Arriving late this morning due to commercial port traffic, our tour starts at 9:15 am instead of 8:30 am. No worries by any of us on the tour – everyone is on “holiday” as they say on the ship. Instead of staying in the city, we are leaving for the western side of the island. Auckland has two harbors – Waitemata Harbor to the north (Pacific Ocean side) and Manukau Harbor to the south (Tasman Sea side). Why leave the city? We visited remarkable Auckland on our previous world cruise and in the spirit of diversity, thought it might be fun and educational to see another side of New Zealand.
Our first stop is in the Waitakere Mountain Range at the Arataki Visitors Centre. The view is amazing even if we again have a cloudy, misty day. The rolling mountains covered with a tropical rainforest. This forest is only around 80 years old. It was created when the country became determined, as only the Kiwi’s can be determined, to restore the native plants and birds. There were beef ranches and farms in this valley and once the ranching and farming were stopped, the forest returned, naturally and rapidly. The birds had to be re-inhabited and released into the wild and are starting to come back. Unfortunately, they were decimated not just by people but by possums, ferrets/weasels and rats. There is also a native tree called the Kauri Tree which was harvested and sold to California after the 1908 earthquake to help rebuild, and before that to the English to serve as masts on sailing ships, which meant this tree was almost wiped out as well. They are now being protected. This means, you have to wash the bottom of your boots if you are going in to the area with the Kauri trees. Quite a precaution. Similar to when you get off the cruise ship and a sniffing dog must sniff each backpack, purse, etc looking for contraband – fruit, vegetables, sandwiches that might be carried off the ship.
In this forest are also several native plants we know – Manuka which is the source for a honey that has healing properties and the Tea Tree which is the source for Tea Tree oil also having healing properties. There are many varieties of ferns. Most famous and a symbol from this area is the Silver Fern. Flax plants are growing wild everywhere and used for many things. We learn and see these plants on a one-mile nature walk. It was great to get out into this forest.
We leave the Arataki area and drive towards Piha Beach. Along the way we stop to hike down to a waterfall coming off a cliff. The trees have distinct branches – the bends and twists drawing your eyes to the beauty of Southern Hemisphere nature.
The tour then heads towards the Piha Beach. This is a beach on the Tasman Sea. The Lion Rock stands tall along the shore against the high surf. Surfers and people just enjoying the black sand beach are around. The black sand contains a tremendous amount of iron. Our guide puts a magnet into the sand – it comes out covered with black sand, adhering to it like the iron filings during that eighth grade science “experiment” we all remember. We have to be careful getting back in the van to make sure the sand is off our feet because it can mess up the motor of the vacuum cleaner used to clean the van.
Back to the city of Auckland and short walk up to the Tower. The city has changed a lot since we were here in 2012 – many more high-end stores or maybe even stores and buildings that were not here just 7 years ago. The city is undergoing a major expansion in the downtown, including a subway system. This place is booming!
New Zealand is a land of parks and just in this region so many to explore. Glad we were able to spend some time exploring a one.
In the evening, on the ship is a performance of the Maori songs, chants and Hake. Great!
Next stop tomorrow – Bay of Islands!