The nikau grove

Monday 18 October 2021 – Auckland Domain.

Having finally restarted work on the novel I’ve been meaning to write for at least the past two years I managed to distract myself again with an idea for a short story. I’ve not achieved much with the novel though I at least have the broad concept. I’d completed enough research to finish a historical timeline that gives context and background to the plot, and then stupidly left the notebook I wrote it in back in London. I’ve now redone that work and typed it into a spreadsheet so at least I can’t leave it somewhere again, though typing takes away some of the pleasure and spontaneity of hand writing notes. I have a new notebook, which sadly still remains unsullied by ink or pencil lead. I hope to change that situation soon.

The short story I have embarked upon is partly set in Auckland Domain so it was fortuitous timing to get a call from mum asking if I would like to meet her there for coffee. I immediately said yes, packed the camera in a bag and power-walked my way up to the domain, surprisingly the walk took less than 30 minutes. Auckland is smaller than it appears from car windows.

We picked up coffee and a wee treat each from a café and had a pleasant half an hour chatting by the duck ponds. There were very few people about. After going our separate ways I wandered around taking some photos to use as visual prompts for the short story, though I have chosen to not upload them. This statue from 1955 does not appear to have an official name, though it seems to to be known as ‘The Three Muses’.

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Naturally all the other photos were of trees, there are some magnificent trees in the domain and I have a tree obsession at the moment. My next planned photowalk should have no trees at all, maybe.

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Eleanor and I have walked though the domain a couple of times recently though stuck to the roads on both occasions, as I was walking down the grass bank taking photos of the big open trees I discovered some bush tracks I didn’t know existed. There seem to be three of four interlinked trails here and I chose to walk down the Nikau Grove, and wow, that was a great choice! The nikau is New Zealand’s only native palm they can grow quite tall and have an old-style house-brush shape when allowed to grow free. I really like them for their usually quite reliable geometry, though in a dense grove of both mature and immature trees they are a chaotic mess of crisscrossed lines, bright reflection and deep shadow, and great to look at and photograph.

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It was absolutely my sort of place to take photos and I’m definitely coming back here once I get my hands on the tripod legs that are stored at mum’s house, I shipped the head over from London and have been waiting to reunite the two pieces. It was just a little too dim for hand-held photos and there was just a little bit too much glare off the shiny reflective fronds in those rare places where the midday sun penetrated the cover.

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It had rained heavily overnight and the small stream that runs through the trees had overflowed and was utilising the well worn path as the water made its way down hill. I managed to avoid getting wet feet by hopping from one side to the other. It almost felt like a jungle adventure, and with a bit of imagination it was a much needed, though very tame, thrill.

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All in all it was a very enjoyable and unexpected day out.

Now Phil, less procrastinating and get back to story writing!

P.S. I now have the tripod legs.

Exhibition Drive

Friday 15 October 2021 – Auckland.

Wednesday 13.

Another week or so has passed and in the main I haven’t done anything that I feel like writing about. However, I feel like writing something and with story writing inspiration at an all time low I’m writing this; as they say it is better to write something than nothing.

Auckland is in lockdown level 3.1, the not as strict sequel to lockdown level 3.0. We can meet people outside, though only one household at a time. There are 55 new cases as I write this (on the day I posted this it has leapt up to 94 (sad face) ) and given the New Zealand government’s desire to keep infections low until vaccinations are much higher, I’m not expecting any respite soon. Conversations have started (mainly in my head) about when we just decide to give up and go back to London. Even the thousands of cases a day, the petrol crisis, the energy crisis, the reduction of food on shelves and more Tory governance seems better than not being able to do anything. I was expecting to be on my way back from a quick visit to Australia as it was my granddaughter’s 5th birthday on Saturday, but sadly, due to Covid-19 I’ve not been able to go. To cap it all off one of my favourite bands played a gig in St Leonards on Saturday night and it made me a little sad to not have been there.

At least under lockdown level 3.1 – the not as strict sequel we can see people, so we caught the bus out to Henderson on Sunday afternoon and had a lovely catch-up with my mum, the first time we have seen her in over seven weeks. So much for coming to Auckland to spend time with family! I also caught up with a friend for a coffee yesterday and am planning (weather depending) on meeting another for a beer in a park tomorrow. Seeing people brings some relief from the feeling of being away from it all.

Friday 15.

Well the good news is I got to have beer (4 cans) in a park with my mate Jeff, and it was very enjoyable. It was the first drink I’ve had with a friend other than my bestie, Eleanor, since we arrived in Auckland 76 days ago, and the first drink I’ve had outside where we are living. I am looking forward to more.

After a failed attempt on Wednesday morning to get to Titirangi and walk Exhibition Drive to take yet more photos of trees I was successful this morning. Admittedly I failed on Wednesday by choice as the rain, while brief, was horizontal. Today was warm and sunny, the complete opposite. Too nice in fact.

