Aotearoa by Pictures: Part 1

July 2010
North Island, New Zealand

When I recently purged the hard drive on my Mac in a vain attempt to rid myself of some obscure, persistent error afflicting OS X, I came across several previously unpublished photos from our two months spent RVing in New Zealand during June and July 2010.  Rather than archiving them into obscurity, I sent them for a quick pass through Light Room with the hopes of giving them a new life on OTW.  Don’t ask me why I never published a word on these adventures so many years ago.  I have no acceptable answer, other than the fact that New Zealand was so profoundly, so indescribably gorgeous, that I fell completely under its spell for a sum-total of 70 or so days, and before I could utter a word, the whole thing was over.  Yes, it was something like that.

In the following twenty photos (trust me, that seems like a lot, but I promise you won’t find yourself nodding off), I strive to capture the essence, from our perspective, of New Zealand’s magnificent North Island…from Wellington to Kerikeri and everywhere in between, but in no particular order.  And for anyone who is curious, our weapon of choice was one chosen for cost and practicality  over aesthetics.  All photos are courtesy of our (since retired) lowly 12 mp Panasonic Lumix purchased in none other than Bangkok‘s notorious den of knock-off electronics, Pantip Plaza.

1) Pohutakawa Tree, Bay of Plenty We came across this old giant clinging to the coast as we began our broad arc around Bay of Plenty. Beside him stood a small, clapboard church, what with its prim little steeple, stood a silent sentry beside the old Pohutakawa as the sun sank into the bay.  Inside, beneath the floorboards under the small baptismal font, a “whānau“, or extended family of southern penguins had made their nest, evidenced by the subtle fishy aroma when we walked through the doors.

Pohutakawa Bay of Plenty

2) Mt. Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park Home to two of NZ‘s most famous ski fields, Ngauruhoe, an active volcano, has had recent bouts of geothermal activity which has prompted several evacuations over the past few years. Many folks will recognize this mountain as the incarnation of Mt. Doom in Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings films.


3) Pukeko This handsome fellow is a pukeko, which is the Maori name for the New Zealand or Purple Swamp Hen, and is a swamp-dwelling member of the rail family (hence those sexy legs). Unlike the kea, kākāpō, kōtuku or the extinct moa and huia, the pukeko is one of the few birds native to NZ that has flourished since the arrival of man.  We found him one morning grazing at our campsite in Rotorua.

a very cool bird

4) Tokumaru Wharf, East Cape Some of New Zealand‘s most impoverished areas are found in the East Cape region where the largely Maori population continues to remain culturally isolated.  To me, this barren and windswept landscape is more so the heartland of this indigenous people, what with its pastoral valleys, sweeping bays, crumbling piers and hilltop maraes.

Mossy stone jetty

5) Love.  Here is one of the few photos (and incidentally, my favorite) capturing an actual PDA between Ryan and I. We are on Auckland’s North Shore (Devonport) on Mount Victoria, looking across the Hauraki Gulf at the volcanic Rangitoto Island.


6) Horses, East Cape Waaaaayyy out on the tip of the East Cape (about 2 hrs north of Gisbourne), we found Reg at Eastender Horsetreks who took us across rivers, into the waves, up steep hills and deep into the bush. Never mind the fact that this was the first time Ryan had ever sat on top of a horse!

Horses East Cape

7) Oliver Leaping At the Goat Island Marine reserve, we ogled snappers as they cruised under a glass-bottom boat.  Later in the evening, we parked our campervan on a particularly wet, grassy hill and found ourselves stuck fast the following morning.  Luckily, the local farmer/home stay owner was on hand with her tractor to pull us out.

Ollie Leaping

8) Stranger at Piha Beach Both Piha and Karekare were two of the most sublime beaches we visited during our time in New Zealand.  Black sand swept up from the Waikato River was scalloped into a glittering fish scale lattice-work by the retreating tide, which, at its vanishing point in the horizon, lifted off the earth in an ethereal metallic mist.

