Friday 28 February 2014

Train, ferry and Pencarrow

On Wednesday we planned a ride with a difference. We took the bikes into town on the Johnsonville train, and then across to Days Bay on the East by West Ferry.

With our SuperGold Cards (thank you Mr Peters!) we were able to use both for free, provided we travelled between 9am and 3pm. The ferry left at 10am, and we would have to return on the 12:40pm sailing, as the next one was after 3pm. So we planned to take the 9:04 train from Johnsonville, which meant we had to get up earlier than usual (we are both late-night owls – very late to bed and quite late to rise).

We were at the station before 9:00 and the train was late, so it was just as well that we had decided on the earlier train, or we might have missed the ferry.

The train pulls into Johnsonville station (photo by John)

I had not travelled on the “new” Matangi trains, which were introduced on the Johnsonville line in March 2012 (we would normally go into town by bus, which goes past our house). I was quite impressed we could wheel the bikes straight on – no steps to climb – and that in each carriage there were special places for up to three bikes to be secured during the trip.

Up to three bikes can be secured with specially provided straps on the new Matangi units
(photo by John)

Johnsonville is 150 m above sea level, and the 10 km railway track has to go through some quite steep and rugged terrain to get down to the Wellington Railway Station at sea level. Some of the time the train goes past suburban backyards, but the line also has seven tunnels – all of which have names: Tui Tunnel, Kaka, Ngaio, Lizard, Gorge, Kaiwarra and Outlet Tunnel.

John was ready with his camera to capture the view over Wellington Harbour as we emerged from the last one, the Outlet Tunnel. I was very pleased to see that the harbour was as flat as a mill pond.

As the train emerges from the Outlet Tunnel, you get this view over the motorway and the harbour (photo by John)

We alighted on Platform 9, and biked along the waterfront to the East by West Ferry. Having hurried out in the morning without our morning cup of coffee, it was nice to have time to stop at Mojo’s for some take-away flat-whites.

Waiting to board the ferry (photo by John)

There were quite a lot of passengers, most of whom immediately climbed up to the top deck. We were last on, with our bikes, and parked them in the downstairs lounge. John stayed with them, while I found a spot on the top deck.

We had to wheel our bikes down the ramp and onto the lower deck of the ferry

A view into the ferry’s wheelhouse (photo by John)

As we pulled away from the wharf, all the cameras and smart phones were put to good use, to capture the views of the receding city.

I just love the red Harbour Board tugs

These cranes are really gi-normous!

A different view of the Wellington Waterfront

It was a perfect day for a trip on the ferry – not a breath of wind, and the harbour was completely flat. That suited me nicely, as my stomach doesn’t take very kindly to being tossed around on rough water.

The harbour was flat calm. Looking towards the Hutt Valley, with Matiu-Somes Island in front

After a while I persuaded John to come up to the top deck, so he could enjoy the views too, but he only took one photo from there (which is better than my equivalent of the same view).

For some reason the ferry seemed to have a slight list to the left – or should that be “port”?
(photo by John)

This sailing made a stop at Matiu/Somes Island.  Quite a lot of the passengers got off here, and were picked up again by the 12:40pm ferry on which we too returned. The island makes for a very interesting and varied outing. We did this once, with our youngest daughter, many years ago.

Matiu/Somes is both an Historic Reserve and a Scientific Reserve, and is administered by DOC (Dept of Conservation). There is a surprising number of things to do, and it is well worth taking a close look at the DOC website.

Approaching Matiu/Somes Island

The Matiu/Somes Island lighthouse, built in 1865, was the first inner harbour lighthouse in New Zealand

As part of the conservation efforts on the island, rats and mice were eradicated from the late 1980s. Since then, native plants, birds, reptiles and invertebrates have thrived. Because of this, there are strict requirements for all visitors to the island to have their bags inspected, to ensure that no inadvertent re-introduction of any pests could occur.

