Out of the Frying Pan…

People are always saying how warm and sunny New Zealand is.

In 2014, my Kiwi partner and I were in Britain visiting relatives, and he was baffled to find that the British summer was warmer and sunnier than the New Zealand summer! Surely this wasn’t the norm?

Well here we are in 2018 and we’re about to visit Europe again.

Yeah.

Summer temperatures in Auckland usually waft around 25˚C. At the moment, in the dead of winter, it’s 15˚C. In three days, we’ll be landing in Zürich, where it’s currently over 30˚C. Britain’s facing record temperatures, and everyone here in New Zealand is wishing us comically pessimistic good lucks.

Care to join?

Winter Sunshine on Bethells Beach

Sea Foam

The world had been grey for so long that the blue sky above Bethells Beach was a beacon. We were drawn to it, as were many others. The air was frigid, but the sand was sparkling, silver and black. Each footprint pressed into it seemed an act of liberation.

Bethells Beach

Excited dogs splashed through the stream; babbling tourists took kooky selfies. The stream had changed its course, forcing people to forge a new path to the sea – the result, perhaps, of those epic storms a while back. (Bethells residents had ended up without power for a worryingly long time.)

Bethells Beach

Aside from that, the beach was the same as it always had been: the bushy cliffs; the grassy dunes; the rocks jutting into the waves. We made our way to the cave at the southern end of the beach, always a deceptively long walk.

Bethells Beach

No one was surfing – not even Westies* being that insane. As we walked back up the beach, I appreciated, as always, a particular chunk of bushy cliff that resembled a giant, sunbathing woman. Its curves undulated against the sky… face, neck, breasts, belly and thighs…

Bethells Beach

Mother Nature enjoying (or guarding) one of her better creations.

Sea

*West Aucklandlanders

Now here’s what I think are The Best Beaches in New Zealand

Twilight Over McLaren Falls

McLaren Falls by Abigail Simpson

I’m always surprised by how quickly darkness falls in winter. We were driving home from my parents’ the other day – not that late in the afternoon – when I realised the world was draped in an indigo veil. A thought struck me.

“Can we stop at McLaren Falls?” I asked Tim.

We were about to drive past McLaren Falls anyway. They’re not hard to get to; you can park right next to the lookout. Dusk is a good time for taking long-exposure shots of waterfalls, you see.

McLaren Falls by Abigail Simpson

There were more cars than I’d expected, but a spot soon opened up. I prepped my camera and crossed to the lookout.

I hadn’t been to the falls in a long time. I was fairly certain I hadn’t seen a footbridge over them before. It was one of those slightly shaky suspension bridges, which unfortunately meant I couldn’t get any decent long-exposure shots from it. (These ones I’m showing you are the least blurry ones I got.)

The falls weren’t at their best anyway. That only happens on certain dates when the water is released from the McLaren Falls Dam. Still, they were quite lovely in the winter twilight. The water seemed almost luminous.

mclaren falls

When they release the water from the dam, you can go whitewater kayaking for free!

mclaren falls

I’ve already written an article about how awesome McLaren Falls Park is. Here’s a photo I took a few years ago whilst kayaking on Lake McLaren:

Lake McLaren by Abigail Simpson

Last of the Summer Flowers

hamilton gardens

It’s a frightful day. The rain’s so loud I can barely hear myself think. I look outside and see a slush of autumn leaves. The last surviving flower in our front garden, a perfect pocket of beauty in a stack of ragged stems, is finally defeated. Winter is coming.

I miss the beautiful flowers of summer. I miss them more than I ever have, because this year I’ve taken more notice of them than I ever have. I got my first DSLR camera for Christmas, you see, and flowers make great subjects for practise.

Consequently, I’ve got lots of photographs of flowers that I’ve been looking for an excuse to share. Well, this is it. I hope, therefore, that if you’re sitting somewhere murky and rain-lashed, they help to brighten your day.

And… I guess I shouldn’t go crazy. Here’s hoping the weather clears up so I can explore somewhere new…

More Photos from the Goblin Forest

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

The Goblin Forest of Taranaki really does have to be seen to be believed. It’s like stepping into a fairy tale.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But I’ve already waxed lyrical about it in a previous post, called The Goblin Forest, so I’ll leave the talking now to the photographs. (Even though I know I’ll probably never again get a photo as good as the one from that first post!)

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

I thought this branch kind of looked like the head of a dog, or a dragon. You know, in that stylised Celtic sort of way…

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

And see how this tree has grown over its own sign?

