Kauri and Kiwi and Auckland Too

Our final stop before Auckland was the Kauri Coast Top10 Holiday Park, located in Trounsen National Park.  It’s the best place to see the ancient kauri trees—and perhaps spot the elusive kiwi in the wild.

So on Saturday morning we packed up and headed southwest, choosing one of the three routes Google Maps proposed for our consideration.  Unfortunately, Google did not indicate that our selection was a logging road, unpaved, and would remain unpaved for most of the drive.  The views—forest and hills and lots of sheep—were much appreciated—the road was… not.

But the back country also afforded us the chance to see not one but several Eastern Rosella birds—and they were magnificent! 

Not my photo… wasn’t able to grab my camera in time. But they looked just like this amazing specimen. Absolutely gorgeous!

We finally arrived at the campground in the early afternoon, unpacked, and then headed out for a walk in the nearest stand of kauri.  These trees have particularly shallow root systems, so the Department of Conservation has built boardwalks throughout the park, allowing visitors to see the kauri relatively close—but not to trample their roots.

Some of the textures of the kauri forest. And a hidden Minion, spotted by Penelope.
Catching raindrops falling from the tree canopy.

Although it showered off and on through the afternoon, we very much enjoyed our first walk through the kauri forest.  That evening Jeremy cooked us a lovely steak dinner, and we started planning our time in Auckland, just around the corner.

Sunday we had a break in the rain in the afternoon, so we seized the opportunity to drive south to a different part of Trounsen Park—to see the very largest kauri.  First was Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, which is believed to more than two thousand years old.

And then, about 2km up the road, the Four Sisters and Te Matua Ngahere, also known as the Father of the Forest. It’s hard to convey just how massive these trees are in photos… but here are my attempts!

My attempt at a vertical panoramic photo… the trees don’t actually bend that way!

After dinner that night we’d signed up for a nighttime forest walk, in hopes of spotting the nocturnal kiwi.  Along with seven others, we joined a local guide and headed back into the forest for a two hour walk.  He led the way with a large red flashlight, and we trooped along behind him, as quietly as possible.  Spoiler alert: two hours later, we’d seen… zero kiwi. 

We weren’t too terribly surprised not to see any of the birds, as the tour advertises about a 50% success rate.  We did hear several kiwi, both male and female, identified by the guide as he listened to their warning calls to one another.    

The walk was still quite amazing, especially since we spotted tons of glowworms along the trail.  They’d taken up residence in the exposed root systems of fallen trees, and they glowed quite brightly along the trail.  And the stars were absolutely amazing to behold, as there was almost no light pollution.  Probably the best stargazing we’ve been able to do the whole trip. 

Penelope was a bit disappointed not to see a kiwi, but I reminded her that it’s just one more reason we’ll need to come back to New Zealand.  🙂

Monday morning we were up bright and early for our drive into Auckland.  We were due to return our rental car to Apex, but we had just enough time to stop at New World grocery store in Wentworth for a long-sought-after prize: the elusive scallop mousse.  Jeremy first tried this seafood rillette somewhere on the South Island, and he’d been searching high and low ever since.  But despite following the recommendations on where to buy from the product’s website, we’d had no luck.  But the winds changed at last, and he was victorious:

Also purchased: an oyster version and several traditional pork rillettes as well.  Penelope tried a bit of one of them, and declared it hers, demanding that she too have a pork pot for lunch.  And while “pork pot” doesn’t sound quite as classy as a “rillette,” it does have a certain alliterative appeal. 

Greatly pleased by his shopping success, Jeremy drove us on to Auckland, where we dropped off our bags at our new and lovely AirBnB apartment on Queen Street, and then drove across town to return our rental car.  And it was during that short stretch of city navigation that someone (cough, Jeremy, cough) made the only real driving mistake of the trip.  It’s true we stayed on the left, but went a bit too far to the left, entering the bicycle-only lane…. Fortunately, we were able to correct the mistake after a short (but harrowing) city block.  I’m sure the locals were amused.

Having returned our rental car, we walked home and settled in to our final New Zealand home.  We’d made dinner reservations at a Brazilian steakhouse on the harborfront, and I was keen to explore a bit before dinner.  So while Penelope and Jeremy relaxed at home, I walked down Queen Street, browsing in various stores and taking in the sights.  We met up for dinner at Wildfire (very tasty!) and then hit a grocery store before heading home for the evening. 

Tuesday was our first full day in Auckland, and we began by staying home to take advantage of some of the apartment complex’s amenities.  Penelope and I went for a swim at the indoor pool while Jeremy used the gym.  An early lunch at home, and we were off to the Auckland Art Gallery.  What a wonderful surprise that turned out to be!  We expected the New Zealand art, and the Maori moko portraits—but they also have a small, jewel-like collection of European pieces as well.   A few of my favorites:

My favorite piece from the contemporary New Zealand floor of the museum–even more vivid in person.
A painting based on one of the ballads I teach in AP Poetry–fun to spot this one.
This one was the best surprise of all. Waterhouse is one of my all time favorite painters, and I’d never seen or heard about this version of Lamia, based on Keats’ poem.
And one more–a wonderful little tonal piece.

