In Which the History of Gold is Deceptively Rusty (but still pretty awesome)

The next New Zealand weekend adventure found us driving down winding mountain roads on a day that seemed unbearably hot in the sun, yet just the right side of chilly in the shade. It seemed the former wasn’t much of an issue, because the place we were going had plenty of trees- not to mention some other pretty wonderful things:

Karangahake gorge river new zealand

After I was done being completely taken aback by the abruptness of this view right around the corner from the parking lot, I was taken aback by how big this sudden open area in the mountains was.

Welcome to Karangahake Gorge! Aside from its position as a truly spectacular piece of nature, this area is filled with the rich and ongoing history of its own: Gold. I’m used to elementary school stories of men heading west to California to pan for gold in the rivers, but this venture was a little bit more subterranean. You’re looking at a turn of the century gold mine, and although mining here was suspended decades ago, there is still as they say, gold in them there hills.

beautiful mountains new zealand gorge

New Zealand isn’t all sub-tropical rainforests and beaches. I learned pretty quickly that the variety of scenery in this place was pretty astounding, given its size.

Karangahake Gorge is now a reserve space with some truly fabulous walking trails that I will get to in a minute, but also some pretty great informational signage about it’s history. I may or may not be a huge nerd about informational signage- it’s just nice to see a thing, and then learn about the significance of that thing, is all. Example: this is the view looking over the main battery. Excavated dirt (with the gold ore mixed in) was brought  to this building using water from the river, where it was pulverized (“battery” like “battering ram” not the kind you stick in flashlights. This was before widespread electricity was a thing) -so the gold could be extracted. At one time, this area was responsible for more than 60% of the gold production in New Zealand.

victoria battery karangahake gorge gold mine new zealand

I love the smell of history in the morning!

There are a few trail options around Karangahake Gorge, but I was informed that the underground pump house and windows walk were going to be our best options. The walking path here follows what was previously train tracks: used to carry gold ore out of the mountains. It’s carved into solid rock at the edge of the gorge with a very solid railing to protect curious types from the 50- to 75- foot drop into shallow, rocky water below. In some areas, the tracks have themselves experienced that fall. The twisted, mangled remains of steel and the occasional rail road tie or pipe have settled in the water below, and a new trail has been carved deeper into the gorge next to the washed out area.

karangahake gorge walkway new zealand travel adventures

Can’t you just imagine a little train coming around that corner full of gold?

Although it’s a reserve, and meant for exploration- some areas of the mine are still dangerous and closed off to the public.

karangahake gorge mine shaft door

I particularly enjoyed this very official looking amalgamation of bits of scrap steel to keep pesky youths out of the mine shafts.

Gotta keep those hobbits from sneaking through the mine shafts, you know. Pesky Bagginses and their shortcuts and invisible gold rings. I wonder if there’s invisible gold in these mountains!?

But what’s this ahead? Could it be? My first ever real live swing bridge?!

swing bridge at karangahake gorge new zealand travel

(it’s the small things. The swing bridge may or may not have been the reason that this place was high-visiting-priority in the first place.)

We paused for a photo-op, of course, because- let me ‘splain you a thing’-when you’ve spent the majority of your life (and all of your independent adventuring life) smack in the middle of the Midwestern United States- there are no swing bridges. This is because in the Midwestern United States there are no hills to connect with bridges. Everything is flat. Flat and ocean-less and full of farms with corn and cows. Swing bridges and oceans were two things I wasn’t really sure I needed until I had experienced them, and let me tell you, swing bridges are pretty awesome.

swing bridge at karangahake gorge walk new zealand adventure travel

I just really like swing bridges, okay?

Say Cheese!

swing bridge selfie karangahake gorge new zealand

Yes Hello, I am a huge nerd and I like to document stuff.

The swing bridge took us up a path to a sign that said the underground pump house walk was currently closed- disappointing, because that just sounds pretty awesome. We hypothesized that there were structural issues and hoped they were temporary. Karangahake Gorge is a day-trip’s drive from Auckland, and I intend to go back to see if it’s open. We did, however, get to experience the famous ‘Windows Walk’.

windows walk new zealand adventures karangahake gorge

Still pretty cool even if this was partially closed too…

After a great many stairs (so many stairs…) we follow a dark tunnel cut into the side of the mountain. From the main tunnel, several auxiliary tunnels are carved both right- further into the mountain, and left- out to the steep cliff and overlooking the river. These left tunnels end in ‘windows’ which we use for light as we wander through, and which the miners used to deposit whatever they dug out of the mountain into waiting train cars below. From one of the windows, we looked down and saw the swing bridge we crossed to get to this point:

windows walk karangahake gorge new zealand

*selfie but don’t look down*

About halfway up the left side of this photo is a little dark spot- that’s the entrance to the Windows Walk- at the top of the stairs. Unfortunately, this area was also plagued with some structural issues. Only half of the walk was open, after which a barricade forced us to turn around and head back. Usually, the carved tunnel goes all the way back to the beginning and deposits you in the parking lot where you started, but hey- another reason to go back, right? We took a little detour to follow that train track from before in a new direction- here you can see the old path falling away and the new path next to it.

karangahake gorge walk new zealand gold mines river

What a pretty place this becomes as nature takes back what it’s owed.

Some of you may recall that I did a semester-long black and white film photography study on the process by which nature constantly attempts (and  succeeds) to break down and take back the byproducts of human intervention. This place was ripe with exactly that- old, rusty bits of machinery abandoned by anxious entrepreneurs on to the Next Big Idea, the worn train tracks and water pipes still in place amongst new growth of trees and shrubberies. As soon as we humans turn our back on something, nature begins the slow reclamation process.


I changed my mind. I want to build my house into the side of this cliff.

There are some opportunities to climb around on the old machinery-  or if you’re a huge nerd like me, to take pictures of it. It seems in every capacity like the miners rushed out as quickly as they rushed in- leaving the slowly rusting detritus of their trade wherever it happened to land.

karangahake gorge new zealand adventures travel

Old rusty stuff- what’s not to love?