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But now we must leave this enchanted forest. Pass through the archway and return to the real world… I hope not too much time has passed and your loved ones are still alive.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

The Blue Spring

The Blue Spring

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Well it used to be.

A river that sauntered between rolling hills and bush, so clear as to seem invisible and thick with flowing greenery, it had a swimming hole that was straight from a fairy tale. On the opposite bank to the path, overhanging trees and rocks created a small, circular dell bubbling with water of the purest sapphire blue. It looked like a magical portal; a sacred pool in a sorceress’s cave.

Imagine swimming in that.

The Blue Spring

Unfortunately, imagine is all you can do these days. The Blue Spring used to be a local secret, but then the media discovered it. Tourists flocked to it. Within weeks, the greenery was disappearing. The natural serenity was gone; the magic was choking.

So the authorities did the only thing they could: they banned swimming in the Blue Spring.

It worked to a certain extent. The greenery was given the chance to regenerate, free from being crushed by so many feet. It’s now almost as luscious as it once was. The same cannot be said, however, for the magic.

The Blue Spring

The river is wide between the path and the dell, and there’s a barrier in the way. There’s still magic there, but you can no longer touch it. You can only squint to see it from a distance. It’s diminished.

There are so many other tourists crowded at the barrier that the serenity is all but gone.

The Blue Spring

It’s still worth visiting the Blue Spring. It’s still a pretty sight, after all. It’s just outside Putaruru, an hour’s drive from Hamilton, just over halfway towards Rotorua. I recommend stopping at Putaruru’s Over the Moon, a boutique cheesemaking factory and delicatessen.

That’s what Tim and I did; we took a picnic to eat overlooking the spring.

We were lucky to find a parking spot. The Blue Spring has a car park at each end of Te Waihou Walkway, but it’s far closer to walk to the spring from the Leslie Road end. (Ten minutes, as opposed to an hour and twenty minutes.) Of course, everyone wants to park at the closer end.

The Blue Spring

In my opinion, Rotorua’s Hamurana Springs is a more beautiful walk that the Blue Spring, if only because you can get a closer look at the magic. (You can’t swim at Hamurana either, but there are platforms right above the pretty bits, close enough to touch the water.) Maybe if you were still allowed to swim in the Blue Spring, it would edge out Hamurana, but you can’t, so…

Then again, the Blue Spring is free. Hamurana used to be, but they’ve just started charging $18 per adult, which is outrageous.

Sigh.

Okere Falls and a Wonderful Bookshop

Okere Falls

I got a new camera for Christmas. Keen to practise using it, I persuaded my family to visit one of the few easily accessible waterfalls in the Bay of Plenty I hadn’t already seen, Okere Falls.

Okere Falls

Okere Falls can be found just outside Rotorua. They’re by no means the best waterfalls I’ve been to, but they’re popular with kayakers and rafters.

Kayakers at Okere Falls

Word of warning: don’t visit Okere Falls during the Christmas holidays. I found it difficult to get a decent photograph partly due to the lack of room on the viewing platforms!

Okere Falls

(The other reason, I found out later, was because I didn’t have a Neutral Density Filter. I’m new to this “proper” photography stuff, okay.)

Okere Falls

One part of the path to the falls is a narrow tunnel with steps carved into the rock. With so many people there, getting up and down the steps was a nightmare, so just beware.

Okere Falls

There’s not really much more to say about Okere Falls. Afterwards, we drove into Rotorua, parked at Government Gardens and walked into the city centre in search of lunch.

I hadn’t explored the city centre itself in years, so I was surprised at how pretty it’s become. We made our way to Eat Streat, an avenue of fashionable bars and restaurants.

Eat Streat

The main reason I’d wanted to visit Rotorua, aside from Okere Falls, was to go to a certain secondhand bookshop my dad had found whilst geocaching. (Don’t ask.) It didn’t disappoint.

It’s called Atlantis, and I was in love with it even before I’d seen the Art Nouveau-style Firefly posters on the wall! It’s got two floors, and the selection is quite impressive, although I was slightly disappointed by the history section. By time I’d finished, I had six books in my arms, including a really old copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So, there’s somewhere to look out for if you’re a bibliophile visiting Rotorua.

Kaiate Falls

If you’d like to read about another waterfall I’ve been to in the Bay of the Plenty, check out my article on Kaiate Falls. They’re much more magical than Okere Falls, I reckon.