The backstreets of the Wynyard Quarter

Friday 05 November 2021 – Wynyard Quarter, Auckland City.

I enjoyed taking and editing the black and white photos in the last post so much I decided to do the same again today, focusing on the less appealing parts of the nearby Wynyard Quarter in downtown Auckland; the bits behind buildings, the official car parks and those yet-to-be-built on places where people also park cars. There is a lot of parking available in Wynyard Quarter. Like Wednesday I set myself up to take black and white photos.

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The walk wasn’t as inspired as the one on Wednesday, the sun was a bit too bright for my photographic style and there were too many people out and about. I have also come to the realisation that I like walking hills more than the flat roads of a harbourside, which I guess some people my think is a little peculiar. It was forecasted to be raining in the afternoon, and I hung on as long as I could but the rain failed to materialise. I wanted the rain. Rain meant fewer people, a darker sky and opportunities for reflection, and I don’t mean personal reflection. I don’t take a camera if I am planning on some of that sort of reflection. The weather forecasting in New Zealand is absolutely hopeless.

As well as carparking I also found visitor bike parking, which isn’t something I have seen before, but mightily approve of.  

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Anyway, I took photos and I had fun in both the taking and the editing. Half a day was mostly used up, and really I can’t ask for much more than that at the moment. Let me know what you think of the photos!

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The area has either been built on or is being built on, and as I’ve previously mentioned I think this space has been designed quite well, the apartment blocks are low rise and mostly attractive and there is quite a lot of greenery about as well as plenty of pedestrian space (though not as much as car space).

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I am really looking forward to cafes and the barber properly opening.

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I have added two colour images to finish, the black and white conversion didn’t really work on these.

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The news of the week is Auckland Library is now open to online order and onsite collecting. I ordered and collected. This made me very happy, though I got a book about Angkor Wat and the Khmer Empire and now I’m sad as I can’t travel to the places I am reading about, maybe I should make better book choices.

The flâneur

Wednesday 03 November 2021 – Auckland City.

I want to get this off my chest now, before I get too far into writing and give you, dear reader a false impression that I’ve always had this impeccable taste in music. I’m going to start with a confession.

Prior to his untimely death in February 2020 I hadn’t really paid a huge amount of attention to the music of Andrew Weatherall and his various guises. Dance music wasn’t my thing and I never got excited by the legendary Weatherall produced Screamadelica album by Primal Scream. The indie nerd in me was more of a fan of the Screams’ earlier un-dancey guitar based pop. I was, of course, very aware of him as a popular and well regarded DJ and producer and he had performed in Walthamstow on more than one occasion to rousing and popular acclaim. I just didn’t do dance music.

Weatherall’s passing generated a tsunami of broken-hearted and loving messages in my Twitter feed supported by numerous eulogies and heartfelt stories in the mainstream press. The outpouring of love for this man compelled me to read those articles and I discovered there was a lot to like and I was quickly sucked into his world, becoming, like so many before, an avid fan. I now own some of his records and in this period since his death have become far more interested in electronic music and dub. My music world view has positively expanded in the past 18 months and this journey was very much down to his influence.

I read this piece in the Social online in the weeks after Weatherall’s death that spoke about him as a flâneur; a stroller or saunterer. Apparently he was known for his flânering around various parts of London, dropping into a record shop here, a bookshop there or stopping for a chat in a favoured café, an act we both love, and have in common. I was reminded of this at the weekend when I came across a Guardian piece from April of this year that I’d read and saved titled ‘Why cities emptied by Covid-19 are perfect for the modern flâneur’. With little else to do at the moment, and a determination to fall in love with Auckland city centre, flânering looked like a good use of time.

On Saturday night Eleanor and I watched a new documentary from Todd Haynes on the highly influential New York rock band The Velvet Underground. VU were a band I listened to a lot and if you look through my record collection you will find Velvet Underground influences in well over half of the artists represented there. Musically and attitudinally the Velvet Underground and Andrew Weatherall are almost polar opposite to each other, but in their chosen fields they are/were key innovators, both taking modern music in new and exciting directions.

Velvet Underground were heavily associated with the artist Andy Warhol and he was a key influence on their style and the imagery surrounding them. I was very inspired by the footage and photographs in the documentary, which were mainly taken in the late 1960s and early 70s. Those grainy and soft black and white images made me want to go out and take photos of the urban environment around me; not that I am in anyway trying to compare 2021 Auckland to 1970 New York.