I wonder if the miners appreciated the views they had in these mountains while they were prospecting. Probably not, deep in the belly of the mountains, but maybe when they came up for air. This place is nestled amidst mountains and is a beautiful thing all it’s own. Maybe it was less so when the miners were uprooting it for minerals but nature has had the better part of a century to take it back now, and she’s done an admirable job softening its hard edges.

karangahake gorge new zealand

The remnants of a second battery overlook a particularly beautiful area of rolling green mountains. Everything here is so stinkin’ green!

After that healthy dose of green, and the positivity that is nature reclaiming land after the mines were abandoned- we drove a little further to an actual, real-live present day mining town with an active pit mine.

open pit mine in new zealand

Everything is just so big… and unhappy looking…

Things happen a bit differently these days, with open pit mines instead of tunnels and shafts. There is a building down there, a house-sized office of some sort- and heavy machinery for the digging of the gold, but everything is miniscule in comparison to the size of this hole in the ground. There were guards patrolling the top of the mine (five, by my count)- probably to keep hooligans and activists from causing problems. I wonder if they get that a lot. The Kaimai ranges (Where the Karangahake Gorge Mine was located) are still filled with gold, but the protected land status means it can’t be mined. Currently. This area wasn’t so lucky, but given enough time after it’s abandoned in search of more lucrative ventures- I have confidence that nature will take back this pit and make it once again beautiful. With our back to the pit mine buzzing with activity, we were met with a very interesting site: at the end of a pair of tracks was a suspiciously old looking building with a suspiciously new looking foundation.

cornish pump house new zealand waihi

Are you suggesting that buildings…migrate?

The Cornish Pump House was a relic of bygone days when water was used to power the mines. It fell out of use when it was replaced with electricity, but was preserved because of its historic significance. The informational signage here was a little sparse, but between that and the internet we figured out the basic story: In 2006, surveyors realized that the ground the old pump house stood on was unstable because of the mining operations right next door, and a very large effort was made to relocate it. The tracks are teflon-coated concrete pads which the pump house was slid along on for 300 meters to its new resting place as you see it today. Visitors can wander around inside and see how the operation worked (and which spots are now the best places for bird’s nests as they flit about above…) and if you’re a huge nerd like me, take pictures of the architecture.

cornish pump house inside new zealand gold mine historic

It’s pretty. It’s a different kind of pretty, but it still is.

It’s sort of nice to see the old parts standing watch over the new things, as if to say that everything will settle back into its rightful place eventually. I love adventures like this- and it’s not often you get to see the progression of history right up through present day- even if the present day part isn’t exactly all warm and fuzzy. Who knows what these places will look like in a century- they’ve certainly changed a lot in the previous century. It might just be that I have a soft spot for historic places, and you know how exciting the Piha adventure was- how am I supposed to pick a favorite, though? Was Piha better than Karangahake Gorge? I’m refusing to answer that question. On principal.

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Where there’s a will, there’s a Waterfall. (Part 3)

Welcome to the third and final chapter of Containment Issues! As promised- although I don’t know why you’d be specifically interested in such a thing- there are no beaches to be seen in this post. There is, however, a variety of other cool stuff to make up for it, so I don’t feel too terrible about the beach deprivation.

We took a break in the middle of the day- when the sun was at its most intense, to take a short drive away from the beach for a bit of a hike. It was welcome respite from the sun, as well as an opportunity for some great pictures!

tropical river new zealand

I’m not sure if it’s within my capacity to explain just how clear this water is. New Zealand has had some environmental issues lately (basically with tourists not respecting the natural places they’re visiting) but it doesn’t seem to have effected this little oasis at all.

Sheep of course wanted in on the action, and insisted on taking some photos before we got too far. He’s decided to opt out of the usual selfie instead for a game of hide-and-sheep. I do love a good game of hide-and-sheep, though, so I was willing to partake.

adventuresofsheep and a giant kauri

Sheep admits, he has a thing for precarious perches.

Sheep learned that much of this area was a forest of giant Kauri trees- as soon as the Europeans settled in New Zealand, they discovered that big trees make awfully nice big boats, so most of these ancient Kauris are gone, and what few are left are endangered. Regrowth attempts are being made, but these fellas are slow growers. They can do in 50 years what a white pine tree does in 10. There are plenty of remnants of the huge timber business that marks the beginning of European residence in New Zealand- Piha sits near an old mill, and the wilderness is littered with pieces of Kauri like this one that were too large to be moved.

As we walked further into the forest, I soon suspected that I had secretly been teleported to the Amazon and was currently wandering around somewhere in South America. Beam me back to New Zealand, Scotty!

rainforest new zealand piha

New Zealand isn’t so hot and humid as people say that rainforests are, but it certainly still sits in the same climate zone. Also note that I actually had to tone down the green in this photo. The camera didn’t know what to do with how vibrant everything was.

It was a beautiful day outside- low humidity and an ocean breeze, and a temperature in the mid-eighties made for perfect exploring weather. (I’m back in the States now, I get to use Fahrenheit again!). Basically, it was a pretty common December afternoon. As this was my first time on a walk in the woods (“the bush” if you’re keen on picking up any isms) I was paying close attention to the differences in plant life. This, for example, is a Spleenwort:

spleenwort new zealand

The birds all make different noises too, but they don’t tend to sit still for photographs as well as the plants do…

Early Europeans, in their infinite wisdom, were of the opinion that if a person consumed the above-mentioned Spleenwort, they would be- you guessed it! Cured of any spleen-related afflictions. Now, they’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly what those afflictions were, because nobody really knew what a spleen was at that point, but I guess they thought it was worth a try. Eating strange spotty plants in the forest never killed anyone, anyway…right?

As it turns out, the only thing Spleenwort does is taste gross. No effects on spleens, positive or otherwise.

