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Touring New Zealand 2005 - Part 2

It was now time to start our journey South towards Auckland, our next fixed point. We stopped to look at the Wageners museum we have spoken about before - it had the largest collection of chamber pots in the Southern hemisphere as well as all sorts of other interesting exhibits. It seems to have been closed and the whole area is now a camp site - the museum buildings seem to have been emptied and we could see bunk beds through the windows - very disappointing.

We then stopped at somewhere we we had noticed as we drove up but had never visited - the Gumdiggers Park. This was a fascinating stop and we learnt a lot more about the practical side of Kauri Gum digging from the site which still had many of the holes open and the old swamp Kauri exposed. First of all one should say something about Kauri Gum as I find that we have written a lot about the Kauri in the past but little about the gum which was almost as important an export as the wood and went on for longer. When damaged the Kauri produces great amounts of resinous sap which covers the wound and protects the timber. This congeals into hard lumps many of which fall to the ground and become covered by the forest litter and eventually buried. After thousands of years this becomes hardened into a fossilised gum very similar but slightly less resistant than amber. The Maori used the gum for chewing, tattooing and fire lighting. The Europeans found the gum was ideal for producing the highest qualities of varnish and French polish. The surface gum became harder to find and by 1860 the practice of digging for gum had started and the demand for gum kept increasing. The major area for gum digging was Northland and from 1870 to 1920 gum digging was the major source of income in Northland and many farmers turned to gum digging either full time, or to augment their income in the off season. One such farmer was Patrick Heath who purchased the property which is now the Gum Diggers Park in 1904. The main group associated with the gumfields were the Dalmations who began arriving in 1885 and who worked so hard that there was oversupply and the price plummeted. The lower quality gum was used for linoleum but lack of supply during the first World War led to new technologies and materials replacing Kauri gum in all but the highest quality varnishes

The Kauri Gumdiggers Park has a number of Kauri forests of different ages and the evidence is that the changes which led to their burying and preservation in acidic peat bogs were cataclysmic - for example most of the trees had been knocked down and lie in the same direction. Tidal waves, meteoric events and extreme weather have all been proposed and after the recent Tsunami such a tidal wave looks possible. The most recent forest on the top level has been radio carbon dated at 46,400 years whilst the lower level of stumps which have been exposed are another 100,000 years older. Radio Carbon dating is not reliable over 50,000 years so the age of the lower forest is less well known and is being verified by pollen studies. The catastrophe theory is backed up by one huge old stump which has been exposed where it is clear that the newer tree above has been felled so violently that 30 cm branches have been driven down through the older stump.

The site was very quiet and we were left to walk round and make a donation at the end. There are good explanatory boards and a number of reconstructed or repaired gumdiggers huts of canvas and pole construction - most of the covering came from the jute bags used to pack the gum. The gum field was been owned and worked by the same family that still owns the land from about 1904 to 1930 since which time the land has been largely undisturbed. Mostly the diggers were looking for buried trees which had rich stocks of gum round the stumps and in the head. They would explore using long metal probes up to 5 metres long looking for the outline of the tree and then dig in the most promising areas. Much of the lower forest is covered by a layer of silt from when it was below sea level which is now virtually turned to sandstone. This made digging hard work so trial holes were dug through the sandstone and probes used from below the hard level. The ground was waterlogged and the holes rapidly filled with water so long waterproof boots were essential, initially they were made of leather but were later of rubber and came to be known in New Zealand and much of the world as Gumboots. Overall it was a fascinating hour and well worth the detour.

We stopped in Kaitaia to once more stock up, check email and buy more salted bait - the fish are winning at present. We also bought a couple of poles so we can add an awning made of a tarpaulin to the side of the van to keep the sun and rain off when we are sitting out.

