NEW ZEALAND 03 - Auckland North Shore & Waiheke Island

March 27, 2017  •  1 Comment

February 2017

New Zealand  #03 – Auckland North Shore & Waiheke Island

In this installment we’ll explore Lake Pupuke in Takapuna, the quaint Victorian town of Devonport, Waiheke Island and talk a bit of NZ politics.


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Lake Pupuke

Lake Pupuke is by the town of Takapuna in the northern suburbs of Auckland.  To get there you cross over the 8 lane Auckland Harbour Bridge which opened in 1959.  When it was built it carried four lanes of traffic.  The civic planners analyzed the situation and determined that 4 lanes would be adequate for at least 6 years based on the expected growth on the North Shore.  However, what had been a 30 mile drive, or a ferry ride, to get from Auckland to the north shore was now a 10 minute drive and guess what?  People moved to the north shore in droves and within 6 months the demand had exceeded the capacity of the bridge.  By 1965 the traffic was 3 times the original forecast.  In 1969 (10 years after it was originally opened) they figured out how to widen it by bolting a new box girder bridge to each side – sort of like pontoons on a river raft.  Fortunately the original structure had been over engineered enough to support the extra weight and traffic so they didn’t have to rebuild the entire support structure as well.  I’m glad to see that civil planning is as accurate in other parts of the world as it is here.

Lake Pupuke is just a few miles north of the bridge and is formed inside of an old, extinct volcanic crater.  In fact if you look at a map of New Zealand you will find hundreds of roundish lakes and almost all of them are in craters of old volcanoes.  As it turns out one side of Lake Pupuke is less than 800 feet from the Hauraki Gulf but as the lake surface is a bit higher than the sea, it has not been inundated by salt water and was used as a source of drinking water until very recently. 

One of the mysteries of this lake is that it has many streams flowing in but none flowing out and the amount of rain water flowing in greatly exceeds the amount of water lost due to evaporation so why doesn’t it overflow?  Apparently, when this was an active volcano, it was quite a prolific producer of lava, most of which was ejected but some of which formed the rim of the caldera.  This rim is now what separates it from the bay.  The lava material which forms this caldera is quite porous so water just seeps out of the lake, through the caldera rim and out to the bay.  Normally when this happens, silt and other debris in the lake eventually plug up the porous rock stopping the flow.  Then the lake rises and overflows its rim which then erodes away eventually making an open waterway to the sea at which time it becomes a bay of the sea rather than a lake.  But, in this case this didn’t happen. 

This perplexed the scientists for a long time but they now think they know what’s going on.  This particular volcano was somewhat explosive when it erupted and shot most of the lava high in the air such that it landed far away.  However, at the same time massive amounts of gas and steam blew out of the vent and flattened the forests for quite a distance from the crater.  In 1989, we all saw pictures of Mt. St. Helens in Washington where the trees were all blown down like matchsticks, and laid out parallel to each other facing away from the volcano.  They think the same thing happened here.  So, you have all these trees laid out in a radial pattern pointing away from the crater.  Then, more lava bubbled up and covered these trees forming what is now the rim of the caldera.  The downed, and now covered trees either burned away or rotted away leaving hollow tubes that interconnect to each other where tree branches touched each other after the trees were blown down.  Once the lake level rose to that of the original forest floor, these tubes made a nice pathway for water to leak out of the lake and down to the bay, keeping the lake level constant.

And, of course, there is a Maori legend about the lake.  It seems that a Tupua couple who were children of the fire gods had an argument and cursed Mahuika, the fire-goddess.  Due to this their home on the mainland was destroyed by Matahoe, god of earthquakes and eruptions, on behalf of Mahuika. Lake Pupuke resulted from the destruction, while Rangitoto Island rose from the sea as their exile. The mist surrounding Rangitoto at certain times are considered the tears of the Tupua couple for their former home (via Wikipedia)

Tunnel where a tree used to be

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An area by the bay where lake water leaks out and runs down to the shore

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Devonport is on a Peninsula on the opposite side of the Harbor from Auckland.  At one time it was a separate village/town but is now a suburb of Auckland.  It is only a 15 minute ferry ride from Devonport to downtown Auckland and many people who live in Devonport commute to jobs in Auckland.  Of, course that would be the more affluent as Devonport is quite expensive.  It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Auckland area. 

The roughly 4 block downtown section of this little town is chock full of quaint little shops, an old hotel and restaurants all of which retain the Victorian character of the late 19th century.  Although many of the building insides have been remodeled the exteriors have been restored or kept true to their late 1800’s architecture.  Many people ferry over to Devonport from Auckland for dinner in one of the historic restaurants or taverns in the downtown area, and take in the illuminated Auckland skyline on the return trip.  In addition to the charming downtown, Devonport is famous for its Victorian homes – most of which have been lovingly refurbished back to their glory days.

