Sunday, March 28, 2010

Piha Beach and One Tree Hill

Sunday, January 24, 2010. Although recently I have been wanting to visit Karekare to explore the wide coastline and the ocean caves, we had a late start today. From looking at the map and the descriptions, I realised that I would need an entire day for me to explore all that I wanted to see at Karekare. Since our time was limited, we decided to head out to Piha Beach, as I have never really gone and explored the area yet, although I have made a few short stops there before.

Since we had quite a late start, we planned on going for lunch soon after setting out. Seeing that I heard good things about fish and chips at Piha Beach last time, but the shops were closed, we attempted to find the fish and chip shop. We stopped at the café we stopped at last time, but found that alas, they stopped serving food just about fifteen minutes ago. Not seeing anything really good left at the takeaway window, we bought a couple of mangy hot dogs from a grill set up outside. After wolfing them down, we headed over to the beach.

As we got to the beach, we realised that today was the last day of the International World Junior Surfing Championships, being held in Piha this year. As we walked towards the event, we were surprised at how few spectators were around. There were some people casually strolling around the area, but nowhere near as much as someone would expect for an event like this. The number of competitors were almost as high as the number of spectators! I suppose that's New Zealand, where there is just not that many people around.

After walking past some of the booths selling food, we came across a fish and chip shop. I decided that this must be the fish and chip shop the Couchsurfers were looking for last time, as it matched the description - by the beach and quite busy. Even though we had just ate, we were not full, so we ordered some fish and chips and took them to the beach to eat. Walking past the tents set up as a staging area with the flags and names of different nations on them, we found a dune on which we can sit on and watch the action. The surfers were quite far out, and we could barely make out the small black splotches in the distance. We did enjoy the fish though, although the highlight for me were the potato wedges which were much more flavourful than expected. As we ate, we saw the surfers wrap up, and parading with their flags, go back to their tents. As we ate, we watched the seagulls screaming at us for food. I was even pooped on by one of them - it seems to happen to me much more often than my friends for some reason.

After the meal, we followed the beach to the south, as I had only seen the northern part of Piha Beach before. Eventually, the wide black sand beach came to an abrupt stop against a steep forested rise and some jagged rocks. Looking back from here, I realised why Lion Rock was called that. I was quite impressed, as this was one of the best examples I've seen of a geographical feature looking like what it is named after. From this angle, Lion Rock looks just like a large lion reclining on the beach, facing the ocean - its front paws, hind paws, tail, mane, everything - was clearly visible!

After walking around on the rocks looking at the breaking waves, we approached the rise. Seeing a signed trail head, we followed it up the steps leading to the top of the hill, which gave us quite a nice view of Piha Beach and Lion Rock. We noticed that there was a trail leading south, and decided to follow it. The trail was quite pleasant, winding its way through the vegetation along the hills. There were a lot of spiky-looking stuff, but the spikes were relatively soft and they didn't reach on to the trail. We eventually reached a small cove with a small island very close offshore, forming a thin stretch of water with sandy beaches on either side.

From the trail, there appeared to be a steep dirt trail down the side and a shallower trail leading to a barren rocky plateau looking over the cove. We chose the steep dirt trail. Squeezing through the vegetation, it led us tantalizingly close to the beach, but the trail stopped just in front of a steep rocky area, which we climbed down with not too much difficulty due to the rocks jutting out.

We spent some time exploring this sheltered cove and explored some neat features. First of all, there was a section of a nearly perfectly round beach, with a gap in the rocks where the tall waves came crashing through. The waves squeeze through the gap, becoming calm and forming ripples which spread out to meet the inside edges of the beach perfectly. There was another section where there was a natural arch in the rocks. The waves were crashing through the hole, filling and emptying the cove. There was also a mysterious concrete shack built into the steep hill, where the roof was sagging and looked like it was going to collapse soon. The consistency of the ground was also quite strange - there were what appeared to be loose rocks in clay, but upon further inspection, there were stuck into the hard surface, almost like cement. Finally, I tried to wade across the channel to the island, but without my swimming gear on, the water was a bit too deep to not get wet, so I gave up.

When we finally had enough, we climbed up a steep rocky section back to the trail, which was quite a challenge as I had left my shoes (jandals - the New Zealand term for flip-flops) in the car. We then had a very pleasant drive back to town through the road to Piha, which is surrounded by beautiful tropical-looking vegetation.

