...... previous day next day ......
Auckland Whangarei

5th December 2011

A Delightful Day Climbing Forts in Genteel Devonport

Various Flowers Encountered on the Way
    The morning sky didn't seem too bad, and even though the forecast was for showers, I decided to commit to visiting Devonport. On the way I popped into Warehouse at the top of the Mall to buy some blank CDs. I periodically backed up all my photos from my laptop to an external hard drive. However, I also felt a need to adopt a belts and braces approach for these precious pictures, and every so often I would burn my most recent photos onto CDs and post them back home.
    I fell into conversation with the young "Kiwi" fellow who served me, and he was envious of my trip. He had not seen as much of the country as I intended to see. I explained that I hadn't seen all that Britain has to offer neither, at which he responded by saying that he had only got as far north as Manchester in Britain. "I'm from Bournemouth," he declared, "and I came over six years ago with a girl. It didn't work out with the girl, but I stayed over." "How do you get around the Visa requirements?" I asked. "Oh, I just keep renewing it, there's no problem there. Eventually they will let me stay as long as I pay the immigration fee of course." Good for him, I thought. I asked him about how he found Auckland compared to the rest of New Zealand. "Oh, I live outside Auckland and commute in every day. I'm not a JAFA," he stated adamantly. "I find Aucklanders aggressive, and they are certainly pushy when it comes to driving. The rest of New Zealand is more laid back." I had noticed that Aucklanders tend to blow their horns at the vehicle in front if there is tardiness at a set of traffic lights, but nothing serious. We wished each other luck in our journey through life, shook hands, and became memories.
View East from Mount Victoria, with Rangitoto and North Head      (please use scroll bar)

Me Looking Across to Auckland
    A 10-minute ferry ride across the harbour, from downtown Auckland, brought me to Devonport, one of Auckland's oldest suburbs, founded in 1840. Looming over the town is the volcanic cone of Mount Victoria, once the site of a Maori pa. That would be my first destination. Once disembarked, I strode up the main road, Victoria Road, lined with palm trees and chic touristy shops, cafes and restaurants. Soon I was climbing up a winding route, passing carpets of pretty flowers, the likes I'd never seen before, and listening to the strange but melodic calls of unseen birds. I made a short detour on my climb to visit the Bunker. This was a single-storey concrete building, half covered in earth and vegetation. A sign was riveted to the door, "The Bunker. Home to Devonport Folk Club. Meet Every Monday at 8pm".Crikey, I thought, they must be dedicated folkies to hike all the way up here, or perhaps their music is so bad they have been banned to this out of the way place.
Auckland Central Business District
    I reached the grassy summit, and just gulped in sweet air and the heavenly panorama. To the southeast lay Auckland city centre, with its attendant Mount Eden and One Tree Hill in the background. To the northeast and east lay the Hauraki Gulf islands, with Rangitoto dominating the skyline. Rangitoto is the largest and youngest of Auckland's volcanic cone; it erupted from the sea around 600 years ago. On the eastern horizon, the Coromandel Peninsula beckoned; I'll reach there after three months or so.
    I was joined on the mount by a couple plus mum, and we admired the view together. They were wondering what was to be seen at North Head. I was suitably furnished with information which I shared with them. They had just driven over from One Tree Hill and Mount Eden, both of which were sinking under the coach loads of tourists. By contrast Mount Victoria was serenely devoid of the masses. We agreed between us that the views we were beholding here were probably the most spectacular.
    We parted company, I to visit the 1899 Disappearing Gun nearby, part of Fort Victoria. In 1885, the threat of Russian Pacific Fleet expansion into the Pacific stimulated construction of Auckland's coastal defences. Mount Victoria, being the highest of Devonport's volcanic cones at 87m, was chosen for the Observation and Control Post and was linked by telephone to the other coastal fortifications. The great disappearing gun was mounted here. It is the last of its type in New Zealand remaining on its original mounting. The barrel is 13 ton, 8 inch calibre, rifled and breach loading. The gun is mounted on a hydro-pneumatic carriage weighing 26 tons. Almost 20 feet in length, it used a charge of 110 lbs of black powder to fire a 210 lb shell up to five miles. Practice ranges were installed on Rangitoto at the time. The gun remained hidden in its pit for re-loading between firing. It was then pumped upwards by using compressed air and water to the firing position. After firing, the recoil compressed the air and water in the cylinders again ready for lifting for the next shot. It was fired only once.
Devonport Villas
    Whilst still gazing across the Waitemata Harbour, a voice called out, "We are driving across to North Head. Would you like a lift?" It was the young woman of the trio I had just been talking to. I politely declined, stating that I needed the exercise, which I do.
    Just as I was about to make my way down off the mount, an elderly couple and young woman approached me. The older woman was dressed in a whiter than white dress, crowned by a handsome face with wise, sparkling blue eyes. The old man looked very smart in his short sleeve jersey, and I hazarded a guess he wore braces. This elderly couple reminded me of my grandparents all those years ago; they made a charming pair. People still dress here like they did in Britain in times gone by. "Would you mind taking our photo?" asked the old gentleman. "Of course not, I would be delighted," I replied. The elderly couple were clearly of this country, and I enquired as to where they hailed from. They were both from Auckland, but the girl was from Finland. "Helsinki?" I asked. "Yes," she smiled. I then went into raptures explaining how I had arrived in Helsinki earlier this year on the day Finland had won the World Ice Hockey Championships, and how the country had come out en masse to celebrate; which a few of us joined in with too. The elderly lady asked, "Where are you from?" to which I replied, "England." "Whereabouts?" she asked. "Ipswich, East Anglia, about 70 miles north east of London. The accent you can detect is northern," I explained. "Yes, I can recognise it, we have friends in Middlesborough," she chuckled. It is a small world, really.
View Southeast from North Head Looking Across Torpedo Bay to Mount Victoria      (please use scroll bar)

