Photos from New Zealand’s North Island

The smell of pine trees remains one of the more pungent reminders of Canada, bringing me back to weekends in the forest in the Eastern Townships, to long hikes, and to snow-covered branches. Of all the different pines — and I do love them all — the Norfolk has been a recent favourite, its spines turned upward like hands reaching for the sky.
I first found the Norfolk in Morocco, on the trip from Tangiers to the blue city of Chefchaouen. Craning my neck to get a better view from the bus as it careened through the Rif mountains, I tried to etch its distinctive shape in my mind. I am sure I had seen variations of this tree prior, but the one in Morocco stood out. I still remember its sparse branches silhouetted against a darkening sky as my bus clumsily jolted along potholed roads.

While I got another glimpse in Chefchaouen, pine trees popping out of the landscape between patches of blue, I never followed up online to find the origin of this beloved tree. I now know that the answer is Norfolk Island, in the South Pacific. I know this because when I stepped out of the airport in Auckland, New Zealand, I quickly realized that there were Norfolks everywhere.

Norfolk Pine New Zealand
Thanks to Craig for stopping the car so I could snap this photo of my beloved pine tree.

When my Kiwi friends said to me “you’re going to love New Zealand,” they supplied very Jodi-friendly reasons. Llamas and alpacas. Terrific cheese. Kiwi fruits. Birds that look like dogs. (No, seriously. The country has a bird that looks like a dog. See below.) Beautiful glaciers. Delicious and reasonably-priced wine. Mussels the size of my head. Breathtaking coastline — lots of it. But no one said “oh and that tree you were obsessed with? WE HAVE THAT TOO.”

Kakapo
This is the kakapo, a bird that looks like a dog. WANT.
(photo found on Reddit — obvs.)

My short trip to New Zealand — an extremely last minute, scrambled expedition to attend a best friend’s wedding on Waiheke — got off on the right foot. In my brief time on the North Island, I realized that all of the Jodi-friendly promises were true. The mussels were enormous. The llamas and alpacas were plentiful. And the landscapes were absurdly sculpted, almost surreal in their beauty.

When I stepped out of the airport clapping my hands together with glee because my Norfolk pine dotted the landscape like nobody’s business, I didn’t look at the other flora. But that, too, became an indefatigable source of wonder. I annoyed friends in the country with a constant stream of pointing, oohing and ahhing at the crazy trees that looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, curled and knotted with tufts of light leaves poking out of a dense underbrush. On the drive to Northland, I peered out of the bus window at huge purple ferns that looked like they would make great pillows, at lime green and silver ferns popping upward out of dark forests.

It was a wonderful trip. But it was too short, and served to whet my appetite for a country everyone seems to go bonkers for upon first sight. In case you couldn’t tell, I confess I went bonkers too. About the plants, about the trees, about the black sand beaches and ocean that stretched into the horizon in front of me. Despite some rainy weather, I still managed to get in fishing up in Northland, seeing the country through the eyes of people who love it, running around Auckland, catching up with friends from around the world and a day of sightseeing west of the city thanks to Craig from Indie Travel Media (who hosted me in town along with his lovely wife Linda).

Reunited and it feels so good: friends from all over, all meeting in Auckland. Thanks to Peter P. for the photo.

I’m saving Jana’s wedding photos and the story of how I met her fourteen years prior for another post. What follows are a few photos from my time on the North Island.

Two quick warnings:

(1) The sun is blindingly bright, with burn time 10-12 minutes due to the depleted ozone layer in that part of the world. My post-dengue immune system didn’t handle the sun very well; my scalp burned even with a hat. Others who were not, uh, suffering from a mosquito borne illness seemed to fare better with the sun.

(2) For people who are celiac like me: while many places mark food as gluten-free, the kitchens are often not very knowledgeable about what that means. I ended up getting ‘glutened’ a few times because an item marked gluten-free was nonetheless fried in oil that was contaminated with bread products, or bread was toasted on grills that were also used for breaded items. This would not affect those with a less severe intolerance but for celiacs like me, please ask questions when you dine out. Your stomach will thank you.

The photos.