As we got back to town, we decided to make a quick stop at One Tree Hill in Cornwall Park, in the southern half of Auckland. One Tree Hill is named for a tree standing at the summit which has been cut down, replaced, and cut down again. Currently there is discussion regarding what tree should be re-planted on the top of One Tree Hill, but as I understand it, there seems to be some disagreement between different parties as to what tree should be planted as a replacement as some people take it to be quite an important cultural symbol. There is, however, an obelisk that stands on top of One Tree Hill, which makes the mound quite distinctive.

From the top of the hill, the view as quite enjoyable, with the soft light from the setting sun being cast over Auckland. The view here was different, and arguably better than the view from Mount Eden. From One Tree Hill, it is possible to see both the southern and northern harbours of Auckland, and a variety of different volcanic cones scattered around the Auckland region. There were cows lazily grazing in the fields below the hill, the side effect of which is having fields covered in droppings of various kinds all around the hill. We headed back when it started to get darker.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Surprising New Zealand

When I first got here, I posted how one of my American work mates who was now to NZ described NZ as a country that is "deceptively boring," where it seems similar to North America, but will surprise you once in a while to make you feel far from home (if you're from North America). Here are three things that happened recently that makes me feel that way.

Today, the verdict for a pretty famous trial came down. A few activists broke in to a military base and destroyed a radar dome in protest of US activities causing loss of civilian life in Iraq. They admitted to the crime but said they did it to prevent loss of life as the operations would have led to the deaths of Iraqi civilians. They were found not guilty. Although I am sympathetic to them, I still think they should have been found guilty. Last time I checked, destroying someone else's property is illegal. In any case, I am impressed at how progressive NZ is compared to the US, as this would never have happened in the US. However, I am afraid that this may be sending the wrong message - that you can do anything as long as you believe it is right.

Another thing that I have constantly been surprised about is now trustworthy the NZ government is. In fact, NZ is ranked number one in the world with regards to government trust. It is also ranked number one in terms of peacefulness, accounting for violent crimes, violent accidents and war participation. But this post is not about these topics.

There have been many "The King is coming" ads for Burger King. When I asked a friend about it, they said that it was for the new KingPing burger at Burger King, but I was pretty sure it is about the Burger King King character, who is a symbol of BK in North America. At this point, I just realised that the Burger King King does not exist in New Zealand, and his arrival was the focus of the ads!

I just saw ads for "Doritos: They're coming." I am really excited that I will be able to eat Doritos again! But then again, I don't really approve of ubiquitous snack foods you can get all over the world as it pushes out local foods and flavours. Life without Doritos was unimaginable in North America.

Also, I just heard a program pronounce Yosemite National Park as "YO-se-mite" rather than "yo-SE-mi-tee." I remember that it was always a joke with us to pronounce it like "YO-se-mite" back in California.

Another quick point that's only kind of on-topic: There are apparently no hipsters in New Zealand, and people don't know what a hipster is!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Omaha Beach

Sunday, December 6, 2009. There's wasn't much to do today, so Steffan and I decided to take a drive around again. After studying Google Maps, we decided that we could head over to Omaha Beach, as it was a place we haven't visited yet, and it looked like a nice stretch of sand from the satellite images.

It was quite a pleasant drive up. Driving up the Northern Motorway, Highway 1, we passed Orewa, and after just under an hour from when we left, we arrived in Warkworth. A town of just over 3,000, it was quite a pleasant place. It had a small town centre away from the highway so that it was very pedestrian-friendly and calm. There were a few stores open and some people walking around. We decided it would be a good idea to grab lunch here. We ate at a nice little café, and as typical New Zealand cafés go, there was a counter displaying all of the delicious-looking foods they were serving. The food was quite tasty, even better than the usual tasty fare from a New Zealand café. The only complaint I have is that one of the ceiling fans was directly in front of a skylight, so that there was a pulsing light effect inside, which made it quite uncomfortable if you start noticing it.

After lunch, we carried on. Travelling down tiny country roads, we crossed a large lagoon over a long causeway. Omaha Beach is located on a thin crescent of land stretching from north to south, with a lagoon to its west and the ocean to its east. Only the southern tip of this piece of land is connected to the New Zealand mainland. As we approached the other side, we drove through a small forest grove and then through the village to a parking area just by the beach. After a short walk over the board-walk through some grass-covered dunes, we arrived at the beach. It was quite pretty here. Omaha Beach is four wide kilometres of fine glittering white sand. Straight ahead beyond the breaking waves and the blue water lie the prominent hills of Little Barrier Island, which looked especially pretty with the puffy white clouds it tends to collect around its peaks.