It is a two stage journey from the city to Titirangi village with direct buses no longer running outside of rush hour. The train to the nice old Glen Eden station was mostly empty. One advantage of lockdown is pubic transport is almost a joy.

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Titirangi Village has changed since I was last there a couple of years ago, this building didn’t exist then, there was a small and smelly public toilet on this spot. I don’t particularly like it, the new building I mean, public toilets are handy; even smelly ones.

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I still like the old Lopdell House Gallery and the new extension tacked on the side. I was on the board of directors for a small community gallery that had a floor in Lopdell House for a year or so before I went travelling.  I wonder if it’s still there and if it will reopen once ‘normal’ life resumes.

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I bought a coffee and slice and walked the kilometre to the start of Exhibition Drive, eating and drinking my purchases on the way. Exhibition Drive is 3km long and is pretty much dead-flat, it runs along the side of a ridge out towards the Waitakere dams near Laingholm. The road was built to support a pipeline that takes water from the dams to a partially pump-house at the start of the path. I wonder what they’re doing with the building as it was complete when I last walked here.

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There are a few small gated tunnels along the way, and a couple of bits of pipe related machinery too. I have crawled through a couple of these tunnels in the past, before ‘political correctness went mad’ and things were secured. This is a terribly blurry photo, but the best of a bad bunch of blurry tunnel photos!

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I’ve run this path dozens of times over the years when I was less of a slug than I am now. As a closed road it’s a nice place to run and there were a few runners, walkers and cyclists out today. It’s tree lined with some great views to the south and west over the Waitakere Ranges and the Manukau Harbour.

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I took the big camera as the main purpose of this trip was to take photos, though it was a bit too bright for photography and I took less than I hoped and a few of those weren’t that great so won’t see the light of day. I nipped off the path into the bush a couple of times though there aren’t many places where you can as the road was carved out of the hillside. I’m glad I did as this is one of my favourite images from the day.

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At some stage after I left for the UK in December 2011 the Beveridge Track was opened, linking the far end of Exhibition Drive with the Arataki Visitors Centre on top of the ridge on Scenic Drive. I walked most of the way up to Arataki, only turning back when the path levelled out at the top of the climb and the number of other walkers starting getting high enough for me to be uncomfortable taking photos. I like to take photos with no-one around, plus a lot of people were not wearing masks and with a narrow path enclosed by trees this was almost like being inside. I will admit to not wearing mine when there was no-one else around, I’m sick of them.

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When I turned round for the walk back to Titirangi I swapped the wide angle 16-23mm lens for the 70-200mm to get a different perspective. It is my favourite lens, but heavy and not that great up close, so not ideal for use in the bush. In the right hands it does allow for a good photo to be taken though.

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I arrived back in Titirangi 2 ½ hours after leaving, a little tired from the walk, but happy for being in the bush again, even if it was just the fringe. It was nice to be among the trees, especially lots of New Zealand natives, and it is always so much more peaceful walking without cars constantly whizzing past. 

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P.S. I had some writing inspiration and have started a new short story AND completed some research into the novel, this time typing it onto the computer rather than writing into a notebook I seem to have left in London.

Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter

Wednesday 06 October 2021 – Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland.

Wynyard Quarter and the Silo Park are light years away from how I remember them from before I left Auckland. I used to run these streets and the greasy, occasionally smelly harbour side when I was working nearby before the company I worked for moved south to Manukau. This area was all rusty tugs and fishing boats, vast oil and chemical tanks and these weird silos that no-one knew the contents of, other than those in the know. I believe that bulk fuel and chemicals had not been stored here for quite some time, but the land was toxic and it always had that air of desertion that you feel in unloved and unwanted working sections of towns. The fact they have gone and the harbour side has opened up to residences and small parks and loads of cafes, bars and restaurants almost feels miraculous as there had been wrangling on removing the tanks and cleaning the site for years, and as is often the case in Auckland, nothing ever happens at pace.

Though I can still picture in my mind the old barbered wire topped walls and the memory of the feel and smell of an fish and oil infused wind whipping though the mostly empty wide streets as I walk, this renovated small corner of Auckland City now feels and looks really good. It’s a shame about the obscene number of car parks that litter the area, an opportunity for a car free space was well and truly lost.

Being a little disappointed with yesterday’s photos (I had yet to re-evaluate them and change my mind) I decided I would take the camera out to the Silo Park today and have another go at some photography. I had some ideas in mind and decided to use the plastic fantastic 50mm lens rather than 16-35 zoom I took yesterday as that one would not have as worked as well. This is the third plastic fantastic I’ve owned, the last was on the camera I broke back in August 2019. I recently picked up a second-hand one and sadly it’s nowhere near as crisp as the one I’d had from new and I always find myself mildly disappointed with the results. I will replace it with a new one when I’m earning again. 50mm is my favourite focal length, and it encourages the use of your legs as a zoom.

