Category Archives: Auckland, New Zealand

These posts are inspired by my exploration of the city I was born in – it has changed a lot since grew up there in the 1950s and 60s.

Ellerslie Garden Racecourse

Shady and cool.

Racecourses are essentially vast open spaces, but when I think of Ellerslie Racecourse, much more than the race track itself – I’m not a race goer – I think of the magnificent trees and shaded walks that make it Auckland’s garden racecourse. This park-like setting dates back to the mid-1800s: Scotsman Robert Graham named his estate in the area Elderslie after his home in Larnarkshire. This name soon mutated to Ellerslie and was applied as well to the settlement that formed near Graham’s property. When the railway heading south from Auckland reached Ellerslie in the early1870s Graham developed part of his land as gardens and even a small zoo which he hoped would attract visitors to the area. At the same time a racecourse was inaugurated in adjoining fields – the first race was held there in January 1874 – and when Graham’s farm was sub-divided in 1889 the landscaped part of it was incorporated in the grounds of the racecourse.

The grandstands have been enlarged over the decades but the racecourse, its outbuildings and its carefully tended gardens have changed very little since I used to love playing here with my cousins when we were children and lived nearby.

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Two of the original buildings in the Auckland Racing Club’s colours.

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Sir Edwin Mitchelson, pioneering timber and kauri gum merchant and politician was president of the Auckland Racing Club from 1905 to 1932. Both during this period and in earlier years when he was mayor of Auckland, he was passionate about landscaping and the creation of parks and reserves throughout the city. It is largely thanks to him that Robert Graham’s gardens were shaped into the beautiful place they are today. this monument to him – the sculpture is by Bertram Mackennal – is backed by a benchseat flanked by a pair of winged horses.

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Palm trees add a tropical, riviera-like touch to the gardens. In the right the new Events centre. the racecourse’s heyday has long since passed – nowadays the gardens are a backdrop to social events and there is even a golf driving range infield and a dog and owner training school in part of the stables.

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the racetrack with the golf range infield behind finishing post

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Hard to see the logic in this – how can horses make a building hazardous? Another opportunity for a proofreader’s red pen!!!

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Race day traffic uses this entrance while pedestrians use the shaded central pathway.

The racecourse gardens are open to the public except on racedays and a used car market is held in the carpark on Sundays. To check out the dress code for race days, see http://www.ellerslie.co.nz

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‘Nduja and other gastronomic delights

‘Nduja!

It’s the last thing I’d ever have expected to find at Hobsonville Point Farmers Market, but as the free taster – I’m told by the stallholder that it’s a sort of chorizo – melts in my mouth I recognize it instantly, as much by its texture as by its flavour. A specialty of southern Italy’s Calabria region, ‘nduja is finely ground pork meat and fat turned bright orange and fiery by the addition of ground chili pepper and spices. Unlike salami which can be thinly sliced, ‘nduja (pronounced “in-do-ya”) is soft and spreadable – delicious on a cracker or stirred into a pasta sauce or stew. And being so hot, a little goes a very long way.

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‘nduja New Zealand style from Farm Gate Products http://www.the farmgate.co.nz

As well as ‘nduja, Farm Gate Produce make delicious sausages from free-range pork and beef, and stock great manuka-smoked bacon too. They are one of the many friendly stalls at Hobsonville Point Farmers Market and it’s inspiring to see so much locally produced and really delicious food: cheeses, breads, sweets (Magnolia Kitchen’s rocky road and edible marshmallow clouds are a real treat – http://www.magnoliakitchen.co.nz) , honey (loved Earthbound Honey’s manuka honey – http://www.earthboundhoney.co.nz), jams, relishes and sauces, olive oil, snack foods and of course home grown seasonal fruit and vegetables.

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NZ-made mozzarella and scamorza and pizza from a portable wood-fired oven

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eggplants, cheeses, bagels, olive oil, fresh bread – the mouth waters constantly

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Salash Delicatessen is a family business with Serbian origins. Their sausages and salami range from mild to hell hot – my favourite. http://www.salash.co.nz

Every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 1pm Hobsonville Point Farmers Market takes place in and around a giant ex-airbase hangar, breathing new life into a building that was decommissioned when the New Zealand Air Force moved away from its helicopter and seaplane base there in 2002.

