Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Piha, NZ: An Ending Grace Note

In an effort to avoid Highway 1 on our southerly trip back to Auckland, we crossed over from the West Coast to the East at Wellsford, and then continued on Highway 16. Definitely a scenic route, but as the local we talked to said, not used much because it is curvy and hilly and slow. Coupled with warm and humid weather, we were used up by the time we reached the East Coast town of Helensville.

Recharged overnight, the next day had its odd shower, and it was still warm as we climbed and climbed into the Waitakere Ranges. The North Island is at its narrowest here, and the distance from Auckland to the West Coast is just 50 kilometers or so. But the topography gods managed to fit in an impressive ridge, where Auckland's elite could build their view homes and bike tourists could challenge themselves. When we saw the cell phone tower on top, we knew we had summited, and we dropped down the west side to our destination, the beach town of Piha.

Looking east from the high point of the Waitakere Range towards the Auckland metropolitan area.

Not knowing what to expect, we found a jewel of a place at Piha. A bay to itself, it is a favorite surf spot as laid back as any California beach town. No liquor store and just a couple of cafes and takeaway shops, the main town area is dominated by the domain campground. The managers are committed to keeping the prices low and the atmosphere quiet, so Kiwi families could still spend a holiday at the beach. Decidedly mellow, they burned incense in the reception area and there was a list of instructions to live by penned by the Dalai Lama hanging in the kitchen.  My favorite -- "Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon".

The manager just also happened to be the town medic. John stepped on a bee on his way back from the shower, and within 15 minutes it was swollen and red. He limped over to the office, and as she searched her bag for some medication, another camper came up. He happened to be a doctor from British Columbia, and within minutes John as administered a shot of antihistamine. Dumb luck turned into good fortune!

We spent a lovely day resting and walking on the black volcanic sand beach, postponing one more day our return to Auckland and the inevitable return home.

View of Piha from the high point just before the steep three kilometer drop ibnto the bay.

A Pukeko, a native flightless bird with enormous feet.

Low tide on the black sand beach.

Volcanic flows right on the beach trap the incoming surf.
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