Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pt 2 - Tiri Tiri Matangi and Clooney (Restaurant)

Sunday 14 February – Tiri Tiri Matangi and Clooney
Awake by about 6:45 NZ time. The sky is grey. To the north and west the visibility is poor due to the rain. We overcome some initial wavering due to the weather but in the end we decide to just do it. This was the right decision. We check into the 360 office and the captain is saying to someone that often it’s raining in Auckland but fine on the island. Tiri sits in a rain shadow and for some reason bad weather seems to just skirt around the island. Right on time at 9am the Tiri Kat pulls away from pier 4 and out into the gulf.

Sky Tower is obscured by cloud as we motor out beyond Devonport and round north head and onwards to Gulf Harbour.

Housing encrusts the coastline north like barnacles as we head northward. Rangitoto Island, the youngest volcano in the area forms a low cone to the east.

The Tiri Kat is travelling quite quickly and a small flock of pelagic birds decides to fly along side us, occasionally darting across the bow. I hear a few passengers contemplating what sort of bird they might be.. petrels? Shearwaters? I wouldn’t have a clue but enjoy their flight display enormously.
About an hour north of Auckland as we approach Gulf Harbour we are informed that the marina is the biggest of about 9 in the Auckland area and the development here as modeled on Portofino in Italy.
As we pull up to the wharf a long queue has formed ready for boarding. A pied oyster catching is sitting quietly alone on the breakwater.
Alongside the wharf a twin hulled vessel is moored sporting elaborate carvings front and rear on either hull and with a large rudder between. A fellow passenger informs me that this is the vessel that was built as a reconstruction of the original waka that brought the Maori to this land. Well this is how they believe it was at any rate.

From Gulf Harbour it’s only about 20 minutes to Tiri. The coastline has evolved into a line of creamy coloured cliffs topped by the cleared land of farms and an occasional crusting of development.

During the last stages of the trip we notice a volunteer is wandering about offering maps of the island for $1. We gratefully accept the deal. A flock of terns is wheeling about the area as we moor at Tiri, finally settling down on some exposed volcanic rocks nearby. We excitedly disembark, and walk along the long jetty to congregate for an address by todays ranger.

Activity on the jetty gradually eases, baggage having been brought off the bought in a large container wheeled along the rail tracks that remain presumably from the days when the island was a farm and livestock were sent to market by barge. The terns see their opportunity and as one they rise and fly across to perch in a dapper carpet along the jetty.
Today’s rostered ranger sets about briefing us for our visit: acknowledgement of the volunteer guides and supporters of Tiri; please take all your rubbish back off the island with you; location of toilets; no smoking on the island outside of only two areas here on the concrete at the jetty and up at the visitor centre on the concrete there. Be sure to be back for boarding the Tiri Kat by 3:15. There is no emergency overnight stays. If you miss the Tiri Kat, it will be a water taxi at your own expense. You will NOT be staying on the island. Also please do not feed the birds. It’s bad for them and no matter how hungry they make out they are, be assured the birds are very well fed. A number of companies are also given thanks and recognition: for example Dilmah supplies complementary tea up at the visitor centre; another company supplies the food for the stitchbird breeding program. A final plea to all to please sign the visitors book, it is useful in obtaining additional funding. Laughter greets a wry plea to spend up big in the gift shop.
Next it is the lead guide’s turn to say nice things about the Dept of Conservation. Niceties completed independent visitors set off while the lead guide sorts everyone else out into small groups to be escorted by the guides that have been brought over at no charge by 360. First of all larger travelling parties and families with kids are sort assigned to their guides. A little while before I had tuned in as one of the guides was giving advice to a couple about which tracks are good for seeing the birds. Something about this lady seemed really appealing so when she was still unallocated when the rest of us are told to head over to a guide, I’m pleased I’m standing nearby and move quickly to her group. Her name is Sue and she proves to be an outstanding guide.

Sue starts by consulting with our part of 6 or 7 visitors as to which way we’d like to go. Another couple are keen to see the birds so I am saved the trouble of saying so myself but enthusiastically support the choice of going to where the birds are most easily seen. This takes us along the wattle valley track. With so many groups heading up the hill we take our time so as not to run into them and admire beautiful views across the bay. We learn that the flax plants here on the island have somewhat mangled seed spikes. They look quite different here due to the local kakariki (parakeets) who are exceedingly fond of the green seed pods. When the kakariki (which are the red fronted variety) are finished the seed spikes are just a twisted bare prong. We stop again to learn about some fruiting plants. With so many new plants and information I can’t remember the name. In one case as the island was replanted the fruiting of the young plants was prolific and providing a source for the Polynesian rats, resulted in a rat population explosion.. and some amusing stories of rat plague experiences before they were eradicated in an extraordinarily successful single poison drop. Apparently you need a range of particular conditions to an optimally successful feral rodent eradication, so to eradicate the entire population in one fell swoop was quite extraordinary.

