Monday, March 6, 2017

Te Ara Hura: Waiheke Island Coastal Walk

Waiheke Island lies just 35 minutes via ferry from the Auckland central business district. Thirty years ago, according to our research, Waiheke was home to hippies and hermits and they couldn't give away land. Today, multi-million dollar estates dot the landscape, while some old-timers survive and the arts scene flourishes. 19 small wineries offer oenophiles plenty of destination incentive.

The ancient Maori name for Waiheke was Te Motu-arai-roa, ‘the long sheltering island’. It sheltered canoe traffic passing through the Tamaki Straight from bad weather coming in from the north. The island’s inhabitants were able to watch the strait from the watch towers of their pa. Travelers plying the strait must have wondered what wealth lay hidden in the island’s bush clad valleys and within its deep estuaries opening out to the south.
We board the handy Fullers Ferry service at Pier 2 down on the wharf at 9:30 am Sunday with plenty of others. 

And depart. My excitement is palpable. After landing Friday morning and fending off jet lag for a couple of days with long city walks (plus plenty of flat whites), this is our first chance for a true NZ hike.
Gauzy Auckland in the distance

Breakfast on board: sweet potato and tomatoes. We'll have breakfast or lunch on the island, despite Lonely Planet's advisory: "Waiheke has some excellent eateries and, if you're lucky, the views will be enough to distract you from the hole being bored into your hip pocket."

Here's the walk we want to take. It's  just a small part of a trail that runs for 100 km around the entire island and I'm already sorry we're not staying a week. See my inked in circles? At left is the landing point at Matiatia Bay. We'll take the trail west and north around the headland, somehow angling down to the other circle at Oneroa Bay. The woman at the iSITE says the walk is two to three hours, but adds that there's a lot of elevation involved and she's not sure if the tide is in far enough to block our path at water's edge. We'll figure it out.

And soon we do. See Art's turquoise shirt back there as he crawls under trees? The tide was quickly obliterating the water path.
So we took a hard right and walked uphill--a steep vertical that would become emblematic of this hike. And the moment my foot touched this path I felt an electricity run through me: this is why we love NZ.

And oh the payoff of all those uphills, though Art wondered aloud at one point if I thought this tiny path with steep drop-offs was an ideal choice for our third day here. (Some of us--well, both of us--are still jetlagged and a little shaky.)

Hidden coves around every other bend.

Our eyes happily relaxed from internet-induced close range to far vistas.

We're grateful for this overcast day. When the sun pops out it's intense, with good evidence of that on my burned arms late in the day. (Also, is this a walking path or a bike trail?)

Long-lens view of a fisher.

Amidst the wild landscape those multi-million dollar estates loomed.

Not one.more.step without sustenance. Here's Kapiti's brilliant Baby Kikorangi bleu from the 30-year-old NZ creamery. It tastes like heaven.

We would discover a bench just 30 yards around the next bend, but this will do.

I'm in an N Zed state of mind...

At one point Art counted 140 of these steps as we walked pretty much straight up.

The rewards, though 
Could they be connected to this?
According to a study published last July in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a 90-minute walk through a natural environment had a huge positive impact on participants. In a survey taken afterwards, those people who took the natural walk showed far lower levels of brooding, or obsessive worry. The control group who spent that 90 minutes walking through a city reported no such difference. Not only that, but the scientists went a step further and did brain scans of the subjects. They found that there was decreased blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. What in the world does that mean? Well, increased blood flow to this region of the brain is associated with bad moods. Everything from feeling sad about something, to worrying, to major depression seem to be tied to this brain region. Hiking deactivates it.

After five+ miles that seemed mostly vertical we finally arrive in Oneroa, thoroughly spent. Here's its handsome library.

Some people I know from Chicago wish we could have library hours like these (snark).

I don't often research restaurants in advance, but happened upon a description of this one, which is the first eatery we see. We're so thirsty and hungry there's no question we're stopping.

Nice outdoor cob oven.

A flat white and an iced coffee. I sort of wished I'd ordered the iced after tasting it.

We gobbled our Hollondaised poached eggs before they could be photographed, and happily were joined by Julie, a travel photographer with stories galore of the places she'd been. She had the winning demeanor of a smart and lovely New Yorker. Julie and Art talked cameras.

Thanks, Julie.

Are we walking back to Matiatia Bay to catch the ferry? Not a chance on these sore legs. The friendly bus driver greets us by asking where we're from. I respond the way I always do on this trip: "The US, and we're so sorry." Every single person gets it.

Ready for the return...

Happily exhausted, one and all.

1 comment:

  1. Hello over there! Glad to see the container library is still there! Maybe keep your eyes open for any "librarian needed" advertisments! :)