But, let’s backtrack a bit.  The area was, of course, originally a Maori village from the 14th century centered around 3 volcanoes on the peninsula.  As they tended to do, the Maori flattened the top of these volcanoes and built their fortified villages on the tops where they had better sight lines of approaching enemies and where the village was more easily defended.  When “Pakeha” (meaning non Maori) settlers arrived in the mid 1880’s they took to the flatter areas where they could establish farms and develop a shipping center along the water’s edge.  This is what became Devonport.  In more recent times Devonport became an important ship building center and the British Navy set up a base nearby.

Politically it was an independent town until very recently.  In 1989 it was forced to become part of the newly created North Shore City which in turn was swallowed up by the Auckland Council in 2010.  Most of this was not appreciated by the residents of Devonport and one still sees “Independent Devonport” stickers and signs as one wanders around.  Even though the locals were unable to stop being merged into Auckland, they have had some victories.  In the late 1990’s…..  let me stop here for a moment.  I find it quite amazing that when talking about “history” in New Zealand I find myself mentioning dates like the 1989 and 2010.  Quite a different time scale than when talking about history in, say, Europe.  But, back to the story.  In the late 1990’s the defense department wanted to sell off a large tract of land in Narrow Neck to some developers.  Fearing a “Miami Beachification” (to make up a word) of high rise hotels or resorts for the rich and famous the residents mounted a campaign to stop the sale.  And, they were successful.  This land is now a city park.

Much of the residential areas were constructed in the late 19th century in the Victorian style with a bit of the early Edwardian.  Grand houses typical of the period filled the hillsides each one grander than the last.  But, as was the case in many places, by the 1970’s the allure of the area had subsided and most of these buildings had fallen into disrepair and were quite dilapidated.  Some were even being torn down to make way for new (totally out of character) modern buildings and homes.  Then in the 1980’s a heritage movement gained momentum and was able to push to protect these fine old buildings.  This occurred around the same time as gentrification was racing through Auckland’s inner suburbs.  The two movements intersected in Devonport where the gentrification dollars pouring in was put to restoration rather than razing and rebuilding.  The result is a fine collection of grand Victorian style homes and businesses surrounded by beautifully maintained gardens.  Of course every now and again you’ll see some midcentury modern eyesore that looks like it came from Hollywood plunked down between two old Victorian’s.

As you wander around the streets between downtown and North Head and also along Tainui Road you see grand examples of houses renovated back to their original condition.  Our guide called Tainui Road ‘a museum of Victorian and early Edwardian architecture’.  Here you’ll see houses with exquisite leaded glass windows, hand carved front doors and finials on roof tops (in architecture a finial is a decoration used to call attention to gables, domes, spires and roof top corners of buildings).  You also see lovely verandas with turned baluster’s, iron lacework, bull nose corrugated iron over veranda’s and hand carved fretwork.  

One interesting thing are the finials on the peaks of the roofs.  Worldwide such finials are sharp spikes aimed upward – like a lightening rod.  Their purpose is to keep witches from landing on your roof, which I guess is a bad thing.  However, for some reason a local custom evolved in this area to put knobs on the tops of those sharp finial’s.  Our guide had no idea why they did this as it would defeat the entire purpose of the device.

The Old Esplanade Hotel at the base of Victoria Rd which forms the core of downtown

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Victorian house with lush garden along the “King Edward Parade” (the road that traces the edge of the bay) with knobed finials on the peaks

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Victorian on King Edward Parade near the Navy Museum

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Garden flower in front of a Victorian

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Cheltenham Beach

Two on Cheltenham BeachTwo on Cheltenham Beach


North Head

At the tip of the peninsula where Devonport is located is a place called North Head.  This is an extinct volcano that rises a whopping 164 feet above the sea.  While this is not especially high, at least as far as volcanoes go, it does offer a sweeping view of the entrance to Waitemata Harbour where Auckland is located.  It was originally a Maori village but sometime after 1850 was set up as the first Auckland pilot station to help guide ships in and out of the harbor.  Then in 1878 the area was set aside as a public reserve. 

Now, other than photographers, who do you think would be interested in a raised headland with a 270 degree sweeping view of a harbor entrance leading to the most populated city in a county?   You guessed it, the military.  Well, only 7 years later in 1885 the military exercised a stipulation in the agreement that had made it a public reserve that if needed it could be reclaimed by the military.  The cause was a fear of invasion by those pesky Russians.  They were so concerned about the Russians at that time that many forts were built all up and down the coast of the country.  But, no Russians showed up.  However, the base remained.

