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.

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