Today was a particularly overcast day with a forecast of rain and it felt like exactly the right kind of day to take a camera and go flâneur. I set the camera to be as close to a 60s film camera as it could get; black and white, a fixed 50mm lens and to get the grainiest possible images, an ISO of 6400, the highest it goes. To inspire a creative side to the walk I made a new Andrew Weatherall playlist and donning headphones I left the flat. No fixed plan, just see where the roads, and more importantly the construction-closed footpaths lead me.

The camera was out almost immediately.

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I walked for two and half hours, mainly around the centre of town, primarily sticking to the side roads and the small number of alleyways and open malls linking roads together, keeping away from as much construction as possible. I was looking for images that spoke ‘urban’ to me, that touched on an older Auckland; the one from my youth. Though there is little left of either that city or my youth.

I had a good time, I’ve walked all these streets before so there were no great reveals, but in the past I rarely looked at things in detail or even spend any time just looking.

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Lorne Street.

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The University Precinct.

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Downtown.

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I had planned on taking some time to sit and write over a coffee around the High Street / Vulcan Lane intersection, the ‘coolest’ part of Auckland City, or at least the area with highest concentration of decent coffee. Earlier rain had left all the public seating wet so I huddled in damp jeans with a too hot espresso next to a couple of recently stubbed out cigarette butts on a stair under the covered entrance to a closed office; looking more a dishevelled street drinker than the modern and sophisticated flâneur I was posing as.

I was hoping to take in the air and make pithy observations in this most sophisticated corner of the city, and though most of the shops were open for click and collect, other than strategically and poorly parked cars there was not a lot to observe, pithily or otherwise. There was a group of six or so men in High Street, just around the corner from my humble perch, guffawing and talking overly loudly in that ‘look at us’ kind of manner the over-confident have. Though I couldn’t hear what they were saying the noise was distracting enough for me to not stay for longer than it took to finish the over hot-coffee. I had experienced this group once before; they look like they work in a small IT business, when I was waiting to pick up a book from the shop over the road. That time they were collectively leering at a young woman who was unfortunate to be walking down the street. The most obvious of the group is in his early forties and wearing the overly tight shorts and t-shirt combination of a philanderer who has found himself recently and unexpectedly divorced. A part of me is a little jealous, if I was wearing those clothes they would bulge in all the wrong places and there’d be an inch long strip of hairy and pallid belly emerging between t-short and shorts, and no-one wants to see that. I guess I managed to make some pithy observations after all.

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It started raining again, heavier this time, so I set off in the direction of home, taking one last photo on the way.

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Once home I uploaded all the images to my computer, I’d taken about 50 which is a lot for me. I use Adobe Lightroom to edit images for here and social media, though I rarely do much to the images other than a few basic tweaks to give the RAW files my camera creates a bit of life. Shooting in RAW means that though the camera thought I was shooting black and white today, the stored images were actually still in colour. This meant a Lightroom conversion back to black and white.

This isn’t the first time I have converted a colour image to monochrome, though with more time available to me and with some base images I actually liked, I took time to teach myself some new editing tricks and techniques. Spending some extra time converting and working on the photos gave me a lot of enjoyment; this is not always the case, and it very much added to the pleasure I got from flânering with camera.

I will do this again.

It was the 30th anniversary of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica a couple of weeks ago and it’s being re-released as a double LP along with a box set of ten 12 inch singles from the band from that period. I won’t buy either of the tjem.

Muriwai Beach

Saturday 30 October 2021 – Muriwai Beach.

Yesterday morning Mum caught the train into the city to come and see me, and we met for an enjoyable coffee and a walk around Wynyard Quarter and Victoria Park before one of the many brief showers that have plagued this week finally caught up with us. While we were together I asked to borrow her car for a few hours over the weekend; an offer that she’d previously made to us.

Eleanor is under physio orders to not walk too far for a couple of weeks so her knee pain can be resolved. Borrowing the car so we could do something more than walk the block was her idea and I’m profoundly grateful to her for having it. I’ve been in a slump this week and getting out of our immediate surroundings was the right thing to do. I must admit to having thought of asking to use the car, but rejected it as I really wasn’t in the mood for driving as I often find driving in New Zealand stressful. I’m not the road warrior I used to be, or thought I was. Anyway, it was a great idea, and we had a nice, albeit brief, time at Muriwai before the rain arrived and we made our way home again.

