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|Touring New Zealand 2001 - part 4|
The last part left us on the way to Auckland. We decided to break the journey at Rotorua rather than Taupo but stopped on the way past Taupo to look at the Huka falls and went to look at the Onganui which is now based at the top of the dam. They were only running evening glow worm trips which was a pity.
The Onganui has had a mixed history since she was built in 1907. She started life as a tunnel drive boat on the Whanganui from Pipiriki or more often from the Houseboat to Taumarunui. She was then converted to a side paddle wheel layout with modern hydraulic drive and used for tourist trips out of Wanganui before being moved to Lake Taupo and then to below Huka falls. The independent drives to the paddle wheels gives tremendous manoeuvrability as we found on a trip a couple of years ago.
We stopped the night at our favourite Top 10 campsite alongside Kuirau park oblivious to the fact that one of the mud pools in the park had blown up the previous week and cover the whole of downtown Rotorua in a thick layer of mud. If you recall on the last visit that we had been told one of the geysers had been playing for muck longer than usual so it looks as if Rotorua is livening up - even the Polynesian Pools were a little brown in colour when we had an early morning dip.
Rotorua has been extracting a lot of thermal energy and water for heating houses, pools etc., and the council has bee trying to cut that back as the thermal features were becoming less active - looks as if they have overdone it!
We had another go at booking the trip on the PJ to White Island but again the sea was too rough so we settled for a trip to Orakei Korako (Hidden Valley). The thermal areas are different every year which is why we are happy to go back. This year it was a gloriously sunny day and it was an Orakei Korako year. The whole area looked as if it had been washed - all the silica faces were gleaming white like icing sugar and the usual bits of stick and junk seemed to have vanished from round the pools, perhaps there had been very heavy rain. The geysers were more lively than usual and the pools were all crystal clear. We were delighted we had made the 60 km trip in the wrong direction for Auckland.
Auckland provided a pleasant break and a chance to get up to date with the relations. We did not really do a lot - we had arranged to get the camper fixed as the left hand passenger air conditioning had stopped working. We emailed in and it was all set up for us and we dropped it in and went round the Maritime museum (extended and even better than before) for a couple of hours and when we walked back up not only was the window fitted with new works but the engine had been service and a new tyre fitted. We checked the mileage and found we had done 4000 kms much on unsealed roads without even having to add oil to the engine - not bad for a vehicle with 422,000 kms on the clock.
We took Chris and Ralph out and went to the Argentinean restaurant "Wildfire" on the waterfront which did an excellent and huge meal at a very reasonable price by UK standards. The waterfront area has been transformed by the Americas cup and an indication is that of the 40 new restaurants that open up for the cup we are told 38 still remain.
There are sill good reserves close to Auckland and we had a walk on the Sunday afternoon to the Cascades within the Waikateri ranges. We walked through a stand of magnificent old Kauri - we didn't realise that they still existed so close to civilisation after the logging a the turn of the century which stripped vast tracts of land. The falls were not as impressive as many but there was a large swimming hole at the bottom which Kev felt obliged to fling himself into so I had to follow - fortunately I had the forethought to bring trunks just in case. Once in the water you can swim in close to the cascade and look up to see the main falls. Swimming holes are always CCccooolld and this was no exception but at least there was no wind to chill one - as soon as I was out and half dry Pauline said she had worked up to a view with the camera and I had to go back in again.
In the evening we went down to see if The Queen Elizabeth 2 had arrived on time. She had and filled the Princes Wharf on the main waterfront completely - she may be 30 years old but she has superb lines. We decided to splurge on a restaurant with a balcony looking out towards her and had an excellent meal before wandering round the waterfront and were rewarded with magnificent view at dusk.
It was not time to head for after stocking up with food and drink. One objective on the way up was to check out some of the possible places we might moor overnight on the coastal passage. The first place which had been suggested was Mangawhai Heads which did not look very promising from the write ups in our cruising guides and looked even worse for a sailing boat with a keel when we got there. The entry has a huge sandbank stretch almost from one side to the other with a narrow channel which looks as if it could well have a bar. There was one sailing boat at anchor but it was small and could well have been a drop keel.
It however looked an ideal place for an Aucklander to have a Batch. Lovely protected swimming inside the bar and a surf beach outside and the channel looked fine for small cruisers, dinghies and tinnies. Pete had a swim and the only problem was the slowly sloping beach - it could be very different at low water.