After a trip back to the car to get some swim trunks and sunscreen, we stayed on the beach for a while. I had a quick dip in the waves and walked around collecting shells from the smooth wet sand near the breaking water, which reflecting the blue of the sky and the puffy clouds like a mirror. There were also many sand dollars here on the beach - some were very small, but some were nearly as large as the palm of my hand! I picked up some of these live sand dollars to examine them, but not wanting to kill them, placed all of them back in the water. Eventually, we were joined by Leon, an art tutor in the Games Department and his girlfriend, Adi, who is a student at MDS. It just happened to work out that Adi is now in the class that Leon is teaching. We spent the afternoon sitting there, talking, and digging a large hole in the sand. We also encountered a lot of the little jumping bugs that burrow into the sand when they are unearthed accidentally. Even though it became cloudy later on, I was still sunburnt, another reminder for me to be aware of the powerful New Zealand sun.

After we headed back, I bought some beautiful gree-lipped mussels from the nearby Countdown, recently converted from a Foodtown, which were on sale for only $2.49 per kilogram. I am still amazed at how cheap shellfish is in New Zealand. I was so happy to discover I could get cheap shellfish that I took a photo of the bag of mussels and the receipt with the amazingly cheap price on them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Saturday, December 5, 2009. Recently, after studying Google Maps satellite images of the areas around New Zealand, I have become obsessed with visiting somewhere where I could swim or walk to an island. Luckily for me, today is going to be the day where I can go somewhere to try to satisfy that desire!

Beachlands is a large village about twenty kilometres east of central Auckland and about eight kilometres south of the western portion of Waiheke Island. The reason that I wanted to visit Beachlands is that according to Google maps and other online resources, about half a kilometre off the coast of Beachlands is Motukaraka Island, an island which is accessible on foot during low tide.

The drive there was pleasant. There was a surprisingly large suspension bridge on the way. We also stopped to grab a drink at a diary (convenience store) in the middle of nowhere during some sun showers. Then, after stopping at a store in Beachlands to grab a pie, we headed to the coast. The first thing we noticed is that there is a surprisingly good view of Rangitoto, so of course, we stopped to take some photos. It turns out that we didn't park at the best spot, as we ended up walking down a steep hill, into another parking lot, before reaching the beach that appeared to provide access to the water. I was disappointed by the quality of this beach. Although the water was a pristine aqua colour, there were a few pieces of rubbish in the water by the beach, including a tyre and a beer bottle. I suppose this is what happens when a beach is close to big city like Auckland.

We followed the beach around towards Motukaraka Island, passing some private residences and tiered rock formations covered in strands of Neptune's Necklace, shells and tidal pools. At one point, a balloon floated nonchalantly around us, slowly drifting off just above our heads. Eventually, we reached what looks like a causeway to Motukaraka Island. I checked the tidal charts the night before, and found that luckily, low tide is during the day, so we could actually walk to the island while we are there.

The causeway was mainly made of slabs of rock, much like the coast we had been following previously. However, as we went towards the island, we came across thick mud, which was quite disgusting. To make it worse, the mud was interspersed with large shallow tidal pools filled with moving things. Sometimes they were just hermit crabs and shells but sometimes there were things in there I could not identify! Progress was slow and we nearly gave up a couple of times. However, we pushed onwards towards the island.

Eventually, we intercepted a what appeared to be a swath of higher ground covered in shells. This was much easier to walk on, as it was just like walking on a soft gravel road. We realised that if we had followed the coast a bit farther, we could have taken this easy route the entire way from the shore. Following this causeway, we reached the island and a staircase leading up the small cliffs surrounding the island. We walked around the top of the island for quite a while, getting quite beat up by spider webs, overgrown thorny plants and other unpleasant things! We reached the other side of the island where we could see some ocean. The view was quite disappointing considering what we had to go through! We tried to take an alternate path back, but ended up in some thick overgrown patches of grass with sharp serrated leaves taller than we were! We ended up taking the same path back, getting jabbed left and right by the sharp plants. This was one of the worst hikes I have ever had!