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18-year-old Basil keeps an eye the market activities.

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Hobsonville Point, in Auckland’s west and on the innermost reaches of the Waitemata Harbour, is one of the city’s newest suburbs. The development’s well-chosen slogan is “Moments away, a world apart”. During the week this is entirely true: it’s a 25-minute ferry ride between downtown central Auckland and the Point’s new all-tides wharf.

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Taking the ferry up the Harbour, under the Harbour Bridge, past Chelsea Sugar Refinery, to step off the wharf where the market is held.

By car or bus I imagine it’s rather more than just moments away, but it certainly is worlds apart – the Air Force buildings (hangars, barracks, married officers’ houses and the Base Commander’s house) and open spaces remain as part of the suburb’s unique identity, making it completely different to any other emerging residential area in Auckland. Panels along the covered wharf recount the area’s history and Virginia King’s Hinaki eel trap sculpture on the wharf is one of several that make up the urban décor.

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This giant stainless steel dog by Steve Woodward stands in front of the soon-to-be-renovated barracks. Below one of the fine houses which were built for the married Air Force officers.

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Virginia King’s Hinakieel trap extends through a hole in the wharf, down towardsthe sea. It is encircled by Fiona Farrell’s poem Eel.

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The Radar Station has become a children’s activity centre, complete with aircraft-inspired wall paper.

For now the ferry service doesn’t run at the weekends but when the Farmers Market organisers put on a special event, such as last weekend’s “Doggy Day Out”, a charter ferry service runs for a very reasonable NZ$10 return, making a trip to Hobsonville Point and its market well worthwhile. And as with all great food markets it really pays to go early and buy early – stocks of specialist goodies do run out towards closing time.

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More Coromandel Highlights

Sarnie, our  Coromandel Adventures guide to the Waiau Kauri Grove spreads her arms out wide and asks us to imagine a kauri tree (Agathis australis) with an eight metre diameter: filling the gap in the forest immediately in front of our viewing platform, where its ancestor either fell or – more probably – was milled in the 1800s, it would tower over us today and its canopy would blot out the sunshine.

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Behind the space that our imaginary tree would occupy, five or six ‘young’ kauri (they’re around 800 years old) escaped the brutal milling process and our scenic walk takes us to their base. Along the way Sarnie shows us two baby kauri – just two and three years old, with only a handful of leaves and just a few centimetres tall. Then we climb onto a platform around the base of the kauri: this wooden structure allows us to ‘hug’ the trees and breathe in the scent of their tangy resin and at the same time prevents us from trampling on the ground over their roots and thus reduces the risk of anything on our shoes conveying the ‘dieback’ disease to these kauri trees. In other parts of New Zealand dieback (a fungal disease, Phytophthora taxon Agathis) is destroying kauri groves and forests but so far the Coromandel Peninsula has remained free of it.

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Like the hillside where we travelled on the Driving Creek Railway, the Waiau valley was almost completely denuded during the late 1800s, but whereas at DCR the reforestation has been done by hand, here in the Waiau Valley, just a few kilometres south of Coromandel township, the secondary growth of native trees has occurred naturally through seed brought by the wind and birds.

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When we return to Coromandel it’s late afternoon – perfect for relaxing on the verandah of our ‘Boatshed’ cottage at Pottery Lane Cottages. The boatshed is one of three cottages in a peaceful garden setting just a few hundred metres from the centre of Coromandel township: a perfect location for a short stay.

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Dinner time finds us a short walk from the cottages, in the Star and Garter – an historic building which was once a bank and then a drapery and is now a café-pub-restaurant. The long kauri bar is made up of the three counters where fabrics were measured and the walls are a fascinating collage of old photos and snippets of news relating to the gold mining days.

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This platter (above) of mixed seafoods, including local, melt-in-the-mouth, green-lipped mussels in tempura batter, featured on the  Star and Garter’s menu as a starter for four, but my friend and I shared it as a very delicious main course.