Next up is the dam where brown teal can sometimes be seen. It’s been a very dry summer this year and although the pond was very full in winter it’s now virtually dry. No ducks to be seen. There is a frame with bracken piled all over it and this we learn is to provide cover for the ducklings which otherwise are easily predated by raptors. Though last winter the pond was so full that the frame was submerged so it was a fat lot of good at that time!

Moving right along we admire some fruiting trees of various types one has pretty red pink flowers and is a favourite with some birds because it always has fruit. The flowers are produced sporadically creating a slow but steady stream of flowers and fruit all on the tree at the one time. Another tree has an abundance of seedpods that are filled with sticky seeds. These are spread by the seeds sticking to the plumage of the birds… yet other trees called Mahoe (?) produce fruit directly from the branches, which if memory served is called being cauliforous!

As we admire the vegetation we see our first spectacular local, a north island robin hopping about the path. You beauty! Not quite as happy to socialize with the human visitors as the south island robins on Ulva Island, we watch as he catches a small moth and skips around working hard on finding a meal then takes off. With the season being so dry it’s harder to attract them over but Sue informs us that in wetter times they can (like the SI robins we observed) be attracted by scraping away in the leaf litter for them.

We walk through the area that was replanted with pohutukawa quite thickly. The team had thought that they would probably lose a few of the seedlings and so thick planting would be a smart move. Turned out that pretty much all survived, but never mind. Nature will take care of it.

Our next bird is a small group of whiteheads who pass through foraging and calling in the shrubs all around us. At some times of year the whiteheads flock and a visit may bring you the opportunity of watching groups of maybe 50 whiteheads partying in the bush. The various times of year bring different spectacles. Sue tells us that winter can be among the best times to visit with visitor numbers down and plenty to be seen.

Soon the first of the saddlebacks for the day appear. Glorious birds in their velvety black and umber with matching umber wattles providing a bright jewel of colour on their faces. In the course of our visit we see saddlebacks everywhere. There are so many of them and they seem in no hurry to move off away from us. Perching beautifully almost upside down on tree branches and trunks today we see them usually travelling with at least one other bird, often three. Their posture and behavior reminds me of the Australian babblers who chatter away in often noisy family groups very much like the saddlebacks. Fantastic!

All the infrastructure of the boardwalks and paths, feeding station, nest boxes and seats for visitors is provided and maintained by the wonderful Supporters of Tiri Tiri Matangi. What a fabulous job they do! Regularly placed along the route we are taking are water troughs or stitchbird feeding stations, usually with a curve of seats on the opposite side of the path where you can take your leisure and watch the birds come in. It is simply brilliant. Stitchbirds are now everywhere. There are heaps of them. Bellbirds too. Stitchbirds, Bellbirds, Saddlebacks. Tui. This island is magnificent. It would be no hardship at all to simply hop off the boat and sit and watch at one of these stations until home time.

Just as interesting are the stories Sue tells about the bird study progam, banding, monitoring and breeding. Translocation of birds to other sanctuaries, the eradication of the rats, the original project to study the feasibility of replanting the island.

We head down to the wattle valley and as we come in sight of the light house and visitor centre we hear stories about the takahe. On one occasion when Sue was watching the “lighthouse gang” who had been feeding down the hill in the were coming back up and talking to eachother quietly along the way.. when suddenly they all stopped and lifted their heads high obviously listening carefully. Suddenly they let out a scream – as only takahe can- and turned and went barreling down the hill, returning a short time later with a chick that had apparently been forgotten.
We conclude our guided tour at the visitor centre where we are again encouraged to spend up big as it’s the island’s only source of on-island revenue. We laugh when we are warned that it is (allegedly) illegal to leave Tiri with any money left in your pocket! We start our visit here by checking out the lighthouse, which, as you generally expect in this part of the world, is situated nearby a cluster of very quaint white weatherboard houses and it also has great views. Surprising to find that this lighthouse was originally painted red! Wow. I have never seen a lighthouse that wasn’t white. The building just down the hill is accommodation for people staying overnight. The cicadas are singing enthusiastically and are quite visible if you look carefully.