We then headed on to Whangarei with a quick stop at the Dutch Cheese Shop on the main road at Kaiwaka - it has been a regular stop for many years as it has genuine Very Mature (24 month) Gouda and other excellent cheeses imported from Holland. You are always offered samples to try and we usually end up with more than we need. We did not have time to get out to the Heads so we booked ahead at the Top 10 which is about 10 kms from the town centre and basin. There is normally no need to book but it was yet another NZ holiday this time Waitangi day. NZ seems to a country of holidays. There have been 4 weekday holidays in the month since we arrived. New Years Day, Wellington Day, Auckland Day and now Waitangi Day.
We had an upmarket Cabin with cooking, fridge and shower/toilet, it was smaller and more expensive than last time where we had no toilet but it had a super view which was well worth the extra $4. We sat down with a bottle of Champagne (Morton) and home made Guacamole to celebrate another successful arrival only to see a hole the size of a 5 cent piece in the headlight. It is strange that the only times we have ever lost windscreens or lights have been on sealed roads and I think always on Route 1.
In the morning we worked our way out to the Heads looking at possible moorings when we come up the coast. There are many possible moorings marked and described in our sailing books on the way into Whangarei -it is a huge harbour so you do not want to waste too much time going right in and you could spend a day just working round all the bays. The harbour however has a large number of sandbanks so you do need to really know where you are going and some of the moorings are quite difficult to reach as you may have to hug the coastline inside the sandbanks to get to the deep pools. Fortunately it looks as if there are some good moorings at Urquarts and the adjacent Woolshed bay which can be reached easily from the entry and do not involve working behind sandbanks after you leave the shipping channel. It always helps to see places on the ground, especially at low tide.
It was then on up the coast to look at a few more possible moorings including Mimiwhangata which was supposed to also have a DOC camp site but it turned out to only be walk-in/sea kayak site. The bay however looks good in the correct wind directions. The road down to Mimiwhangata is unsealed and has a series of blind corners.
We stayed overnight at Putiki Bay DOC camp site which is part of the Whangaruru inlet. We have stayed there before and it is described elsewhere on out web site and we have also moored the Raven there last year so it is an obvious stop on our way back especially as it is good for wind directions which are poor in Mimiwhangata. We got there in time to fish without success of the beach but watched somebody land a large sea ray. They are very aggressive and the long tail can give deep cuts which tend to go sceptic. In the end it was subdued and the tail cut off. You can only eat the "wings" but even so most of the camp site fed on ray that night and more was smoked. We were given a potion of the smoked in addition to enough for supper of raw fish. The smoked was excellent and the lightly fried wing was much better than we had expected.
The following morning Pete spent a few hours fishing off the rocks and caught a series of undersize Snapper before we moved on up to Kerikeri. We had expect everywhere to be packed because it was Waitangi day but it was very quiet and we got an excellent tourist cabin at the Aranga Top Ten with every facility we could ask and a super view from its high decking out over the valley. They had a number of small canoes you could borrow on the stream running through the site. The entry point turned out to be deep mud, as was the stream, so it was fortunate that they also have lots of washing machines as Pete did not bother to put on swimming trunks. It was a shame we did not have a camera - the look on the face of the young lady who took it over wearing a long dress was a real sight, especially when she slowly sank into the soft mud on the bank and her ankle bracelets disappeared from sight as she frantically pulled up her dress - almost matched when she finally sat down to find the seat was also deep in very muddy water but even so she did not drop her beer.
Waitangi Day which is a public holiday to celebrate the signing of the treaty has just passed so it seemed an appropriate time to return to the Maori culture and the original emails contained a comprehensive section on the topic of Hui (gatherings) at a Marae which I have moved to a recent section of the web site covering Maori History and Culture
The next stop on the road North was for Fish and Chips at the famed Mangonui Fish and Chip shop just North of the Bay of Islands. You can usually watch the days catch being filleted and being passed through for you to select your pieces to be cooked. It was as good as ever the fish of the day was Bluenose a fish which has only recently been fished commercially. We then headed on to the Karikari peninsular and set up the tent at the Top Ten at Whatuwhiwhi - we are very conservative and it must be the third time there. We were in time to have the luxury of lazing on the beach and swimming.