Here’s a more common sight- a palm I saw frequently around New Zealand for the rest of my time there:

new zealand nikau palm

Science! Bet you didn’t think you were going to get a biology lesson this week!

This is the Nikau Palm: the only palm species native to New Zealand. Besides my initial awe at palm trees in general, this one has a more specifically cool aspect: While most trees have growth rings for every year, Nikau palms have growth bands- every year, a new set of palm fronds grows and falls off, leaving a new 2 or 3 inches of trunk growth. You can see this starting to happen at the top of my photo. The process, therefore, of dating a forest which contains Nikau Palms becomes much easier and less harmful to the trees-since all you have to do is count the bands on a few Nikau palms. No trees were killed while determining the age of this forest.

At this point, it is possible that I was complaining slightly (only slightly!) about the amount of hill-climbing that had been occurring, but- and let me tell you, this became a recurring theme on this trip- the view ahead more than made up for it.

view of mountains at piha new zealand

Remember how this was supposed to be a beach trip? Do you see a beach? Me neither. I’d think it was Colorado for all these mountains, except I don’t think it ever gets this warm in Colorado. And there certainly aren’t any palm trees.

And then, impossibly, the view got even better:

kitekite falls new zealand piha

But soft, what yonder water falls?

Meet the Kitekite falls (which is pronounced kitty-kitty. In my opinion this makes the whole experience much better, but that’s just me.) This was my very first ever southern hemisphere waterfall! It’s actually three waterfalls in a tier, with swimming holes at the top, one tier down, and at the bottom. And no, it does not swirl in the opposite direction.

The first view is actually just a lookout and is still a fair distance away- after 15 or so more minutes of hilly walking, we reached the base of the falls. (Note: if you are reading this as a potential traveller to New Zealand, first- yay! Do the thing! and second- I recommend good walking shoes that won’t skid. You’ll be fine until you get to the falls but the rocks there are slick when wet, and part of the path goes underwater. Expect to get your feet soggy unless you take your shoes off.)

kitekite falls new zealand base

If I could take home waterfalls… If I could take vertical pictures, really.

Let me just… okay. I know about waterfalls. I learned about tides and starfish in school and it was still weird to see them in real life, but I had seen waterfalls before. Big ones, too. Niagra falls. But really, there are so many waterfalls in New Zealand, and every single one of them is beautiful, big, and fabulous and they all tell such stories! I will never get tired of waterfalls, especially New Zealand waterfalls. I ended up seeing so many waterfalls here, in fact, that the rest of them are going to get their very own blog post- that’s how many there were. Each one is so very different and unique from all the others.

base of kitekite falls new zealand adventures

The Intrepid Adventurers on their quest for beautiful things.

Sheep, not to be left out of the picture taking fun, also decided to take a waterfall selfie- his first of many. He was the luckiest anyways, he got to be carried up. I had to walk.

adventuresofsheep at kitekite falls new zealand

Sheep doesn’t even have to worry about sunburn! He is the luckiest. All he has to worry about is getting dropped. That could be pretty bad, though…

I stuck my toes in the water, but we didn’t go swimming. After a few more pictures, and some general staring-with-my-jaw-figuratively-on-the-ground, we headed back. Chronologically, the Meeting Of The Starfish happened next- but you already know about that.

I know, after the Beautiful Thing that was meeting all the Piha sea life, this seems short by comparison, but this was such a different feeling, wedged neatly in between the black sand and the starfish. See, we don’t have beaches in St. Louis. At all. Like I said, I could count my beach-related experiences on three fingers before New Zealand. But we do have forests- I’ve spent a lot of time surrounded by trees, I’ve seen waterfalls, watched little steams flow lazily under my feet. This was my first experience with New Zealand as the same, but different– my first taste of the New Zealand bush, and all its native plants and animals. It was as if I was coming back to something I knew very well, but that something had shifted one step left in my absence. A parallel universe, almost. I was in a familiar forest, but I was surrounded by unfamiliar plants, and the sounds of unfamiliar birds. Here, it was like I was looking around at something I thought I knew for the first time. There are so many forests all over the world, and they’re all the same but different. Some have palms, some have pines- some have young Kauri regrowth just starting to peek up amongst the canopy, trying to grow an empire that was lost to loggers decades ago.

I would like to visit more forests, and every time I do I’ll be in search of this same feeling- the feeling that everything I thought I knew about a thing just took one step sideways, and that I’ve learned to expand my horizons just a little bit more.

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The Anti-Little Mermaid

(This is part two of Containment Issues. Go read part 1 if you want some background on this adventure, or keep reading if you just want to see some sea critters.)


You know that scene in the Little Mermaid where Arial shows us her collection of Whosits and Whatsits galore, and her twenty Thingamabobs? It’s generally understood, even by the particularly young audience of that movie, that Arial is fascinated with the things she collects because they represent a whole facet of her world that she knows nothing about: land. Maybe I know some things about the way oceans work a little better than Arial understood the function of a fork, but there’s still a huge difference between seeing an ocean in a textbook, and digging your toes into the sand. In this metaphor, I am Arial’s opposite- thrilled and giddy about the everyday occurrences of the tide pools, the critters that live inside them, and the way their little ecosystems survive and thrive; little havens safe from the violently crashing waves.

We’re back at Piha for the second installment of Containment Issues, and if you think I had trouble containing my excitement for part one, you have a whole other think coming.

tide pool lion rock at piha new zealand beach

The thing about all the scary, dangerous rocks at Piha is that while they’re busy endangering the lives of unassuming swimmers, they’re also harboring other forms of life in droves.

Keeping in mind that my experience with oceans prior to this trip was extremely limited- meet the first sea critter:

barnacles on the rocks in tide pools piha new zealand

(You thought I was done taking pictures of the ground, didn’t you? I’m just getting started!)

