Monday, November 30, 2009

Shelly Beach and Rainy Day Around Auckland

On Friday the 20th of November, the school that I work for, Media Design School, had a Christmas party. Of course, this led to everyone staying out very late. I had a lot of fun seeing a few different bars and clubs around central Auckland after the official party. I particularly enjoyed a club called forté on Fort Lane, which was techno themed and had lasers casting dots on everything inside. In any case, I did not expect to do anything the next day, as I assume that both Steffan and I would want to rest for the day as we got back at nearly 4am.

Saturday, I was lazy and laid in bed until almost 2pm, trying to get as much rest as I possibly can. When I popped online, Steffan was there, and within half an hour, we were out the door. The weather was decent, so we decided to drive towards the west coast to explore the surroundings there, as we had visited the east coast for the past two weekends. Although we were hungry, we decided that we would try to find a place outside of Auckland to eat, as we could eat in Auckland at any time.

It turns out that we did not encounter any significant towns until all the way to Helensville, about 50 kilometres north-west on Highway 16. We literally walked from one end of Helensville to the other while looking for food. Unfortunately, it turns out that the restaurants and cafés in the tiny town were generally open to only 3pm. After a series of direction asking, leading us from the information centre to a café at the train station, we finally came across a restaurant that was open, the Art Stop Café at the southern end of town. Helensville, a town of just over 2500 residents, set below rolling green hills filled with sheep on the banks of the meandering Kaipara River, is the idyllic Kiwi small-town. I felt much better after a breakfast chicken sandwich with ham, which was much better and filling than I had expected.

After lunch, we decided to follow a map we picked up at the information centre towards Shelly Beach on the peninsula that leads up to South Head, where there are some lakes and large sand dunes. We decided to go to Shelly Beach as it appeared to be a location of interest, with photos in the information centre and a special mention on the map.

Unfortunately, when we should have turned onto a smaller road just outside of Helensville, we continued up Highway 16 towards Kaukapakapa, which one electronic sign referred to hilariously as "KKK." We realised that we were heading the wrong way just before reaching Kaukapakapa, 12 kilometres outside of Helensville, but decided to continue on for a little bit more, as there was a "scenic overlook" just beyond the town, according to a distance marking sign just outside of Helensville. We figured that if the scenic overlook was posted nearly 15 kilometres away, it must be a good one. When we arrived, we discovered that although the overlook did provide some views of the southern portion of Kaipara Harbour, the largest enclosed harbour in the Southern Hemisphere, the view was nothing to be excited over, definitely not worth posting about 15 kilometres in advance on an official road sign! I guess there is just not that much out here of mention in the boonies of Rodney District.

We doubled back and turned onto the correct route for Shelly Beach. As we drove on, the landscape became filled with farmland and native bush. We started entering stretches of ten minutes or more without seeing anyone else on the roads. It turns out that this part of Rodney District is one of the least populated areas within a short driving distance from Auckland, and it really does show. Eventually, the road led us to the small community of Shelly Beach on the shores of the Kaipara Harbour.

We arrived at Shelly Beach during high tide, so it was not very impressive at first glance. The beach is very narrow by the park, and there are some spots for tents and camper vans to park. However, Shelly Beach is quite appropriately named, as the beach by the water was completely covered in shells. Steffan and I strolled along the beach, and walking up a path, found a grassy park with gum trees leading to a small, informal neighbourhood of what appeared to be simple vacation homes. We attempted to follow a path down to a cove we saw from the park, but when this turned out to be a residential driveway, we retraced our steps back to the beach to follow the shore instead.

Following the shore past some rocks, we reached the more unique parts of Shelly Beach, although I cannot say that I really enjoyed it. The shores around Shelly Beach consist of vast areas of mudflats covered in a thick layer of gooey mud. I found it quite disgusting to walk through the mud, and I didn't have clean water to wash the mud off my feet as the water was so murky that I couldn't see past a few centimetres below the surface. As we were walking, we encountered a group of Māori kids with what appears to be a digging tool and a bag filled with shellfish. All along the muddy shore, we encountered shells and the occasional jellyfish.

Eventually, we found ourselves a few coves away from Shelly Beach. At this point, we were also quite far from the shore, across what appeared to be a large lagoon. There is a mysterious black gooey strand-like substance covering the plants in the lagoon, and there appeared to be thick layers of mud which formed wall, towers, and hidden mud wells below the sand. Although this mud looked solid, it was nearly impossible to predict where the ground would be solid and where your entire foot would sink in. Luckily, I had my shoes off, but Steffan's shoes and parts of his socks were completely covered in mud by the end of the trip. It was also hilarious that he had just cleaned his shoes off at a log a few steps before the worst section where his entire foot sank into the mud and his shoes became too muddy to even attempt cleaning. I was very careful to not step in the wrong place, as the mud has a strange soft consistency, was grey like concrete on top, and black like charcoal a few centimetres below the surface. I am still trying to figure out what causes mud like this, as I had not seen this before. I certainly hope it is not the pollution from the nearly farms.

