Piha Beach & Lion Rock (Te Piha), Auckland, New Zealand

If you’re staying in Auckland, New Zealand (NZ), have a car, and are looking for a nice location for a nice day trip location, I strongly suggest Piha Beach; it is a one to two-hour drive away (depending on the traffic) and gorgeous, with lava-rock formations and black sand beaches. It is the most popular day trip destination for Aucklanders (hence the variable travel times), as along with sun, sand, sea and surf, it offers some nice bush walks, including one vertical/aerobic one up Lion Rock.

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The day we went here, we’d just picked up our rental car the day before, and had been intending to road trip up north … but I was still trying to shake off a pretty bad cold I’d picked up the first day we arrived, so rest was a priority.

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Views of Auckland as we drove north over the bridge

My friend had initially suggested we go see the Tāne Mahuta, the largest kauri tree known to exist today (in keeping with my love of BIG THINGS), which is located in the Waipoua Forest, towards the north end of the north Island…

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Kiwi Valley Farm Park, a spot along the route to the beach

but that was 3.5 hours each way … without stopping for anything … so it would have been too much of a strain for me in my condition (things to do next time I go to NZ). Instead, I did some digging on-line and I found this beach that was at most 2 hours away with traffic (because it was a Saturday), but might be a lot less… so we did that…

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View of the beach from Piha Beach Lookout, Piha Road

We were actually kind of lucky, and because the weather was kind of cool that day, (I liked it, he through it was a bit chilly), traffic to the beach was minimal. That said, it is 39 km (24.25 miles) west of Auckland, on the Tasman Sea coast, has two surfing beaches ….. and is quite pretty and restful.

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The population of Piha is so small (600 people) that technically it doesn’t even meet the requirements for a town, and is instead considered a settlement.

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Along with the two beaches is one sheltered lagoon, although as the signs said, that is NOT safe for swimming, fishing, etc. When we first arrived, I was tired and really wanted my morning coffee, which I had forgotten to drink, and a snack… so I headed to the coffee-house just a bit up the road from the beach… keep in mind I was struggling with a cold (while there I also picked up a few T-shirts from an adjoining gift shop).

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View from the cafe’s patio

My travel buddy at the same time proclaimed a desire to climb Lion rock, which divides the two surfing beaches from each other,

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Note the TINY figure on the beach (bottom left) to get a sense of the scale of the thing

and like all mountain tops in NZ, holds religious, historic, and cultural significance to the Maori people… and as such must be approached with respect….

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This image was taken by Mik, my travel buddy, with HIS camera

[Note the people in the image below, beginning the climb up the rock formation]

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I learned later while researching about the beach for this blog, that Lion Rock is an eroded 16-million-year-old volcanic plug rock formation. [The following images, OBVIOUSLY, are not in fact mine but were taken by my travel buddy with his camera, and borrowed with his permission… he even said I could post them. I couldn’t have taken them because I was sick with a cold, not to mention the fact that a climb like that would be unsafe for me due to my physical constraints.]

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In the image below [again, his] if you look at the road going up along the river near the center of the image, and just to the left of it as it starts to turn right, that is where I was having my coffee and doing some shopping.

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a panorama shot from near the top

After his climb he met up with me at the coffee shop, and commented that the climb … which had included stairs and a handrail (so under other circumstances I might have been able to do it), wasn’t AS strenuous as he had hoped as it only allowed you to go part of the way, rather than all the way, up to the top. This was because of constraints on the climb placed there in respect of the feelings of the Maori people.

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That ‘end’ location was CLEARLY marked with a Maori statue and the sign on the ground, about respecting the history of the place, that I posted earlier. He ALSO was highly critical about the fact that a lot of other folks [NOT him, because he is VERY into respectful of the concerns of Native Peoples] were ignoring that very clearly marked limit, and were continuing the climb PAST the designated point… [Note the image of him NOT smiling for the camera, because of what was going on behind him]

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(bottom left, I set up the shot and used my friend like a living tripod)

Afterward the two of us went down to the beach together…  I loved the color of the sand, it’s not so much black as a sort of iridescent dark tan color, that reminded me of the color of my Subaru back in the states.