Visitors disembarking at Matiu/Somes Island must have their bag checked at the “Whare Kiore” – the “Rat House” (kiore is the Pacific rat Rattus exulans)

Boats arriving at Matiu/Somes must also be checked for pests

The ferry didn’t linger at Matiu/Somes, and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Days Bay. As you can see in the photo below, the tide was low and the wharf high, so we had to disembark from the top deck. This meant that we had to carry our bikes up the rather steep stairs onto the top deck.

The wharf at Days Bay

While we were waiting for everyone else to get off before us, we got talking to a charming couple from Auckland – Tony and Kate – who were very interested in our nifty folding bikes. I told them about this blog, and gave them a little card printed with its address. They promised to look it up when they got home. So, hello Tony and Kate, why not leave me a comment at the bottom of this blog post, when you’ve read this!

Tony asked me to take a photo of them – with his camera – so I asked him to take one of John and me – with my camera.

Ready to bike off to Pencarrow. The ferry behind us takes on the next load of passengers

John told them that we were going to bike to Pencarrow and back, before taking the 12:40pm ferry back to Wellington. They said they would be heading back on the same ferry, so they hoped to see us when we got back. They wished us a good ride, and we tootled off.

I wasn’t altogether sure that we would be able to get as far as Pencarrow in the time available. It was 10:40am when we started out from Days Bay, so I estimated that we would have to turn around by 11:20 in order to get back in time, especially as a breeze had now sprung up, and we would be heading into the northerly on our way back.

It was a solid ride, with only one stop for pictures. Because the tide was low, I noticed that Barrett Reef was now exposed, and I could see the waves crashing over the top of it. This was the reef that the inter-island ferry Wahine struck in a terrific southerly storm on 8 April 1968, with the disastrous result that the ship sank in the harbour, with the loss of 51 lives.

At the top of the picture is Barrett Reef, at the entrance to the harbour (click on the photo to enlarge it)

We made surprisingly good time, and made it to the Pencarrow Lighthouse by 11:25 – only five minutes later than the time at which we had figured we should turn around. It was very satisfying to have achieved that.

Proof that we made it to the Pencarrow Lighthouse! (photo by John)

The way back, as expected, was rather slower than the way there, because of the headwind we were now biking against. So John had the opportunity to stop for a photo while he waited for me to catch up.

In the last hour or so, the sky had become cloudier and the sea rougher (photo by John)

We got back to Eastbourne in good time, and we stopped to have a brief chat with a couple enjoying lunch on a bench overlooking the beach. What made me stop to talk to them was seeing the bikes on a rack at the back of their campervan. Obviously kindred spirits! They had travelled from Auckland and had been on the road for two weeks. They were still debating as to whether they would go further south. They told us that they had biked the Otago Rail Trail a few years back and had a wonderful time.

This couple were enjoying life on the road, in a campervan and with bikes (photo by John)

It is just a short ride from Eastbourne to Days Bay, and we got there with a whole twenty minutes to spare. So we sat in the shade of one of the Norfolk pines by the beach, and had a snack of sliced apple and some chocolate.

Time for a snack (photo by John)

Well before the ferry was due, we wandered onto the wharf to await its arrival. There was a glass shelter near where the ferry docks, for the use of commuters, when the wind gets up. Of course, when the wind becomes too strong and makes a crossing too hazardous, ferry sailings are cancelled, and commuters have to travel into town by bus.

Days Bay seen from the end of the wharf (photo by John)

Awaiting the arrival of the ferry (photo by John)

When Tony and Kate walked onto the wharf, they were surprised to see us there. They’d been looking down the road to see if we were coming yet, and they thought we were going to miss the ferry. “Not a chance”, we said, “we got here with 20 minutes to spare, and we made it to the Lighthouse!”

Pulling away from Days Bay (photo by John)

With all the high-rise apartment buildings, it is sad to see that Oriental Bay is starting to look like any other harbour city foreshore (photo by John)
John thinks that these huge concrete cylinders are the bases for power-generating windmills
(Postscript: he was right, check out this report)

Stacks of containers at the port

While chatting to Kate and Tony during the ferry trip, I suggested they might like to join us for lunch at the Karaka Café, which they readily agreed to.