We were very happy we after making it back down the stairs. We walked around briefly on the rocks surrounding the islands, stopping for Steffan to have a smoke. On the way back, we took a quick look at a rusted-through boat that was lying on its side by the island. We were afraid that we might see something scary like a dead body inside, but luckily there was no such thing. Following the shell causeway back, we had an easy walk all the way back to shore. I also noticed oyster catchers and other birds foraging around - I am sure there is shellfish somewhere hidden underground. I also experimented with tossing the shells like playing cards - I can throw playing cards quite far, and these shells, with the curved shape, generated a surprisingly large amount of lift.

Instead of going back west, we headed east. There were some pōhutukawa trees in blossom, which was quite pretty. We explored a beach with a small stream running through it and some rocks covered in tiny oysters. Steffan smashed one open to see what was inside, and it turned out to be a live oyster. Eventually, after passing by a grove of mangroves, we reached a marina. We were a bit unsure of where we were. When we got back to land, we noticed a lot of people walking, with chairs and chilly bins towards an area with some restaurants and music. It turns out that there is a Christmas event planned for that day, but seeing that it was mainly family oriented, we decided to head back.

We walked back to the car through a trail that led us up a hill past some very modern and expensive-looking houses with a great view of the water below and Auckland in the distance. After that, there was a surprisingly long walk through some pleasant residential neighbourhoods before we found our car.

Te Kuiti and Raglan

Saturday, January 23, 2010. Waking up in the morning, I thought I'd check what Steffan was up to. Turns out he had to drive to Te Kuiti to meet his mum, where they were planning on swapping cars. For the past week or so, Steffan had been driving him mum's car, as his car was in the garage being fixed in his home town, Wanganui. The drive would take about two and a half hours each way. I thought it was pretty notable that it was only a two and a half hour drive for him to meet him mum halfway, considering that Auckland and Wanganui are located at the opposite ends of the main body portion of the North Island. This was very amusing to me, as a drive from coast to coast across Canada or the US would take much longer!

The drive was very calm and relaxing, travelling through the New Zealand countryside, through fields of grazing cattle and sheep. After a while, though, it did become a bit repetitive. A bit outside of Auckland, the highways deteriorated to simple two-lane highways with no shoulders as is the case with most highways outside of the Auckland region. A lot of international visitors, including me, have found the speed limits in New Zealand surprisingly high for the quality of the roads, and often, in especially tortuous portions, it's rare that we will be travelling at the posted speed limit, whereas in Canada and the US, the roads are over-engineered so that it is rare to ever have to go significantly below the speed limit.

After about an hour and a half, we arrived into the central street of a small town, where we parked the car. After a phone call to Steffan's mum, it was revealed that they she was running behind schedule so we had half an hour to burn. We spent the time walking up and down the main stretch of Te Kuiti, where there were some dodgy-looking teenagers wandering around. Two of these dodgy teenagers were a pair of girls who appeared to be dressed better than the others we saw, which isn't saying much. They shouted something at us when they passed, which I thought might have been "Are you guys gay?" I assume that's because we didn't try to hit on them. In any case, Steffan and I were confused enough to find it pretty amusing. We explored a two dollar store and ended up spending most of our time in the Warehouse, where I saw a copy of SimAnimals DS, the game I worked on while at Electronic Arts. The only other item of interest we saw in Te Kuiti was a small roofed structure called the Trust Waikato Millennium Pavilion, there to celebrate culture or something along those veins. Apparently Te Kuiti's main claim to fame is that it is the host of the New Zealand Searing Championships.

After a while, Steffan's mum showed up with the car along with either her boyfried or new husband. We had lunch together and departed soon afterwards. We had to be back in Auckland before a certain time, and we started to realise that we wouldn't have much time to spend in Raglan at all.

The first stop in Raglan for us was an area of the coast besides Whale Bay, called the Index. The Index is supposedly the surfing spot in Raglan with the largest waves. After walking over some rocks to the Index, we were kind of perplexed. There were very few surfers around, and the large waves appeared to break directly onto some dangerous-looking rocks, which the surfers were staying their distance from. However, it was nice to stand on the large smooth boulders making up the coastline, watching the curling waves against the beautiful backdrop. The water was blue in the sunny parts, the cliffs were a wonderful shade of charcoal, and the hills all around were emerald green. Combined with the puffs of cloud drifting overhead, it was quite a pretty sight.

