GolfDigest.  To play 18 holes is about NZ$495 for non-New Zealand residents.

Robertson Lodges is the brainchild of Julian Robertson.  He is a hedge fund billionaire.  He bought the roughly 6,500 acres (2,630 hectares) at Cape Kidnappers for his lodge and golf course.  In New Zealand, instead of calling it a sheep farm or ranch, it is called a station.

As one approaches the lodges, one enters a wildlife sanctuary.  Robertson is working hard to bring back indigenous flora and fauna to the Hawkes Bay area of New Zealand.

Shortly after passing the golf course, the four-wheel drive bus diverts onto dirt roads.  The dirt road is lined with manuka trees.  I had not paid attention before, but the manuka trees are the flowering trees from which bees ultimately make manuka honey.

At roughly the halfway point, the bus stops at an overlook.  Our driver/guide allowed us to disembark and view the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers.  One can easily see the various volcanic layers exposed in the cliff face.  At the overlook, one can see a danger sign, warning about the danger of the cliffs.  The “railing” is much different than the railings at the Colorado National Monument.  The railings at the monument are roughly one-meter (3.2 feet) high.  The railings at Cape Kidnappers are a mere 25-centimeters (10-inches) high.  One does not want to stand too close.

Cape Kidnappers cliffs.
The cliffs at Cape Kidnappers. Napier is at the far shore.

Along the dirt road, the bus passed through numerous gates.  After all, we were driving through a working sheep and cattle ranch.  Since we sat near the front of the bus, I volunteered to open and close the gates.  That made it easier for the driver/guide.  He did not have to get in an out of the bus.  Instead, I got in and out to operate the gates.

A few minutes later, the bus made a U-turn and stopped atop the mesa inhabited by the gannet colony.  All of the tourists streamed off the bus and began snapping photographs of the birds.  These particular birds are the Australasian gannets.  The adults are white with yellow and black accents.  The birds’ wingspan averages 1.8 meters (5.9 feet).  The average weight is 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds).

The colony.

The noise is quite loud at the colony.  All of the birds; the adults at the nest, the chicks, and the adults flying trying to find their nest, are all calling out.  Exactly how one finds another is a true mystery to me.

The birds make their nest using sea kelp and their own feces.  Yes, that does lend itself to a rather strong odor at the colony.  When the young chicks hatch, they have very fluffy, white feathers.  As they grow older, the feathers take on a mottled gray and white.  The adult male and female gannets take turns at the nest and feeding.  The adult at sea feeds on small fishes.  When the adult bird returns to the nest, the chick uses its beak to knock at the adult’s beak to induce the regurgitated goodness that is warm, partially digested fish…yum, yum!

You lookin’ at me?!

The nesting sites are very arid. There is no source of fresh water.  The gannet adults and chicks get their fresh water intake from the fish.  Additionally, they have glands that help them shed the salt they ingest from their fishing and diving into the sea.

When the chicks take their first flight, it is a roughly 2,500 kilometer (1,553 miles) journey to Australia.  That is an amazing feat.

Walking to the edge of the cliff, one can look down on yet another gannet colony.  It is much smaller, but every bit as lively.  Just beyond the gannet colony is a rock formation the driver/guide referred to as Sharks Tooth Island.  Looking at the shape, it is easy to see how it got its name.  I was surprised how visible the island was from the terrace at our motel.

Lower gannet colony with Sharks Tooth Island in the background.

Looking to the north, one can see an alternate way to get to the gannet colony.  At low tide, one can pay to ride on a flatbed trailer behind a tractor.  The tractor trundles along the beach, depositing passengers near a trailhead.  The passengers can then walk up the trail to the gannet colony.  I must say, I am very glad we opted for the bus.

Alternate method of getting to the gannet colony.

While we were at the gannet colony, the driver/guide made some tea and coffee.  He offered that with some biscuits.  A very nice gesture.

On the way back to headquarters, I was on gate detail again.

Then it was back to Napier to relax.  One of my favorite parts of relaxing was watching the spectacular sunrises from our terrace.

Dropping from the sky.
The drop or the plop.
“Teenage” calisthenics.
“Teenage” calisthenics 2.
“Teenage” calisthenics 3.
“Teenage” calisthenics 4.
An intense look for the nest.
Checking the wind.
A tired “teenager.”
Preparing to drop in.
Pre-flight check.
A gannet siesta.
The younger and the older.
Intent stare.
Gannets-eye view.
Young chick.
The youngest gannet chick on the day we visited the colony.
Cape Kidnappers cliffs II.
Sunrise and fishing boat…version 2.
Sunrise and fishing boat.
Norfolk Pine trees at sunrise.
Seagull sunrise at Napier.
Readying for takeoff.
Final approach.
Searching for the nest.
A “teenager” exploring away from the nest.
Taking a snooze.
Hunting for their landing spots.
The landing pattern is always very busy.
The gannet colony. The young gannet at the center foreground looks dead. In reality, it was just sleeping soundly.
Final approach.
Gannet colony and some spectators. Take note of the two seated spectators.
Lower gannet colony with Sharks Tooth Island in the background.
Gannets everywhere.
Sharks Tooth Island as seen from our motel terrace.
Art deco corner.
The art deco Haynes building.
Negotiating the landing…
Gannet landing at the colony.
Searching for Dory!
Feeding time.
Little Blue penguins swimming at the National Aquarium.
Little Blue penguin.
Seagull diving at the sun.
Seagull sunrise.
Napier sunrise.
Sun’s first peek.