Arriving at Wellington. Up at the front I am pointing out the Karaka Café to Kate and Tony, as we would be meeting there for lunch (photo by John)

Having boarded onto the top deck with our bikes at Days Bay, we now had to disembark from the lower deck in Wellington. So we had to carry our bikes down the very steep stairs. I was concerned about John, because his balance is a bit iffy, and he would have to carry his bike with only one hand, so that he could hold on to the rail with his other hand. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed it brilliantly. As for me, one of the friendly crew took my bike down the stairs for me, which was much appreciated.

We pedalled off towards the Karaka Café, while Tony and Kate had to do an errand in the city before they could join us. It was busy at the café, but we managed to find a table, where we had to park our bikes just outside the waka displays.

We managed to score a table by the waka displays (photo by John)

Before long, Tony and Kate arrived, and we spent a pleasant half hour chatting over lunch. We found we had several things in common, including having been students at Victoria University at about the same time in the 1960s.

It was a shame we had to break up the party, but we had a train to catch. We could have stayed longer, but that would have meant taking a later train, with all the school kids, and perhaps no room for the bikes.

Before wheeling the bikes to our train, John took some pictures in the great hall of the Wellington Railway Station, which has a rather stylish ceiling.

No getting lost in Wellington’s Railway Station (photo by John)

The stylish ceiling of the Railway Station main hall (photo by John)

We were back in Johnsonville by 3pm. What a lovely day it had been. New experiences of taking the bikes on the train and ferry, as well as a 26 km challenge to get to Pencarrow and back between ferry sailings. We were tired, but very satisfied with our day.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Around the Pauatahanui Inlet

We were going to take the bikes into town on the Johnsonville train on Monday – just for another experience – and bike along the Wellington Waterfront. But when I came back from meeting a friend in the morning, it was nearly lunchtime and we’d just missed the train, so instead we decided on another ride that we had been wanting to do – from Porirua to Whitby.

We parked the car near the Whitireia Polytechnic, and set off along the harbour’s edge path towards the Porirua Stream. A beautiful, smooth path, and very pleasant surroundings.

The path along the Porirua Stream (photo by John)

The stream is very shallow, perhaps only about 20 cms deep. I don’t know if the depth is affected by the incoming tide – the tide was out when we were there. There is a weir across the stream, with just a small amount of water quietly running over it. We saw a heron walking across the weir, from one bank to the other. When we came back, it was crossing back to the other side. John thought this must be its territory, I thought it might just be looking for lunch. But then, neither of us knows very much about birds.

We saw a heron crossing the weir (in the central left of this photo) (photo by John)

In the above photo, the weir is at the central left, right by a water-level measuring tower. At the start of his working career, John was involved in designing instruments for measuring river levels. He’s seen a fair few of these towers, some in much less placid environments than this.

This stream-side path ended near Kenepuru. I believe that eventually, this path will continue along the stream all the way to Tawa (refer to my post about Tawa)

So we went back and crossed the bridge over the stream and the motorway. The bridge is actually the off-ramp into Porirua from the south-bound motorway. It has a nice wide foot/cycle path, separated from the traffic.

The motorway off-ramp bridge across the stream and motorway (photo by John)

Once across the bridge, the smooth path continues next to the motorway for a short distance, before heading up the hill towards Aotea College and the Gear Homestead “Okowai”. I didn’t like this bit of path very much, as not only was it steeper than I like, it was also quite loose gravel, making it quite skiddy. But it did offer nice views towards Porirua Harbour.

I didn’t much like the skiddy gravel on this path from the motorway to Aotea College (photo by John)

The path overlooked some lagoons, the motorway and railway line, over towards the Porirua Harbour (photo by John)

In the trees below the Gear Homestead, there is an aerial obstacle course, called “Adrenalin Forest”. In the photo below you can make out some of the wires, ropes and platforms that make up this challenging action circuit (you may need to enlarge the photo by clicking on it). I had a look at the website and it looks quite hair-raising. Not my cup of tea at all …

The wires, ropes and platforms in the trees are part of an aerial obstacle course (photo by John)

When I’d struggled up the hill, we went into the grounds of the lovely Gear Homestead.