The Karikari peninsular has sweeping beaches down both sides and an exceptionally beautiful, even by New Zealand standards, twin beach at the end. The two beaches have headlands, reputedly good for fishing which wraps round making them very sheltered and have nice fine yellow sands. There is a DOC camp site which remains on our must try list - the only downside is that the best sites sheltered sites are back from the beach without a view.
The following morning as we were packing up to leave another person at the camp site came round with a big bucket of fish - people with good caches often provide any excess they need to others who have been less fortunate. We spent some time chatting and discovered that the campsite had a tinnie for rent for the future, typically $35 for a few hours in the evening. We also looked round the site which is being extended by the new owners - they have opened up a large new area and have built a row of new very luxurious cabins including one with full paraplegic facilities. They are expensive by NZ standards with prices up to $100 but they say they have no problem filling them compared to their other range.
As a little aside when we left we found fuel prices had all been cut by 10c for Waitangi weekend - the same had happened over the New Year. We never found out whether this was a government initiative, tax cut or the oil companies. Fuel prices have been going up and down madly this trip, changes up or down of 15% in a week has not been unusual - the lowest 84c a litre and the highest 112c a litre in big towns.
It as time now to head to the far North. We went up to Ta Potupotu, a DOC site very close to Cape Reinga but found it very windswept in the strong Easterly winds - a shame as we have pleasant memories of it in good weather (see two years ago when we had a lovely site and caught our first big fish off the rocks). We backtracked and stopped at Waitiki Landing - the furthest North source of cabins. This time the water was almost clear unlike last year when their bore hole was almost dry and it was the colour of beer rather than lager Pete even drank it early in the day although Pauline kept to our own supply.
We went fishing in the afternoon off the wharf at Te Hapu, without success other than yet another undersized snapper. In the evening we discovered why we had been issued with one of the plug in mosquito killers for the room - they were thick and strong which is more can be said for their killer. Our own spray knocked down dozens but by the morning another dozen had drowned in the loo. I went out to the van and on my return found a fantail swooping round the room collecting them. I shut it out but a few minutes latter there was a banging on the glass and I found it was hovering and tapping on the glass to come back in for a second helping. It sat outside patiently on the wire clothes line and I got several pictures.
We stocked up with essentials at the small but good shop which is part of the Whitiki Landing complex. We had another go on a different wharf at Paua in the morning and only got one obvious bite which gave us a nice sized snapper for a starter for supper. As we left the area we noticed that Marty (Benson?), who took us on a great fishing trip off the rocks last year seems to have set up in full time business with "Pack and Paddle" and covers the flights from Saltair to the far North - unfortunately we do not have a phone number or email address.
We stopped on our way down at the DOC site at Rerewa to see if the friends we had made there in previous years were there but it was not the case - the site seemed to be lacking a warden completely. It was still very windy on the east cost so we crossed over and stayed at a Top Ten campsite at the bottom end of Ninety Mile Beach. It is not quite 90 miles long but does have a continuous sweep of sand over 90kms long. The site was a bit expensive for cabins and the wind had dropped so we set up the tent on a site which was absolutely parched - the whole area looked as if it had been treated with weedkiller with not a sign of green in the grass.
It was low tide and that section of the beach has lots of Tuatua at the low water mark which are normally good to eat, you cook them like mussels or Pipis. There were warnings on the beach about some biotoxin making them dangerous to eat so we just gathered a small number and salted them for bait - the fish are eating them all the time so should be OK.
To give an idea of the size of the beach there was a fishing competition due to start the next week. The numbers were limited to the first 1000 anglers to register and they will be spread down the whole length of the beach surfcasting for 6 days. Last year the winner caught an 8.4 kg Snapper. The coach firms use the beach at low tide for the run up to Cape Reinga - it keeps the punters amused and is a lot smoother than the final stretch of gravel road. Others try with cars but forget that only the wet sand and selected entry routes are safe - we helped dig one car out of soft sand where they has missed the exit point! It took a while to leave in the morning to get away as Pauline had lost a present she had bought in the shop - it was packed in bubble wrap inside a paper bag and had gone into the rubbish by mistake for the dead loaf which we finally found both of us had thrown away!
