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Touring New Zealand 2005 - Part 10

We spent the first morning after returning from sailing in Auckland at my neice's sorting out the kit in the new van then decided to head North - there seemed little point in going back to the Coromandel after the sailing. We stopped for the first night at Whangarei Falls so we could look round the A H Reed Memorial Kauri park which we had been reading about in his books. This is a small remnant of bush, all that remains of the original Kauri Forests in the area. There were some heavy showers but we stopped in the lower car park and walked up to the Canopy Walkway, an elevated boardwalk section providing a birds eye view of the forest and some magnificent Kauri from a very different perspective - there is also a waterfall which we left to the following morning. There are some reasonable size Kauri but it is a little disappointing compared to the Trounson Kauri Park walk and other walks in Kauri forest. Even so it is worth a visit if you are in the area and have not had a chance to see Kauri at all.

We stayed overnight at a campsite and backpackers at Whangarei Falls and took a cabin in view of the heavy rain and barbecued some of the steak left over from sailing - we still have fish frozen but it was time for a change. We stayed at the site last year and it had proved to be very good and we will undoubtedly use it again as it is an ideal distance from Auckland for an early stop. It was a small family run site only capable of taking a maximum of 100 people and even in peak periods they try to keep it down to 65-80. Last year we got a very small cabin for $36, they call them kennels, but even so it had a kettle and toaster. This year they were occupied and we took a kitchen cabin that offered excellent value at $42 with fridge and full cooking facilities as well as a huge amount of space. The site had several free barbeques, swimming pool, spa pool and a big library and lounge with comfortable chairs and even a couple of Internet terminals. Lavender and Rosemary bushes separate the tent sites and their cats stroll round the sites looking for attention as much as food.

In the morning we took a the walk round the second part of the A H Reed Memorial Kauri Park to take a look at the waterfall which is 23.8 metres high and was originally considered to be more scenic than the Whangarei Falls. The cliffs were however mined for metal for the roads in the 1920s and the falls are now reduced in size and beauty. You can walk along the river bank to the Whangarei Falls that we have visited on previous visits - they make a good picnic spot and are quite spectacular. We stopped there briefly for a mid morning break and to consume the remainder of our ice-cream before it thawed. We have also been catching up with ice-cream consumption and bought a two litre tub which did the afternoon, evening, breakfast with cereal as well as our mid morning stop at the Whangarei Falls.

We left Whangarei Falls on the coastal road through Tutakaka where we stopped to look at the marina and the entry to the harbour - a likely stop next year if we sail from Auckland to the Bay of Islands. The entry is small and one has to be careful to avoid "Red Rock" which protects the entry.

We then took the backroads to Russell - we had hoped to stay at the Whangaruru North DOC camp site, a favourite, but the wind was still too strong and after a diversion to Oakura to see what it was like at the waterside we gave in, had an ice-creams and rang the Top Ten campsite at Russell and booked a cabin. Russell is 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 with 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.

In the morning we left Russell and took the ferry to Paiha and then went North to Kerikeri to visit the Steam Saw Mill. The boiler uses only the scrap wood from the saw mill and the steam engine drives a generator to power the machinery. We spent hours watching the various stages which reduce a log to finished timber, kiln dried and packed.

We were now down to a few days only and felt it would be nice to stay for a couple of days in one place, so we called the Tauranga Bay Campsite where we got our favourite cabin which is right by the waterfront for two days. We then followed up by booking our final night at Sandspit Motor camp again securing our favourite waterfront cabin "Bay" - even out of season we were very lucky to get both favourite places. We first stayed at the campsite at Tauranga Bay last year and enjoyed it so much we were delighted to return and get the same big cabin right above the beach with full cooking facilities and a big fridge for $40 a night and booked for two nights when we knew it was available.

Right below the site is a long sweeping beach of golden sands that is safe for swimming but also offers the possibility of surf-casting or fishing off the rocks at either end. We spent the day relaxing, writing up the time sailing, sorting our pictures, reading and watching the lines from from our big surf-casting rod. We never saw a sign of fish but it did not seem to matter and, in any case, we still have frozen fish left from that caught whilst sailing. It is one of the best placed camp sites we have found with not only the magnificent empty beach right in front but also excellent views out to Stevenson Island and round the coast to the entry to Whangaroa Harbour. One can watch all the game fishing boats going out and sometimes returning flying the various pennants to proclaim they have caught a marlin or other game fish as the sun goes down.

We caught nothing but Nige in the tent next door returned from fishing with a huge Kingfish (I estimate 75-80 cms) and we were invited to join his family in a barbeque, typical NZ hospitality. The fresh Kingfish cooked rare on the Barbeque hot plate was superb and there were also a couple of Snapper and a Kahawai. They had only filleted and cut off 'steaks' from one side of the kingfish but even so it fed most of the campsite - a memorable evening.

We decided to then return via the scenic drive along the coast past Matauri Bay that has a campsite we have stayed at in the past and also moored off whilst sailing. At one end of the campsite there is a Waka, the traditional Maori war and inter-island canoe has been under renovation. The other end has a hill with good views out over the Cavalli Islands and a memorial to the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace ship sunk by underwater explosives in Auckland by what turned out to be French Government agents when she was interfering with the French Nuclear tests in the Pacific. Some of the Crew were killed and the ship was beyond repair so she was towed to the Cavalli Islands, almost opposite the camping site, and sunk at the edge of a new Marine park where she now provides a popular site for divers.