This beautiful house, which is registered with the Historic Places Trust, was built in 1887 for James Gear, the founder of the Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Company and an early pioneer in the export of refrigerated meat. The house is also famous for having been one of the settings for Peter Jackson’s first feature film, “Bad Taste”.

The house and grounds are now owned by the Porirua City Council, and it is used as a venue for functions, such as weddings.

Side view of the Gear Homestead (photo by John)

In fact, Gear Homestead is where our eldest daughter was married, 19 years ago this month. The wedding day dawned as a beautiful, cloudless, perfect day, after a week of torrential rains. As the plan had been for a garden wedding, everyone was greatly relieved that summer had returned in the nick of time!

We have further associations with the historic woolshed in the grounds. This building originally housed the stables for the homestead, and was later used as a woolshed. Today, this is the home of several crafts clubs, amongst which the Gear Homestead Woolshed Potters, of which my potter sister Aimée has been a member for many years. At various times she has been a committee member and tutor, and has taught a number of courses to both novice and experienced potters.

The Woolshed, which houses the Woolshed Potters’ club rooms (photo by John)

The space upstairs is (or was, I’m not sure what the status is now) shared between the Kapiti Camera Club, Attic Artists, and Gear Woolshed Fibrecrafts. In my days as a weaver, I have attended quite a few gatherings of the Woolshed Spinners and Weavers, as they were called at the time. I have also attended workshops there, as well as taught several courses in advanced weaving.

In those days, there were some (quite rickety) stairs on the outside of the building, which were a bit of a challenge when carrying up table looms and teaching paraphernalia. The building was recently refurbished to make it earthquake-safe, and I suppose the stairs were considered a hazard, and were probably not part of the original building anyway. Aimée tells me there is now a new entrance, with stairs, at the back of the building. 

From here, we rode down the hill, past Aotea Lagoon, along Papakowhai Road, and before the Paremata Bridge, turned right into Paremata Road, which skirts along the Pauatahanui Inlet, on its way to Whitby. For a short distance there was a shared foot and cycle path, but that soon ran out and we were riding on the road, trying to keep as far left as possible, without tumbling off the edge. We were surprised at how many large trucks were rumbling past us – not a comfortable feeling. It was good having our rear-vision mirrors, so at least we could see them coming.

Looking back at the Paremata boatsheds and the Paremata Bridge (photo by John)

There was a steep bit of road, that climbed over a spur of land, and was even steeper going down the other side. I didn’t much like that bit, as it was also narrow, and did not offer much protection from the trucks. But after that, the road was mercifully flat, going along the edge of the Inlet. The tide was out, and large areas of mud flats were exposed.

The hill we had to climb over before coming down to the mudflats (photo by John)

There are several “entrance” roads into Whitby, and when we got to the third of these, John asked how much further I wanted to go. Did I want to turn around here? But now that we were on the flat it was rather pleasant riding (despite having to ride on the road) so I suggested we could ride all the way around the Pauatahanui Inlet.

The road skirts around the Pauatahanui Inlet (photo by John)

The Pauatahanui Inlet is a significant estuarine environment. Forest and Bird has restored the area, which was formerly farmland, to much of its natural wetland state.  The Inlet is a side-arm of Porirua Harbour, and several areas are protected and administered by DOC (Dept of Conservation). One of these is the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve, which is a coastal wetland containing a mosaic of tidal flats and indigenous marsh vegetation.

The Inlet is home to a large number of species of birds, and DOC has provided information boards, tracks and hides from which to observe birds.

The Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve is home to many species of waterbirds (photo by John)

After Whitby, the road turns away from the water’s edge, as it goes around the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve and leads to the small village of Pauatahanui. We stopped briefly to take a picture of the Taylor Stace Cottage, which is the region’s oldest surviving house, having been built in 1847. I remember visiting it many years ago, when it was a craft gallery. It was surrounded by a lovely garden. The cottage has since been extensively restored, and there is nothing left of the garden. Somehow it doesn’t look as charming as it did back then.

