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Zion & Karekare Beach (May 2011) By the time I was posting this pictorial on Cactus Romania forum (May June 2011) I was still under the spell of this wonderful place... I had just walked this wonderful West Auckland track in the Waitakere Ranges in a glorious late autumn morning: Mt. Zion and Karekare Beach (both being scientific reserves). It was a fascinating experience not only because of the native plants seen (largely the same as everywhere in the area) but especially because of a true micro-mosaic of habitats: typical subtropical bush, rocky slopes, a narrow estuary, salt marshes, fresh water marshes, and dunes and beach, all in just a few square kilometers. As I was in a larger group I couldnt specifically look for plants, but I chose for most of the route to stay somewhat behind just so I could take pictures more freely. I will try to present in the following pictures the beauty and the magic of this route. Mt. Zion:

Although it is only 272 m high it is difficult to reach the crest (which is actually a small wooded plateau) not so much because we start climbing at sea level, but because we have to climb and descent and climb again and descent again and so on ... on a fairly rugged terrain. I guess there is Page 1

no problem in summer, but now on the brink of winter the main difficulty is the excess water on the muddy tracks, partly very slippery. There are just few open places; otherwise you have to go cross the bush with no complaints accepted.

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I take this opportunity to present a very common plant - improperly called New Zealand flax as it is distinctly different from the Northern

Hemisphere flax (Linum usitatissimum) and which is highly variable, the number of natural forms being in the tens - Phormium tenax :

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We continue with an oddity - Ileodictyon cibarium (Basket Fungus) growing on the path that climbs Mt. Zion. This particular mushroom had about 6 7 cm in diameter and although it is quite common it happened now for the first time to see one (or even three by the end of the day). It generally grows in dark bush corners, the

substrate being twigs or semi-decayed wood fragments. Because of the strange shape the fungus was named Basket Fungus, another name being Ghost Dropping as it grows out of nowhere in a matter of only few hours. Ileodictyon cibarium:

Another common epiphyte plant in the bush is Collospermum hastatum. In Maori it is called Kahakaha and in English Perching Lily. It is endemic in New Zealand and belongs to the Asteliaceae family. I dont know if I my photos can really re-create a glimpse of their real splendour! It is widespread throughout the North

Island and only in the northern half of the South Island. It is not exactly a heat-loving plant (but can withstand moderate frosts); however, it likes somewhat higher annual average temperatures. Obviously, Collospermum hastatum is a typical bush plant growing mostly as epiphyte up in the trees:

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Another interesting organism a lichen this time which is very common in Rangitoto is Stereocaulon ramulosum. I met it here in the bush growing in a less typical situation. I was a bit surprised to find it here in a very moist situation; I knew it prefers a very dry substrate (usually rock) and as I already said everything

here was soaked in water. As you can see from the picture it grows together with moss. I wonder how they share the place in summer. Interesting photo, however, because it illustrates the cohabitation (or struggle?) between two organisms encountered typically in two distinct colonization stages.

We are crossing the bush at a high pace and it feels like jogging in a tunnel we are still in the forced marching stage; if youre not interested in plants then its definitely nothing compared to what awaits us down the rocky foothills (but hey, theres still a long way to go). However, when the path approaches the edge of the almost vertical slopes we can see a glimpse of the Page 6

Karekare Beach here are two photos of the beach in the estuary area. Both photos seem to have been taken from the same spot but there was quite a stretch to walk (and some time) the 2nd picture is actually an 8x zoom I believe. Also some Phormium tenax and their dried blossoms can be seen in this photo (below, in the foreground).

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We also met the only New Zealand native palm (the rest of the species being introduced during European colonization) - Palmae rhopalostylis (Nikau Palm). In the 2nd picture you can also see the typical stripes on the trunk, formed as the old leaves fall. It grows mostly in the North Island but can tolerate cooler climates; therefore it is present in the south Island as south as the Okarito

- Banks Peninsula line (around - 43 south latitude). Palmae rhopalostylis is a palm with an up to 15 m tall solitary trunk on top of which a rosette of leaves is growing. Particularly younger plants are very spectacular and lend a tropical air and some exotic look to the New Zealand typical bush - relatively monotonous regarding the canopy species, wet and dark.