Over the years many different iterations of armaments found their way to this headland and in the process convict labor was used to riddle the mountain top with tunnels interconnecting the various batteries and support areas.  These tunnels were used to protect soldiers during combat and also served as places to store munitions, get munitions to the gun bunkers, as observation posts and as living quarters – all out of sight of the enemy.

The last real “war time” use of this area was during World War II when there was a distinct possibility that the Japanese Navy would invade New Zealand as it had many other South Pacific island nations.  During this time the artillery was upgraded with 3 Armstrong disappearing guns that shot 64 pound shells.  This gun was spring loaded.  When it fired, the energy from the recoil pivoted the entire gun down underground into a sunken battery and in the process stretched a massive spring.  Once underground they could reload the thing out of sight using the tunnels to bring in the next shell.  Once loaded, the crew would retreat back into the tunnels, close a big steel door and they’d rotate the turret for the next shot.  When “fired” the spring loaded gun would spring up out of the ground, fire and the then once again disappear underground.   Pretty clever design, but never used in combat as no invasion occurred.  During WWII the base also controlled remote detonation mine fields throughout the harbor, again none of which were ever used in battle.

In 1950 the coastal defense system was scrapped and all but one of the disappearing guns was removed (the last one was too difficult to get out and is still there to be seen).  Once the army left the area became a public reserve again along with a Navy training school.  The school closed down in 1996

Auckland skyline from North Head (Devonport)

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Chiltenham Beach from North Head

2 canons at North Head2 canons at North Head


Waiheke Island

03 2017-02-04 Wiaheke Island03 2017-02-04 Wiaheke Island

Waiheke Island is about a 40 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.  The best way to describe Waiheke Island is that it is like the Napa Valley in California in the 1950’s, except on an island and with beaches, where they drive on the other side of the road.  The island itself is 12 miles long with an area of a bit over 35 square miles, making it much smaller than Napa County.  There is one main town where the ferry docks with some extended suburbs, and then some smaller towns and villages spread out across the island.  Similar to Napa, Waiheke has developed a robust wine industry with vineyards and wineries galore for tastings and tours and has also become a destination for a holiday at the beach, action/adventure sports and eco-tourism. 

The island has a permanent population of around 8,700 with another 3,400 who have second or holiday homes on the island.  Just to give you an idea of where it ranks, in November 2015 it was rated the fifth best destination in the world to visit by Lonely Planet and also voted the fourth best island in the world in the Condé Nast Best Islands in the World List.  Much of this is due to its 25 miles of lovely beaches spread out around the island.  The weather here is a bit warmer than Auckland, with less wind and more sunshine which makes it a popular day trip destination for Aucklanders wanting to escape the city.  Although I don’t have numbers, in good weather on a weekend the number of people who ferry over to the island is astounding. 

We were in Auckland over the 3 day Waitangi holiday weekend (think 4th of July).  Fortunately we went over to the island before this holiday weekend so had no problem.  But, Sunday of the 3 day holiday was bright, sunny and warm and the mobs descended.  Many people had to wait through 3 ferries coming and going before they could get on.  As the ferries leave every 30 minutes or so, that’s over an hour and a half waiting in line.   We saw this queue of people snaking from the ferry dock, down Quay Street then up the length of the next dock over.  And, of course, I’m sure getting back from the island at the end of the day was no less crowded.

In addition to the normal tourist and holiday ‘get-a-way’ traffic, Waiheke is a prime wedding destination. Pretty much every winery on the island hosts weddings and many of the hotels have deluxe wedding packages.  It’s not uncommon to see groups of people on the ferries in gowns, 4 inch spike heels and tuxedos on their way to a wedding or shower of some sort.

On the day we went over to the island, we got a day pass for the local hop-on-hop-off bus for the full tour of the island.  Along the way we hopped off at Onetangi for a stroll on the beach and lunch, and then made another stop at a winery on the top of a mountain (well, big hill). 

The beach at Onetangi (Long Beach) is a bit over a mile long with nice white sand and no rocks or shells which apparently makes it very good for sand castles. The western end of the beach (inaccessible at high tide) is clothing-optional but we didn’t get that far down.  The neighborhood by the beach is for the most part single family homes (each one with a boat in the front yard) with a motel or two and a couple of 2 story condo complexes.  Most of the single family houses are from the 1970’s – 1980’s and typical of a decent vacation home.  Intermingled are some that are more like small cottages that look like they were built in the 1940’s or 1950’s.  And then there are the ultra-modern, 2 story homes that are now being built after tearing down one of the mid-century cottages.  These new ones look to be in the multi-million dollar category. 