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Coromandel was humming in the late summer sunshine on Sunday morning and we enjoyed another great meal – brunch (above) at the Success Café. Success was the name of one of the gold mines that was particularly productive. This plate of pancakes with bacon, boysenberries, cream and maple syrup set us up for the day.

 100B2921 Leaving Coromandel, 4.30 pm 9th March 2014

As the Auckland-bound ferry left Coromandel on Sunday afternoon we were lucky that the sea was still fairly calm: the perfect ending to a great weekend.

For more on the places mentioned, see www.360discovery.co.nz for ferry details, www.drivingcreekrailway.co.nz for the narrow gauge train ride, www.coromandeladventures.co.nz for guided tours including the Waiau Kauri Grove, www.coromandelcottages.co.nz for Pottery Lane Cottages, www.starandgarter.co.nz

Coromandel highlights

The ‘360° Discovery’ ferry to Coromandel, a catamaran, clips purposefully down Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour on a dead calm sea. Brief stops at Waiheke Island’s Orapiu wharf and at Rotoroa Island are soon, like mainland Auckland, far behind. Ahead, as the cat crosses the Firth of Thames, rise the mountains of the Coromandel Peninsula. To the south, where the mountains fade into the horizon, there is only a faint, hazy hint of the Hauraki Plains. Gannets dive for fish and little blue penguins frolic endearingly. Islands – lush and large and small and craggy – are strung along the Coromandel coast, so the township only comes into view as the ferry approaches Hannaford’s Wharf, inside the island haven.

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Just two and an half very pleasant hours after leaving Auckland we arrive in Coromandel at lunchtime. The town was named after HMS Coromandel – in turn named after eastern India’s Coromandel Coast. The ship visited the area in 1820 to take on kauri timber for masts. Until then, the village was known by its Maori name, Kapanga.

Coromandel is the birthplace of New Zealand’s gold mining era. Charles Ring discovered gold in October 1852 and although he managed to keep his find secret for a while, Coromandel was soon inundated with prospectors, traders … everyone and everything needed in a bustling gold mining town with a population of around 10,000. Sadly the deforestation which had begun with the milling of the ancient kauri forests for masts and ship building accelerated during the mining days and again when forested lands were cleared for farming.  

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Although there are fewer than 2,000 inhabitants today, many of the buildings of the mid-late 1800s remain, making Coromandel both fascinating and appealing. Green-lipped mussel farming and tourism have both boosted the town’s economy in recent years. And very gradually, through planting programmes and natural second growth, the forest is regenerating.  A great ways to see how the native forest is growing over hillsides that were completely bare in the early 1900s is to take the narrow gauge (38cm) Driving Creek Railway (DCR) ride. Artist, engineer and conservationist, Barry Brickell began building the railway over 35 years ago as a way to get clay out of the hills for his pottery. At the same time he started replanting native New Zealand trees – to date 37,000 trees have been planted by Barry and his helpers. The railway line is now a very popular tourist attraction – it wends its way  for 3 kilometres through the bush and tunnels, over bridges (including a double-deck one) and zig-zagging line to the Eyefull Tower – a viewing platform surrounded by forest and with magnificent views in all directions.

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Coromandel Highlights – part 2 coming soon

 

Fencible life

In the mid-1800s New Zealand was a fledgling British colony. Scattered settlements around the newly established capital of Auckland were vulnerable to attack from certain native Maori tribes and from aspiring French colonists. Retired British soldiers who had already seen at least 15 years active service in other British colonies, particularly India, were recruited to settle in the Auckland region. Their duties were hardly ‘military’: they were to patrol their own settlement and attend church service. There were four such settlements (in Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure and Howick) forming a line of defense against attack from the south and east. They were known as Fencibles, meaning simply ‘able to defend’, and being essentially of good character, tradesmen, usually married and in their 40s, they were ideal immigrants – just what the new colony needed. New Zealand offered many of the Fencibles an escape from the squalor of the Industrial Revolution or the despair of the Irish potato famine. Not that getting to New Zealand was easy. In the 1840s a sailing ship took around 100 days to reach Auckland from Britain. Conditions onboard were difficult. Once the excitement of the departure had passed the days at sea must have seemed interminable. Each family’s baggage allowance was limited to a wooden chest, measuring 80cm x 50cm x 45cm.