Barnacles! Barnacles are everywhere, and they are so weird. They’ll grow on anything that stays still long enough, and they look all spongy and squishy but they’re just not. They’re hard- so hard that, combined with the next critter I met, they’ll cut right through the soles of your shoes if you’re not careful. What’s the next critter, then?

barnacles and mussels on piha beach sea life

This blog post should probably actually be titled, “Taking Pictures That Could Be Desktop Backgrounds” – alternatively, “Taking Pictures of the Ground part 2″

Mussels! I’ve seen mussels before- I’m a pretty huge fan of boiling  and steaming them, and grilling them is pretty excellent too, but this day was the first time in my 22 wise years (sarcasm) that I had ever seen mussels as they are in nature. They kind of stick themselves to the rocks so that their razor-sharp lips point directly up into the unsuspecting bottoms of your feet. These particular ones are small, but the Green-Lipped mussels in New Zealand (the kind commonly eaten) are the length of my hand! The little critter inside a Green-Lipped mussel is as big as the critter and shell combined of the mussels I’m used to eating here.

Next Critter:

sea anenome in tide pool piha new zealand adventure

“Poke it!”… “I’m not poking it. It’ll bite me!”…”It won’t bite you. When are you ever going to have a chance to poke an anemone again?”

Its an anem- aneon- ame- an anemone! I totally sympathize with Nemo, nobody could be expected to spell that without a ‘proofread’ button. Apparently this is the Disney movie reference blog post… I was a little fearful of the anemone situation based on my knowledge of how they eat… by trapping and killing their prey with stinging nematocysts that emit bursts of venom to anything touching their little tentacles, and then digesting it. I didn’t feel like any of my fingers needed digesting, so I wasn’t about to go sticking them were they didn’t belong. There were several minutes of reassurance (and laughter) before I decided that maybe, maybe, it would be okay if it was just a quick poke, so I did- and watched the anemone curl in on itself until it looked like a squishy little stress ball! It may have even been worth the stress of potential finger digestion.

seaweed growing in tide pools in new zealand

Ever seen anyone get excited about seaweed before? You’re about to!

You’ll recall the previous post about the growing of Mermaid Hair- here we have a different variety which is cultivated primarily for use by younger Mermaids, as fashion trends dictate large, flat strands of hair rather than smaller cylindrical ones typically seen with the older set. These are still very young Mermaid Hair Plants, and will continue to grow until they are long enough for the Mermaids to harvest. The exact length depends on the particular preference of the Mermaid, although longer lengths are typically associated with a higher level of patience, as this type of Mermaid Hair Plant is a very slow grower. It is particularly sought after for its very vibrant spring greens.

If you see a Mermaid Hair Plant on the beach, be sure not to disturb it- the Mermaid is probably waiting for you to leave so they can come up to retrieve it at high tide.

Here, with my bright pink flippy floppies and toes as reference, you can see the danger that barnacles and mussels present for those who wish to climb around on the rocks. It’s the only way to get to more awesome sea life though!

hot pink flip flops explore barnacles and tide pools

Flippy Floppies: Commonly called “Jandals” by the Kiwi population, who will give you a funny look and ridicule you for calling them anything else

If I had planned this trip better, (who am I kidding, I couldn’t have planned for this- neither of us had any idea it was going to be so epic…) I would have worn my water shoes. They have very dense soles. I did, in fact, wear them the next time we went, but that’s another blog post.

Here’s what the mussels and barnacles look like when they’re all grown up:

mussels and starfish at low tide

Unfortunately, you can’t eat the mussels once they’ve left the water because they emit poison to keep themselves safe from predators… like pink-haired seafood loving adventurers…

That’s about the size of the ones you can buy in the grocery store. Also, you’ll note in the upper central third of this photograph- my first real life encounter with Starfish! Stay tuned, cause this adventure is about to get more Starfishy than anyone could have anticipated…

But first!

kina sea urchin submerged in new zealand tide pool

I didn’t say all the critters were cute critters… some of them are downright frightening.

Sea Urchin! This particular variety of sea urchin is called a Kina, which is its Māori name. It’s a delicacy, apparently- but I think I’d have a hard time getting past it’s prickly exterior. Kind of makes you wonder what that first person was thinking when he said, “Hey, wonder what it would be like to put one of those spiky things in my mouth! Gosh, I hope we don’t die!” …what pretty colors, though! 

Here’s another face only a mother could love:

new zealand sea crab in tide pool

One of the biggest critters we saw… Definitely not a thing I’d want to poke…

Crabs! Crabs come in all shapes and sizes, and this particular fellow was pretty large. They’re also very quick and very skittish, and so difficult to photograph. this was actually not the first crab I saw, it was just the first time one didn’t run away for long enough to document its existence. Maybe he was feeling photogenic. Maybe he was having a good….exoskeleton…day…?

And now for something completely different!

small blue starfish in new zealand


Starfish! Of all the critters on this adventure, the starfish were the biggest deal. I knew they existed, because I kept seeing them in far away, difficult to get to places, and I really wanted to get close enough to photograph some. Enter, our little cerulean friend! She (he?) was in a tiny tide pool- fitting, for a tiny starfish. I didn’t even know starfish came in blue, and yet there we were! I took so many pictures. Just to be sure, you know? And this- this most glorious of starfish-finding moments- was only the beginning.

constellation of eleven legged starfish new zealand

Very important fact of the day: A group of starfish is called a Constellation!

Oh. My. Goodness. Everyone. Google has just informed me that a group of starfish is, in all actual and very serious fact, called a Constellation. As far as trivial facts you’ll probably never use goes, that’s pretty excellent. I, however, really could have used that knowledge when I ran into this situation, just at the cusp of low tide on Piha:

starfish covered rock 1

first photo: pretty average looking rocks covered in mussels, barnacles, and something…orange? Also check out those sea caves in the background!

At first glance, it’s nothing more than a pretty picture… but what happens if we maybe get a little closer?

starfish covered rock 2

are those…?

