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Touring New Zealand 2015 - part 7

Coromandel Peninsular - Colville: It was now time to get under canvas and where better than the Coromandel. We went North on the main road through Tairua and Whitianga where we stopped for an ice cream and Pete had one of his first swims of the year. We stopped again in Coromandel Town to buy some of the excellent smoked fish from the smokery before working our way up to Colville and the Otuatu Farm Park Camp Ground where we got a pitch with power right next to the sea but with a sheltering hedge to protect from the wind although high tide mark was less than 10 metres from the tent. A couple of lazy days with almost cloudless skies . We got the Red Devil out for a Barbeque and watched a spectacular sunset sitting with our cheese and wine on our bench on the entry to the beach.

When we left the Farm Park at Otuatu we first had to dry the tent and put it all away. We then turned North and went up as far as Fantail, one of the DOC camping grounds we have used in the past. It is a slow but beautiful drive mostly up the coast which is line with Pohutakawa trees. There are the occasional high points which give views out over all the islands to Waiheke and even as far as the sky tower in Auckland and sometimes out to Great and Little Barrier. We turned after a brief stop at Fantail where we spent some time talking to the camp warden to see how things had changed since we were last there. The facilities seemed slightly better but all was basically the same although a landslip has closed the swimming hole which used to a short distance up one of the tracks. It was then a run down to Thames where we had a cabin at the Dickson Holiday Park, convenient for a single night stop and somewhere where we are well known. The only problem with there and most of the Coromandel is that there is little or no vodafone coverage and hence internet.

Waiuku: As we left in the morning we gave a call to Berta and Fidel who have the farm at Waiuku. In 2012 we stayed and were taken milking and cheese making, in the morning - a very memorable experience but this time we could not really stay over as they were just off on holiday and needed to get everything set up including a locum to look after the farm. Even so we had time for a walk round, picked so many figs that we are still eating them and have an excellent meal including some melt in the mouth steaks from there own Jerseys - one never thinks of Jerseys as beef cattle but they were some of the best steaks we have ever had. And then there was there were there home made drinks, the year old cider was more like a wine and drunk slightly diluted but the highlight must be the home made spirit which was like cross between Green Chartreuse and Dutch Genever but no comparison could truly do it justice - we wish we had noted down what went into it! Fortunately for Pete it was Pauline's turn to drive and we made it safely to Christine's for the night after a 90 minute drive.

Gibbs Farm Sculpture Collection

Berta and Fidel told us about an incredible Sculpture Collection which only opens for a few thousand people once a month in the summer which they had been to. It was on the side of the route 16 beside the Kaipara Harbour and we managed to pull up and have a look over the fence.

The pictures we took do not do justice to the art work which is on a vast scale - it is best to go to www.gibbsfarm.org.nz/artworks.php where you can see their own images. To quote further from their web site:

"Most works in the collection are commissioned; and commissioning new works rather than buying from an exhibition involves the satisfaction of dealing with the artists, as Gibbs comments ' they are interesting because they are winners, tough, ambitious.' The flow of the land, the immense body of water, the wide harbour flats and the assertive variety of the elements have all imposed themselves on the artists. Gibbs acknowledges that the challenge for the artists is the scale of the landscape; it scares them initially and demands something more from them. He believes Visitors need to walk the land to appreciate how each artist has come to terms in their own way with the gravitational pull that is exerted on everything as the mountains roll into hills and slide into gullies and slope down towards the wide flat expanse of the Kaipara harbour."

It was certainly an experience just to look over the fence and we will try to book up to see it some time in the future.

Trounson Kauri Park: We left Christine somewhat earlier than we had intended to head North towards the Kauri Coast via Dargaville. Our first stop overnight on our way North from Waiheke was at the Kauri Coast Top Ten Holiday Park. They run trips most nights into the Trounson Kauri Park giving one of the few opportunities to see kiwis in the wild. The chances are about 50:50 but we have been three times without every seeing one. It is however a very nice holiday park with excellent facilities and cabins right on the doorstep of the Trounson Kauri Park. We knew the previous owners quite well and the new owners seem to also be looking after it well and have improved and extended the lower areas. There is a good swimming hole but it was a bit cold for even Pete.