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Images from the beach North of Lion RockUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ac1.jpg

[For the bottom left one image, I told him where to stand, and to keep shooting till I told him to stop, then picked the best one]

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Then we crossed the river emptying into the ocean, and checked out the beach south of Lion Rock… Where I became transfixed with the patterns the wind created on the water

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Afterwards we both agreed that it was a wonderful place to spend an afternoon

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Giapo, a very different sort Ice Cream experience in Auckland, New Zealand

Located in downtown Auckland, New Zealand, is a gourmet Ice cream shop that offers up something entirely different. Called, Giapo, they serve not just unique flavors, but a unique ice cream experience. The place is highly popular not only with tourists, but with the areas’s locals. That said, if you’re not willing to wait in a long line, I strongly suggest you get at an off peak hour (NOT dinner time on a weekend).

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This tourist draw, as luck would have it, was located on the first floor of the building our Airbnb was located in, and adjacent to our buildings front door. When you walk out of your building and see ice cream creations like the giant Squid above, you just HAVE to try it… diet be damned. That said, neither I nor my friend ordered the giant squid…

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When you arrive, be prepared for a bit of a wait. It is NOT like pretty much every ice cream store on the planet where you walk in and have to choose from 25 or more different flavors… no. Customers rather than being catered to one at a time are brought in as small groups of about five to seven people, who will crowd around a small table.

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Once there, you will be put through a dog and pony show demonstration of the “vision” of their founding “ice cream chefs” and what it is that makes their product unique both in terms of flavors and presentation

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This will start with a tasting, where they bring out small a selection of small shot glasses, one per flavor (not one per customer) and a bunch of tongue depressor sticks. They will ask if anyone has any food allergies. Then, the “hostess” (I didn’t see a single male host during our multiple visits), who will be dressed in all black — like in a trendy gourmet restaurant — will bring out one flavor at a time, pass it around to the guests at the table, and everyone will get to take a “tasting” from each of the shot-glasses — using the sticks as spoons …. (I think they use a stick instead of a spoon as it severely limits the amount of ice cream you can scoop up)

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[Note: they always seem to start with the first person on their left, so if you the last person in the line, you tend to get to ‘clean up’ whatever’s left behind, if you want to, so it’s a strategic place to stand]

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Then, once the tasting has been completed and you have an idea of which flavor or flavors you’d like, you get to choose HOW you want it served to you. This can be as simple as in a cup, or a house made waffle cone…. or a bit more daring, but still mundane, you can choose it served in a cone that’s been encrusted with a variety of different flavorings… but why be so boring?!

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The wilder options include (upper left to bottom right, of the image above) 1) the Pikorua, a Māori symbol for the bond between two people, be it based in friendship, love or blood… usually used in their traditional jewelry (which I learned should be gifted rather than purchased for yourself). This is two cones of ice cream that have covered in a layer of hard chocolate (ice cream AND cone), that have massive hard chocolate curvy things on top… the major benefit of which is not only a massive amount of chocolate but also the photo opportunity of standing side by side as the two ice creams touch. 2) Wearable mini cones… designed to be worn on your fingers as you eat them. 3) A chocolate copy of the Aukland tower (I didn’t see a single person order that one). 4) the massive hard chocolate Squid — which I didn’t try but would had we stayed longer, 5) the “selfie” cone… I suppose you’re supposed to hold it in one hand so that it fames your face with chocolate as you take your selfie

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For myself, I opted their traditional British Yorkshire pudding whose interior was lined with milk chocolate (to keep the melt from soaking into the bread), loaded up with two flavors of ice cream: the Chocolate Evolution (bottom), which was topped by a scoop of the Blackberry & Martini Rosso (top), which was then dipped in topping of berries and something white…. SO GOOD!!!! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2891.jpg

My travel buddy opted for a boring old waffle cone filled with their Hokey Pokey flavor (it’s a traditional New Zealand concoction of plain vanilla ice cream with small, solid lumps of honeycomb toffee) which was then dipped in corn flakes and topped with a chocolate cookie. He was VERY happy with his choice.

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the chef serving up the LAST Yorkshire pudding of the day, and the waitress stressing out because two people had ordered it

One of the things to keep in mind when coming here is that every morning they make a large quantity of about nine different flavors, and an assortment of the ‘delivery’ options… but that’s it. They don’t make more than they think they will serve that day, and when it’s run out, its out…

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An annoyed chef showing the waitress an order that can’t be filled because she didn’t do her job correctly

In the picture above, off to the left of the window is a white board which shows on the left side, how many of certain options are left, and on the right, what’s sold out. In the photo four of the flavors from that day’s option of nine were sold out by 10pm, and the store wasn’t due to close for a while yet. Waitresses are SUPPOSED to change the amount available as they sell them, apparently this girl hadn’t been doing it so while the board said 11 Yorkshire puddings left, in fact there was only ONE.  SO, I strongly suggest if you want to try this place, get there early.