YES. Yes they are, friend. Just as I though that I was done, that Piha was done teaching me about tide pools and ocean life like a grade school child learns about sentence structure, here we were. Faced with a person-height rock covered from tip to toe in starfish! I am so done. I was having such a hard time thinking of anything that could possibly even begin to top this experience. It’s like the mermaids were whispering around (because of my interest in their hair-plants) and they told the starfish what a nice surprise it would be for a poor, land-locked American if they all gathered themselves up on one single solitary rock at low tide so that said American could freak out and take lots of pictures on her first whole day on a beach. Then, they had the little blue starfish keep watch, and they waited.

rock full of starfish new zealand

Feel free to have yourself a game of ‘count the starfish’- I lost track, those legs are tricky. I’m just going to stick with ‘a lot’ if anyone asks…

Naturally, I had to document my presence at this moment:

selfie at starfish rock piha adventures

AHHH (you can even sort of see the sunburn setting in…)

While I was taking photos, the tide started to roll back in- and it rolled very quickly indeed. After a few last-minute shots, we scurried back up onto the beach via some more tide-pool laden rocks, and decided- as the sun was starting to head for the western horizon, to head home. Not before I took a few last minute photos though.

tide pool at piha new zealand.

I feel like I could fill a ocean studies textbook with all the photos I took on this trip. I just want to stare at it and count all the critters! I didn’t even talk about the limpets, snails, and mollusks!

Piha was beautiful. If she were human, she’d be flipping her hair in the wind right now. She behaved perfectly, and I have not a single, solitary complaint about my visit- (my subsequently peeling nose might have some other thoughts, but I care not. It only happened once.)- and I still basically want to live here.

piha beach new zealand

The day summed up- Tide pools, rocks, beach, ocean, and the scenic cliffs in the distance.

And finally- one last shot of the Mermaid Hair Plant forest:

piha and volcanic rocks beach new zealand

I can identify volcanic rocks when I see them now too! But we’re getting to that adventure…

It’s still really difficult for me to comprehend that everything in this photo was covered by water just a few hours later at high tide. I can’t deny it- I nearly got stranded a few times (and by stranded I mean I almost had to get my shoes wet in order to get back to dryer land…).

So there- we’ve reached the end of part 2. There’s still a whole ‘nother post’s worth of adventure to cram into this day! That’s for next week, though, and if you are a little bit tired of ocean-based photos- ( one, gasp! and two, you might consider reading about someone else’s non-island based adventures….)- don’t worry! Next week’s installment of the Containment Issues saga takes us up into the hills surrounding Piha to see my very first southern hemisphere waterfall! And no, the water doesn’t flow in the opposite direction.

In the more recent news of someone who is retroactively blogging about her visit to New Zealand, My working holiday visa for this coming year was approved this week! I’ll be traveling back to this wonderful place at the end of September, and this time not only am I allowed to work and make money- I can stay for a whole year! Piha, darling, I’m coming back for you! Let’s just hope I can get caught up with the old adventures before new ones begin!

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(Retroactive) Containment Issues

Preface: I may have kinda sorta stopped blogging because I was too busy having crazy wild fun in New Zealand… I’m back in St. Louis now- so prepare yourselves for some hardcore retroactive adventure blogging!

Here’s the thing. I went on this adventure- and the whole thing lasted, in its entirety, for approximately 8 hours. As far as adventures go, that’s just a blink of a moment in time…especially since two of the hours in question were spent driving to and from the destination. Especially since this whole 3 month New Zealand trip is an adventure. Especially since all life is an adventure.

But get this. I’m going to have to split that 8 hours up into three blog posts, because otherwise the level of grand miraculousness that occurred on this adventure will not adequately be described and that, my friends, would be a travesty.

You see, before The Void took me to New Zealand, the number of times I had personally interacted with oceans could be counted on three fingers. After just a few weeks, I’d encountered my fair share of beaches and oceans, and up until this day I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the whole situation.

But then this happened:

Piha New Zealand


New Zealand separates the Pacific ocean (east) from the Tasman sea (west)- and further along west is Australia. It’s not one of those “I can see Russia from my house” type scenarios though- it’s a bit further away than that. Piha was my first experience with the Tasman sea, all the other beaches I’d been to so far were on the Pacific side.

Sheep insisted his picture be taken before we moved on:


Sheep was so excited by the prospect of this beach that he couldn’t even wait until we actually got to the beach…

As a side note, shortly after this trip Sheep created his very own Tumblr and he’s pretty popular. Like, way more popular than me…

I took 491 photos of this adventure (part of the reason it’s getting split up into three posts)- and you’ll see why. How can you not when everything’s just so pretty?


Not sure if I’m allowed to say that the Tasman sea is prettier than the Pacific, but the odds are certainly stacked in its favor.

One of the first things I noticed when we got out of the car was the sand- It’s called a black sand beach, but really it’s a combination of normal colored sand and iron from volcanic rocks, which darkens and gives everything beautiful, shimmery effect. The beach literally sparkles, and it’s fabulous.


See!? Sparkly!

The iron deposits are washed up by the waves, and sit on top of the sand. Next time, I’m bringing a magnet and science is going to go down.


I am absolutely that weirdo that spent the day at a beautiful beach and took a bunch of pictures of the ground…I mean, someone had to make sure the sparkle was adequately captured…

The second thing you should probably know about Piha is that it’s one of the most dangerous beaches in New Zealand. It’s one of few surf beaches I’ve been to, and the currents here are so dangerous that it has it’s own TV show: “Piha Rescue”. – However, the waves are pretty excellent.


Does ‘poke it thrice and call it mine’ count in this scenario? I want to live here.

The trip was mostly exploratory, though. I still can’t surf (patience, grasshopper. Next time), and the water’s a bit chilly anyways- but it’s gorgeous even if you choose to stick to dry ground. There are three sections of the beach, and it’s safe to say that the most interesting bits are only accessible at low tide. By a very lucky coincidence, our visit was well-timed.

piha beach at low tide

Looking off on the south beach

Not only did we get there just as the tide was going out, it went out much further than usual while we were there. According to Google and my middle school science teacher, this is called a “Spring Tide” and occurs during new and full moons. The more you know.