Taylor Stace Cottage was built in 1847, and restored in 2011 (photo by John)

Once through the village, we turned left into Grays Road, which leads around the other side of the Inlet, and ends up at Plimmerton. Fortunately we didn’t have to stay on the road very long, as we were soon on a boardwalk through the Wildlife Reserve.

The boardwalk initially runs more or less parallel to Grays Road (photo by John)

The northern end of the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve

In places the boardwalk becomes a smooth concrete track (photo by John)

The lead-up to the bridge over one of the streams feeding into the estuary provided seating and information boards about plants and fish that thrive in this area where fresh water meets salt water.

A bridge over on of the streams, with seating and information boards (photo by John)

One of the boards provides information about the plants: “Here we are on the edge of a salt marsh, where fluctuations in sea level and rainfall create a dynamic and challenging environment for plants. The zonation of plant life we see around the edges of estuaries is directly related to how tolerant a species is to saturated soils and to salinity levels”.

The other board tells us about the fish: “Most people are surprised to learn that NZ has 37 freshwater fish species; [of these] half spend part of their lives in the sea. Whitebait species, eels, bullies and torrentfish all migrate between fresh and salt water”.

One of the many streams feeding into the Inlet – note the birds on the mudflats (photo by John)

The boardwalk/track that we had been on was called “Te Ara Piko

When the boardwalk/track ended, a narrow loop road led off Grays Road onto Motukaraka Point. A pleasant area where several beautiful large homes with gorgeous gardens overlook the estuary. This area was once a Māori pā site – in the 1820s Te Rangihaeata, a Ngāti Toa chief, established a fighting pā here. During World War II, there was a US Marines camp here, housing about 5,000 personnel. An information board in the reserve provides photos and details about this camp.

Motukaraka Point (photo by John)

Once back on Grays Road, we were again having to ride on the narrow shoulder of the road, but thankfully we were soon able to divert onto the Camborne Walkway.

Between Motukaraka Point and the Camborne Walkway, we had to ride on the shoulder of Grays Road (photo by John)

The Camborne Walkway is a wide gravel path very close to the water. We encountered a lot of walkers – some Mums with pushchairs, and some people walking their dogs. It’s obviously a popular area for dog owners to let their dogs go for a swim or chase sticks in the water. I slowed down as a large Labrador emerged from the water, because I knew he was going to shake himself and I didn’t want to be in the firing line of the flying water.

The Camborne Walkway, with Paremata in the distance

Before long, we were riding behind the Camborne boatsheds. Some of them look like ideal “retreats", complete with decks and little gardens, making the most of limited space. Beyond the boatsheds, there was a short distance where the track deteriorated to soft sand, so we had to get off and walk.

Behind the Camborne boatsheds (photo by John)

Then it was onto a side-road off the Mana Esplanade. We crossed the main road into the Ngati Toa Domain, and rode through the marina area, where John insisted on diverting through a very rough little track, overgrown with toetoe. I was not amused, as we had to struggle and push our bikes through it. However, being able to take a nice photo of a yacht anchored offshore, made up for it.

At the edge of the toetoe-covered track

Now we were on our way back to Porirua, biking the way we came – past Aotea Lagoon and Gear Homestead, and down the steep and scary gravel path back to the edge of the motorway. Relief, when we got to the smooth cycle path near Whitireia Polytechnic.

This foot-and-cycle path is beautifully smooth (photo by John)

As we arrived back at the car, we saw a team of young women bringing a large waka back onto the shore, having been out for a practice paddle. In this area there was a large boathouse and several waka with outriggers (waka ama) were laid up on the lawn. I understand that Whitireia Polytechnic offers a course in Waka Ama.

A crew bring a waka ashore (photo by John)

Waka ama

What started out as a shortish ride from Porirua to Whitby, turned into a much longer ride right around the Pauatahanui Inlet. I must say that I was surprised to find that we had ridden “only” 28 kms. I thought it would have been more than that. But it was a lovely easy ride – apart from a couple of hills – and one that we are sure to want to do again.