Sunday, 8 November, 2009. Over this week at work, I found that Steffan Hooper, a fellow tutor in the Games Department at Media Design School, is also interested in exploring the Auckland area. Steffan is a Kiwi who has been living in Auckland for a few years now, but personal and professional life has kept him busy over the past few years so there are still places in and around Auckland that he has not been to.
Today, we decided to visit Wenderholm Regional Park, situated on a peninsula in the Hauraki Gulf about 40 kilometres north of Auckland. The small spit of land is sandwiched between the Puhoi and Waiwera Rivers. Established in 1965, it is situated around the historical Couldrey House, also known as the "wenderholm," or winter home, as it was constructed to be used as a winter residence by politician and entrepreneur Robert Graham in 1868. We were looking forward to the beaches in the park as well as the numerous tramping tracks through the bush.
Steffan picked me up with his car. Driving over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which in my opinion is like a lame version of the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, I realized that this was the first time I will be in the North Shore, and in fact, north of Auckland, other than my visit to Muriwai Beach on the west coast a few weeks ago. Even during the weekends, the traffic across the bridge was surprisingly heavy, as this is the only connection between Auckland and North Shore. Apparently the government has been considering a second crossing for quite some time now. Everyone has been complaining that the government did not seem to plan for the long run when the bridge was built. In fact, the bridge has already been expanded once to double it's original size by adding "clip-ons" to both sides of the bridge. This expansion was necessary only ten years after the original bridge was completed in 1959. The cost of the bridge plus the expansion was significantly higher than what it would have cost the government to build an eight-lane bridge.
On the way, we stopped at a Foodtown to pick up some bread, meats, and other picnic foods. I decided that on these trips with Steffan, it would be fair for me to cover the food in exchange for use of Steffan's car, petrol, and driving.
We travelled up the Northern Motorway, Highway 1, which had a brief toll segment with bridges and tunnels. Steffan found this very surprising as he informed me that toll roads are relatively rare in New Zealand. Since the tunnel exits just before the turnoff for the park, we ended up driving too far north and ended up going to Mahurangi Regional Reserve after driving through a very scenic area filled with farmland on rolling hills. As with a lot of roads outside of the cities here, it was very narrow, with grass growing through the crumbling edges of the road, which gave it a very "close-to-nature" feel.
Mahurangi Regional Reserve was not that exciting, or at least the portion that we went to. There was a campground with many camper vans, and a reasonably long but very narrow beach. Around the beach was a grassy area where there were many ducks leading ducklings around. I found these ducks quite amusing, as they had tiny Mohawks on their head. We walked along the beach a bit, and there was a somewhat interesting area under a series of pōhutukawa trees. There were a few boats anchored offshore, and there was a pretty view of the lush green islands and surrounding peninsulas. Framing this view was a giant wooden picture frame with the name of the park written on it. Steffan told me that these are installed in quite a few parks in the area, which I eventually found to be true and quite amusing. Heading back to the car, we saw a map which indicated there was much more to the park, but we decided to head over to Wenderholm Park anyway since there some some beaches we wanted to visit there. I made a note to possibly come back and explore the rest of this park one day, as the map indicated that there was an island you can walk to during low tide! How cool is that? (Note: I later found out that there are quite a few islands in the Auckland area which one can walk to during low tide.)
A bit more of driving brought us to Wenderholm Park. As it turns out, there were a few groups having events there, including a volunteering group and a kayaking competition. This made for quite a full and crowded park. Over the course of our visit, the crowds dissipated, and the park was quite empty by the time we left. There was even a stall selling food, which I was tempted to visit, but felt that we had to eat our picnic food. We sat by the beach, ate, and walked around to explore.
We spent most of the time exploring the northern part of the park, a thin spit of land separating a lagoon and the ocean. On the west side, there were grassy fields and tidal mudflats filled with shells and grounded boats during low tide. I saw some huge, well-formed scallop shells in an area filled with shrubs growing out of the mud forming a thick network of air roots. Separated by a strip of large pōhutukawa trees, the eastern side features a wide, sandy beach looking out at the ocean, with a view of a town in the distance and the top of Rangitoto visible behind a peninsula. At the tip of this spit of land is a channel of fast-flowing water separating this park with Mahurangi. The mud here had a very strange consistency, as the top layer felt like dense foam. With each step, you would sink about 15cm into the sand without disturbing the sand around it, creating well-shaped vertical holes in the sand that do not collapse after stepping out. It took quite a bit of effort walking through here, and it reminded me of walking in deep snow. A bit higher up, near where the tide comes to a stop, is a vast, thick blanket of shells, whole and crushed. Digging into the sand, we discovered that this layer of shell mixed with sand is quite deep. I wonder how long it took to form this shell deposit, and how long these shells have been here. At low tide, the gently sloping peninsula comes to a rounded point quite far from the shore, with the shallow water gently lapping around its edges. From here, we can hear the bleating of the sheep on the farm across the channel.
We walked all along the beach and explored the area. The tide was heading out, which left a vast network of relatively deep channels of flowing water on a very wide beach. I waded through these channels and visited the variety of mini-islands that were carved out in the beach and surrounding mudflats. The southern edge of the beach came to an abrupt end at the base of some tall cliffs. We walked onto the exposed rocks at the base of the cliffs, exploring the variety of sea life in the tidal pools. One of the pools was filled with dozens of hermit crabs living in shells of various shapes, colours, and sizes. They seemed to be busy feeding in groups, but shrunk back into their shells quickly if we passed our hand over the water. The flatter part of this area is covered in a thick layer of Neptune's Necklace seaweed, which are strings of small bumpy beads filled with water, and globe algae, which look like green, wrinkled, thin-walled bladders on the verge of popping. It was quite a strange and creepy sensation to walk on them.
Although we could have walked quite far on these rocks, we decided to turn back as we did not know when the park was going to close. As we walked back towards the car, we came across the historic mansion, already closed for the day. We also found that this is where the tramping tracks start, leading into a dense jungle filled with bird sounds. Since it was too late in the day now, we thought this would make for a great second visit to the park.
We decided to take highway 17 back, as we wanted to visit some of the towns along the Hibiscus Coast. We drove through Waiwera, a tiny village with a thermal spa, and quickly arrived at Orewa, a town at the northern end of a stretch of populated area just north of North Shore City. We stopped here to visit the beach, which was enormous! Although at high tide, the beach is quite narrow and even disappears at some points, at low tide, it is a completely different story. The beach was very wide and long, stretching nearly three kilometres in a straight line. We walked along the north side of the beach and once again, climbed over various strange rock formations.
This time, we found two large caves, which appear to be accessible only during low tide. The inside of the caves were dark and filled with a white sand consisting of crushed seashells. In one of them, there were names of lovers carved into the rocks, which led us to think that dodgy things must happen there from time to time! One of the caves also contained a wall filled with evenly spaced snails, each with a drop of water on it, and each with a very creepy red dot on their shell. Around the area, we found many curious rock formations and blowholes, as well as round tidal pools filled with seaweed. One of these made a gurgling sound when waves forced water up through the hole and reminded me of a giant toilet as it emptied and swirled around.
Walking farther, we came across a beach filled with a dark maroon sand below cliffs where large mansions are situated, many of them with private steps leading down to the beach. I found many good specimens of conch shells here, and collected the best two I can find. We also came across a sea urchin on the beach, empty inside, but the spikes still moved around and responded to touch. As we walked to the end of this area, Hatfields Beach, we decided to turn back as it was starting to get dark.Walking back, I accidentally kicked a sea urchin covered in sand and sent it tumbling. I was scared to look at my foot for a few seconds, but realising that it didn't hurt that much, I was surprised to see that I had luckily escaped any punctures.
As we drove back, we talked about going on weekend outing often to explore the numerous natural treasures of the Auckland region. We both had a great day of wandering around beaches and exploring what the shores of the Auckland Region had to offer.