Two years ago, I joined four international students on their semester in New Zealand for my first visit to both Piha and Mt. Taranaki.
We spent Saturday at Piha and then drove south to New Plymouth, exploring the area around Mt. Taranaki on Sunday. This trip was one of my first glimpses of the rugged beauty of this country.
May 20, 2017 – Saturday
On approach to Piha, we first explored Kitekite Falls in the rain. We then parked our car at Piha Beach and explored the main beach briefly, and then moved to the secondary beach known as “The Gap”. At the far end of this area, we followed a track that eventually led us back to our car. Unfortunately, we had bad luck with hostels later that evening and ended up driving 6 hours south to New Plymouth to the only beds we could find.
The trail leading to the top of the waterfall was narrow and slippery – at multiple points, I was worried about missing a step and falling off the track! The waterfall itself, however, was in full flow and was impressive.
On this particular day we were blessed with overcast skies and rough seas – the scenery was dramatic to say the least. The sea was incredibly foamy that day and we watched as little bits of foam were picked up by the wind and blown around haphazardly, often above head height.
The track leading back to our car followed a steep hillside and again, was slippery. At one point we stopped at some stone benches – the strong winds made for some interesting group photos.
May 21, 2017 – Sunday
Our unplanned trip to New Plymouth was a new opportunity to explore. We drove to the southern side of Mt. Taranaki, visiting Dawson Falls first and then the Wilkies Pool walking track. We then started our long journey back to Auckland, stopping at sunset by the beach containing Elephant Rock and the Three Sisters and at another beach near Mokau.
Andrew said that it was his lifelong dream to find a random hill and climb it – and so, we stopped alongside a hill on the way to Mt. Taranaki to climb it. The road leading up the mountain was also scenic – we were treated to our first up close glimpse of the snowcapped peak here.
Dawson Falls was an interesting first stop. We spotted an owl on the way in, and the area immediately surrounding the falls was pretty much completely shaded over – the lighting was surprisingly good.
At the visitor center were plenty of walking tracks. I think we decided to go down one of the more advanced trails, but took a wrong turn and ended up on the Wilkies Pools walking track – a relatively easy track, complete with gravel-filled honeycomb geocells. We did not make it to the Wilkies Pools – the furthest point we reached was a small mountain stream near the swing bridge. We climbed the rocks upstream for a short distance (this was slippery business – there was plenty of ice), then returned to the car.
On the way back to Auckland, we stopped by the Tongaporutu Beach, the home of Elephant Rock and the Three Sisters – two well-known rock formations. We did not make it far down the beach – the tide was coming in quickly – so we stayed near the car and watched the approaching sunset. A few minutes later, we stopped at a second beach on the roadside. The remainder of the journey to Auckland was uneventful. I find good sunset photos challenging to take, due to the difficult lighting – and potential presence of the sun itself in the shot ruining the exposure.
It was on this trip I started experimenting with extremely fast shutter speeds – the bright conditions allowed me to shoot at the fastest speed my camera supported (1/2000 seconds), allowing me to capture great detail of the water flow at the waterfall and on the stream.