fern new zealand
One of many beautiful types of ferns on New Zealand’s north island.
Piha
Piha beach and Lion Rock
Piha
Black sand beach closeup at Piha.
PIha
A brief hike to get a better view of the water.
PIha
Lion Rock from above.
Piha
Piha from the north beach.
Manukau harbour from the Arataki visitor Center
Manukau harbour from the Arataki visitor Center
Fishing in Northland, New Zealand
A cloudy day for fishing in Northland.
Fish
The bounty! These made terrific fish curry and fish head soup. (Also, my feet for a size comparison)
Karekare beach
Karekare beach
Hillary Trail
Karekare is on the Hillary Trail, a spectacular multi-day hiking trail through the wild coast of Waitakere National Park. It’s about 70km total.
pohutukawa tree new zealand
The pohutukawa tree, aka as the Kiwi Christmas tree because of its bright red flowers that bloom around the holidays.
Between Piha and Karekare beaches
Between Piha and Karekare beaches.
Between Piha and Karekare beaches
On the walk between Piha and Karekare beaches
Between Piha and Karekare beaches
Another from the same wander.
PIha
I enjoyed the shapes of the flora in these photos. Such otherworldly plants for an Quebec traveler.
Northland
Multicoloured bands of brush and sky in Northland.
Waikheke
View from the house on Waiheke, where Jana’s wedding was held.
Oneroa beach, Waiheke
Oneroa beach on Waiheke
Auckland
And on the ferry to Waiheke, the city of Auckland from the water.
Auckland
One last photo of the skyline of Auckland.

This is a shorter photoessay than usual (my last long one was 41 photos), but that’s because I barely took out my camera. The trip was a reunion with one of my best friends after four years, the celebration of her wedding, and a time to explore a place through the eyes of friends I care about, who are proud of their country. I found myself using my iPhone and posting to Instagram, a quick and unobtrusive capture without breaking stride in enjoying every second of the trip.

In the words of Craig Mod, “software ate the camera, but freed the photograph.” I used to scoff at smartphones, believing that a bigger camera was a way to ensure I never forgot the memories of a place. But having a smartphone allowed me to capture and still gaze out of the window at those tufted trees and sparkling ferns without missing a beat.

I suppose this is a topic for a longer, different post. I don’t plan to wholly use networked photos in the future — my EP-3 photos from India were perfect for the long post about its ups and downs. But it was a nice reminder that instead of “big camera or no camera”, the smartphone serves as a small but sturdy bridge between the two.

Some varia.

(1) To those who purchased the Vietnam hand-drawn typographic food maps, thank you! Both the white and black t-shirts “tipped” meaning the orders will all be fulfilled. (If you’re still interested, the campaign will be running for only 1 more week.)

White shirt here,

Black shirt here.

(2) For those in Singapore, I’m heading there for a few days in early April and will be having a reader meetup on Sunday the 6th. If you’d like to attend, please join this event on Facebook.

(3) I used to think that calling someone from New Zealand a “Kiwi” was derogatory because it was a fruit, and also a bird that can’t fly. But apparently neither of those things are sufficiently pejorative to warrant umbrage. It could be because Kiwis are patently unflappable (SEE WHAT I DID THERE? They are pretty chill, let’s admit) or because the Kiwi bird is damn adorable, but either way I’m posting it here because of the straw poll of 5 Canadians, we all thought it was a mean nickname. So, to all those others who might have also thought it was mean: you can use the word Kiwi. You’re welcome. (Or, you can use my preferred term:   “New Zealandish”.)

-Jodi

p.s. several people have asked about the photos. Yes. they are taken with a camera, no iPhone. No, I don’t edit in Lightroom or Photoshop, but I do crop  and straighten using the free Picasa tool. Camera is an Olympus E-P3 camera, with an excellent 20mm “pancake” Panasonic f/1.7 lens.

43 thoughts on “Photos from New Zealand’s North Island”

    1. Ha, I have seen it — apparently the females are quite picky when it comes to mating and the men are, uh, not so picky…leading to that awkward moment between zookeeper and bird ;) To be clear that wasn’t my photo (it’s an imgur link from a Reddit post) but they are beautiful!

  1. New Zealand looks absolutely stunning. Currently it’s not on the list for my trip later this year which is mainly focused on Asia and Latin America but… this post seriously might change my mind!

  2. Jodi! I’m so, so happy you took the chance to head to NZ. Your pictures – especially from Karekare – are lovely.

    I’ve gotten chastised by Kiwi friends for not writing “fruit” when mentioning the edible variety. Apparently they weren’t fond of the cannibalistic tones of my references to “eating a kiwi”. ;) But gosh, I do love kiwis and Kiwis. ;)

  3. Britney McSweeney

    The picture of the fish with your feet is absolutely perfect! Glad you enjoyed NZ! Nice to spend a holiday just catching up with friends and appreciating the scenery rather than trying to get the perfect “blogger” photographs. Good for you, for taking an actual vacation!

  4. Absolutely beautiful photos. I’m fairly certain that referring to New Zealanders as “Kiwis” is not offensive in any way, shape, or form. Source: my Kiwi wife and her many Kiwi friends.

  5. Love the photos Jodi. Which camera do you use these days please? We are in the process of planning our trip (3 months-ish to go). Backpacks now obtained so on to the whole camera debate for us…

  6. Majestic place! Next trip, maybe touch on the people. I’ve been told by everyone who’s been there that they are so very welcoming, light hearted, and love the outdoors. My kind of folk.