As we were looking around (read: as I was taking pictures of the ground…) Jon told me about a second beach that is only accessible at low tide (it’s a fairly common dilemma with the beaches here), and although the tide was going out, it wasn’t low enough yet. While we waited for the water level to go down, we wandered over towards another interesting landmark.

lion rock at piha beach new zealand

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the Lion sleeps tonight! (Hakuna Matata!)

Lion Rock! it looks more or less like a lion depending on where you stand, but the general idea is there. When the Māori lived here, they used Lion Rock as a lookout and defensive position, and were quite successful at defending their land from invaders for a very long time.

piha south beach at low tide new zealand

As the tide went out, it was very clear why some sections are dangerous to swim in.. I don’t think I’d enjoy an encounter with any of the barnacle-covered rocks lurking beneath the surface.

It’s a short, steep climb up to the lookout, and definitely worth it for the views. If you look closely, you can even see a few tiny surfers amongst the waves! Straight ahead you can see the extension of beach that I talked about earlier- we’ll get to that in a minute.

piha beach from lion rock new zealand

1) Check out that view, and 2) Don’t fall off the rock!

There’s a little grassy patch on top of the lion’s head for your sunbathing pleasure, and it also happens to afford a pretty fantastic view of the beach and village below. From the top, I learned a thing or two about what, exactly, makes Piha so dangerous. There’s just the boisterously breaking waves crashing up onto the beach if you look to the south, but looking over the north beach is a different story entirely. There, amongst the breakers, you can see the twisting patterns the rip tides create in the surf, and the places where the pull is so strong that it drags sand up from the ocean floor. This definitely isn’t a swimming beach- and when people don’t heed that warning, it makes for some very dramatic television.

top of lion rock at piha beach new zealand

If anyone needs me I’ll be building my house right… here.

For a bit of a reference, here’s a view of the climb back down Lion Rock. It’s a steep and well worn path, but not an issue even if you’re not very sure-footed. One thing I discovered pretty quickly is that aside from my low level of general physical fitness, I specifically have a pretty awful sense of balance. Even though I felt like I was going to fall for most of the walk, I still managed to do it without so much as a skinned knee.

descent from lion rock at piha beach new zealand

Fitness aside, maybe not a good first walk for people afraid of heights. It is a pretty long way down…

After climbing down from Lion Rock and a quick snack break, the tide was low enough for some secret-beach explorations. We climbed over the barnacle-encrusted rocks and stopped to investigate many a tide pool ecosystem, and I took some pictures to document my efforts at keeping my bright pink dye job from fading in the sunlight. New Zealand’s UV rays are, after all, 40% more intense than the ones in the US.

protect dyed hair from uv rays selfie at piha beach new zealand

I’m a pirate, and any logical argumentation concerning the actual, tangible non-piratenesss of my life is irrelevant. (I’m not saying I’m The Batman… I’m just saying nobody has ever seen me and The Batman in the same room together…)

After a bit of climbing, and some hilarious moments concerning my inability to balance myself upright with anything less than three points of contact -(I see you there. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.)- this is what we saw:

south piha beach at the lowest of low tides

Location: paradise. I’d be fine with a hut, really- it doesn’t even have to be a whole house…. I wonder if I could use the salt water for washing out my printing screens, or if my little hut would need a reverse osmosis device…

This whole ‘Grand Adventure in Three Parts’ occurred on a Monday, which is not-generally speaking- a very popular day for beachgoers, so the whole place was virtually empty. Even fewer people ventured around to this little corner, so my job as ~Official Photographic Evidence Gatherer~ was pretty easy. You’d have to actively try to take boring, ugly pictures of this place.

piha south beach in the sun

The only disadvantage of the wispy cloud cover is the sunlight. If there’s one skill I picked up in my travels, it was how to sunblock everywhere the sun might so much as think about touching,

If you walk all the way down so far that you run out of sand, this is what you see. The beach gives way to nothingness, separated from the ocean only by a rocky outcropping against which the waves crash violently (in sets of seven, I learned). Behind this is an area where, I was informed, seals and penguins might bring their young to keep them safe while fishing. Alas, it was neither seal nor penguin season, so we didn’t spot any mammals this trip (other sea life on the other hand… well, stay tuned for part 2!)

wave crashes against rocks at piha new zealand

One of the many rules of beaches is ‘never turn your back on the waves’… and now we know why.

Three pictures ago, you may have noticed a rock to the right of the beach. Here’s another view:

piha south beach new zealand

Seriously, nature. How does this even happen… Why is it so pretty and perfect all the time? Is it even trying??!

This little channel goes, obviously, all the way through the rock. Apparently people (more adventurous than myself) even swim through it! Nature is the coolest thing ever.

We decided to spend the hottest part of the day in the shade by taking a short hike up into the hills to see a waterfall; but that’s part three of this little adventure. After that, and lunch under a flowering Pohutukawa tree, we tried our luck at the north end of the beach.

north end of piha beach sun and sand new zealand

The sun, sand, and water combination does such weird things that I will probably never get tired of photographing…

This end had a whole bunch of truly fabulous tide pools and sea life that we are not  talking about until next week because there is too much and it is overwhelming and even as it is I may still explode…

There was also this very cool cave.

cave at low tide piha beach new zealand

note to future self: caves that fill with water at high tide will drip on your camera if you wander in at low tide.

Below, we can see a very nice specimen of mermaid hair, which as we all learned in school, grows on the rocks until it is long enough that it can be harvested and worn by the mermaids.

