Sunday, November 1, 2009

Waiheke - Day 3

As expected, I woke up early to the sound of children playing again. I spent my last hour or two in the house talking to Angie as she and the kids were preparing for a large family picnic on the east side of the island. Although I had wanted to see the sparsely populated farming side of the island, I decided that I didn't have time and it would be better to leave the eastern side to another trip. After a quick round of packing, I left the house at the same time that Angie and her family were leaving. My plan is to walk to Matiatia Harbour via Oneroa, enjoying the beaches and the sights along the way. Angie told me that if I was in a hurry for any reason, I can just flag down a car and ask for a ride as hitch-hiking is common practise on the island. I've found this to be very true, as I hitched a ride the day before (unintentionally!) and I've seem hitchhikers waving to the van as we were being driven around by Angie.

The first leg of the walk was pretty and green. I walked in a general western direction and followed any signs pointing to Oneroa I came across. The winding road led me up a large hill where I can see the water and the mainland and through native bush. I noticed that there were trees with yellow fruit on them. I saw kids climb up similar trees to pick the fruit on my walk yesterday. I was tempted to try some, but decided that perhaps I should do some research first. After further research, I decided that these fruit must have been loquats, which is what I had thought they looked like, but didn't realise that they grew on Waiheke. Apparently loquat trees were introduced to New Zealand and have been growing rapidly as a weed ever since.

After some walking, I saw houses on the hills a few hundred metres ahead, signalling to me that I was approaching a town. Luckily, this turned out to be Oneroa, the largest settlement on Waiheke, about six kilometres from Ostend. The first feature I encountered in town was Little Oneroa Beach, separated from the popular Oneroa Beach by yet another group of volcanic rocks. Walking around the beach, I found a path on the very eastern edge of the sand. This path leads straight up the hills around the area to a beautiful lookout. The water looked very inviting in the sunlight. It was blue and crystal clear, showing off the dark coloured volcanic rocks among the sand under the water. I followed this path a bit farther and wandered onto a rocky shore under the shade of a huge pōhutukawa tree. There were two boats under the complex root system chained to the tree. Looking around, I noticed that there was another shore beyond a group of volcanic rocks jutting into the water. I rolled up my pants, took off my sandals and waded through, getting my pants only slightly wet.

Arriving at a private little rocky shore surrounded by impassable cliffs away and volcanic rocks, I felt like I found a cool hideaway. I was happy to know that there are so many beautiful private places around here, only half an hour from Auckland plus a short bus ride. As others have told me, in New Zealand, you can find great little places where nearly no one can be seen, often even within Auckland city itself. I attempted to walk across the volcanic rocks on the other side of the beach, but quickly learned that walking barefoot over jagged volcanic rock is not a great idea! I did get a view to the other side, however, and discovered that lies beyond is just more, steeper volcanic cliffs. What caught my attention, however, was a small channel separating a small island of volcanic rock. I might have been able to wade over without getting wet if I had walked along the cliffs more, but I decided to give it up seeing that I didn't want to get my sandals wet. I figure that I might be back here sometime in the summer with swim trunks on so that I won't have to worry about getting wet while exploring.

I sat at the beach for a long time talking to my mum on the phone. Suddenly, I realised what I was seeing in front of me. A current of water flowing inland! Looking around the rocks, the water looked deeper than before! I decided I had better head back, and it was clear that the tide was rising. Seeing that I had even gotten wet wading over when the tide was lower, I realized that it wasn't looking good! Interrupting my conversation with my mum, I hurriedly put my pack on, rolled my pants up as high as they would go, and decided just to run through the gap as waves were starting to pick up. By the time I got through, my pants were soaked! Now that I was safely back near the path, I climbed up the giant pōhutukawa tree and sat there talking to my mum and enjoying the scenery. There was a family on the rocks about fifty metres away or so, fishing, with the waves lapping at the jagged rocks below. I had to leave after a while of talking, as soon as my pants became dry, since the wind was picking up, the waves intensified, and the sky became darker and darker as a thick bunch of dark clouds slowly approached from the distance.

I explored the surroundings a bit more and discovered that the patch of volcanic rocks between Oneroa Beach and Little Oneroa Beach were impassable without wading into the relatively deep water. I made a mental note to re-visit this area during summer when I can wade around and explore the various stone arches and shallow caves along the shore and in the water. The rocks there also have a very interesting pattern to it and looked like a series of strangely-shaped honeycomb with softer, eroded rocks inside. The walls of the honeycomb structure looked almost like rusted metal. I also enjoyed the view from these volcanic rocks, as there are flat areas here, which formed curious little tidal pools filled with snails, anemones, sea stars, crabs, and a variety of other underwater life. The waves crashing around the edges, throwing up white foamy spray also made for quite a dramatic view. I wondered how scary it would be if I saw a freak wave coming my way.

Returning to the beach, I continued my walk past the town centre, but not before stopping at a lookout at the end of a short trail following a jut of volcanic rock towering over the coast. From there, I could see a series of small beaches surrounded by interesting rock formations such as caves where the ocean lapped into. The town centre is a busy, relative to Waiheke standards, road filled with stores, restaurants, and bars. As with typical Oceania style, there were large awnings protecting the pedestrians from the weather, making you feel quite cosy in this tiny town centre. Following the signs to the Matiatia Ferry terminal, I walked out of town and down a long road. Luckily, the walk back to the harbour was quite enjoyable, as there was a series of tracks built into the surrounding hillside. Apparently I had three choices: the high track, mid track, and low track. After consulting the hand-drawn map, I decided to take the low track as I wanted to catch the next ferry to Auckland and not have to wait another hour for the following one. The trail system was very charming as all the signs were hand-painted. Some of the signs appeared to be nothing more than a few casual scribbles or a message carved into the wood. It made me feel like I had gone back in time or had travelled to some small village in a mystical land.

The tracks led me through bush filled with all kinds of vegetation. I had only seen two groups of people in the entire twenty minutes I walked the track, but I felt surprisingly safe and did not feel scared (expect for one section when I saw some pails and tubes - it probably belonged to whoever takes care of the tracks, but my imagination led me to be afraid of drug plantations). First, the track took me through a section surrounded by flowering tea trees on a grassy hill. It was dark under the trees away from the track. The trail then wound through grove after grove of cabbage trees, ferns, and plants with large, long foliage. It got quite dark in some parts of the track, but I still felt quite comfortable walking there alone. A few minutes from the end of the track, there was a tiny shed whose slanted roof fed into a large overflowing tank of water. A small spur with a sign labelled "pond" led to a tiny pond under a grassy hill hidden from the sun by the foliage of tall trees growing all over. There was a bench beside the pond to take a rest.

The ferry ride back was surprisingly unstable as the waves have grown in size. It was extremely windy. Seeing all of the boats on the sea, I wondered if I could have been in one of these boats if I hadn't taken that ride. It started raining half way to Auckland. I could see across the water that the rain would intensify as we got closer to home. Although most passengers moved down into the covered cabin, a few of us stayed on the exposed deck, some bracing themselves against the wind and rain in small areas on the side of the deck where they can sit under the walls. I found a spot beside a mast holding navigation equipment. This shielded me from most of the wind and rain, and allowed me to still maintain a 360º view of the area, where I can watch as the tall buildings of Auckland grew bigger and less grey as we approached. It started pouring as I got off the boat. By the time I walked home, my sandals were soaked.

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