Soon, it became too difficult to walk along the mudflats, so we decided to turn back. We took the first set of stairs we found leading up the shore. We were surprised to meet a local walking his dog on the mudflats on the way back, but he had hiking boots on, and seemed unfazed by the mud. He immediately asked us if we were from Auckland. I wonder if he knew that by seeing how muddy Steffan's shoes were, as it looked quite obvious that he had not prepared for the mud.

The stairs led to a concrete path among grassy lots and a few houses. There was a lot of construction around the area, and the path eventually turned into a sidewalk in a tiny neighbourhood that looked like modern suburbia in my home town of Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto. This path soon took us back to the park, which led us back to where we had parked. When we got back, the beach was much wider, although the newly exposed areas looked suspiciously like the mud we had just walked through.

Seeing that the sun was setting, we drove back to Auckland while Steffan and I had some even more deep conversations about our histories. When we got back to Auckland, I suggested checking out the Korean restaurants on upper Queen Street. We found one that appeared to be open, and happily discovered that it was open until 4am. We had dinner, soju, and numerous Korean beers among a good crowd of Koreans doing the same thing. We were surprised at how much alcohol some of the other parties had to drink. All in all, it was a good Saturday, and I went to bed happy.

Sunday turned out to be very gloomy and rainy. Still not feeling like staying indoors all day, Steffan and I decided to drive around. Seeing that we were both hungry, we decided to drive to Sylvia Park, the largest mall complex in Auckland. In fact, Sylvia Park had held the title of New Zealand's largest shopping mall for a short while until Westfield Albany opened in North Shore. However, with future expansion plans, Sylvia Park is likely to regain the title of New Zealand's largest mall, both in terms of floor area and number of stores, which it currently holds.

Although I like exploring areas with local culture, Sylvia Park felt surprisingly comfortable to me, as it reminded me of the large shopping mall complexes back home. It was no different than large malls of North America. It was clean, shiny, and surprisingly crowded. I joked that it seems like everyone in Auckland was walking around in the mall. With just over 200 shops, Sylvia Park was also quite large, although nowhere as large as the biggest of the malls I used to visit in North America. The mall was built to be very easy to access, and actually straddles a motorway and is located just beside a train station which connects directly to Britomart in central Auckland. I felt like a sell-out enjoying such a commercial space so much, but I suppose it did remind me of home. As with everywhere else in the Auckland region, its food court had a surprisingly large amount of choice compared to the food courts of North America. I had a delicious Indian curry and vegetable pakora for lunch.

After lunch, we resumed driving around. We drove through Otahuhu, Papatoetoe, Manukau, and arrived at the Auckland Airport. Some of the areas we drove through are considered some of the worst neighbourhoods of Auckland, and the buildings there did look obviously run down. When we got to the airport, I found that it was in fact more than just an airport, as they owned the land around the airport as well, which had been developed to have recreational facilities as well as shopping centres. In fact, Auckland Airport Limited is the third largest company listed on the New Zealand Exchange, measured in terms of market capitalisation. Here, we found a parking lot and observation area on the motorway located only a few hundred metres from the end of the runway. We sat there, with a surprisingly large number of others, watching the planes land. The majority of the planes we saw were small planes operated by Air New Zealand, but we did see a few large jets, including a Boeing 747. We wondered from what far-away place this plane has just flown in from.

Driving back, we stopped at small market between Manukau and Auckland which caught our eyes. It was located in a neighbourhood with a lot of Muslims. I picked up some spices, snacks, and drinks from the market. After spending far too long at the market considering its size, we decided that it was still too bright to go home.

We drove around and ended up at Point Chevalier, west of central Auckland. It was a relatively uneventful neighbourhood other than a park by the water. Although there was a beach, it was filled with rubbish and broken glass. We walked around the rocks a little, and found some interesting smooth rock formations, probably the work of water and wind erosion. There were also walls built into the rocks here, which we assumed to be breakwaters to prevent further erosion.

From here, there was a beautiful view of the Auckland Harbour Bridge against the backdrop of Rangitoto Island. The skyline of Auckland was visible to the right, with the tip of the Sky Tower poking into the low clouds. Since it was low tide, we could also see Meola Reef, also known as Te Tokaroa Reef. Meola Reef is a finger of land stretching two kilometres off the shore from the Auckland side of the harbour, stopping at within 500 metres of the northern shore. It was formed 20,000 years ago by a ten kilometre long lava flow from the Three Kings. I thought it might be cool to walk to the tip of the reef at high tide, but hearing that this area used to be the city's dump decades ago turned me of the idea.

On the way back, we made a brief stop at the park in Western Springs, where the water supply of Auckland used to be sourced from. The park was very pretty, filled with pūkekos, swans, and other birds. There was a beautiful pond in the middle of the park. The park is situated just beside the zoo, so that looking through some holes in the fence, we could catch a glimpse of a few zoo animals inside. While walking around, Steffan charged at a group of pūkekos, who all ran away which making a funny screaming sound which made Steffan feel bad. As we were leaving the park, we could hear the lions roaring against the darkening sky to announce their presence. It was a surprisingly low and reverberating sound which carried very well in the light breeze. We ended the day with a few drinks at The Chapel, a bar in Ponsonby, where there is a beautiful view of Auckland. We wished that the weekend could be longer so that we could fit more exploration in to each week.

No comments: