Wentworth Falls, Whangamata

Monday 3 January 2022 – Whangamata, New Zealand.

There was a brief moment after I entered the bush as the others walked on down the gravel path towards the cars, their scuffed steps and voices receding into the short distance, when all I could hear was nothing at all. It was as if all the birds had collectively held their breath while they guessed my intent and the gentle breeze stopped disturbing the trees to allow them to listen to me blundering about below. A half second or two of silence and then the wind ruffled the tops of the punga ferns and the bird chatter and song started up again. A brief moment of what seemed like total silence, a thin gap between human sound and nature, like a line drawn in the sand that I was allowed to cross. It was heavenly.

I love punga trees as much as I love quiet; The punga is a tall fern, almost palm-like, that grows in most low-land New Zealand forest. I love the vivid green of their fronds and how they spread out canopy like. I have been trying to take photos looking up into the mixed fronds of neighbouring trees with a bright sky above. It has been difficult, the punga is a low to mid canopy tree, meaning there is often a taller or even two taller trees growing above, between it and the sun. I’ve yet to find exactly what I want, and today was no exception, though, I’m happy enough with this photo and more importantly enjoyed stepping off the track to it.

IMG_2018

With another scorching hot day and uneven waves that were no good for surfing and a little too rough for family swimming I was surprised but not that surprised to find a lot of cars parked on either side of the narrow road to Wentworth Falls. The car park is a ten minute drive from where we are staying in Whangamata and it was busy. Half of Whangamata must have had the same bright idea as us; a cool walk in the bush.

20220103_110123

I love the New Zealand bush. Though it’s just a bunch of trees and scrub, maybe some ferns and grasses; all grouped together there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Due to New Zealand’s long isolation from any other land mass there are plants and trees here that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet.

Before I go further, and leave any wrong impressions ‘the bush’ is what Kiwis call a forest; large, small or any size in between, if there are a bunch of trees together and those trees are primarily New Zealand natives then it is the bush. A pine forest is not the bush, it is a forest.

The bush is generally considered to be ‘safe’, and I say this in quotes as it’s not entirely safe; the bush can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, get lost or fall or otherwise hurt yourself away from other people, there are vast tracts of densely forested and unpopulated bits of New Zealand. However, New Zealand has no land animals that will kill you; there are no snakes, no majorly poisonous spiders, no crocodiles, no tigers/lions/other large cats/wild dogs with large teeth, nada. You can yomp around in the bush in bare feet to your heart’s content and nothing is going to fatally bite or sting you. There aren’t even any stinging nettles. However, there are lots of spiky things and some grasses with really sharp edges, so walking out of the bush with dried blood on your legs is not uncommon.

IMG_2000

Unlike the south east of England, and due to its volcanic and tectonic birth, the New Zealand landscape is very bumpy; steep sided valleys are everywhere, which means there are a lot of rocky fast running streams, and these often lead to some pretty fabulous waterfalls. I used to take a lot of photos of fast running water, lots of lovely tripod mounted long exposures to blur the running water. With no tripod those photos are impossible, though I still enjoyed watching and listening to the water.

IMG_2004

IMG_2006

The bush was lush and cooling, it took us most of an hour to walk to the falls, mostly along a gravel path with a gentle gradient until close to the destination when, as you would hope when you are going to a waterfall, the path became a lot steeper. This is old gold mining country and there are a few bits of the old works still around. Though we didn’t have the time to do a proper explore I did find this huge stone wall, and I can’t tell you what it was for either. A mystery stone wall, with yeas of scratched graffiti and a punga stump in front of it.

IMG_2003

The falls have a have a total drop of 50 metres and are in three stages and would be fabulous after some heavy rain, though were pretty spectacular as it was, though hard to capture on a wide-angle lens at that distance. There were a few people at the viewing areas so we didn’t linger and hog the selfie spot. It would’ve been nice to just stand and listen to the water pounding on the rocks below, the wind in the trees and the gentle song of the birdlife, but it was not to be; too many humans.

IMG_2010

We walked up to the top of the falls to take a look at the view over the bush and out to sea. Glorious. I could spend all day here if I could, but sadly that was not the case today. Onward, upward (in this case downward to the car) and enjoy it while you can.

IMG_2012

IMG_2014

Whangamata, New Zealand

Thursday 6 January 2022 – Whangamata, New Zealand.

For the first time in an age I feel refreshed. A break from the city combined with four nights of solid sleep had me almost perky when we arrived back at the flat. We’ve just returned to Auckland after a fabulous time staying with friends at their bach in Whangamata. The quiet, sea air and stress free environment, matched with great friends and good food and wine was the perfect antidote to the noisy and fume laden city we live in.

It was about 20kms into the journey south, I was driving and Eleanor was in charge of the music,  when the stress and anxiety that had built over the last few weeks started falling away. I almost felt physically lighter as the emotional load seeped though my skin and was sucked out of the car windows. The further from the city centre we travelled, the better I was feeling. I just knew we were going to have a good break, even when we caught up with the first traffic jam of the day.

20220102_105443

A bach is a New Zealand holiday home, often found near the sea. The glory days of the traditional one or two room bach made of wood or fibrolite with a tin roof are long gone. Some of the new places are bigger than the average house and as, if not more, expensive. Old friends Michael and Jan’s place is closer to the traditional bach than most, but it’s still large, with four sleeping spaces and a good sized kitchen/living area. It backs onto an estuary that flows along the southern edge of the town of Whangamata and is 100 yards from the surf beach. Whangamata is about 2 1/2 hours south east of Auckland and has a permanent population of about 2000 and a peak summer population of 25,000. It is peak summer.

We didn’t do much in Whangamata itself, it’s a small town with little of interest other than being located alongside a glorious 2km Pacific Ocean beach with occasionally good surf and a sea that is eminently swimmable in summer. For a short summer break who needs anything more than that? We seemed to busy the whole time we were away and only managed to take one walk up the beach; to the northern end, where we met our friends at a café on the main street and enjoyed one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in New Zealand. The sun burned the tops of my feet as we ate, thankfully not badly. The tide was very high when we set out so we had to make the occasional dash up a sand dune. In places we could see the damage this tide was causing the dunes and could imagine what Whangamata will look like as the sea level rises.

IMG_2024

IMG_2025

IMG_2034

IMG_2028

IMG_2031

IMG_2032

20220104_095358

Unlike Eleanor and I, this couple, mutually dressed in black and wearing the same model shoes, seemed to be having less fun walking the beach. I was laughing at them (inside of course).

20220104_100730

After breakfast Michael drove us to a bush-clad lookout over the town with a cool tree-shaded 15 minute walk around a headland. The tree line has changed since some of the lookout spots were defined leaving few clear wide open views over Whangamata and the ocean, though there was plenty to see and with a 30 degree day the tree shade and light breeze was very welcome. With or without trees the view was stunning.

IMG_2046

IMG_2047

Michael also showed us nearby Onemana where his family used to have a bach. What seems to be typical of New Zealand beaches there was little shelter here; as the beach was closed due to dangerous surf we didn’t linger. The leaning trees are an artefact of using a wide angle lens, the trees were standing nice and upright 🙂

IMG_2052

IMG_2053

Unlike the harsh daytime the evening light was warm and soft and welcoming and I used the camera a few times. I imagine the early morning light was equally as good, though until the last day I didn’t see any early mornings, sleeping to beyond 7:30 each day. Sleeping-in is part of my rest and recovery routine, photography should be as well I suppose, but I have never seem to manage morning photography.

IMG_1990

IMG_1996

IMG_2062

IMG_2055

IMG_2060

IMG_2066

IMG_2064

IMG_2069

On our final day I was up earlyish and managed to get one final body-surf in before we left for home, stopping in Waihi on the way. Waihi will be the subject of a near future post.

20220106_093542

Though I’ve not been working since July and we’re staying in a rented apartment in Auckland rather than our usual home in the UK, these past five months have never really felt like a break, especially as Eleanor worked for four of them. This was our first proper holiday in such a long time, and it was just so enjoyable. I can’t remember the last time we went away, it was pre-2020 anyway. We should do a lot more of it; now we are allowed to again.

Thanks Jan, Michael, Paul and Lisa!