We took a short diversion and returned for the evening to the Ahipara camp site - it was very windy still with 25 - 35 knot winds on the East coast and Ahipara on the West coast had looked very sheltered. On the way we stopped at Okahu winery. We were part way through a bottle of their rose and they are one of only two significant wineries in Northland. The rose turned out to be a blend of Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon rather than the usual brief ferment ion on the skins of a red grape. We tried a number of wines, most are not from their own vineyard or even from grapes grown in Northland which is not very clear in their labelling. They have three ranges sold under Shipwreck Bay, Ninety Mile Beach and Kaz labels. The Ninety Mile Beach Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2002 was the only wine we could afford which was entirely their own grapes and we bought a bottle to try at our leisure. Their Kaz range, named after the daughter, are entirely their own grapes and the Kaz Shiraz has won many awards. We tried their 'stickies' - the Chardonnay was disappointing, lacking in sufficient weight to match the sweetness, but the Chenin Blanc ice wine was much more interesting. It is made by freezing the grapes after picking rather than a true German style icewine where the grapes are picked late during a hard frost - difficult at 36 deg from the equator! Overall worth stopping to visit and we had an interesting discussion with one of their winemakers who was tending the shop.

We were right about Ahipara being sheltered and although we could hear the wind howling in the tree tops the tall pines and 10 metre stands of bamboo and bananas cut almost all the wind out at ground level and our pitch was very still. The main noise was from the huge number of small birds inhabiting the stand of bamboo in front of us. It was calm enough for the gas to hardly flicker on the Red Devil when we cooked supper - steak and sausages as we still had no fish.

We stopped in Kaitaia briefly to check out a secondhand bookshop Pauline had noticed in the backstreets but it had little of interest, mostly fiction. It was then on to Mangonui to the world famous fish and chip shop for lunch. You can watch the freshly caught fish being cleaned and select the pieces to be cooked - the days speciality was Bluenose which was excellent as usual and reasonably priced - $14 for four pieces of fish and a single chips. We looked at Tauranga Bay where there is good campsite we stayed at for a couple of days last year, but it was exposed to the NE winds and they had no cabins left so we backtracked and tried a campsite on the outskirts of Whangaroa which we had noticed on our way to Tauranga Bay.It was in a sheltered tree covered valley with plenty of wind breaks and we found a quiet corner out of the wind to set up the tent and try out our poles and tarpaulin awning over the side of the van.

In the morning we worked our way South to the Bay of Islands, taking the coastal backroad past the Cavalli Islands. We stopped on the outskirts of Kerikeri to stock up with cheap fruit at the roadside stalls, 5 kgs of Oranges for $5 and bags of Ugli fruit, lemons and mandarins which will keep us going for several days! Kerikeri is arguably the centre of fruit growing in New Zealand, certainly for citrus fruit with its near tropical climate. We stopped in town to stock up with food, have some ice-cream and to check out a few Op shops for bargains and books before booking a Tourist flat at the Twin Pines Tourist park at Hururu Falls, another regular stop for camping. The wind had kept up hence our decision to get under cover.

We got settled then tried a new walk past the Falls to a boardwalk across a Mangrove swamp then on to Waitangi. The walk is well made and is exactly 5 km each way, it even has markers every kilometere so you know how you are progressing - the boards say to allow an hour and a half each way and that allows plenty of time to look at the mangrove swamp. Mangrove swamps are both important and interesting as they play an important part in reclaiming and preserving the coastline but many have been destroyed by coastal development. Mangroves survive where no other trees and few plants can survive because of their adaptions that enable them to keep down their internal salt concentration using glands on the leaf surface.

Mangroves grow best when the water round them is about half a metre deep over the mudflat at high tide. The erect pencil like structures which stud the mudflat surface are called which are air breathing extensions from the shallow roots which anchor the mangrove to the thick black mud. The mud is anaerobic, that is it contains virtually no oxygen. Another unusual feature of the mangrove is that the seed is already germinated before it leaves the parent. It then drifts with the tide often with a couple of leaves for long distances before it is marooned and the roots anchor it to the spot where it will grow. The mangrove swamps are alive - the pneumatophores are encrusted with organisms including barnacles and a variety of crustaceans move around the mud below. Perhaps the most noticable is the snapping shrimp which can be heard when the tide is low - we did not really believe it could be as loud as described but they are. At night the sound echos round the swamps and even in the daytime the snapping is clear from shrimps tens of metres away.

We stopped in Paihia, the town most tourists associate with the Bay of Islands although Russell and Waitangi are the ones who played the important parts in the history of New Zealand when the Bay of Islands was central. We bought some bookends carved from Oamaru stone and visited the new Kauri Kingdom shop. When we left we followed side roads looking for the Opua Kauri which featured on an old DOC leaflet but the path to it seems to have disappeared. Instead we walked a small part of the Paihia to Opua walkway which went along the coast through yet more mangrove swamps. This time at high tide.

