New Xenaland
 
Hazards
 

If you are going out of town for the day, whether to the beach, the bush or location-hunting, there are some hazards to beware of.
Some of these relate more specifically to the Waitakere Ranges and the West Coast, which are the most interesting areas around Auckland (in our opinion).

Just to put it in perspective - it's safer than most countries!
 

Hazards

Theft and losing things

Your belongings will, usually, be quite safe if left at the desk of your motel, fairly safe if left in your room, but not guaranteed safe if left in your car, specially if it's parked at a popular, but not too busy, tourist spot (like a remote beach). It does help if you put high-value portable stuff (like cameras) out of sight. Don't leave anything valuable in your car that you couldn't afford to lose.

Almost more important than your camera may be your holiday pics. Your camera can be replaced, but not so easily all the pics of your holiday. I've lost (probably by accident, not theft) a SD card with hundreds of pics on it, it hurt almost more than losing the camera would have done. Back them up somehow!  

Snakes

No. There are no snakes in New Zealand, not even non-poisonous ones.

The only poisonous spiders are the 'katipo', a small spider found under dead wood at beaches and similar places. They don't seem to be common, people very rarely get bitten and their bite, though unpleasant, isn't particularly severe.
 

The beautiful big Avondale spidahs featured on Xena are completely harmless. You'll be lucky to see one quite this big in the bush, though.
There are large centipedes, probably with a poisonous bite, but I've only ever seen one and never heard of anyone being bitten. Don't turn over dead wood and you should be safe from katipos and centipedes.

The biggest animal nuisance in the bush is wasps - ordinary yellow wasps with the usual painful wasp sting if trodden on.

The most alarming creature to encounter is the weta, a huge clumsy insect looking like an oversized locust, with big spiked back legs and a fearsome head with huge (for an insect) jaws. It's non-poisonous, but can give you a nasty nip if you insist on feeding it your finger. Found in caves and under loose bark, it's guaranteed to startle the wits out of nervous people and is as dangerous as an angry mouse.
 

Man-eating plants

No, we don't have those either. Nor do we have much in the way of nettles or poison ivy.

There are a few spiky plants, mostly introduced, like gorse and brambles, but these are found mainly on cleared farmland.
 

The most common plant hazard is sawgrass, such as the attractive-looking feathery toitoi grass and its relatives. The leaves have sharp saw edges. Be very careful when pushing your way through it. 
Howcome the stunties get danger money and I don't?
American tourist after her first encounter with toitoi grass
This lady wasn't careful enough!

 

Sharks

If you're scuba diving off the coast you might encounter some, but never on Auckland beaches. (Unless you visit 'Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World' at Orakei).

No, the real hazards are more elemental than these:
 

Sunburn

Yes, no kidding. Due to the relative purity of the air and the ozone hole, ultraviolet is much stronger in New Zealand than in the northern hemisphere. (Smog is a great UV filter). You can sunburn really really fast. Take a hat, sunglasses and put on some high-UV rated sunscreen cream. Even if the day is cloudy when you start out, Auckland's weather is unpredictable and could turn to blazing sun in half an hour.
 

Getting lost

Crumbling hillside covered in bush - and it gets steeper round the corner.
And this is just 1/2 mile from civilisation.
No kidding either. In the bush you can't see ten yards and every ridge looks like the next. Though the Waitakeres are only ten miles across, people regularly get lost in them and have to spend an uncomfortable night waiting for a search party to find them. Make sure somebody knows where you're going and, preferably, go with a friend who can go for help if you slip and break an ankle. And don't underestimate the time it takes to cover even a short distance if you lose the trail. Specially if you end up in late afternoon on a crumbling hillside covered in sawgrass and undergrowth too thick to see what you're standing on, that steepens into a sheer drop somewhere below. (Yes we've done it and won't forget in a hurry!).

On the other hand, if you stick to the more popular formed paths and don't try to take 'short cuts', you'll be perfectly safe.

If you can read maps, the 1:50000 Land Information NZ 'Topo50' maps are reasonably accurate and useful. Map Q11 Waitakere of the old series used to cover the ranges quite nicely; unfortunately the sheet lines have all been changed and four maps are needed. The good news is, they're free for download (if you can handle up to 80MB TIFF files). See the West Coast page for details.

Fish food

Can you figure out the safe places to swim on this beach?
You can easily become fish food two ways. One is swimming in the wrong place at the wrong time. The West Coast beaches are very flat, have powerful surf, and very strong currents and dangerous 'rips' where the water heads out to sea (often the calmest part of the beach). If lifeguards are on duty, swim between the flags. If they're not on duty, and you really want to swim, it would be advisable not to go deeper than thigh deep and watch for any strong currents. If you're a 'surfie' this doesn't apply since surfies are immortal and expendable.
You can just make out the aspiring fish food standing just to the left and behind the wave
The other way is to be standing on the rocks a little too close to the water's edge when a bigger-than-usual wave arrives. Every year a few surf fishermen help to feed the fish. 

 

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