    I eventually made it to the bottom and started heading along the waterfront towards North Head, the grass and flax covered extinct volcano about a kilometre east of Mount Victoria. A sandy bay gave way to dark basalt rocks which disappeared under the milky blue wavelets lapping in from the harbour. As I sat for a while taking in the view, a chap came by pushing an empty buggy, accompanied by a young couple; all Italian. I spied 30m behind a little boy, the same age as my grandson, dawdling along picking up every one of the gravel stones he could find. Kids are the same the world over. I joked with the chap about losing his passenger, and soon he was asking me where I was from. I explained where but he couldn't grasp the geography. However, once I put its location with relation to Basildon, which he knew, he was quite happy. He had once spent some time there. "You don't want to go there," he said, "It is a very bad place." Hmm... I have no intention of going there.
South Battery
    I took a circuitous route around the back of the cricket field to take in the charming, old wooden houses. An air of elegance and gentility pervaded the area. The early naval stations established here were soon succeeded by wealthy merchants who built fine colonial Kauri villas. A few merchants built vantage points, in the form of small turrets, on their villas in order to afford good views of their approaching ships. The habit of wives, watching from the turrets for sight of their husbands returning, helped coin the name "widow watches" for these lookouts. Today, the preserved villas are still there, nestling up to bungalows, providing charm and character to this waterside haven. Many of the buildings are now home to cafes, book, crafts, souveniers and antique shops. The whole was a quaint, tranquil, relaxing village in essence, a pleasure to visit, amble around and chill out. It very much reminded me of Sausalito across the bay from San Francisco.
Widow Watches
    I spiralled up North Head, spotting many different flowers on my ascent. A heady perfume hung around in the still air, making a powerful concoction with the baking sun. This volcanic cone is one of the oldest in the Auckland volcanic field, estimated to be around 50,000 years old. Maori settled here, naming the hill Maungauika after an early ancestor, and this pa guarded the entrance to the inner harbour. With European settlement, the summit was a natural choice as a pilot station for the harbour entrance, before its development as a fortification. Both North Head and Mount Victoria are still fortresses of sorts with gun embankments, and the navy still maintains a presence. North Head is actually riddled with tunnels, started in the 19th century in response to the Russian threat precipitated by the opening of the port of Vladivostok. The tunnels were extended during the two World Wars. Much of this was in evidence as I continued my climb.
Cheltenham Beach
    At the summit I just sat relaxing, watching water craft trace feathery patterns across the turquoise waters stretched out below me, with stunning backdrops at every quarter. There was a slower pace of life on this side of the harbour, and I just let it infuse in me as I chilled out. I was now starting to feel I had "reached" New Zealand at last.
    All good things come to an end, and I sauntered back down the hill, coming across a couple at the bottom with furrowed brows poring over a map. "Can I help you?" I asked. "How difficult is it to reach the top?" they replied. "Oh, I managed it OK, but it depends on how fit you are," was my response. I soon learned that the lady's knees were not up to the mark, and she also appeared all in. They took a breather on a bench, and then decided they would not attempt the climb, but would head back to town. I gave then a pocket description of what they would be missing, and they seemed happy with that. They had arrived on one of the cruise ships moored in Auckland. In the course of our chat, I learned they were colonials from Ottawa. I related to them my trip to Ottawa with my wife over 30 years ago. We had travelled up from the Thousand Islands, tracking the Rideau Canal. I threw in for good measure the story of how Thousand Islands Dressing got its name, and to my amazement it was news to them. Well you live and learn.
    I skirted Torpedo Bay back to the centre of town, and pushed on through until I was halted by the Naval Base. There was nothing for it but to return to the centre, where I found a small cafe to drink tea and eat scones in, and very welcome they were too. I had now spent 6.5 hours over here, and totally enjoyed every single minute of it. Sadly, I made my way back under the mighty glare of the sun; I would need to buy some sun cream once back in the city.

...... previous day next day ......
Auckland Whangarei

Uploaded from Top 10 Campsite,Mair Road,Whangerei on 8th December at 08:10

Last updated 7.12.2011