We went into the Trounson Kauri Park the following morning. It was 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 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 have always considered that it is one of the best areas 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 has set up an 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. Unfortunately the statistics have not been updated since about 2000 so it is difficult to know whether the progress has been maintained.

We looked at the small DOC camp site at the edge of the park - it was almost deserted although it has much better facilities than most DOC sites including showers and a fridge freezer and in 2009 is only $10 a night. Campers are now permitted to explore the park independently at night, to look for kiwis, and there are pieces of red cellophane and elastic bands provided with which to cover torches so the light is subdued. We always intend to return at some point although the Top10 with its better facilities, river and swimming hole seduced us again this year. We did a couple of batches of laundry and used the camp BBQs in the evening.

In the morning we went to Nelson's Kauri where we had bought a huge piece of Swamp Kauri two years ago to take back to the UK to make a table. We packed it into an extra large suitcase with a small bit of padding and kept it in our cabin on the Queen Mary 2. It is still not turned into a table and we yet to get the extra pieces we bought which we will use to make a base back to the UK. We will finish them off next year and bring them back if we have the luggage allowance. They always have some beautiful pieces of furniture made from the swamp kauri and some huge boards to turn into tables - if we ever buy a bach it will be the first thing we buy for it! We learnt their excellent carver who we met when he prepared our table top has left so much of their stock is irreplaceable.

Tane Mahuta: On the way north through the winding forest road we stopped for a brief walk to see Tane Mahuta (the God of the Forest) which is so close to the road that it is a big tourist trap with many coaches stopping - even so it is a magnificent sight which even the presence of large numbers of other people can not detract from. We were fortunate this year and it was early and quiet so we could admire in silence the magnificent Kauri which is believed to be about 2000 years old and has a girth of 13.8 metres and a trunk volume of 244.5 cubic metres and a height of 51.5 metres and the boards claim it is the largest surviving Kauri. There are a variety of different lists of large kauri which have them in different orders, we suspect that size is sometimes based on volume, sometimes height, sometimes girth and sometimes convenience for publicity.

Hokianga harbour and Opononi: We then worked our way across towards the Hokianga harbour. We had lunch looking onto heads of Hokianga harbour and continued to Opononi where we stopped for an ice-cream alongside the bronze statue to Opo the dolphin

We stayed at the Twin Pines Tourist Park camp site at the Haruri Falls flora couple of days - we have often stayed in the past in their A frame cabins . The next day we visited the Kerikeri and took a long drive up to Manganui which has a fabled fish restaurant where we had lunch and bought some additional smoked fish. We returned via Whangaroa, the lovely sheltered harbour we enjoy so much sailing then used the backroads past the turn to Tauranga Bay which has an excellent camp site and past Matauri Bay with its views to the Cavalli Islands - more familiar sailing areas from the Bay of Islands and finally back past Kerikeri again. This time our favourite Orange roadside store was open and we ended up with lots of Oranges, Tangelos and Nashis- they were all too good to miss so we have some serious fruit eating to do. It was then time to move on to Sandspit, perhaps our favourite seaside camp site.

We took the back roads by crossing to Russell where we stopped for a while. Russell is now a delightful and quiet town with almost an island character as it is only accessible via ferry from Opua or by long back-roads, which until recently were mostly gravel. Its original name was Kororareka named after a local Maori chief whose last words were "How sweet (reka) is the flesh of the little blue Penguin (Korara)". 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 those who could not afford women) 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.

Russell features the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel, New Zealand's first licensed Hotel, Bar & Restaurant which is located on the waterfront. The Duke has, according to their publicity, been refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827. Russell also has a nice little Museum as well as 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 continued on backroads then round the coast, it is a slow winding and very uneven road but it is worth it.

Sandspit Motor Camp: Our three days before returning to Auckland and Waiheke to see family and pack were spent at Sandspit, where we always try to get one of their waterfront kitchen cabins. The Holiday Park 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. 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. It is a very friendly place with free kayaks at the waterfront and fishing rods at the house. The toilet blocks always had fresh flowers and were adorned with the most fantastic seats with shells and Starfish cast into transparent plastic. It looks as if they have been closed now and replaced by a very nice new block with kitchens, open air seating as well as toilets and showers has just been completed. The old block is now a dedicated laundry.