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Once the families came ashore their hopes were dashed of finding the two-roomed wooden houses (on 2 acres of at least partially cleared land) that they had been promised during recruitment. A tent on the beach was often their first shelter.

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Notice how the pillow (and the mattress) was stuffed with what appears to be twigs. This is mangemange (muehlenbeckia complexa), a native New Zealand plant which is wiry and springy and actually quite comfortable to lie on.

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As soon as possible the fencibles moved into huts made from bundles of raupo – New Zealand swamp reeds.

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Cooking could at least be done inside – the soot-darkened roof is from an open hearth in the centre of the dirt floor. Insects tended to live in the roofing so a sheet was slung over the beds as a sort of ceiling.

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Some of the raupo shanties had a wooden chimney, and although there was sometimes glass in the windows these dwellings must have been miserably cold and damp when it rained. No wonder the Fencible families rebelled: this was not much better that what they had left in Britain.

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An earth-sod cottage, with wooden chimney and fireplace for cooking

Gradually the wooden cottages were built and the scrub land was cleared. Sometimes larger, two-family cottages were built right on the boundary of two plots of land: a thin partition divided the cottage in half but provided scant privacy for anything above a whisper. At last though they had a brick fireplace, real beds and the chance to paper over drafty cracks in the walls with newspapers, pages from ‘The Illustrated London News” and even wallpaper.

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layers of wallpaper and newspaper covered the walls (on the right)

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In spite of the hardships the Fencible families generally flourished and real communities formed. Between 1847 and 1852 around 2,500 men, women and children were brought to New Zealand with this scheme. After seven years their cottage and land became their own property. Many of the families stayed in the  area and contributed greatly to Auckland’s growth and development.

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The Fencible and early settler period is brought to life at Howick Historical Village in east Auckland. The open-air museum was established by bringing together on one site buildings from Howick and Panmure’s Fencible period. All the photos in this article were taken at the village. As well as furnished dwellings, other buildings include a school, a courthouse, a pub, a church (where weddings are held) and a blacksmith’s forge. www.fencible.org.nz

Maria O’Leary, the wife Captain Robert Hattaway, one of the Howick Fencibles, planted these macracarpa trees on their farmland in the 1850s.

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The trees are now within the Cascades Reserve, a wetland area crossed by the Pakuranga Stream and Wakaaranga Creek, and adjoining the Howick Historical Village site. The waterways and their catchment area are currently being revitalized by Landcare Trust through a public awareness and environmental education campaign called ‘Volcano to Sea’. www.landcare.org.nz

100B2739  This track, paved with volcanic rock slabs from nearby Pigeon Mountain-O Huiarangi crossed the reserve, It was constructed by pioneer farmers in the 1840s.

Panmure – from Mokoia Pa to the notorious roundabout

The shoreline of the Waitemata Harbour, around which the city of Auckland sprawls, features a number of tidal inlets and estuaries. One of these is the Tamaki River estuary – it winds so far inland that at its head it is only a few hundred metres from Auckland’s other, southern, harbour, the Manukau.

Long before Europeans came to this region of New Zealand, Maori legend tells us that Te Moko Ika A Hiku Waru was a taniwha, a water spirit, that guarded the mouth of the Tamaki inlet. This creature gave its name to a strategic knob of land overlooking the estuary: Mokoia Pa was a fortified settlement there, home to the Maori Ngati Paoa people. In the 1820s the pa was attacked by a northern tribe and destroyed, and its inhabitants killed.

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Looking across the Tamaki River to Mokoia Pa site (to the right of the bridge). In the foreground the remains of an early 1900s cattle yard.