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Muriwai is one of my happy places. As well as being a place where I’ve enjoyed mountain biking, trail running and photography, Dad’s ashes were scattered here too. It’s a place I always visit when I’m back in Auckland. It is the only place I ALWAYS visit when I’m back.

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Eleanor and I caught the bus out to Henderson and met Mum in a park near her home. We had coffee and a chat (Covid) before getting the keys to the mighty Hyundai Getz, a small getabout car that was perfect for Mum and our needs, and my driving reluctance.

Muriwai Beach is normally a thirtyish minute drive from Henderson. The traffic was really heavy today, and there was a long tailback going into Kumeu. It felt like normal, unlocked down traffic to me, and both in Kumeu and at Muriwai there were a lot of unmasked walkers. More than in the city centre at least, the west was always a bit wild. I don’t blame people as I’m sick of mask wearing too and my compliance in some situations is waning.

We arrived at the beach just on midday and went straight to the café to order a portion of fish and chips for lunch. We have been thinking (drooling at times) about chips for quite some time, but sadly these weren’t as good as we would’ve liked for our first non-MIQ chips, oh well. I am sure there will be other opportunities. It was nice being able to enjoy fish and chips outside, near a beach and in the sun; the perfect place to eat them.

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After stuffing our (mine in particular) faces with chips we did the short loop walk from the beach up to the cliff top viewing platforms that look out over the sea and it’s renown gannet colony.

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Just below the first of the viewing platforms, on the Muriwai Beach side is where we scattered most of Dad in 2007. I always stop and take a moment or two to reflect on what a good man my dad was and that I still miss him. This year I hope to be able to visit on the anniversary of his passing.

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I took a couple of photos from the viewing areas, though I am not particularly pleased with the output; the images are all a bit ‘soft’. I think I was shooting at too slow a speed for my ability to hold the camera still. I was also using a polarising filter which I now regret, though I think the case for the filter is in London, which isn’t much use to me here in New Zealand.

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I love the viewing platforms and they were quite popular today with both humans and gannets. There are about 1200 pairs of gannets that mate and nest on those small vertically sided islands and this narrow stretch of cliff, attracting a significantly higher number of human visitors each season who come to see them.

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There were some people making a huge mandala in the sand at Maori Bay which was looking pretty good, though very unfinished as we walked back down towards the car as light rain started to fall.

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I drove us along the short and mostly unsealed road to North Muriwai, where I used to run and ride in the pine forest before I went on my travels. I was interested in seeing what it was like now, and very busy was the answer, so we didn’t stop. On the way back to the main road I was passed by some yelling knuckle-dragging youth in two of these ridiculously large utes (utility trucks) that seem to be everywhere in NZ. I said bad words, loudly.

It was good getting out of the city and I very much appreciated having the use of Mum’s car. A number of people have offered us the use of a vehicle, which has been lovely and very welcome. Once we were home and I’d successfully negotiated how the car lift to the car park in the block worked I was feeling so much better about the world, so thanks Mum and Eleanor, xx.

Sunday update – The car was making very strange sounds when I started it to go out for a Sunday drive. I ended up taking it back to Mum in case it was something serious. She told me later in the day that it always sounds like that when the engine is cold. In lieu of a drive and a short walk somewhere different Eleanor and I had a glass of wine on the deck instead. That was enjoyable and probably less stress inducing than driving again in Auckland’s traffic.

Buildings of Auckland City

Friday 29 October 2021 – Auckland.

Three months ago today Eleanor and I boarded Emirates EK004 out of Heathrow, landing in Auckland a mere 28 hours later. On arrival, along with all the other passengers, we were taken straight from the airport to spend 14 days in a managed isolation hotel. That now seems such a long time ago, and some days it feels like we’ve not left isolation in these last Three months. This week in particular has felt inordinately slow and I am bored, bored, bored, and probably getting rather boring with my boredom too. Nothing that I’m actually allowed to do really appeals that much either. 

I’ve spent too much time this week looking through posts from when I was travelling and experiencing life beyond what feels like a city-sized extension to the four walls of the flat. I guess there’s some irony in that we’ve flown half way around the world to be in a country that is now more restricted than the UK. Travel isn’t always the answer I know. I worry that experiencing different cultures, even as a privileged tourist, is going to become difficult after Covid, and yes I worry about climate change and the impact the travel sector has on the planet and local environments as well. My plan to ‘finish’ mainland SE Asia and backpack through northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam is looking less and less likely as time goes by.

Oh well. It’s good to have dreams, but now it’s time to get back to real life.

Wednesday and Thursday this week were solidly overcast with a clean, flat grey sky which was exactly the light I wanted for taking photos of some of the newer and taller buildings in the centre of Auckland city. 

On Wednesday I spent 90 minutes walking around the western ridge of the Queen Street gully, up and around Hobson and Nelson Streets. I took the 70-200mm lens and was mainly shooting buildings from distance. On Thursday I took the same lens and spent two hours on the Eastern side, up to and around Symonds St and Grafton Rd. There are a lot of construction workers about and a small part of me wished I had done this on a Sunday as I think it would be easier to get into the lanes and narrower streets that are filled with workers on weekdays. They all seem to be out on the footpaths eating or smoking whenever I walk past. I kind of enjoyed myself, it was nice to get out and walk and I always enjoy taking photos, though I’m not overly thrilled with all the output. Interesting architecture photography is more difficult than it looks. In a break from the recent trend, there are very few trees in the below images, though I suspect there will be more coming.

I think these photos are in the order I took them in. I am offering no context or comment, but am happy to say that the more I hang about in the city the more I like it, though I still believe the council has made some poor development policy decisions over the years. I was surprised at the number of empty buildings and offices there are across the city and wonder how necessary some of this constant and disruptive construction is. 

Wednesday – images taken from the east side.

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Thursday – images taken from the west side.

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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.

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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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Symonds Street Cemetery

Tuesday 21 September 2021 – Auckland.

Warning; this post contains rare positivity.

It is (hopefully) our last full day at the ‘modern loft style apartment’, all being well we should be moving into our new flat tomorrow. I cannot wait to leave these neighbours behind. [Edit – We have moved.] I took the opportunity of our (hopefully) last day here to walk through the nearby Symonds Street Cemetery and take some photos. It was supposed to be overcast and showery but naturally the sun was shining most of the time I was out, unusually that actually worked for me. Here is the positive bit; I was really pleased with my photos, I liked just about all of them and was surprised at how good that made me feel when I started the edit process. A rare treat. Yay for me!

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Symonds Street was the first European cemetery in Auckland, opening in 1842. It was only open for burials for 44 short years, closing in 1886 when the larger Waikumete Cemetery opened out west. As you can see from this image, there was not a lot to Auckland in 1842.

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It is now run by the council and is a grade 1 listed site, though the council have invested very little into the place and it is largely run down. Other than what you see walking along the main roads, it’s in a sad state of repair. The sad state of repair is in its way quite beautiful and possibly deliberate. Most of the cemetery is buried (excuse the pun) down the side of a steep gully in regenerating bush and the graves are overgrown by trees and weeds; fallen down, pushed down, broken down and collapsed. An apt warning for the rest of city centre, maybe. And like the city centre itself the cemetery is dominated by the sound and fumes of cars and trucks, a motorway cuts the cemetery off from the Catholic church.

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It is a hangout for drunks and druggies, for illicit sex, a home for the homeless and a place for the local goths and occultists to congregate at night. It is a scruffy edgeland in the centre of a city. I liked it.

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The cemetery was divided along sectarian lines with Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Wesleyan and Jewish sections. The Catholic, Jewish and Presbyterian sections are on the well managed, tidy open side, bordered by Symonds St, K’ Rd and the motorway. I started my walk here. The photographically interesting Wesleyan and Anglican section is on the other side of Symonds Street and drops down, quite steeply in parts, into the bush clad Grafton Gully.

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When the motorway was constructed in the 1960s, the cemetery was cut off from the Catholic church, with more than 4100, mostly Catholic bodies needing to be re-interred. Old photos of the church show a steeple, which no longer exists and I wonder what happened to it.

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I popped out of the cemetery on to the bike/pedestrian path that runs alongside the motorway and used that to cross under a lockdown quiet Symonds St. I expected there to be a way back in from the bike path but there was nothing there, I walked down as far as Grafton Bridge, then back up again and jumped the fence at a point where I could see the muddy stone path through the trees.

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The first thing I saw were these two helmets, one still attached to the locking mechanism of the scooter, but not the rest of the scooter. On the assumption I wasn’t going to come across any illicit or aggressive meetings (I didn’t, but I was conscious that there are people living here). I knew I was going to enjoy taking photos.

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There are a few official trails in here, they don’t go down as far as the small, almost dry stream at the bottom of the gully, though there are numerous bike and shoe made trails down there. I know this used to be an unofficial urban mountain bike spot a few years ago and wonder if it still is. There would be some interesting riding here, the gully is quite steep on this side, and you can see where gravestones have slipped. I was wondering if any bones would be sticking out of the soil; I would be a bit freaked out if I came across a hand grasping for the air. I didn’t look hard.