  7. Wow, gorgeous photos! New Zealand is definitely on my list to visit – everything looks just so damn beautiful! :)

    1. Robert Waterfall

      If you think the North Island is beautiful you ain’t seen nothing yet until you see the South island. Completely different AND even more beautiful! Refernce Norfolk Island Pines = On N.I. if an islander reaches 100 years old they plant a row of 100 of those trees. As you go down to the Golf club you pass Aunt jemimas(?) Pines.

  8. Lovely photos Jodi! I am one of those who obsess about New Zealand. I have only seen a small part of the north island and none of the south yet but it is one of my favourite countries. Some of the best scenery in the world and of course amazing wine and food.

  9. Thank you! I miss NZ, and the kiwis and Kiwis, so much. My year there was the best experience of my life. Beautiful photos. :)

  10. Oh you came to New Zealand! That is awesome! :) I’m so glad that you got to see some of the best parts of NZ. Piha and Waiheke Island are the best things ever! :)

  11. Wow, those are absolutely gorgeous photographs. Particularly love the ones of Lion Rock.

    I still haven’t managed to make it to New Zealand (not for want of trying :), but am determined to get there in the next couple of years as everyone I know who has visited says it’s the most beautiful country they have ever gone to.

  12. Such beautiful photos bringing back wonderful memories of my own trip in 2008. Did you see any seaweed on Piha Beach that looks like alien tentacles? I kept seeing it. Weird nature. Rachel x

  13. I’ve never been to New Zealand, but it keeps popping across my radar lately….a sign? Also – that bird is crazy.

  14. LOVE the photos . They are stunning! I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand . Now that I’ve seen the photos I might have to start planning and saving for a trip next year!

  15. That’s amazing. New Zealand is definitely on my agenda. I don’t know if I think those birds are cute thought… I would keep my distance from those things… the trail head made my heart skip a beat though. Do you know if they have huts along the trail, shelters, or is backcountry camping ok?

  16. We were just there in February for three weeks – and only on the North Island this time around. The beauty of the country’s scenery is breathtaking – the people are amazingly kind – and the foods and wines are delicious!! We’re already figuring out how to go back in the next year or two – if only to have another ‘flat white’ in a cereal bowl size cup! :)

  17. Great post on New Zealand! Indeed, it’s a spectacular place to see and experience a panorama of natural wonders

  18. Thanks for this. It’s been a while since I have been home and your photos were a good reminder of how beautiful it is and why I should get back there soon. Tim

  19. Wow, I see some of these places everyday but you’ve made them look exquisite with your camera. Or perhaps, I have just taken them for granted all these years. So glad you enjoyed your time here. And no, calling us Kiwis is not offensive at all, in fact, it’s preferred! :)

  20. Hello,
    I happened upon this lovely blog today and am glad I did. I too have a fondness for travel as well as Norfolk Pines and have had one as a houseplant for several years. Interestingly, they are not a true pine. They’re from an ancient family of trees, one with a whole lot of vowels – Araucariaceae – which were abundant during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods but went extinct in the northern hemisphere at the end of the latter. They’re survivors. Another interesting thing about them, which you half pointed out, is the direction the branches point. In all that I have seen in the wild, they face the sky, yet when grown in the house they hang down, equally beautiful in their polar opposite growing patterns. I can only assume it’s due to them reaching for the Sun in their natural environment, whereas when grown indoors they prefer indirect light. Alas, it’s a strangely beautiful and mysterious plant – a microcosm of this enigmatic trip of life, you might say.

    Farewell for now

    ad astra per aspera

  21. Mia Gordon Active Adventurer

    I’m from Tauranga, the North Island of New Zealand. I love traveling, I’ve been to the other side of the globe and back, but still New Zealand tops the list for beautiful natural landscapes and fun things to do! Ask anyone else who’s visited our gorgeous country and they’ll most likely tell you the same. I love telling people about our best spots to go….and there are plenty you won’t find on any tourist maps.

  22. Beautiful photos. I can confirm, to whoever never visited NZ, that the place is fantastic and the people even more. By the way, do visit the South Island, nature there is even nicer and more wild. Cheers and well done for your “attitude” towards travel and life in general.

  23. Oh Jodi you have definitely made me homesick now! I grew up in Auckland and although I am not a big fan of the City itself, I think the surrounding area such as the Hauraki Gulf Islands, Rodney District and West Auckland are spectacular. Thanks for giving credit to the North Island, it gets drowned out in the buzz for the South Island so much of the time and it is such a beautiful place in its own right

  24. Pingback: Why I Love Saigon | Legal Nomads

  25. Great photos. They really bring me back to my few weeks there. They capture the mood of the Island and Auckland fantastically.

  26. Thanks Jodi for sharing the pics. Hard to believe there are so many different experiences in such a small country. Beaches and glaciers, unbelievable.

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