The Nuggets are Zen

Isn’t it weird how on a hike you can get a view of a place that looks like you used a drone, when it is just the way the trail goes…

I’d seen photos of The Nuggets on-line as I planned my visit to the Caitlins. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the region, but I knew that I wanted to walk out to this lighthouse and the rocks that go by the name of The Nuggets, or Nugget Point or Kaka Point.

Feeling like I was at the “end of the world” my thoughts turned to the climate crisis, the whaling genocide of last century, and inspired a collage…

The parking lot at 11:00 a.m. contained a handful of cars. Along the trail I encountered only about two dozen other people in small groups over the 3 miles roundtrip. There were times along the walk that I felt a beautiful solitude. Noise also played tricksy as I was sheltered from the sound of wind and surf by the ridge, until I stepped out (almost to the lighthouse) and it returned with a roar.

Product placement: The path to the lighthouse was very easy terrain and my Allbirds did the job!

I truly enjoyed the experience and could have stayed longer at points along the way. It would be a great picnic spot with some advance planning.

Whoopsie National Geographic Traveler! This is not Cape Reina, it is Nugget Point. Only at the complete opposite end of the country. This is the second time I’ve caught America’s geographer out. The other time was with the parent magazine when they asked UC Davis to review an article on The Great Central Valley and their map showed Gilroy in the San Joaquin Valley.


Big Day Out on Tiri Tiri Matangi

Just saying the name of the island is a delight: Tiri Tiri Matangi. It is an inspiring example of intentional habitat restoration and a testament to the 100,000 volunteers who have transformed it from an over-grazed sheep ranch into native bush with a dozen rare NZ birds.

little blue penguin nesting box made of rock
little blue penguin nesting box made of rock

I read about it some time ago and finally managed to carve out the entire day you need to ferry from Auckland to enjoy this wonderful bird sanctuary. The ferry only leaves the Auckland harbor once a day at 9:00 a.m. and returns by 5:00 p.m. The cost per adult is $66 and there is no additional charge to enter the wildlife reserve.

The ferry ride is comfortable depending on the weather, and I recommend, as in all outdoor NZ adventures, wearing layers and bringing a waterproof jacket. Volunteer guides sell maps of the island for $1 NZ and the money supports the restoration work. There are signposts on the island, but come on, you can give a $1 for a good cause and a better map!  The key to the success of the island as a bird sanctuary is the removal of all predators. It made me giggle to think of checking my backpack for mice, but seriously, I would not want to be the jerk who brought a pest onto the island. Similarly you’ll be asked to take every scrap of trash out with you and to bring your lunch in a plastic container as a further pest precaution.

Similarly, the volunteer guides will give you a walking tour for a $5 NZ donation to the restoration work. This is a bargain as they are very knowledgeable and passionate. Your group leader is randomly assigned (you can stay with your people) and the group selects what level of walk you want (and how long). Be aware, that in spite of the many, many hours of volunteer service to improve the trails, they are still very steep in places.  If you have mobility challenges, there is a paved road that goes to the lighthouse and visitor center. Also, it should go without saying to wear appropriate shoes, yet one woman had shoes that “couldn’t get muddy.”

View the penguins through the hatch window; unless there is a sign saying "do not disturb"
View the penguins through the hatch window; unless there is a sign saying “do not disturb”

Almost as soon as we left the dock and headed down the trail we came to the little blue penguin nests. One of the advantages of the reserve is that it provides ample opportunity for scientific study only a 75 minute ferry ride from the largest NZ city. I learned about the island from guidebooks and from reading Jacqueline Geurts’ book, The Ecology of Little Blue Penguins. She did her research on Tiri. We were able to see a blue penguin at rest by lifting the hatch.

We continued on the hike and listened to the songs of various rare and endangered New Zealand birds. The restored bush was also lovely and it is outgrowing its “planted look”.  The volunteers have set up various viewing experiences to better show off bird behavior, such as the tui feeding station near the visitor’s center. I am not an avid birder and even I caught the enthusiasm of our guides and strained to hear and see birds. Binoculars are a terrific idea.

Our guide Trish did a super job of explaining the history of Tiri. This video clip explains it best.

We finished our guided walk at the lighthouse and visitor center. There is free coffee and tea at the visitor center and picnic benches both indoor and out. By this time we had hiked a couple of hours and the wind had really kicked it up a couple of notches.

Top of Tiri Tiri Matangi is the automated lighthouse
Top of Tiri Tiri Matangi is the automated lighthouse

There is a gift shop and I did make some “additional donations” to the restoration effort. A kind volunteer put my name on my shopping bag and brought it to the boat launch at the end of the day (like duty free without the alcohol).

There is something so soothing and lovely about a walk in the bush. The best way to experience is through photos.

I love the tui bird so I was thrilled to see so many at once!
I love the tui bird so I was thrilled to see so many at once!
Very, very old Pohutukawa tree near beach on Tiri
Very, very old Pohutukawa tree near beach on Tiri
Ponga tree fern; the symbol of New Zealand
Ponga tree fern; the symbol of New Zealand