At Opua we visited the excellent small store on the wharf which seems to have everything from diesel and fishing gear to food, wine, a huge range of icecreams, all at as low prices as any supermarket. Whilst there we heard Moorings had bought Sunsail and are back in the Bay. We also looked in at the chandlery beyond the marina at GPSs as ours has an intermittent problem with losing a line on the LCD screen. The new Garmin GPS72 looks good and we were allowed to 'play' with the one on display.

Our next stop was at Kawakawa to visit the famous Toilets. Friedrick Hundertwasser was an internationally renowned architect, artist and ecologist best known for his brightly coloured ecologically friendly buildings - we had seen examples of his work in Vienna. He left Austria and came to New Zealand in the early 1970's and in 1975 he purchased a farm near Kawakawa where he is now buried. He became a NZ citizen in 1986 and in 1990 he was declared a 'Living Treasure of New Zealand' in recognition of his work.

He then came out of retirement and reclusive lifestyle to answer the call of the local community to design the Kawakawa toilet block. With its ceramic columns, garden roof and curving colourful exuberance it has put the small sleepy Northland town of Kawakawa onto the international tourist route. Visitors from around the world come to pay homage to Hunterwasser and his unique archetectural charm in this, his last design for his adopted home town. The toilets were built using local materials and talent. Tiles were made in local schools, bricks were taken from local buildings and the windows were constructed from the many bottles available in the district.

In 2000, Creative New Zealand awarded the building the premier award in Urban and Landscape design and congratulated the project for its innovative, proud and creative nature whilst embracing and enhancing the community. The considerable prize money went to fund a commemorative arch at the town entrance erected at his death. Since then locals, New Zealanders and visitors from around the world have continue to stream into this facility, arguably the most famous source of comfort in the world.

We took a short cut from Oakleigh to Paparoa to reach Matakohe, along a nice sealed road. We followed a car towing a trailer of sheep which had an impressive sense of balance as we followed them on the twisting and undulating road.

Our target was to stay at the Matakohe Camp Site which has always been good with some of the best equipped kitchen etc., facilities we have seen. Even our brand new basic cabin (No 8) came with flowers and crocheted tablemat on a side table as well as a proper table and cane style chairs. If one is going to the museum it is a good idea to stay for a couple of days to do the museum justice. We first came four years ago, shortly after the current owners had started seriously developing the site. At that point they were not one of the chains and we spent some time discussing the advantages and disadvanteges of being a member with them in the morning before we left.

They are now a full member of Top10 and have considerably extended and improved the camp site. There are many more new cabins and the area has been extensively landscaped giving shelter and privacy to the tent sites. The site is almost on a hill top with views down in two directions out over the Kaipara harbour. We spent some time talking to the owners and sharing their plans and aspirations. They say most visitors no longer come for the museum but for the peace and quiet and the views. Their success was summed up by our overhearing somebody in the kitchen - lounge building say "It is not like a camp site, it is more like staying in somebodies home". The bald sunburnt Persian cat we met on the first visit is sadly no longer alive but we were greated enthusiastically by a new black fluffy cat in the evening, one of three they own.

We spent the morning at what for us is still the "Must Visit" Museum in Northland - The Kauri and Pioneer Museum at Matakohe. It is only a short walk from the camp site. We have been coming for many years and always learn something new - the museum has also been steadily extended over the years and it is now almost impossible to do it justice in a single morning.

We feel sorry for the tourist busloads who have to skim through everything in a hour and then rush northwards. There are many displays including a reconstruction of a steam sawmill with original equipment moving in slow motion and a wing with a reconstructed 1900s "quality" home largely in Kauri.

There are also magnificent exhibits of furniture in Kauri and other native woods as well as Kauri logging and gum digging exhibits with lots of equipment on display. There are many pieces of logging equipment from collections of chain saws to gigantic steam winches.

