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|Touring New Zealand 2003 - part 8|
We had taken Largesse from Auckland to the Bay of Islands so last week left us on the side of the berth in Opua. We had too much kit, especially fish rods and buckets to use the coaches back to Auckland so we had talked to the local branch of "Rent-a-dent" about a one way hire when we came into the marina a week before and they were expecting to have one which needed to be returned to Auckland. In the event it was delivered with, guess what, a large dent so we got a very favourable price, less than the $88 two bus tickets would have cost us. We finally squeezed everything in and set off with the headlight held in place with tape but otherwise a sound vehicle.
The following morning we returned it and walked round to Rental Car Village to pick up another camper. The weekend was spent with family on Waiheke at their new house - much more space and a lovely almost private beach with a path down beside their house. We swam and picked up Pipis to cook on the barbecue that evening. Pauline also spent time catching up with her students. They have a complete self contained flat below the main house which is available for short term lets whilst the other batch will be available for short or long term lets. All too soon it was time for the ferry back.
By the time we had loaded up the van, picked up photographs, organised the closing of our short term bank accounts and done the shopping it was early afternoon so we headed up Sandspit, the closest of the camp sites we have used North of Auckland.
The campsite at Sandspit, or more correctly Lower Matakana used to be a farm and was turned to campsite in 1930. Many of the old buildings still exist. Nikau, the cabin we were allocated, was the home of Uncle Jimmy and built just before the turn of the century. The old schoolhouse from the 1870s forms the games room and the first cabin we had many years ago, Willow, started life as the chook house, then became the shower block and finally a cabin. Several other cabins were ex American army surplus. A few years ago the owners created a "pioneer village" with shop windows full of cameras etc and a cinema doubling as a TV room for children. For those who are unaware what chooks are, they are a NZ chicken which does not cluck but goes chook, chook, chook, eh.
It is a very friendly place with free kayaks and dinghies at the waterfront and fishing rods and flounder spears at the house. The toilet blocks always have fresh flowers and are now adorned with the most fantastic seats with shells and Starfish cast into transparent plastic. In the morning we took one of the double kayaks out for a few minutes to see what they were like to use and to take a couple of pictures. The double kayak seemed much less manoeuvrable than the singles and two singles seem a better bet if we ever get any ourselves.
We went to Goat Island, a maritime reserve just up the coast beyond Leigh which has, in the past, been absolutely full of fish which would come round your feet and was superb for snorkelling - this time there were coach loads of school children and in 30 minutes in the water Pete only saw two fish, blue Maumau. The tide was out and there was a fair current making visibility poor but even so it was very disappointing.
Goat Island is only a couple of Kms from Leigh which some recommend as an alternative stop to Kawau for sailing up the coast. The harbour looked very exposed to swell and for a limited range of wind directions. The inner moorings seemed to all be taken by commercial fishing boats and there was not much space for anchoring in shelter, especially as plenty of space would be needed as their seemed to b a strong tidal flow in and out of the river to swing one round. Overall verdict was that it was possible in settled weather to use it to save the long route out of Bon Accord Harbour and through the North Passage past Kawau but probably not for us!
The weather looked mixed so we settled on going up the West (Kauri) coast and stayed overnight at the Kauri Coast Top Ten about 30 kms North of Dargaville on the edge of the Trounson Kauri Park. It, and the area, are favourites and have been covered before. Last year they were installing some new cabins with full facilities and we were tempted and when we found the campsite was full with a school trip we settled for a cabin with a kitchen as the communal kitchens were full of teachers cooking huge numbers of meals by 1600 and in the morning thy were already inaccessible at 0630 so we made a good decision. We ended up with the Red Devil and a barbecue on the cabin deck. They do periodic night walks through the park to see Kiwis and other wildlife but we, once more, missed out through bad timing. Overall one of the best of the modern commercial campsites we know with very friendly owners, Herb and Heather.
