easier. We decided early on in the week that we wanted to do a day hike and explore over the weekend so we could start our time in Auckland off the right way. My friend Lisi, from Germany, has been here for half a year already so she knows a lot of the nice places around here. She thought that a trip to Piha would be nice, so we decided that we would go find a nice day hike and then head to the beach to check out the beautiful views there. Because she has a car, it made everything much easier and cheaper for all of us since we just chipped in for gas and didn't have to mess with coordinating public transportation.
We started our day off around 10am to make the ~45 minute drive to a little trail head for the Hillary Trail of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
. The entire tramp (hike) is meant for about 4 days and is around 70km long, so we just did a little section of it. I can say this over and over again and it still would never be enough, but the general foliage in New Zealand is so incredible. I would just never imagine anywhere else in the world to have pine trees, palm trees, ferns, willows, etc. to all be together in one place - it's really quite the sight to see. In order to protect that geography and wildlife, New Zealand is very strict on what comes into the country (which explains the incredibly strict and long customs process you go through when entering the country). At the start of the trail, they had a little station to clean off shoes before entering in order to clean off foreign and unwanted soil that could negatively impact any of the nature. It's definitely strange but really nice to see so many precautions going into preserving the beauty of the land. After we all sanitized ourselves, we started down the trail. It started off pretty simple and dry but soon, my terrible packing got the best of me again because I had to use my sneakers to hike in rather than proper hiking boots. This meant that once we started to hit the muddy parts of the path, I began to seriously struggle. It was all good though, and I wasn't the only one in bad footwear so we all pushed through it together. (Another girl - Catherine - had sneakers also, and another - Sunita - had basically Keds, so she had it the worst for sure.) After the muddy part, we reached the never-ending stairs which made all of us want nothing more in life than an elevator
. But finally, we made it to the top and decided to take another path which would be less muddy and take us to a view of the waterfall. The view of the waterfall was beautiful as we overlooked it from a little ledge. I really wished we could go down right next to it, but the path was too long and too wet for our unproper footwear and limited time, so I had to settle for the view from the top. While Lisi, Sunita, Molly, and Catherine took more pictures and admired the view, I decided to stray from the path a bit and explore. I climbed down to a little stream right next to the ledge and walked around. There were some dryish rocks in the middle of the stream so I made my way to them to check out the view. It was so beautiful and quiet and serene - I loved everything about that moment. I hung out for a few minutes and took some pictures before rejoining the others to head back to the car. The way back was even worse in terms of stairs...without exaggeration, we had to have climbed over 300 and they were steep. It was a gift from above when the stairs finally stopped, that is for sure. We made it back, cleaned off our muddy shoes, and hopped in the car to head to the beach.
The drive was about 25 minutes to the beach, but we stopped in a few places on the side of the road which had beautiful views to take some pictures. We stopped at a little area which overlooked the main area of the beach to get some pictures, but some house in front of us with an incredibly ugly aluminum roof kind of ruined those photos. From there, we decided to head to another section of the beach to go walk around. Like I've already said so many times, and will continue to say throughout my tenure, I cannot even explain how beautiful the place was
. It was almost as if someone painted a picture around us, it seemed so unreal. Again, so get used to it, the pictures do not do the scene any justice - especially the beautiful lighting. The sand at the beach was black sand, and the first time I have ever seen that although it is apparently more common than I realized. Either way, it was very cool to see. To get to the beach, we walked through fields of tall, yellow grass which were all growing in tons of mini sand dunes. There were these huge cliffs and rock foundations with green grass growing on them surrounding us and overlooking the beach. Even though I knew the water would be freezing, I could resist taking off my shoes and walking through the sand and into the water. I did it in Normandy (granted it was a bit warmer), I can do it in Piha. It was my first interaction with the Pacific Ocean while being over here - I know it's tacky, but I thought that was cool. Anyways, around us there were surfers catching some of the last waves before the sun went down completely. The waves were huge and constant with the sunset reflecting off of them. I was walking in a picture-perfect scene from a movie; perfect end to an incredible day.
Making a friend with a car is possibly one of the best things that has happened to me here. Maybe that sounds a little bit pathetic but that's not what I mean because so many incredible things have happened, it just makes life