Penelope particularly enjoyed the special exhibit, entitled From Pillars to Posts: Project Another Country, which invited visitors to participate in the building of an enormous miniature city.  We spent some time admiring the amazing works of the artists and visitors alike, then set to work on our own masterpiece. 

After a stop a neighborhood café for a drink and a chance to sit down, we walked over to the SkyTower and paid to ride the elevator up 51 flights in 40 seconds.  Did I mention that the elevator floor was partially glass?  A dizzying effect, but very cool!

Once at the observation deck, we gazed out and down at Auckland, taking in the views all around.  Penelope was impressed by the glass floor panels scattered throughout—and though she was initially nervous about standing on it, she soon began walking back and forth across glass and concrete and steel alike.  And we all paused to watch the live feed of the grandmother who was about to do the SkyJump—an impressive feat!  Maybe I’ll be brave enough when I’m in my seventies.  🙂

After the Sky Tower, we walked back to our neighborhood to have an early dinner at Tanuki’s Cave, a yakitori restaurant just a block from home.  Two thumbs way up—fabulous food!  Then Penelope and I were ready for our girls’ night out: we had tickets to see the musical production of Aladdin.  Penelope had really wanted to see the musical when it came to San Francisco last night, but the prices rivaled those for Hamilton, so we’d opted not to go.  While in Wellington a few weeks ago, Penelope caught sight of an ad for the Auckland production, and I’d checked the prices… and they were so much less expensive that we decided it’d be a fun night out for our final days in New Zealand.

What an amazing show! The Genie was fabulous, with great singing and a wonderful delivery of all the best lines—and of course lots of great Kiwi references thrown in as well.  All of the cast was just wonderful—but it was the overall production that really wowed both of us.  The dancing, singing, and the costumes!  The lights and the fireworks and the streamers falling on us during one of the musical numbers!  A fabulous evening.  Am I slowly becoming a musical theater convert??  Hmmm. 

On Wednesday Jeremy opted to stay home while Penelope and I explored a few other neighborhoods and find souvenirs for friends and family.  We started at the Auckland Museum, which had an amazing gift shop—and is in the middle of the Auckland Domain, a beautiful wooded area, capped by the museum at the top of the hill. 

After the Museum, we walked down the hill, through the forest, and across a small stream, emerging in the adorable neighborhood of Parnell.  There we visited a few shops, had a delicious lunch at a local pizza place, and continued our walk around Auckland.  I’d promised Penelope a sweet treat on our last day in New Zealand, so we Googled “best ice cream” in Auckland and struck out for Giapo, about a 20 minute walk away.  I was imagining a simple gelateria, a lovely preview of our time in Italy in April… but that’s not exactly what we found.

I’ve since realized that Giapo is quite a famous ice cream shop, but we really had no idea.  We walked up to the store, got in line, and were soon ushered to a small table, where a young woman treated us to samples and stories about every single one of the nine flavors available.  After we were done sampling each in turn, we then moved to a description of “different ways to hold” the ice cream, including a cone topped by a giant chocolate squid, wearable tiny cones shaped to fit on top of your finger, or served inside a sweet Yorkshire Pudding.  I swear I am not making any of this up.  It was an absolutely extraordinary place.  Penelope opted for the NZ Hokey Pokey and I decided on the “Kiwi as” Afghan Cookies—both in regular waffle cones, thus demonstrating some admirable restraint.  🙂  Toppings are complimentary and complementary, designed by the chef to enhance the chosen ice cream flavor.  And the cones are quite enormous, even without a miniature SkyTower of chocolate added to the top.

After finishing as much as we could of our ice creams, we took a taxi to the Ponsonby neighborhood and spent the next hour or so strolling around its shops along the main road.  And then we returned to Queen Street and our apartment, after finding a few new items for my sister’s NZ candy sampler.  

While Jeremy took Penelope swimming at the apartment pool and cooked dinner at home for the two of them, I headed back out to dinner at Papparich with one of my Castilleja alums, class of 2009.  Rebecca just moved to Auckland for a new job about a month ago, embarking on an expat adventure, and it was so fun to catch up with her!  We spent a lovely hour together, chatting about our mutual love of New Zealand and life since Castilleja, all the while enjoying a delicious Malaysian dinner.  Since it’s my wonderful Casti sabbatical that allowed me to take this trip, it felt very fitting to spend my last night here with one of my former students. 

And then it was home to the apartment for… the PACKENING.  I wish I’d snapped a photo of all of our stuff spread hither and yon across the apartment as I gauged whether or not it would actually all fit in our various suitcases.  Alas, you’ll have to use your imagination.  Around 11pm I declared a temporary retreat and abandoned the task, deciding we’d sort it out in the morning. 

[spoiler: it all fit, but one bag was overweight by 1.7kg.  fortunately, we had a sympathetic airline employee at the bag drop desk.  no excess weight charges.  lucky us!]

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