After watching for a bit, we decided to drive around as it was almost time to leave. We drove around some other water access points and found one particularly popular area with many surfers in the water. Even here though, there were rocks, and the waves did not look particularly impressive. This area also seemed overcrowded and I wondered how the surfers stopped themselves from running into each other. After driving through town, which looked like a typical happening beach-side New Zealand town, we headed back. It was a nice slow day of driving and getting out of Auckland.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Waitakere Ranges

Sunday, 17th of January, 2010. Today, I am going with about 50-60 Couchsurfers to the Waitakere Ranges to take the Rain Forest Express. The Rain Forest Express, located only 40 minutes from downtown Auckland, was built in 1931 to aid in the construction and service of the Upper Nihotupu Dam. This extremely narrow gauge track has found a new life as a tourist attraction, bringing eager tourists six kilometres into rain forests of the Waitakere Ranges to the Upper Nihotupu Reservoir.

After a drive up narrow windy roads, we arrived at Jacobson's Depot, where the tracks start. As more Couchsurfers arrived, we spent the time chatting, and I got a head start collecting money from everyone as I was the treasurer for the trip. This went surprisingly smoothly, with no hitches whatsoever. I found this fascinating as one Couchsurfer observed that things seemed to be done efficiently and correctly because no one blamed anyone else. When anything needed to be done, there were numerous volunteers and no complainers. I thought this was a great example of how an organisation should work together. Everyone was also quite happy with the price too, as due to the fact that we had so many people, we were able to charter an entire train, so our ticket prices were reduced to $19 from $25. We even had our trip extended to four hours from three hours as we were able to schedule in a BBQ as well.

As the train pulled into the station, we were all amazed. Even though we saw the flimsy-looking narrow tracks, the train was still smaller than what we expected. The train looked like an over-sized model train set. We all squeezed in to the carriages, which barely fit two people side to side. My head was just about touching the ceiling as I sat straight up. One side of the train was fitted with windows, and the other is a simple latching door. As we all settled uncomfortably into our cramped seats, we started forward.

Following the large water mains beside the track, we headed into the dense Waitakere rain forest filled with ferns, palms and other dense foliage closely surrounding the train carriages. As we gained altitude, we were treated to spanning view of the forest and water below. One of the most scenic spots was a stop on the longest of the nine wooden bridges along the track. Spanning a deep valley filled with fern trees, it felt like were were in the midst of a dense jungle, with no trace of the city only half an hour away. I took the opportunity to check out the engine of the train, which was tiny but filled with gauges and even had a small storage locker.

Although the bridges were spectacular, I enjoyed the ten tunnels much more. Each of these tunnels were extremely narrow, barely fitting the train inside of it. Some tunnels were coated in smooth concrete shells, some were supported by rough wooden trusses, and some tunnels were nothing more than long carved holes in solid rock. It was a lot of fun watching the foliage folding over the top of the train as we entered the tunnels, soon followed by darkness, then the dimly lit walls of the tunnel moving by just outside the sides of the train as my eyes adjusted. As we went through one of the caves, one of the conductors jumped out at a particularly wide section of the cave and pointed the flashlight at the wall. As we rolled past, we could see large, spindly looking cave wetas jerking around, apparently confused by the light and noise.

The train stopped just short of the dam, where a new station was being constructed. As we walked to the base of the dam, we can see a spillway into which a surprisingly small pipe was shooting out spiralling water at a surprisingly high speed. After some photos, we followed a set of steep staircases up the side of the dam, which led up to a walkway along the curved top. From here, we could see the reservoir on the other side, which appeared not to be at its maximum capacity judging by the bare earth around the water. The dam around the reservoir also did not look very new, as there were metal posts that were completely rusted through. To the other side, there was a wonderful view of a long steep valley filled with rain forest plants. It was kind of calming to listen to the water spilling into the forest and enjoying the light drizzle making small rings on the surface of the reservoir.

As we walked around the dam, we noticed that there was a trail leading into the forest from one side of the dam. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to explore this trail, but perhaps next time there would be. After a while, we followed a service road from the other side of the dam to a small clearing where the train was waiting for us. There were toilets, a grassy field with a nice view down a valley, a shelter with picnic tables and a large BBQ there. We set up for a BBQ, and spent a good amount of time cooking, eating, drinking and chatting. It was glorious to watch the amount of food on the grill at maximum load.

As we boarded the train to return, we decided to head to Piha beach for a quick visit as it was still early in the day. On the way back, through one of the particularly long tunnels, the conductor turned the train lights out, revealing patches of bright blue-green pinpoints of light on the tunnel ceiling. It was quite amazing to watch as we rolled past patch after patch. These were in fact the famous New Zealand glowworms. They were surprisingly bright. I had seen these lights on the way into the Waitakere forest, but wasn't sure if these were the glowworms as they were so unexpectedly bright. In fact, they looked like the bright tacky fibre optic effects in theme park rides.