In the morning we did a walk through the Trounson Kauri Forest, a short walk of under an hour but tone taking one past a number of magnificent large Kauri. It is a very well made up path , much on boardwalks to protect the vulnerable Kauri roots and very well supplied with explanatory boards. Trounson was one of the first mainland islands with complex programs of trapping and chemical warfare to eradicate pests which damage the Kiwi and other natural bird life. Possums are a main target along with stouts and feral cats. Dogs can be very destructive and one dog killed half of the radio tagged Kiwis in a six week period before it was caught.
From there we headed North through the forests and the onto Hokianga harbour which we crossed by ferry before continuing to try a new camp site at the end of ninety mile beach. It was one of the classic older style camps with lots of facilities but fairly deserted - it did not seem to be on the campervan circuit. We found a nice quite and sheltered corner and set up the tent and the red devil. They claimed they had little of the hard rain which had plagued us and we could believe it, the ground was very dry and almost a dust bowl in some places.
The morning was dull and there was a little dampness overnight but the tent was dry and quickly put away. We were hoping to camp at Tepotupotu, a glorious DOC camp site at the far North but the winds steadily increased from a direction which few of the DOC site gave much protection so we stopped at Waitiki landing just before the final gravel road starts to Cape Reinga. It is the last civilisation travelling North with an associated Petrol station , shop and restaurant in the complex. It is fairly sheltered but we took a cabin and carried on up to Tepotupotu to try to catch supper. Our favourite end of the beach had surf breaking over the rocks, even at low tide and we had no more than a few nibbles and a bait fish at the other end so, after the loss of a couple of hooks in the kelp we gave up and had a barbecue of steak.
in the morning we had more luck at high tide at on of the wharves at Te Haupa where Pete caught a small snapper which went back and a nice sized (48cm) Kahawai which provided us, and a white cat, with supper and enough left over for a starter the next day. We stayed at the Top Ten at Whatawhiwhi and made use of their large barbecue plate to cook it. We watched the previous people barbecuing slices of Kumara on the hot plate and tried it - excellent - the Kumara quickly brown on a tiny bit of olive oil and are crisp on the outside and sweet inside. Something to repeat as it is very quick (5-8 minutes) and tastes superb, you do not need to wash the Kumara, just peel and slice about 8 mm thick - it might also work in a very hot and heavy cast iron frying pan.
The clouds were clearing in the morning so we continued to the end of the peninsular where there are two almost perfect semicircular bays either side of a very narrow headland, Pete swam a few times whilst Pauline sat up on the headland with a superb view to paint. There is a DOC camp site in a sheltered hollow behind the bay which we have been meaning to use for several years.
Once more we left the charms of Matia Bay and moved on South drawn by the lure of ice creams at Cable Bay, with perhaps another swim followed by fish and chips at the Manganui Fish and Chip shop, arguably the best in New Zealand. The fish come a couple of dozen metres from being landed on the wharf, is cleaned next door and is on the slab to be selected immediately. You pick you pieces of fish and they cook them for you to eat on a sheltered deck suspended over the harbour. One year we also hope to sail in and anchor for them.
We decided to try a different site for the night at Hihi, a site we had looked at and marked in our notes as a 1950s style site with a sign on the gate saying gone fishing, help yourself. This time the owner was in and we found a sheltered site as the weather was not promising. Unfortunately a stream ran nearby and we got badly bitten in the short time before we got the Repel on - you do need to have an insect repellent available at times even in North island. The tide was well out and the beach in front of the campsite was somewhat covered in big stones but Pete got a short swim then almost as wet walking back as the first of a series of storms swept past. We gave up using the Red Devil as the storms continued and cooked in the communal kitchens which strangely lacked fridges and freezer space. The owner let us put our ice packs in the freezer for bait sales and in the main season it looks as if you can rent small cooled lockers. Otherwise some of the facilities were good, there is a squash court and billiard table as well as the usual free barbecue which looked in need of a major clean. It was largely deserted and we found a number of addition areas for tents so it would seem to be one of the camps which does 90% of the business over the Christmas break and Easter allowing plenty of time for fishing in Doubtless bay in between. Will we return? Possibly.