Glowing Stranger at Karekare

9) Cathedral Cove This particular spot along the Cormandel heaves with tourists in the on-season (150,000 pass through each year); a great many of whom come to take in the famous view that links this beach to Mare’s Leg Cove through a natural stone arch.  On this particular day, we were the sole visitors, and the shot that intrigued me the most was this one of Ryan, looking through the arch, as I looked through the surrounding pohutakawas at him.

Cathedral Cove

10) Holding My Baby outside Te Puia‘s marae.  As part of our time in Rotorua, we just HAD to get our Maori on, so we hangi-ed and haka-ed over at one of the best cultural institutes in all of Te Whakarewarewa.

Holding MY Baby

11) Bridal Veil Falls Fifteen minutes from Raglan in the Waikato region of the North Island, the Pakoka River plunges 55 meters over sheer sandstone and basalt cliffs.  The lushly forested descent to the lower plunge pool recalled waterfalls we had seen previously in Australia’s Far North Queensland, or even Northern Thailand; both an indication that the very top of New Zealand verges on a sub-tropical climate.


12) Auckland Harbor or Waitemata Harbour, is an iconic a seascape as any other in the country.  The Maori named it after volcanic obsidian, in accordance with the way it gleams darkly in the sunlight.

Auckland Harbor

13) Asleep at “Home” Our 5-berth motorhome was where we lived for all of 10 weeks throughout our tour of the North and South Islands.  Oliver‘s carseat was strapped to the far left bench at the very back, which converted to a fold-out queen-sized bed by night.  In addition to a sensational off-season discount, the kind owners of Adventurevans NZ threw in a crate of toys and goodies to keep the little guy occupied during our long hauls.

Asleep in the RV

14) Megaladon at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium visiting KT’s was one of those impulsive decisions that we tend to make when Oliver spies something that remotely resembles an aquarium out of his periphery.  Traffic stops, heart palpitations ensue, and we are reminded of the fact that “there might be amazing sharks in there, probably about a thousand that I have never even seen before” (indeed, he is keeping a tally).  We were recently forced to disappoint him when aquarium in Paris wanted the equivalent of $75 for entry, but in this instance, near Auckland’s Harbour Bridge, resistance was futile.

Giant Shark Mouth

15) Tidal Stream at Karekare  Just due south of Piha Beach where the Waitakere Range drops precipitously down rain-forested ravines onto black sand beaches, Karekare is a place where I would like to go and grow old.  This place is isolated and wild, accessed only by a small unsealed road that winds around the cliffs; and is frequented by few, aside from the lonely surf patrol that minds the rip in the warmer months.

Karekare tidal stream

16) Sunset Near Whakatane We caught this view on the final few miles up the Bay of Plenty between Whakatane and Mount Maunganui. It was as if an enormous beating heart had pulled us right inside itself and was drawing us from one chamber to the next.  For twenty minutes, I barely breathed.


17) Bolton Street Cemetery with a View of Thorndon Wellington’s oldest cemetery, which dates back to 1840, is located near the birthplace of NZ‘s best known writer, Katherine Mansfield.  The cemetery, which sits in a suburb outside Wellington, is a great place for tui-spotting.

view to Thornton and Katherine Mansfield's birthplace

18)  Road to Kawhia-Raglan We love visiting surf towns all over the world. Raglan has its own place in the endless summer, although in New Zealand’s brisk  winter months, it was all but forgotten.  We caught a moment of paradisiacal late afternoon light on the deserted track leading over the ridge from the one-coffee-shop town of Kawhia en route to Raglan.


19) Ollie & the Giant Kauris 2,000 years ago, the Tane Mahuta sprang from seed.  The Maori believe him to be the “life-giver”, in that he tore his parents, the earth and the sky, away from their embrace so that life could begin.  While Ollie was not allowed to hug the extremely sacred and largest living kauri tree in New Zealand, he shared his love with another of his smaller sisters.

Ollie and the Giant Kauris

20) East Cape Driftwood Three years after taking this photo, its location still escapes me.  A forgotten beach on some isolated shore; old tree bones bleached by cold Pacific waters and a silver light that could be owed to either dawn of dusk.

East Cape driftwood

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