Adjacent to the lighthouse is a very nice gift shop and we are delighted to find the little oil/vinegar/dip dishes we fancied at the gallery in Devonport are also available here and what’s more they are $5 cheaper. Good stuff. We decide to have our picnic and then make our purchasing decisions on a full stomach!
We have no trouble finding a table and tuck into some beautiful New Zealand cheese on Rutherford and Meyer gourmet wafers. Ferndale Southern Gold. Delicious. Our smoked blue cod and smoked mussels are a treat. Plums too. Hubby washes it down with a ginger beer purchased in the gift shop. Great lunch.
As we eat a takahe appears and prowls around the tables waiting for someone to lose their attention or leave something edible within reach. The children are delighted with it and after a time have to be firmly encouraged to keep their distance. Takahe can bite and it is reported as being a very painful experience. The takahe is persistent and waits its opportunity. A little girl unthinking lowers her arm, pie in hand. It’s all the takahe needs. Snatch! It steals a sizeable wad of pie and takes off, clearly knowing it’s carrying contraband. After a short while it’s back prowling again. Never keeps still for a moment making a portrait difficult.

Lunch finished we buy a few oil/vinegar/dip dishes, and a giant weta made from copper. With some trepidation the ladies manning the gift shop tell us that it is planned to release giant weta on the island. Cool. Clearly this is a place we will have to return to as if we needed another reason.
Time is a tikin’ away. Time we hit the road. But there’s enough time to spend a minute or two admiring the birds at the bird feeder station.

Heading for the old forest and the giant pohutakawa tree we turn up “coronary hill” to the lookout. This is a grassy knoll with 360 degree views around the Harauki Gulf. Barrier Island out towards the open sea. The mainland across to the north and west with rain drifting down like a gossamer veil. South the city skyline of Auckland is plain to see and moving on around Rangitoto Island sits brooding. Closer at hand it is a particularly nice aspect for viewing the lighthouse and it’s facilities. It is a spectacular view!

The veil of rain is approaching and as we walk on we see the shower clearly over the forest ahead. Time to don our rainbirds once more and stow the camera out of the elements.

We regain the track. We are heading to a section of old growth forest where in the vicinity of an 800 year old pohutukawa we understand we may get to see riflemen and kokako. A highlight of our walk along the ridge track is a grey warbler (?) and surprisingly the one fantail we see for the day. Fantails have been much less common to see than I would have expected. At home the almost identical Eastern Grey Fantail is a very common sight and it seems to do pretty well in an environment with predators so it is a puzzle why it seems so rare here. We continue to see the by now, ubiquitous saddleback. “Only saddlebacks” you say when you glance into the bush to see what the movement is. What a luxury that phrase is. Only saddlebacks.. Who could ever tire of seeing saddlebacks! Not me that’s for sure. Glorious birds.
As we turn down the Kawerau track we almost immediately come to another stitchbird feeding station, this time it’s run out of nectar, but another station a short distance along the track there is one with plenty in the bottle. No birds at the moment and we don’t have time for stitchbirds just now. The feeding stations are encased in a mesh which has holes big enough to allow the stitchbirds through but small enough to exclude the tui, which we understand to be quite an aggressive bird.
Still further along there is another of the stitchbird demonstration nest boxes. We had stopped to examine one of these on our guided walk. These are a real nest box with a real stitchbird nest in them, but the sides have been removed and replaced with Perspex for the benefit of visitor education. The birds progressively fill the boxes with sticks. In a natural setting the stitchbird likes to nest in hollows in tree trunks, but there are insufficient such things on Tiri. Fortunately like many native species the native birds breed rapidly and successfully when the multitude of feral predators is out of the picture. After each nesting event the nest boxes are cleaned and disinfected by the volunteers.
Moving right along we progress down an impressive board walk with many steps and the usual netting overly which creates a non-slip effect over the wood. The forest is beautiful in this section. Much prettier than the newly planted area we can through this morning. Soon enough a huge spreading tree comes into view. At first it is just the huge spreding branches with no sign of the trunk. This we know from the directions Sue gave us is the ancient pohutukawa. Wow wee!! What a tree! What an amazing tangle of branches spreading out across the forest floor. We are in the presence of royalty.

We hunt around the ancient tree for movement, and in the forest in the gully on the other side of the path. At the viewing area up the hill a little we catch up with some people from our guided group this morning. Aaghh, they tell us they have just been watching three kokako move through. This was about 5 minutes ago and they are still waiting hoping they may show themselves again. The seats curve around another magnificent fruiting tree. There are a number of other birds hanging out in and around the tree. Kereru, tui, bellbirds. However the kokako are elusive. We’re five minutes too late. I would like to just sit patiently in this area and wait for riflemen too, but time is a luxury we don’t have right now. We are consoled by a friendly robin whose colour band identiy is red over pink; silver over blue.
It’s well after 2:30. We need to be down on Hobbs Beach by 3 to make it around to the ferry in plenty of time. We reluctantly move on. Again we admire saddlebacks and bellbirds and suddenly emerge in the open as we head steadily down to the rocky shore. Quite a few of today’s visitors are hanging out with their kids on the beach, some swimming, some sheltering in the shade from more magnificent and enormous pohutukawa trees. I really have to come back to see the pohutukawa in flower.