On the way down South we stopped at a Breakers to pick up a front light fitting which had been damaged - we can see why it is much easier to keep old vehicles running in NZ as they just produced the bit we wanted. It was then on for a quick stop at the Mangonui fish shop to pick up some crayfish and smoked fish for supper. We took the scenic route round the coast past Whangerei and found a glorious tiny sheltered beach which used to have a camp ground at Panui, probably still OK with camper as closed because no long drops.
Rain threatening and forecast to be heavy so tried booking ahead for cabin - most places were full but they did not understand why. We suspect it was the one thousand anglers and families on their way to the Lion Red Snapper fishing contest. We ended up returning to the Top Ten in Kerikeri, this time in one of their most basic cabins which still had chairs, table and full cutlery plates etc and a personal lockable cold cabinet in kitchen all for $38. We sat and watched the rain. Northland needs it. In the morning we found a big box of peaches had been left in the kitchen for people to help themselves. The site is full of fruit pickers so we were the only people to partake.
The weather looked so bad we abandoned plans to go back down the East Coast and turned to the West coast and the Kauri forests. Walks in native bush and forests are arguably at their best with the clouds hanging low and the trees glistening with moisture.
The Kauri is an unusual and very long lived tree, the larger ones can be 2000 years old. Kauri seedlings need plenty of light so they usually start life amid manuka scrubland in forest clearings formed by windfall or fire. Adolescent trees form a tapering trunk and narrow conical crown. The tall adolescent Kauri have narrow pole trunks, but as they mature the trunk thickens and the lower branches are all shed giving the very clean straight trunk of the adult tree which made their wood so desirable. The bark is shed in plate sized scales giving a distinctive appearance to the trunk and helps to shop epiphytes from establishing a hold. As they grow older the trunk progressively swells into a vast cylinder whilst the crown becomes thin. Despite the clean trunks the crowns are filled with other plants - one can find as many as 30 different species of epiphytes on a single large Kauri.
The other unusual feature of the Kauri is the gum they produce in large quantities. This was much sort after for high grade varnishes, linoleum and French polish and led to a big industry in gum digging for the old buried lumps of gum and later in bleeding the trees.
The largest Kauri left such as Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere have girths of about 15 meters but some were much larger. We saw both of these which are both in the Waipoua Forest Park, Tane Mahuta (the God of the Forest) is so close to roads that it is a big tourist trap with many coaches stopping but even so it is a magnificent site which even the presence of large numbers of other people can not detract from. The next largest is nearby and involves a 15 minute walk so few people sadly make the trip, especially when the mist hangs low - they know not what they miss in not visiting Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest).
There is a small but good DOC camp site in the Trounson Park which is more comprehensively equipped than most but by the time we were close to it the pleasant light rain had turned to a deluge so we travelled a bit further to a yet another Top Ten camp site, The Kauri Coast Holiday Park, which we had stayed at before. We were fortunate enough to pick up one of their simple cabins at under $30. It is a delightful site out in the bush with a river curling round the bottom and a huge deep swimming hole in the bend. Pete, of course, had to fling himself in.
We spent some time talking to another couple, mixed French and English who were doing much the same as us but only using a tent. They went on a bush walk with the camp owner, setting at dusk, round the Trounson Kauri Park which they reported was excellent - they saw Glow-worms, Weta and Crayfish to name a few things. They heard Kiwi but unfortunately did not get to see them. We spoke to the organiser in the morning and he said the trips had seen Kiwi 4 times in the last month. Last year they were seeing them ever other trip. We regret not going and but will try it if or when we return.
We also spent some time talking to the owners of the Kauri Coast Top Ten - it is a typical good example of New Zealand Holiday Park style of camp site and we plan in due course to write it up with some pictures as such. The owners took it over about a year ago after spending over thirty years camping in the Coromandel and in the area themselves.
We then went into the Trounson Kauri Park which is the first of the DOC "Mainland Islands" which seek to undo some of the damage done to the native flora and fauna by creating a secure environment by intensive management, in particular the reduction of the impact of pests. Trounson was chosen to be the first of such experiments as it is literally a forest island surrounded by a sea of farmland, it is isolated from other forest patches and is the home to a number of endangered species such as the North Island Brown Kiwi, Kukupa (NZ pigeon) Pekepaka (bats) and Kauri snails. We had an excellent walk round the Trounson Park - it is not on the tourist route and it was very peaceful. We both decided it was the best area of Kauri we have seen and arguably one of the best medium length bush walks we have been on - the competitors are those in Goblin forests round Egmont.