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The path took me back underneath Grafton Bridge.

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The bridge was built between 1908 and 1910 to replace an old suspended cable pedestrian bridge that was closed when it was discovered it was dangerously unsafe. On completion the new bridge was the largest bridge of its type anywhere in the world. It remains, in my view, one of Auckland’s best bridges.

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As well as looking down and into the scrub for interesting looking grave stones I also kept my eye on what was going on above, hunting for images of the foliage and the light filtering through the leaves and boughs. The trees did not disappoint. There are some lovely Californian black oak trees scattered throughout the cemetery and I had a few attempts at getting a strong image, though none really made the cut. The further down into the gully and the protection of the trees the more the birdsong stood out over the roar of the traffic, even the limited number of vehicles out in lockdown were enough to create a constant rumble. Focusing on the birds and the trees I could almost, but not quite, wish away the sounds of the city.

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I meandered around under the tree line for a few more minutes, stopping to take photos here and there. Rounding a corner I almost walked into a youngish man sitting on a rock looking at his phone, we both got a fright. It felt like he was just there escaping for quiet from the nearby student accommodation, though he could have been there for a more nefarious reason. It is that sort of place. I was taking this photo a couple of minutes later when he sauntered past me, still looking at his phone.

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There are a few headstones that have been well looked after, repaired or replaced, cleaned and de-mossed over the years, some more recently than others, most are in a poor state though. I like the mix, and I liked knowing that someone at some point cared enough to pay money or attention to a departed ancestor.

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The path eventually took me from out of the trees, back under a slightly overcast sky, and a lower ISO setting. I wandered around the open, top section of the cemetery, taking a few final pictures. While I this part of the cemetery was interesting I enjoyed being in the messy bush area much more. This was the only adorned head stone I came across all morning, which surprised me somewhat, the plastic flowers faded by the sun. I really like this picture.

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I finished my walk at the grave of William Hobson, the first Governor General of New Zealand and one of the British signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi.

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As I said at the start of this post, it was a good day, I really enjoyed the cemetery, being under the trees in a small section of scrubby bush and taking photos, there are not many day time things I like to do more.

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The abandoned St James Church, Mt Eden

Monday 20 September 2021 – Mt Eden.

Yay, some good news today. After 34 days Auckland will drop from Covid lockdown level 4 to level 3 at midnight tomorrow. The only change for us is we can get takeaway food and coffee, which has some appeal, but is not quite where we want to be. i.e. being able to see friends and family. There is still Covid in the community, so we will continue to be cautious, but I am looking forward to buying a flat white on one of my walks; even though we have a perfectly good coffee machine in the Air B n B.

I have been for a two hour walk every day in the past week while Eleanor works, and often for a further hour with Eleanor once her day is done. I rarely take the camera these days as I have walked the neighbourhood enough and have almost run out of things to take photos of, though I am getting fitter and the days of aching limbs and joints are long gone. Who would have thought that exercise was good?

I have been waiting for a cloudy day to take photos of the derelict, for sale, St James Church which is not far from us in Mt Eden. Though the (worst predictions ever) forecast keeps predicting rain each day, all we seem to get is sunshine. It was exactly this today (predicted showers in the morning, then rain in the afternoon, yet sunny all day), but I took the camera to the church as this is one of our final days before we move to the new flat in a different part of the city.

St James Presbyterian Church was built in 1900 and was active as a church until 2012 when he building was deemed as structurally unsafe. A developer bought the church, a hall and the land in 2014 with the understanding they could bulldoze the buildings, though as the building was protected this was challenged by the council and the council won.

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In a situation remarkably similar to that of the St James Theatre mentioned in my last rant post, there was a mysterious fire in the hall, causing that building to be demolished. The land and remaining church building were on-sold to a further developer, and who knows what will happen next. Look out for a 34 story block of ugliness coming soon I suspect.

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I looked for sneaky ways to get inside, but it was quite well boarded up, and while I would have been happy to enter if there was a way, I wasn’t going to force my way in.

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I like the building and it is a shame it has been left to rot. We should be preserving our history where we can, and it’s not as if the church didn’t have a few spare dollars tucked down the back of the sofa to make repairs and keep the building viable. Not everything has to boarded up and turned into a dumping ground.

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