The mermaids, because of this, have bright green hair which blends nicely with the green-blue of their oceanic habitats as well as the various jewel tones of their tails. Of course, some of the more rebellious mermaids have been known to dye their hair ‘weird’ colors like blonde and brunette, and some of them don’t even tell their parents they’re doing it first. Some people will attempt to convince you that this is not mermaid hair at all and is instead seaweed, but those people are wrong.

seaweed growing on a rock wall at low tide at piha beach new zealand

See? you can see on the edges the roots where the mature mermaid hair has already been harvested!

As the sun went down and the tide started to roll back in, (neither the first, nor the last time we almost got caught by the tide on this trip) we headed back to the car, I took pictures of the colors changing as the daylight faded, and we evaluated the condition of our sunburns and tan lines.

sunset at piha beach new zealand photography

Dear Piha, it won’t be the last time we meet!

Did you make it? Are you with me here at the end of this post? Did you scroll through the pictures thinking to yourself: “My, they just keep going- when will it end?” – well here it is. I’ve made it through one third of this single-day adventure. Probably less than a third, if you consider the number of photos I have for next week’s post. This is what happens when you release someone with a formal education in photography on a beach for (basically) the first time in her life and tell her to go crazy. I can, having already returned from this trip to New Zealand (’tis only the first of many!), look back on this adventure in comparison to everything else that happened and say with pretty secure certainty that it was still one of the best parts of the trip. There are so many things you don’t think about when you don’t experience them firsthand. Sure, you learn in elementary school that the ocean’s tide goes in and out- that there are seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains of sand in the world, that crashing waves carve patterns in rocks, and that a variety of sea life living in these nifty little things called ‘tide pools’- but until you see it? I don’t think you fully understand it until you’re standing in the middle of it, and it’s jumping up to nibble at your unsuspecting toes.

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A Highly Concentrated Dose of Adventure: and the Front Page News

We’re freshly back from a weekend trip up the Coromandel Peninsula, and let me tell you- it was an adventure in more ways than one. The weather was cloudy with a bit of rain, but what’s a bit of water in the face of adventure?

cloudy hazy bay at tairua new zealand

Photo-stop in Tairua. Pretty sure if you look close enough, you can see Smaug back there somewhere…

The road is long and impressively winding. Where the highways I’m used to cut forcibly through the landscape in unforgiving straight lines, this one winds gracefully up, down, and between the mountains. They’re the kind of roads you see in Bond movies, with a vertical cliff face to your right and a straight drop miles down to your left. And bonus points for the frequent scenic outcroppings complete with parking areas.


Adventure waits for no one- It’s surreal to be surrounded by mountains and oceans at the same time.

At one point, there was a narrow, overgrown pathway that led to a view that Sheep couldn’t get enough of. He even thought he heard some Kiwi birds…


Sheep’s Adventures in Birdwatching, anyone?

Upon arrival in Whitianga, we did a bit of exploring and went out in the bay for a bit of swimming and kayaking. It was still rainy, so the escapade was cut short by my worry at the level of waterproofing of my camera bag, but it was fun while it lasted. The next morning we spent a bit of time wandering around in town, where one of the local shopkeepers recognized me from the day before by my hair. It’s a good thing I’m not a spy, really- hard to keep a low profile with a highlighter on your head…

Next, Hot Water Beach!

hot water beach new zealand

It’s like a treasure map… “twenty paces in front of the rocky outcropping, you must start digging.”

Hot Water Beach has a hot spring under it, and people can go during low tide and dig holes in the sand. The holes fill with spring water from under the ground, and you get a nice hot tub effect while hanging out on the beach. It’s a great idea in theory, but there are some issues. First is people- it’s a very touristy spot, and I was lucky to be able to take a few pictures before too many came to stake their claims.

hot water beach new zealand

There’s so much nature, and it’s just…everywhere! I love it.

The second issue is that you’re supposed to start digging your hole while the tide is still moderately high for Maximum Hot-Spring Enjoyment Factor… which is difficult. You start digging your hole, and a wave comes in and washes the whole thing flat again. you try to build a barricade, the wave washes it away. You try to use a human as a barricade, the water gets around him and washes sand into his shorts. It’s sort of destined to fail from the beginning. Didn’t stop us from trying, though!

digging a hole at hot water beach

Maybe we need a different strategy? Or an earth-mover. That would work…

The boys tried a couple of approaches while I stood by with the camera. Eventually, they started trying more obscure digging methods…

digging at hot water beach, new zealand

What if we brought a team of German Shepherds to the beach, and told them a bone was buried down there?

The cool thing about it is that you can see the hot water bubbling up through the sand if you’re looking- too hot, actually, to stick your foot in. I heard surprised yelping in several different languages in the few hours we were there- like I said, it’s a very touristy place. Eventually, it became impossible to dig without fear of beaning an innocent bystander with a spade full of sand, so we left in search of less crowded adventures.

hot water beach new zealand

The areas of the beach that do not boast of hot springs are deserted. Way to show the love, guys. What if this poor section of beach is lonely?

We decided to go explore Cathedral Cove next- it’s a spot I wanted to visit and also a pretty cool hike.

cathedral cove beginning of hike

This week, on “Scenic portraits of seagulls”…

The hike takes about 30 minutes, and there’s all manner of interesting things to see along the way.

gemstone bay, new zealand

Overlooking Gemstone Bay. Sadly, no actual gemstones are present…

The interesting thing about the New Zealand countryside is that there is so much of it, and yet it’s all so different.

new zealand foliage and forest

The (albeit slightly rainy) hike to Cathedral Cove

At one point, as you walk over the top of one hill (It’s about the halfway point)- the view to the left is a perfect description of the rolling hills, rocky outcroppings, and lush greenery that seems to mark New Zealand’s summers:

new zealand

Title shot for more Hobbit movies right there- no wonder those movies were so good- with this landscape, half of your work is done from the start!

Standing in the same place and looking to the right, however, reminds you that there is in fact an ocean surrounding this place, and you’d do well to pay attention or risk falling off the edges of the earth.

new zealand

Views to the left of me, views to the right- here I am, stuck in the middle with you!