While we were wandering around this beach we noticed a kind of boat we had not seen before.  In the water it looks like a regular good sized ski boat with a big outboard engine.  However when it is time to come ashore, 3 wheels (one at the bow and two at the stern) flip down and you just drive the thing up onto the beach, across the sand, up a ramp, down the street and into your front yard.  I found out later these were from a company called Sealegs (there may be others) and they are quite popular with the people who live anywhere near the beaches.

Basic Landscape of Waiheke Island (looks much like CA wine region in Napa or Sonoma Counties)

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Vineyards galore

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Vineyard with a sea view

Grapes with a sea viewGrapes with a sea view


Beach at Onetangi

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Just paddling along

Boat and BoardBoat and Board


More Beach at Onetangi

Onetangi BeachOnetangi Beach


Great Old tree at Onetangi Beach

Onetangi Tangle TreeOnetangi Tangle Tree


Just drive your boat from your front yard down to the beach……

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…. And right into the water

Drive boat into bayDrive boat into bay


Progressive Government

Given what is going on the US these days politically speaking, it was quite refreshing to see that a somewhat progressive government can flourish – and without massive amounts of taxes - when everyone pays their fair share.  The federal income tax rates are somewhat typical however my sense is that they don’t have a lot of loopholes which allow the uber wealthy to skirt their responsibility in other countries like the US.  The rates are:

10.25%            <= $14,000 income
17.50%            $14,000 to $48,000 income
30.00%            $48,000 to $70,000 income
33.00%            >= $70,000 income

There are no state (province) income taxes as there are no states or provinces.  People pay property taxes to their local city or town which funds things like the schools.  And, then there is a 15% GST (Goods and Services Tax) on everything sold.  This is similar to sales tax but is applied to pretty much everything you pay for.  However it is built into the price you see on the shelf.  It is not added at the cash register.  So, if a new TV says it’s $800, it’s $800 period.

So, what do the people get for their taxes?  The answer is most of things you’d expect such as roads, police, fire department, military, Etc.  So, let me talk about two of these things which are hot buttons in the US.

There are two kinds of health care in New Zealand, public and private.  The government provides Universal Healthcare for everybody – full stop.  How refreshing.  The doctors work for the government and the government owns the facilities (E.g. hospitals).  Everybody is automatically a part of the public system.  This system requires a co pay when you visit a doctor but is mostly funded by Federal income taxes.  The care is good (according to our guide who partakes of this program), but for less urgent matters you sometimes have to wait a month or two.  The co-pay is $0 for those under 18 years old, $48 for 19 – 65 year olds and $18 for over 65 year olds no matter what the problem is.  So, if you are 50 years old and wind up in the hospital with a heart attack you pay $48. 

The second system is private insurance.  This system uses its own network of private hospitals and other facilities.  It is optional and if you want it you buy it through an insurance company like in the US.  You pick a plan, pay the premiums, co pays and deductibles and use the doctors and hospitals that your plan includes.  Having a private insurance plan does not preclude you from using the public plan if you choose to.

Moving on to schools there are three kinds of schools in New Zealand; Public, Integrated, and Private.  The public schools are just that.  You go to your neighborhood school all of which adhere to an approved national curriculum.  Private schools are like in the US and can do whatever they want but unlike our charter schools they get no public funding.  There is also a hybrid type they call “integrated”.  These many times had been private schools that needed public funding to survive so became “integrated”.  This means that they too must teach the standard curriculum for the same number of hours as the public schools and for that they are funded the same as the public schools.  However, they are also permitted to teach their “character” as they say.  For example, a Catholic school can teach about that religion as well but there’s a catch.  The “character” part of the program cannot diminish from the standard curriculum and the school cannot use any public funds for the “character” portion of the education.  In other words the parents have to chip in to pay for the teaching of the extra stuff.

All in all, very civilized.  I sure do wish our government was as enlightened.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our New Zealand trip.  The next installment will be trip down to a Glo-Worm cave and a volcanic valley.

This blog is posted at: 

Or, this whole series at:

These and other Images of this trip can be found here

Or here for just my favorites


Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated – Dan

(info from Wikipedia, Road Scholar Lectures, and pamphlets gathered at various sites along the way)


Betty Gray(non-registered)
Dan (and Ellen?) you did a tremendous job at info gathering. And I loved your digressions. Thanks so much for sharing all that with us. I hope others are enjoying this as much as I am.
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