We diverted to look at the Kauri in the Puketi Forest, a worthwhile 13 kms detour from the main road. The Puketi forest, along with the neighbouring Omahuta forest, forms one of the largest continuous tracts of native forest in Northland and are easily accessible both from the Bay of Islands and from the Hokianga harbour. The forest is a diverse mixture of hardwoods, podocarps and kauri. Many of the stands of Kauri have unfortunately been logged or bled for gum in the past. There are many walks possible, some of several days duration, but we only had limited time so we did the Manginangina Kauri loop walk, a short boardwalk. We also the Puketi Nature trail which was well set up with labels for all the huge range of plants and trees and took one through a magnificent stand of Kauri which was unusually open allowing one to appreciate their size and structure. This is one of the best short walks we have done through Kauri forest and compares to even the Trounson walks. It starts at a promising looking DOC camp site at the Puketi Recreational Area - it looks sheltered and is a real possibility for camping in the future. It was then the long drive to Sandspit.

The campsite at Sandspit, or more correctly Lower Matakana used to be a farm and was turned into a campsite in 1930. Many of the old buildings still exist. Bay, the cabin we were allocated, was right on the sea front with its own tiny private beach marked off by low breakwaters - it started life as one of four ex American Army cabins and was obtained locally. The old schoolhouse from the 1870s forms the games room. The first cabin we had many years ago, Willow, started life as the chook house, then became the shower block and finally a cabin. Two years ago we stayed in Nikau that was the home of Uncle Jimmy and built just before the turn of the century.

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 that 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. They have just joined the new "Family Parks of New Zealand" chain which is associated with the chain of the same name in Australia that we used a few times and there will be a discount card accepted by both.

We eventually dragged ourselves away from the view and started the last lap to Auckland. On the way we stopped at the Parry Kauri Park and the adjacent Warkworth and District Museum for the first time. The Parry Kauri Park is a small (21 acre) area of regenerating bush with many Kauri including two magnificent kauri called the "Simpson Kauri" and the "McKinney Kauri" which are on the edge of the bush so the size and shape of a mature kauri can be fully appreciated - they are both about 800 years old. The purchase of the bush was organised by the Kauri Bushmen's Association with generous donations from Tudor Collins, the well known bushman and photographer, and Harry Parry with smaller contributions from other local sources. The Kauri Bushmen's Association has provided a number of short walkways, boardwalks and viewing platforms, well labelled by the Forest and Bird Protection Society and provided with a free guide sheet.

It is probably the best place to see mature Kauri and have a short bush walk in groves of Kauri within an hour of Auckland. The museum is also well worth a visit with exhibits giving insights into the life and pursuits of pioneering families. They also had some boards showing how the sailing ship, the Rewa was sunk to form an artificial harbour which we had seen whilst sailing. We do not understand why we had not found it earlier as it is well signed from the Route 1 just South of Warkworth.

Our final stop on the way into Auckland was at Charterlink to make provisional bookings for sailing next year in Largesse and probably starting in Auckland with, weather permitting, a coastal passage to the Bay of Islands.

The morning before we flew home we did a quick trip to the wineries just north of Auckland in the Kumeu region where we took some pictures as well as tasting at the Nobilo Winery which now covers Selaks. Pete tried several of the Founders range including the 2002 Syrah which has won a number of prizes and we can see why although the prizes have taken the price to a premium ($35). The 2002 Merlot/Cabernet Franc was also very good and a more sensible price at $25 - both are already drinking well although they will clearly improve. The winery was also selling various Australian wines including those from Banrock Station that we visited last year. We used to drink a lot of the Selaks sparkling but it has been unavailable for a while - we were delighted to hear they have restarted production. Worth a visit.

We then took a run down to the coast at the Muriwai Regional Park which has a long sweeping beach stretching into the far distance and with lifesavers present for swimming. There is also a popular ledge for fishing although there are warnings about being swept off if the weather is rough. Finally,` and the real reason we were visiting, there is also a large gannet coloney we walked up and looked down upon. Most of the juveniles had departed but there were enough left even in late March to make it interesting to watch, especially the feeding.

We had lunch at a winery we have not visited or even tasted their wines before, a shortfall as the Soljan's Estate wines were very good and the meal excellent. It is an obvious for a first wine tasting and winery lunch as it is only 30 minutes from Auckland. The buildings looked very new and we learnt that they had only moved to the site in Kumeu a couple of years ago although they were founded 70 years ago. We did not taste the wines specifically but had a tasting tray where you could select three 50ml glasses from the full range for $8. We tried the 2003 Pinotage, Barroque Reserve Merlot 2002 from Hawkes Bay and the 2002 Tribute (Merlot/Malbec) also from Hawkes Bay. If those three are anything to go by a full tasting would be well worth-while. We had an excellent plate of breads followed by Venison on what was a sort of solid rosti with lots of chunks of chirozo sausage and a pickled beetroot alongside - the venison was rare and red and melted in the mouth. We will be back!

It was then back to Auckland to drop off the vehicle, complete packing and for the journey home with the memories and thousands of pictures of another magnificent years touring and sailing in New Zealand.

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