It’s a short walk over to the Tiri Kat, but it’s not one we are keen to rush over. We stop to admire the lovely arc of the beach behind us.

..and then there’s nest boxes alongside the path and nearby in the undergrowth for the Korora (aka little blue ie fairy penguins). Made from stone, with lids that can be lifted for viewing the residents inside, they are quite substantial.

Wandering along the jetty once more to reboard the Tiri Kat, a pair of sooty oyster catchers forages on the rocks nearby. Another less showily plumaged wader walks quickly along but has vanished by the time I can raise my binoculars.
Back on the boat we settle in up on the top viewing deck while the weather holds. We can see that we are travelling back into a heavy shower and this hits shortly before we arrive at Gulf Harbour. We retreat downstairs and settle out of the way while the hordes disembark. We settle in by a window and nap as we head back to Auckland. It’s been an awesome, awesome, day.
It’s a simple short walk off the Tiri Kat back to Quay West. We settle in for a rest: showering; journaling; a quick few minutes of TV for hubby. It feels like no time at all before we are dressing for dinner and hubby is organizing a taxi to take us to Clooney where we have reserved a table.
Clooney is situated in an old industrial area. You wonder where you’re heading. We pay the taxi (rounded ever so slightly to a neat $10) and are momentarily a little confused as to which of several entrances to 33 Sale St we should be using. We wander into the one we feel is most likely, but it’s all very dark. Is it open? We keep heading in and find the lighting so dim we wonder what we’ve struck. Our waitress guides us to our table which is at a quite sizeable round booth. It could easily seat 4 as is demonstrated nearby.. or even six comfortably… This quiet area has a long black fringe hanging from floor to the curved ceiling tracks around the booths…. It’s all very funky. Different to any other restaurant we’ve been in. We quickly adjust as we peruse the wine and cocktail menus. Hubby orders a Galbraiths Munich style lager. Locally batch brewed in the shadows of Mount Eden. Hubby finds it delicious and promptly orders a second.

The valentines day menu is a set menu for $95. As we wait for our entrees we devour a delightfully crusty hot bread roll with lashings of salted butter. The ambience is so relaxing and the benefit of the booths is that you can cuddle up between courses. Dim lighting with spots over your plates when you need it you cannot help but relax.

Our first course arrives. Hubby has gone for the Truffle Butter Poached Lobster w. glazed veal sweetbreads, globe artichoke & hazelnuts, while I have chosen the Matakana Blue Panna cotta w. compressed nashi, fig, candied walnut, bitter greens.. Both are a triumph. Superb.
The main has much to live up to now, but it does not fail to hit the mark. I am enjoying the Slow Cooked Black Angus Beef w. boulangerre inspired garnish while hubby tucks into Crisp Confit Duck Leg w. lustau px soaked prunes, creamed parsnip & apple and elder flower jelly. My steak is wonderful, but the duck and soaked prunes is nothing short of a revelation. The duck is also accompanied by a special salad which, if I know my veges, is based around a couple of witlof leaves. Our side of beans, broccoli and almonds is great too. We’re running out of superlatives to report to the waitress.

As we relax in the afterglow we are brought a complimentary pre dessert treat of meringues shaped as a heart with lychees, and fresh raspberries. Nice touch. There is only dessert to go now, ordered along with the rest right at the start. My meal has been superb, but hubby is currently in front in our friendly ordering competition. Too far in front for me to regain equal standing, but can I at least win this round….Hubby has chosen the Baked Xocopili Chocolate Fondant w. green cardamom ice cream.. Very rich and indulgent. I opted for the “bombe” which was not on the menu I was sent when booking.. it is a short base topped with sorbet and surrounded again with an assortment of diced fruits, raspberries, lychees, orange, glace peel shreds. Light summery and refreshing. .. hubby wins again though… he’s on fire tonight…We skip on the coffees and decide to walk back to our apartment. It’s up hill and down again. 1.4 kms following googles oh so useful directions. It’s a pleasant evening not too cold not too hot. What a spectacular meal. What a spectacular day. We’re loving Auckland and could cheerfully stay here for a week no worries.

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