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Today was the first day of a slight relaxation in Covid-19 level 3 rules and people can now spend some outdoor time with another household group. It’s school holidays and was sunny and warm and there were more people out walking than I’ve seen for ages. Nice. While I like solitude, especially when taking pictures, it was pleasurable seeing people enjoying this space. It’s a space for people to be in (not cars).

I started my walk over the road from the flat, in Victoria Park. Crossing over the park near the end furthest from the flat is a flyover that leads to and from the harbour bridge, a pretty decent covered walkway across the park. With traffic volumes low due to the lockdown we can barely hear it from the flat’s balcony.

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The first developments of the Wynyard Quarter were either started or finished, I am not sure which, in 2011, though I don’t recall going there before I left Auckland at the end of that year. There has been continuous development over the intervening years, and I am sure there is more to be done. As I said before, apart from the number of car parks I think this area has been done really well, I particularly like the improved access to the harbour edge.

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Eleanor and I have walked here a few times in the last couple of weeks and I’ve been eyeing up the remaining silos as potential photo opportunities. It looks like they will remain as features in the area which I very much hope is the case as they retain some of the old character, without the smell, and will be there as a reminder of what this area used to be like.  

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There is a viewing platform, though I am not 100% sure of its purpose as it is in a weird position, but it is photogenic, and I was the only person up there until I pressed the shutter.

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I like the contrast of this lunching workman and the monochromatic silos he was eating in.

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Leaving the silos and Wynyard I walked back home via some of the side streets between the flat and the city, taking a couple of photos on the way. There is a part demolished building at the end of Federal St, that’s been like this since before I left the country. I would love to get in and take some photos. 

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I am learning to love the city, though given my negative feelings I think that will take a significant amount of time. Walking most days means I am taking more time to properly see things which allows me to better appreciate what is good amongst all the bad.

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I wasn’t out for long, but it was fun. I enjoyed taking some photos and am mostly pleased with the results, so yay for me.

The pohutakawas of Emily Place Reserve

Tuesday 05 October 2021 – Emily Place Reserve.

I have had a pretty lacklustre few days, there was a bit of rain which didn’t inspire me to venture out and the anticipated loosing of lockdown restrictions and a move to level two of lockdown didn’t happen due to the rise in numbers and the spread of Covid-19 cases to areas outside Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. As you will all know by now the Covid-19 case numbers are still extremely low by international standards, but still too much for Aotearoa New Zealand to support. Correspondingly my support for lockdown is slowly eroding as I see my increasingly expensive holiday disappearing into the distance.

There was a slight relaxing of the rules which means I will be able to see mum again for the first time in seven or so weeks, albeit outside only, so we are hoping for a fine weekend so we can get together. We came back to New Zealand so I could spend time with family and it has been extremely frustrating that I cannot yet do this small thing, even though we have been here for over two months. We spent a lot of money just to be in a small number of rooms together, something we could easily do in the UK, with better telly. Thankfully Eleanor and I still get on.

I had been hoping for another cloudy, maybe even a mildly drizzly day, I wanted to go to Emily Place Reserve to take some photos of it’s amazing and lovely mess of pohutakawa trees. I had walked past it a few days ago on a random roaming-the-city-centre walk but didn’t have the camera on me at the time. I was hoping against bright sunlight as I knew these trees would cast deep shadows and the contrast would be difficult for any camera to properly capture. I was bored and had no other photo mission planned so went out on this sunny morning with the faint hope it would fully cloud over. It didn’t.

When I got home and uploaded the photos to my laptop I was a bit disappointed by my efforts, though not super surprised by that as the light was very contrasty. However, looking again today, a couple of days later, I revised that opinion, spent some time in Lightroom trying to balance the shade and light tones and below are my favourites.

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I don’t know much about Emily Place Reserve, other than what you see is what you get. It is just off the city centre, down from the much larger and better known Albert Park. It is tiny and sort of triangular, it cannot be more than 50 meters on any side. It has a flatish section at the top and then drops down via some steps quite steeply. The main reason I was there the tangled mess of huge and ancient pohutakawa trees that absolutely dominate the top of the park. These trees are so big and sprawling and low that you can no longer walk along the path that was, at one stage, under them. I love how there are steel struts under the branches holding them off the footpath.

Getting in nice and close it’s hard to believe that this is a tiny park in the heart of a city.

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In the midst of the trees are a couple of benches, which were thankfully unoccupied, and a monument with two dedications;  firstly to the memory of John Frederick Churton, who I have never heard of and will have forgotten tomorrow. He was the chaplain of the colonial garrison based nearby when he died in 1853. Secondly it commemorates the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of St Pauls Church which was also built nearby in 1841. The church and the garrison were long gone when the memorial was erected in 1941. It seems the wanton destruction and replacement of buildings in Auckland has been going on for a long time.

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Anyway, the trees are what I was there for and they did not disappoint, they are fabulous and I am glad they have been left and no-one decided that another block of poorly built flats would be perfect for that small, triangular piece of city-centre hillside real estate.

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This final photo was taken outside Pt Erin Swimming Pool on a walk with Eleanor on Sunday.

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