Little more than a decade later Europeans began to show an interest in the area. The Surveyor General, Felton Mathew, was keen to establish the young colony’s capital near the abandoned pa site. However Governor Hobson chose a site further west around the Waitemata Harbour, and the city of Auckland was founded there. Meanwhile frequent skirmishes between the native Maori and European settlers meant that the defense value of the strategic Tamaki estuary site wasn’t overlooked. Retired British soldiers were brought to New Zealand to help protect the colony. They were known as Fencibles, and by the mid-1800s Fencible families were living along the shores of the  estuary, near the former Mokoia pa site, in ninety-nine temporary huts made from bundles of Raupo swamp reeds. Thus the settlement of Panmure was created.

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As the Fencibles’ conditions improved they built better homes, mostly in wood. This is an unusual example of one in local volcanic stone. It was built near Panmure in 1854, and moved to its present site in Panmure in the 1970s by taking it apart and rebuilding it stone by stone. It is furnished in the style of the 1850s as a memorial to early settlers.

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With water transport preferable to the hazards of travelling overland, the Tamaki River played a key part in the new settlement’s development. For over a century, until the mid-1900s, the Panmure wharf was used by cutters and scows to bring in supplies and to take away produce.

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Crew from these vessels would frequent Panmure’s pub. The first of these was built in the 1860’s. In those days it was a much more attractive building than in today’s photo as it had covered verandas on the ground and upper floors. This wooden pub was replaced by the current Panmure Hotel in 1865, and the older building remained in use as Loomb’s Hotel until 1890.

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St Matthias Anglican church dates from the mid-1800s too, as do some of the graves in its adjoining cemetery.

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Panmure Basin is an almost-circular tidal volcanic crater – a break in the crater rim connects the lagoon to the Tamaki estuary. The basin is edged by a shaded walking path.

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Looking across the Panmure Basin volcanic crater lake at high tide. The path that circuits the lake crosses this little bridge where the lagoon flows into the Tamaki estuary.

For motorists, the roundabout on Panmure’s western boundary can be a little bit daunting: some drivers will even go to great lengths to detour this multi-road intersection. If you enjoy the challenge of getting into the right lane to negotiate Auckland’s largest and most infamous roundabout be warned: it is about to be replaced by traffic lights.

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With work well underway to remove the traffic roundabout, the sign this stands in its centre needs a new home.

A new life for an old quarry

East Auckland’s Mount Wellington – or Maungarei, to use its original Maori name – is an extinct volcano, the youngest on-shore one in the region’s volcanic field. It last erupted 9- or 10,000 years ago and although ‘Maungarei’ means ‘the watchful mountain’ in Maori, it isn’t expected to erupt again anytime soon. Although, like most of Auckland’s volcanic cones, it’s called a Mount, it’s only 350 metres high. When Maori settled in the area around 600 years ago, they built a fortified pa on it and their vegetables flourished in the rich volcanic soil.

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The northern slopes of Maungarei-Mount Wellington, as seen from the wetlands, with part of the quarry rock face on the right.

The lava flow to the north of Maungarei was quarried for bluestone (basalt) from 1936 to 2001. Over 18 million cubic metres of rock were extracted from a 220 acre area, providing a large part of the building stone for Auckland and further afield.

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This feature wall in the nearby Speight’s Ale House  show old time quarrying in progress.

In 2001 there are any number of things to do with the decommissioned quarry, from total abandonment to lining it with a supposedly watertight material and using it as a rubbish dump. In fact, the latter solution was put forward but the project foundered and the site has now become an attractive wetlands nature reserve.

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A pukeko crosses the boardwalk.

A natural spring at the edge of the quarried area provides a series of small lakes which are home to pukeko, ducks, swans and water fowl, while tui and fantail love the flax flowers in the landscaped slopes surrounding the lakes.

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The reserve is landscaped with native plants including these flax and grasses

The reserve is a real asset to the residents of adjoining Stonefields: it provides a very welcome outdoor escape from some of the rather compact townhouse dwellings. A picnic area, grassy paths and boardwalks around the lakes make this a pleasant place to relax.

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Give me the joys and challenges of living in Ventimiglia Alta any day, but the residents of Stonefields are no doubt happy to have this peaceful reserve nearby instead of a rubbish dump!