On the way South we stopped at Kerikeri to visit the Stone Store which we have covered in previous newsletters and the Waimata North Mission House for the first time. The mission and associated church was set up as a largely self contained farm unit and has recently been restored back to the original layout - it is well worth a diversion to look round and forms an integral part of the Historic Places properties in the area namely the Kemp House and Stone Store at Kerikeri and the Pompallier House at Russell. They all played important roles in the early days when it was the most important area of contact in New Zealand culminating in the signing of the treat of Waitangi.
On the way out of Kerikeri we stopped at one of the roadside stands selling fruit and Pete was seduced by a large box of mixed seconds for $3.95 - we did not realise how big until we spread it out to count. 30 pears, 10 Nashi, a dozen or so Feijou, a dozen Apples, 3 Oranges and a pile of Kiwifruit not to speak of Blood Red Plums, Nectarines and White Peaches. We were eating fruit for days and there was still a dozen when we left!
Our final stay before heading to Auckland and home was a couple of days in Russell, now a delightful and quiet town in the Bay of Islands with almost an island character as it is only accessible via ferry from Opua or by long back-roads, mostly gravel. It used to be the major port in New Zealand for whalers and traders and was known as the Hell Hole of the Pacific. At one time it had 24 Brothels and 30 Grog houses mostly run by escaped convicts and deserters. Maoris brought their women (or pigs for the poor) along other goods to trade for primarily tools, and above all muskets, of iron. The expanding lawlessness was one of the reasons why the missionaries , based the other side round Kerikeri influenced the Maori to seek the protection of Crown and Great Britain which eventually and reluctantly sent Hobson and set up the Treaty of Waitangi, which was closely based round the Magna Carta.
The lawlessness in the area was far from restricted to the new immigrants, the missionaries had bought large tracts of land for a few dozen axe heads on paper but with less well documented agreements to provide muskets and other weapons and to arrange for transport of major chiefs to the UK with the prime purpose of obtaining weapons. The Maoris had always been a warlike race but the introduction of muskets led to an imbalance and slaughter on a previously unknown scale.
We spent time looking round the museum in Russell and also the Pompallier House where the French set up the first printing presses to produce bibles and other books in Maori. The fears of an increasing French influence was another factor in Britain eventually agreeing to an increasing involvement in New Zealand. The Pompallier House is now part of the Historic Places Trust and has a tannery providing demonstrations of how hides were turned into high quality leather for bookbinding and upstairs has demonstrations of printing and bookbinding. There is a lot of associated history in the exhibits and information on the methods used for building the Pompallier house, a typically French method of highly compressed mud walls giving a result not far from concrete in hardness but without the resistance to weather hence the wide overhanging eves to keep rain from the walls.
We looked at the bays the other side of the promontory to Russell and Pete had his last swim after which we took a walk up onto Tapeka point, the site of an old Pa (Maori fortification). It has spectacular views over the Bay of Islands in all directions. It is quite a climb for the last bit and would have benefited from walking boots for the grip.
On the way back to Auckland we stopped off at Opua to have a word with Terry who was working on Largesse, we understand that she will have a new mainsail as well next year. We passed over the remainder of our bait as he was off on a fishing trip in a couple of days. It was then the journey South with a stop to visit Ruapekepeka Pa, the site of the last major battle of the land wars in the North. The fortifications were extremely comprehensive and many say that they were the inspiration for the design of trenches used in the first world war. They were only breached because the Maori were led to believe that the British Army did not fight on Sundays and they deserted the fortifications hold their own service and the Pa was taken without resistance.
We had intended to have lunch but the area is declared tapu and eating is frowned on. Instead we diverted to Whangarei Falls which were quite impressive after the rains - they are in a Reserve in the outskirts of the town.
It was then time for the cleaning at packing, we want to get a lot of our books back whilst flights through the USA still have generous luggage allowances, it is not clear how long they will last with the cut backs being imposed. It took a lot of the day cleaning and oiling the fishing gear and reels and cleaning and spraying the vulnerable parts of the Red Devil with barbecue paint ready for everything to be stored for future visits. The account of the years activity was finished whilst waiting for the taxi . the return flight was uneventful, despite the war in the gulf. We had a bit of a wait in LA for a connecting flight to come in, but at least we did have a proper transit arrangement without any hassle of collecting luggage as on the way out.
Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 8th October, 2003