There is also an area full of restored early steam and other static engines used for logging and farming activities. This year a new area has been opened covering more of the 'early settlers' activities on the theme of how the land was re-utilised following the kauri logging. This includes an early example of a milking parlour with working milking machine and mannequin Jersey cow, and a shearing shed with lots of sheep shearing equipment. They are just starting to reconstruct a typical verandahed hotel which will have many more exhibits in context. All the exhibits are backed up by old photographs and there is also a huge collection of early photographs of the area on the mezzanine floor - one could take many hours just to look at all the photographs they have on display.

There are quite a few exhibits covering Kauri Gum and until we visited the museum 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. Many of the best pieces of gum were polished or carved and a number of private collections of Kauri Gum have been brought together at the museum.

Many of the photographs have been taken by Tudor Collins who was not only one of the best known of a well known family of early Kauri loggers but also took a huge number of definitive photographs of Kauri logging. He worked closely with A H Reed who started the Reed publishing empire after an early career in Kauri and there is an exhibit on his work at the Kauri museum which first introduced us to his work. After he retired from publishing at 60, he spent much of his time writing and walking the country. He was doing long walks from end to end of New Zealand in his 80s and wrote more than 70 books many on his travels. We now have a collection of Reed's classic books including some of those covering his early involvement with Kauri with photographs by Tudor Collins. A H Reed's last book was written when 98 - "The Happy Wanderer" - an excellent book, which recaptures many of the highlights otherwise buried in his numerous travel books, many of which were out of print when he wrote it in 1974. It shows his intellect had not been dulled even at such a grand age. His last major walk covered in the book was carried out 10 years earlier at the age of 89 and covered 650 miles. We can only hope for a fraction of his stamina, intellect and life span.

The museum has an excellent bookstore and shop selling Kauri products and we have bought several books in the past - Two of the books covering Pictures from the Past are by Bruce Hayward - "Kauri Timber Days" (with John Diamond) and "Kauri Gum and Gumdiggers" and are probably only available at the Museum as they are published by The Bush Press. The third was a superb book "The Native Trees of New Zealand by J T Salmon published by Reed ISBN 07900 0104 7" which is incredibly detailed and with many illustrations. It was far too heavy to take home but we have been carrying it round as an invaluable reference book for the last 4 years.

The museum is still largely a volunteer trust governed by the Omatameatea Kauri and Pioneer Museum Board which also provides funding for university and general projects. It is worthy of support and this year we finally got round to joining the 'Society of Friends' which gives unlimited entry and 4 newsletters for only $15 a year whilst a single entry is $12 on which we could have obtained a 10% discount because we have a Top10 Card. It is always worth asking for discounts and they bend over to find an excuse in most places although they did not give us a discount on joining the Society of Friends!

We spent the afternoon fishing at the Tinopai wharf which is about 20 kms down a side road from Matakoe. The timing was good as the tide was coming in and there did not seem to be any great flow past the wharf. There were quite a few people fishing when we got there but without tremendous success and most of them left shortly aferwards. We and a number of kids who had shown up were left somebodies spare bait including some squid which seemed to work better than our pilchard. We caught quite a few small snapper and a couple of other tiny fish then finally caught a nice legal pan size Snapper (29 cms) which gave us supper with a few mussels as a starter. The excitement came from hooking a small shark which unfortunately bit through the leader (15 kg monofilament) as we were bringing it up to wharf level. There are quite a few schools of small shark this year and the one we hooked was probably only 50 - 60 cms long. We also went to look at another local wharf at Ruawai but did not even get any bait removed. The water was very muddy so we gave up after 15 minutes as we had supper already.

In the morning we went back into the Kauri Museum for a few minutes to take a few pictures we had missed the day before and buy a couple of souveniers to take back for friends. We then went to the Kauri Bushman's Reserve where there is a nice short walk round a small stand of young Kauri. Some kauri were old enough to be approaching maturity and shedding their lower branches prior to the clean trunk gradually expanding. One branch had obviously only just been shed as it was across the path and the leaves were still green.

We took another side road to Pahi where there was another wharf recommended for fishing but this time it was just an exploration for the future as it was low tide. We did however stop to admire their huge Morton Bay Fig Tree, supposedly one of the biggest in the Southern hemisphere as well as the biggest in New Zealand. It was then time to head back to Auckland, re-stocking with dutch cheese on the way.

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