After the 30 minute hike to Cathedral Cove, which may have been slightly longer on account of all the breath-catching that had to be done because ‘lung capacity’ is not on my list of strengths… we emerged:


Sometimes, trees get the best views.

Cathedral Cove is exactly as beautiful as they say: times about a million. Because of the weather and the time of day, there were only about 12 other people there with us, so I took advantage of the photography. The wave sounds that can be heard echoing through the cavern are haunting and beautiful, and the water is so clear that you’d swear you were the only other human on the planet.

cathedral cove

I can see why Macklemore filmed his music video here…but I know he didn’t hike 30 minutes through the bush to do it…

I’m having this problem with the scaling of everything- there are no words, and no photos that can accurately describe the intense largeness of the cavern- or the feeling of smallness you get from standing inside it.

catherdral cove

just going to sit here and contemplate the smallness for a while…

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is what the start of the return hike looks like:

cathedral cove hike

“…and then, they disappeared into the jungle, never to be seen again…”

On the way back, we met this dapper fellow and his lady friend- at first they were afraid, but I crouched down to take photos while Jon made some whistling sounds, and our new feathered friend came over and posed on a rock so I could take his picture.


Too bad his lady friend wasn’t interested in the photography…

By the time we got back to the house it was dark, which turned out to be just fine considering the sunset. Although it was cloudy and rainy for most of the weekend, the skies cleared up enough for a night-shot of the view from our front porch. Off to the left is Shakespeare cliff, which was on the list of things we would have done had the weather improved.


It’s supposed to be ‘red skies at night, sailor’s delight’…don’t trust the wives tales, kids.

The next day, we went on a new adventure to see what apparently has been voted “New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Beach”- It’s another one that you have to do a bit of hiking to get to.

hike to new chums beach

It starts with a rocky beach that is absolutely full of the most beautiful shells and rocks- you walk around the edge until you think you’ll run out of land, and then a path appears to lead you into the brush. Hinky.

After getting distracted looking at seashells for a good half hour, we went inland where I was surprised to discover an area that looked like it was the hand-built set from a Jurassic park movie. Everything was still, and you could hear but not see the ocean through the undergrowth. It was beautiful, and creepy all at once.


you just expect to see a cameraman on a little track waiting to film our reactions to the monsters that jump out…

It was, actually, a beautiful beach. Another stroke of luck with only 10 or so other people around, and this little lean-to constructed out of palm fronds and tree bark:

lean to shelter at new chums beach

Ah yes, I’ll move in next Tuesday if that’s alright with everyone. Look at those pohutukawa trees blooming in the background!

Far enough up the beach, there are even sand dunes that look out over the water. Birds nest on the dunes, which is cool as long as you abide by the natural order of ‘you stay on your side of the rope, I stay on my side of the rope’ -Otherwise, eyeballs get pecked out.


Just realized I spent an awful lot of time taking pictures with my back to the beach. That might be considered somewhat backwards by some…

Here we are: the sun sets over New Chums beach…

new chums beach

…except you can’t really see it because of those pesky clouds…

And walking back, we could see the beach from between the trees:


never really considered myself to be a beach person, but this is pretty excellent.

You’ll forgive me for saving the biggest adventure for last.

After all the adventure we crammed into the ‘annual camping trip’ this weekend, I figured we were about finished with it all when we packed the kayak and everything else up and headed for home. Sheep was more than happy to stand guard while we put everything else into the car and took off- after a quick pit stop for fish n’ chips, of course.


As you can see, a very securely tied, properly attached, and correctly facing kayak. This is the ‘before’ part of the story, you see.

Unfortunately, about an hour and a half into our return trip (and stops every 15 minutes or so to let people pass us and make sure that the kayak was in fact secure- it was) we drove around a corner and a gust of wind hit us so hard that it shook the car. There was a loud clap and a bang, and I watched as the nose of the kayak swung around over my window. We pulled off the road, and Jon started working on assessing the damage. I, meanwhile, was trapped in the car by a twisted piece of the roof rack which had levered itself against my door. About a minute after we pulled over, a police officer found us and pulled off. She saw the twisted pieces of metal that remained of the rack, and Jon told her that it had snapped in the wind, and we were trying to fix it. She helped to twist the kayak back to its proper position, which partially freed the piece of metal against my door, and then apologized because she was on her way to an accident further up the road, and left.

After Jon pried me out of the car, we set to disassembling the wreckage and reattaching the kayak facing, once again, front to back. It took about two hours, one tarp, a duvet, a bungee cord, and 20 feet of rope to get it tied back on, and by the time it was tied, the car battery was dead from the hazards and headlights. When we attempted to flag down an officer for help, he refused, laughing, and drove away.

I was a little miffed that nobody else stopped to help us (considering the eight other police cars that drove by), but I counted it as a win because the only major damage was to the roof rack. I figured that was the end of it, until this popped up on the NZ National News two days later:

windblown kayak sideways

Thank you, good Samaritan who stopped to take this picture and didn’t bother offering any help at all. On the other hand, it’s cool to have a picture…

According to the original article, police pulled over an Irishman who told them he though that was how kayaks were supposed to be transported- and was ‘unrepentant’. Basically, the story went viral, and even more viral when they found out that the driver was actually about as close to being Irish as a bottle-nose dolphin. The police ended up having to actually apologize to the entire Irish nation -Foreign relations and all. They are, however, still claiming that they pulled us over for driving with the kayak sideways like that. First, nobody pulled us over- the car pictured pulled off to try and help after we were already stopped- and second, at no point were we actively driving with a sideways kayak on the roof. Someone who “was not there to comment on the situation” appears to still be commenting on the situation.

So far, I love New Zealand, and I’m happy to be able to call it home for another two and a half months. I love everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and I’m jealous of this fine place they call home- especially this summer in December thing, that’s awesome. That said, a little grey rabbit once told me “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”- and I think Thumper would agree that spreading lies for any reason isn’t nice, no matter the intent.

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