As you climb through the bush margin, the beach view becomes increasingly spectacular - this is the famous rocky dragon back in the water very close to the beach even at high tide (but now is almost low tide):

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We continue to climb Mt. Zion through the bush and near the peak we make a small stop for a sip of water and to re-balance our backpacks. I took

this opportunity to walk to a small promontory nearby and did manage to get a very interesting picture of the southern part of Karekare Beach:

It is interesting to note that few days later, while browsing the Internet for different info regarding Karekare Beach, I found several photos taken from exactly the same spot. We have climbed for quite some time, but now as we reached the summit, in order to get to the beach, we have to descent on a slippery path rugged, muddy and soaked with water and this was quite a stressful task I have to say. Obviously I had to take care of myself and also help some of my companions and therefore I didnt take too may pictures during this stage (I had to take my platoon rear guard role seriously); however, I

managed to stumble a few times without any consequences. But once getting close to sea level were ready to dive into a wonderful world - the strip of land between Mt. Zion and Karekare Beach (the actual beach) is a mosaic of highly interesting microhabitats. It is perhaps the most complex ecosystem I have visited so far. First of all - a superb sweet swamp at the foot of the rocky heights (from which, especially now on the brink of winter and after days of heavy rain, there is a myriad of brooks and streams of water, as I said all is soaked in water):

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Autumn and especially winter is not the most appropriate time to cross the swamp (you will see later why) but it is certainly the most spectacular time of the year because the seasonal nature of the swamp during summer (actually 4 5 months in a year ) the water levels are low or in

some parts it certainly drains completely. In some places, usually adjacent to the beach but sometimes inexplicably isolated in the middle of the marshes stand high sand dunes. Here are some photos illustrating their specific vegetation and ecology:

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In some places the path takes us quite close to bluffs that appear to be very interesting in terms of vegetation, unfortunately too far to see / photograph in detail (and I did not have time to scan the rocky walls with binoculars), separated

from us by a sweet swamp where reed grows in abundance. This is a New Zealand native species of reed - unfortunately I couldnt identify it (I only have suspicions, but I wouldnt like to say wrong names):

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After the mosaic at the start of the route on the beach, the landscape begins to change almost imperceptibly and gains a somewhat stabilized pattern: we have now in succession rocky heights, fresh marsh, sand dunes, salt marshes and the actual beach running in parallel strips. We walk northbound having the sun in front of us and in our left are the narrow beach and an unusually quiet Tasman Sea. There are some waves, and although Karekare is a surfing hot spot in its northern parts (there is a surf club

building at the estuary), the sea is much too calm for that and no-ones around (yes, the hard-core Kiwi surfers do it even in winter, especially if the weather is fine as it is today). After a while we reach an area where sand dunes have occupied almost all the interval between the rocky heights and the sea - in some places the dunes are not stabilized, but in others are covered in vegetation - mainly Apodasmia similis (Oioi) - a xerophytic grass which is also very salt resistant:

The scenery is gorgeous (evoking me in some extent the African savannahs - Gondwana is the mother of us all), familiar but slightly strange at

the same time, and Im contemplating it for a while almost emotionally charged. Dunes covered with Apodasmia similis:

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From place to place the sweet swamp or a narrow linking channel is blocking our way

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... and especially now on the brink of winter when water level is very high, because the route

is almost mandatory, we have no choice but step into the water for the cross over:

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And that was not only once ... or twice ... but four times in total - and obviously the event had to be immortalized once and forever (to the delight of those who know the monomaniac side of me). I unimaginably hate to have or go with wet feet, please understand that this time I was so fascinated by the scenery that wet feet were only

a little discomfort to go over in a matter of seconds... After a while the dunes started to be more exposed and dominant, and somewhat flat, occupying almost the entire space between the sea and high rocky wall:

It is midday and were going north (so we always have sun in front of us). The pace became increasingly high because we have just a short stretch left and we reach the resting place - the only allowed on this route - where a little surprise is expecting us - I will this reveal in due time. Almost unnoticeable I was left behind by the main group, standing with those not being able to

keep the alert pace it is not easy to walk in the fine and unsettled sand, feeling with every step the foot burying deep in the sand). Because of the superb scenery even if we have we have the sun in front of us I try one more picture against the sun (an artistic flare that rewarded me every now and then):

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Unfortunately a reflection in the lens cripples my creative effort (however, I love this picture).

Here's a black and white version of the same picture:

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Beyond this dune at the foot of wooded heights you can see in the background there is a platform where we can stop to have lunch and rest a bit. Like I said, Mt. Zion - Karekare Beach is primarily a scientific reserve and not a tourist route, so the amenities are minimal. In only a few places (mainly in the swampy area) there is a sort of raised boardwalk (or bridge if you want) built of wood, the reason being not to trample where

you shouldnt but obviously also assures a more convenient access. There is in fact just one resting place - in fact a simple platform - where you can sit or lay down for lunch. There are no garbage bins, and no recycling bags whatsoever so all the garbage goes back in your backpack, but there is instead an endowment that - after hiking for several hours - is very welcomed:

The place where this resting platform was built is very interesting - a long rocky spit stretches across down to the beach blocking almost completely the way ahead; it can be avoided just by walking down to the beach near the waterline. Inexplicably there is a small tunnel which saves us few hundreds of feet of walk on rugged rock

or wet sand (your choice!), and remains of machinery used to drill is inexplicably abandoned on the small platform where we stopped (unfortunately it didnt came to my mind to take a picture of it, being attracted rather by the natural beauty of this corner):

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At first glance the tunnel hardly serves any purpose (you wouldnt drill it just to save few hundred feet) - but then I read that decades ago the beach was much narrower in this place, and the sea was washing the feet of the rocky spit even at low tide thus making it difficult to access the northern half of the beach. Naturally, a tunnel was necessary to link the southern and northern parts of the beach. We decided to stop for 20 minutes and that

allows me to wander around a bit. Unfortunately I had not enough time to climb the rocky spit that seemed covered at first glance with interesting vegetation (it is the ideal location for xerophytes and succulent plants) so that I limited myself only to inspect the adjacent areas. The sweet marsh looks here like a real "end-of-line" and turns into a kind of lake, clear in the center, but sometimes heavily covered by aquatic vegetation near its shores and at the very end of it:

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Unfortunately prevents the lake me from reaching the rock walls. There are some

waterfowl - but nothing exciting just ducks and black swans - somewhat disappointing:

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Here's another interesting picture for geologists:

The break is over and we continue our journey towards the northern half of the beach, passing through the small tunnel. The landscape is different now the sweet swamp is much smaller and the beach becomes very wide in turn, getting close enough to the rocky heights and sand dunes have disappeared almost completely. Suddenly,

the rocky heights have become covered in dense vegetation, being mostly dominated by Metrosideros excelsa (Pohutukawa), which is normal for coastal areas - and at their foot Cordyline australis (Cabbage tree) occurs more and more frequently:

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We could see now isolated patches of very composite vegetation - xerophytic herbs, Phormium tenax (several different forms), as I said before we meet more and more Cordyline australis abundantly growing in clusters or isolated Metrosideros excelsa, usually climbing the cliffs. Dunes became more and more a symbolic presence and the sweet swamp turned into a narrow channel at the feet of the rocky heights. I had a unique opportunity to observe

one thing that I found very unusual - Cordyline australis growing in the swamp. Dont forget that it is still a plant with strong xerophytic adaptation (first of all the massive succulent roots which can make up to 38% of the total plant volume) that usually grows in reasonable humid areas (as riverbanks) but sometimes even very exposed (dry bush margins). However, this growing habit (even if possibly just seasonal) is new to me and I was rather surprised:

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Not one or two, but dozens and dozens... I knew that occasionally the Cabbage tree prefers wetter areas but I had no idea that it can withstand with the roots submerged for a prolonged period of time. Even admitting that in some corners the swamp may be just seasonal, the waters retreating summer, for all remaining 7 - 8 months in a year the roots had to stay stuck in deep muddy sand. We are just 30 minutes away to finish the loop and we can already see the small estuary in front

of us, in the distance; as it is full low tide now there is just a winding speck of water crossing the beach. We are as they say sprinting for the last 100 meters; no-one is speaking and almost imperceptibly we have increased the pace like weve had a bit too much and want it over as soon as possible, especially as the midday sun begins to burn unusually strong for a late autumn day. There is so much water near the rocky heights there are several streams that cascade down:

Some of the streams are temporary (they dry up in summer), also almost everywhere on the rocky slopes if its not flowing theres still wet ... sometimes literally trickling water drop by drop, especially now in the rainy season (in fact weve had an endless torrential rain over the last two

days). However, somewhat surprisingly was the quasi-absence of naturalized or invasive plants (with some exceptions). It seems that they were thoroughly checked (as expected here). In three or four places I could see the remains of Cortaderia selloana (Pampas Grass) clusters:

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In one corner we encountered a thicket of Ulex europaeus expecting probably its imminent end

(because there were obvious signs that all invasive plants have been drastically controlled):

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I havent noticed any seedlings nearby - a clear sign that Ulex europaeus (the Common Gorse by its vernacular, a very invasive plant of European origin) is kept very efficiently under control. And speaking of the devil - I hope to present the appearance of a spontaneous Ulex europaeus in my rock garden; it became for 2 - 3 years a subject of my studies, after this I will remove it. This spontaneous appearance underlines the huge

invasive potential of the species as it proves a relatively long dispersal range compared of course with other plants - the nearest evident source of infestation (a former abandoned pasture from where seed may have been blown by wind) is about 800 m in a straight line. We continue to walk at a high pace but the trip became a little monotonous towards the end...

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...and we arrive where the famous dragon back we have seen from above as we were hiking on

Mt. Zion seems to have a nap now on the beach during low tide:

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The green stuff you can see consists partly of Disphyma australe. I noticed this plant here, but especially where the beach ends in areas with debris, loose shingle or sedimentary rocks - very surprisingly in places soaked up with all that

water constantly flowing down from the heights. Very likely many of these patches have to be perfectly dry during high summer (dont forget also the high exposure), but now everything is wet and soaked:

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Disphyma australe is highly capable of "drilling" for water, sending its roots over 2 m deep in the sedimentary rocks, following every possible fissure or crack (and this is huge for such a small plant). But how I see it here its survival is a hard task not during summer, but in winter with all that excess water; if it will last the winter months in this soaked up substrate (and judging by the

large number of plants there is no doubt) it will find the necessary moisture deep down there to survive in high summer on a hot and dry rock, blasted by wind and even enduring the draught We finally arrive at the small estuary and follow the narrow path inland, towards the parking lot.

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At one point the trail starts to climb, winding among the green hills. Vegetation patterns change completely and we start to observe few

naturalized plants (although in reasonable smaller numbers). Here's one of them and a first one for me - Lilium formosanum:

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One last effort, one last hill to be climbed and here we are we have almost reached the place where we started. In front we have Mt. Zion and

the narrow and winding road that will lead us to more civilized places. Somewhere to the left is the small parking lot where we left the cars:

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Maybe it is something trivial - but I must say that it was an unforgettable day for me, now on the brink of winter. It was a unique experience - not because I walked with wet feet without having a nervous breakdown - but because I walked

through very interesting habitats at a time of the year that is less familiar to me - at the beginning of the rainy period (dont forget I live in Auckland).

All photos by Eduart Zimer, except three of them (will let you guess which) by Luana Zimer.

Eduart Zimer, July 2011 (based on the pictorial published in Mai June 2011 on Cactus Romania forum)

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