Maori Carvings

Taupo, New Zealand – February 2, 2018

Our drive from Napier to Taupo took just under two hours.  It was cloudy and rainy nearly the entire distance.

Taupo is a city at the north end of Lake Taupo.  With a population of roughly 24,000, it is about one-third the size of Grand Juncition, Colorado.  As one may have noticed, Taupo is a Maori word.  The full Maori name for the town is Taupo nui a Tia.  This is a reference to the cloak of Tia, the person that discovered the lake.

We stayed at the Acacia Lake View Motel.  Our apartment was at the front of the motel, on the first floor.  We had a lovely view of Lake Taupo from the living room.  The view included the hole-in-one challenge.  There were several tee boxes with artificial turf from which one could try to get a hole-in-one on a floating platform anchored out in the lake.  There were three different holes on the platform, each of different sizes.  Discretion was the better part of valor.  I did not even try the challenge.

After breakfast the next morning, we drove to the marina.  While we waited for our boat to take us to the Maori Rock Carvings, I walked away from the marina to the lake’s edge.  There, I stumbled across two black swans and numerous ducks.  At that time, the weather was stunning, allowing for a beautiful landscape photograph.

Lake Taupo as seen from near the marina.

When we boarded the boat, we initially sat on the upper level.  Just before we departed the marina, we moved to the main level.  On that level, there were tables with fixed bench seats.  At the rear of the seating area was a small bar from which they served muffins, tea, and coffee.

The other three travelers…

Moored in a slip nearby was the Ernest Kemp.  It is another of the vessels that daily transports tourists to see the carvings.  It is a unique looking vessel.  In fact, I had originally thought we should have reserved space on that boat.  It reminded me of the T.S.S. Earnslaw we had enjoyed while in Queenstown about two years ago.  However, after seeing how small the Ernest Kemp was, I was very happy with our selection of boats.

Another of the boats that takes tourists to the Maori Rock Carvings.

As we departed our slip, the weather was variable.  At times we enjoyed brilliant sunshine.  Then, just moments later, we found ourselves in a strong downpour.  We were very happy the boat seating area was enclosed.  The Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde weather was with us throughout our trip.

Once our boat was moving, one of the attendants shared details and tidbits about the area as we slid along through the water.  The surface area of Lake Taupo, 236 square miles, is nearly the same size as the country of Singapore.  The average depth of the lake is 110 meters (360 feet).  At its deepest point, the lake reaches 186 meters (610 feet).

For those friends in Colorado, it is worth comparing Lake Taupo with Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in that state.  The surface area is a mere 14 square miles, about twice the area of Fruita, Colorado.  The maximum depth of Blue Mesa is 104 meters (341 feet).

Shortly after departing the marina, the attendant directed our attention to Mount Tauhara, referring to it as the “pregnant woman mountain.”  Looking at the profile of the mountain, it was easy to see why the comparison was to a pregnant woman.  Mount Tauhara is a dormant volcano.  Its summit is at 3,569 meters (11,709 feet) above sea level.

Mount Tauhara, the pregnant woman.

A little over an hour into our trip, we stopped in Mine Bay to view the Maori Rock Carvings.  The attendants opened the front hatch on the boat so we could stand on the bow and take photos.  Standing was quite difficult.  Our weather stirred up the lake such that the bow was severely bouncing around.

The carvings really were spectacular.  The largest of the carvings was about 10 meters (33 feet) tall.  Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and John Randall made it and the other carvings.  They were completed in 1979.   Ngatoroirangi, a Maori navigator who allegedly led Maori tribes to the area some 1,000 years ago, is the likeness on whom the carving is based.  The only thing that could have made the carvings any more spectacular would be if they had been carved some 1,000 years ago.

This is the main and largest carving.

On the route back to the marina, I found it stunning just how crystal clear the water appears.  I can only wonder what it would be like to dive in the lake.

Walking from the boat back to our vehicle, we saw a family of black swans enjoying a meal.  I do not know if it was a male or female, but the older black swan pulled water plants to the surface so the five cygnets could easily partake of the meal.  They did not seem to be bothered at all by the parade of humans coming by their dinner table.

Family meal.

The following morning, as we departed Taupo, we stopped at Huka Falls.  This is more of a horizontal fall than a vertical fall; but, none the less, it is amazing to see the clear blue water rushing north.  This is the beginning of the Waikato River.  Huka is the Maori word for foam.

Huka Falls looking to the north.

From there, it was on to Ohope Beach.

Huka Falls looking to the south, toward Lake Taupo.
The boat we took to look at the Maori Rock Carvings.
Two black swans among the ducks.
Ducks on the very clear water.
Two ducks near the shore.
The cockpit for our boat.
Departing the marina.
Maori Rock Carvings.
Some additional, smaller carvings. The largest is the lizard near the waterline at the far right.
Enjoying the ride.
View of the shore.
Lake Taupo is huge.
View of the shore.
Typical homes near the marina.
Boat houses across from the marina.
The Marina.
Crystal clear water.
Part of the business district.
Street sculpture.
Tiki sculptures.