DOC have set up a new information area and there is a lot of information indicating how successful the concept of a Mainland Island has been with full and alarming information on the number of pest caught or poisoned. The number of Kiwi reaching a "safe" size of a kilo rose from 5% to 30% after the first two years of poisoning rodents and Possums and has now climbed to 70% since they have been eliminating stoats and cats by trapping. Feral cats do untold damage to bird life and they are trapping several dozen every year. Dogs are perhaps worse and one single dog killed nearly 200 Kiwi in a six week period in the past.
We looked at the small DOC camp site at the edge of the park and we intend to return there at some point although the Top Ten with its better facilities, river and swimming hole will remain tempting.
We went into the Maritime Museum at Dagaville which is worth a visit if you are nearby and have spare time. Amongst other things it has some of the remains of the Rainbow Warrior - the Greenpeace boat blown up in Auckland by French agents with some lose of life. They were subsequently prosecuted and relations with France have never fully recovered.
The next stop was to be the Kauri Museum and Settlers Museum at Matakohe. By now the day seemed to have disappeared so we overshot to look at the nearby Matakohe Camp Site (300m down the road) and found they had a tourist flat with a magnificent view down to the river free. We decided to stay and then rushed down to the Museum.
The Museum is very interesting and has a lot of displays and old pictures of Kauri logging and Gum digging, Kauri furniture, logging equipment and even a full size reconstruction of a saw mill using original equipment. It is however, like many places in Northland, on the tourist routes although it was latter in the day and there were no coach parties there. Even so we spent a couple of hours although it was a repeat visit and even then we had not looked at all we wanted to. Like many places in New Zealand they were happy to mark up our tickets to let us in the following day seeing we were staying nearby.
The camp site turned out to be very good with some of the best equipment in their facilities we have seen. We spent some time in the morning talking to the owner and found that despite having only started it they had already got a **** Qualmark rating and hoped to get ***** next time round. If one is going to the museum it a good idea to stay there and do the museum justice. A typical example of the difference between NZ and the UK occurred in the morning - as we were talking it came out that we had a number of memberships on which they will give discounts, AA Top Ten etc (it is much better to offer the discounts than join the chains which are prohibitive expensive for a small quality site and would force them to raise prices) - they insisted on refunding the $6 on the spot.
We ended up spending another couple of hours in the museum in the morning, mostly looking at the various pieces of logging equipment from saws to gigantic steam winches and at the exhibits on Kauri Gum. We had not realised that the export of Kauri Gum for Varnish and Linoleum manufacture was more important in income to Auckland and Northwards than even Gold, Lamb or Kauri for a 50 year period. Over 450,000 tons were extracted in that time.
We found the museum has an excellent bookstore associated and bought several books - they are still largely a volunteer trust which is worthy of support and next time we may join the society of friends which gives unlimited entry and 4 newsletters for only $9 a year whilst a single entry is $7 on which we got a 10% discount because we have a Top Ten Card. It is always worth asking for discounts and they bend over to find an excuse in most places.
Two of the books covering Pictures from the Past are by Bruce Hayward - "Kauri Timber Days" (with John Diamond) and "Kauri Gum and Gumdiggers" are probably only available at the Museum as the are published by The Bush Press. The third is a superb book on The Trees in New Zealand "The Native Trees of New Zealand by J T Salmon published by Reed ISBN 07900 0104 7" which is incredibly detailed and with many illustration, it is far to heavy to take home.
The next point of call was in the vineyard area North West of Auckland centred round Kumeu where many vineyards were started by Dalmatians who had originally come as Gumdiggers. We went this time to get Selaks wines which we have found excellent this year. They are now part of the House of Nobilo Group and we had the purchase at the Nobilo tasting rooms at station Road Huapai. We found that our views were echoed by others and the three different Sauvignon Blancs they produce had taken the top and two other places out of the top five in the wine magazine. We had the chance to try the two we had not sampled before. An excellent Wine book is "The Wines and Vineyards of New Zealand by Michael Cooper published by Hodder, Moa Beckett ISBN 1-86958-702-2" We now have two editions and it has excellent photographs by John McDermott as well as the authoritative text by Michael Cooper including good background and introductory sections.
Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 26th September, 2001