As we arrived back at Jacobson's Depot, I explored the old rusting steam train engine on display there, one of the engines which used to run on this unique track. It was cool pulling open the front of the boiler to reveal the various tubes inside.

From here, we made a quick stop at the Arataki Visitor Centre, the main visitor centre for the Waitakere Ranges. There were some interesting displays inside including a giant piece of kauri gum, some wetas and some stick insects. There was also a great view of Manukau Harbour from here where one could watch air planes line up for final approach. There was also an amazing view of Auckland City and North Shore City from here too, with Rangitoto directly behind the Sky Tower. We took turns taking photos in one of the picture frames installed in strategic locations in all of Auckland Region's parks. I took a cool one where I jumped from the frame, so I would have been floating in the middle. The man from Quebec who took my photo on his camera (he was a professional photographer) still has not sent me that photo yet...

From here, we drove to Piha, first making a stop at Kitekite Falls, accessible by a short hike through a kauri forest. Due to the Kauri Dieback crisis in New Zealand, there were cleaning stations along the trail to disinfect shoes with, preventing the spread of the deadly parasite. During the hike, one of the Couchsurfers showed us how to pull up the stalks of one of the plants growing in the forest. The base of this plant was edible. It was crunchy and had a delicate savoury taste to it, which reminded me very much of heart of palm. I'm not sure if I'll trust myself to pull up the right kind of plant by myself, but it is something to keep in mind as the stalk was quite tasty!

After a short tramp, we came across a clearing in the forest from which we can see Kitekite Falls. Kitekite Falls is an impressive multi-tiered waterfall, with the lower tiers taller and wider than the upper tiers. It is what you would think of when imagining a typical tropical waterfall hidden in the jungle. There were some people playing around the falls, and I heard that there might even be cool pools and parts of the waterfall one could slide down hear the top. As we descended the steps leading to the pool under the falls, a bunch of the Couchsurfers jumped in to swim at the base of the falls. I decided not to join as it was quite cold and I didn't have a towel. It was overcast and it started raining, and I got wet anyway. This also reminded me of the time I swam under Taughannock Falls in New York State close to Cornell University, where I went to school. Taughannock Falls is even taller than Niagara Falls, and the force of the water pounding down was quite exhilarating. However, five minutes after swimming away from the base of the falls, some huge boulders fell directly where I was swimming just minutes before! That's when I decided not to swim into tall waterfalls, although Kitekite Falls did look a lot safer, with less loose rocks than Taughannock Falls.

After the swim, we made our way to Piha Beach. This was actually the first time I had been at Piha, so I was quite keen to explore the area. Jake and I walked up Lion Rock, the landmark geologic feature at Piha. Unfortunately, we found that we could only walk halfway up the rock as the top portion was closed after a rock slide a few years earlier. Even from here, the view of the beach was impressive - a wide, expansive beach below us with large surf pounding far up the shallow sandy embankment. Here, we decided that we wanted to go for a swim, so we changed up here away from everyone else. Later I realised that probably most people could see us changing, as I could see most of the beach and pretty much the entire town on the hills behind us!

A few of us ran into the water, which was surprisingly comfortable after a few minutes of acclimatising. The waves were quite large, and we spent some time trying to body surf, which we did more or less successfully. We were very careful not to go too far out, as the lifeguards were off duty at the time and Piha Beach is notorious for its exceedingly strong rip currents. I noticed that even when were were not in the rip, just ducking my head into the water and floating for two or three seconds would result in me being pulled in a random direction for two or three metres! I kept bumping into the others as I always underestimated how much I would get pulled along as I swam!

From here, we tried to find what is supposedly one of the best fish and chip places in New Zealand, but failed. We ended up going back to Titirangi, a small town just past the Waitakere Ranges on the Auckland side, for dinner, where I gave the money I collected to Kirin. Most of us ate at a Chinese and fish and chip shop. I enjoyed my fish and kumara chips and a delicious Memphis Meltdown ice cream bar, which Wes, another American that has been in New Zealand for some time, agreed was the best ice cream around. A Finnish girl, I think by the name of Pii-Tulia, was showing us some of her pole acrobatics moves on a nearby street sign, which was one of the random moments of the night. After this, it was home time, early enough for a relaxing Sunday evening before work the next day.