Bay, the cabin we were allocated in 2007, is 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 and library. The first cabin we had many years ago, Willow, started life as the chook house, then became the shower block and finally a cabin. For those who are unaware what chooks are, they are a NZ chicken that does not cluck but goes chook, chook, chook, Eh! Two years ago we stayed in Nikau that was the home of Uncle Jimmy and built just before the turn of the century. There has been a lot of investment over the last few years, with the addition of six brand new self-contained units, some of which are on the waterfront and there is the intention of converting one or two of the larger old kitchen cabins to become en suite as well as all the new facilities blocks. Two years ago we stayed in Norfolk, named after the huge Norfolk pines that tower over it. Norfolk is one of the biggest cabins and has a huge deck which has only a couple of feet separation from the wall which drops vertically to the sands and is lapped at high tide. It has now been made en suite.

This year we stayed in Kauri, as we did last year which is next to Norfolk and also has the sea lapping the decking. As this was now approaching the end of our time in New Zealand it was time to scrape and clean the Red Devil fit ready to put it away, always a very long and tedious and messy task for which Pete usually strips down to the minimum as the black grease seems to be attracted to any valuable clothing. After cleaning it is sprayed with a high temperature barbeque paint before putting away. That and cleaning and oiling the fishing gear are always Pete's final tasks. Pauline spent much of her time completing her OU dissertation whilst Pete did the cleaning up and finally managed to send out the second newsletter which forced him to put a lot of work into our write-up of the year.

Sandspit Giant Sculptures Walk

Waiheke and "Waiting for Pam". We spent a night with Christine then caught the ferry to Waiheke. Whilst we were with Christine the first reports started to come in about Tropical Cyclone Pam which was heading towards NZ. As you know we seem to act like a magnet for bad weather and as I write this its final route is still uncertain but, especially if Pam turns more towards NZ, it could be the worst ever. We were planning to spend 3 days on Waiheke with Kev and Jenny before returning to Auckland and Chris for a day before flying home. Initially forecast for Pam showed it hitting Sunday morning at the time we were due to catch our ferry - any surprises there? We are now tired of bad weather so we packed all our kit under one of Jenny's bach's as quickly as possible and got back onto a ferry and are now at Chris's house just North of Auckland and as I write (on 15th March) are "Waiting for Pam". Pam is now Category 5 (the highest) and currently severely affecting Vanuatu and now counts as one of the most intense storms on record with a central pressure of 890 hectopascals (low is bad and ~11% lower than normal is very very bad) giving sustained winds of around 250 kilometres per hour near the centre. That will even make my MetO friends eyes water. There have also been estimates of a storm surge of 6-8 metres and coastal erosion. You can see more and follow progress o the MetService Blog

To put it into perspective Extra-tropical Cyclone Dirk which caused us so much grief in the Bay of Biscay 15 months ago passed close to the NW coast of Scotland (a long way from us) and had a centre pressure of 929 hectopascals so we are glad to be on dry land this time. Cyclones are fickle but the expectation as I write is that it will not come directly over NZ (less than ~15%) and weaken as it leaves the tropics but will still be close enough to cause big problems on the East coast with Gisborne Civil Defence issuing some dire warnings and even our favourite vineyards in Hawkes Bay at risk. Our expectation is that there would be some travel disruption and we would be surprised if Auckland airport is open on Tuesday and we leave on time.

But for the moment it was still a perfect summer day with temperatures in the upper 20s, puffy white cumulus clouds and only the odd thermic gust providing a breath of air. It started with the most magnificent scene when we got up with mist lying in the valleys with us floating above it. Even if it looked idyllic we went and filled the van up with fuel, refill the water tank and loaded the odd cans of food just in case. We also helped tie down all the garden furniture, moved all the planters and watered them so they were heavy and cleaned out the gutters to avoid rubbish being washed into the water tanks.

So what happened in the event. Firstly Pam went over Vanuatu and devastated it with winds over 250 kph, heavy rain and huge swells - there was a significant death toll. The eventual path turned just enough to the East to reduce the impact on the North of New Zealand and although it was downgraded from a Tropical Cyclone as expected it actually seemed to deepen a little which reduced the area over that predicted. The lowest pressures recorded were 974 at Hicks Bay and 968 on the Chatham Islands. Highest winds were 144km/hr at Channel Island between the Coromandel and Great Barrier Island where we have often sailed. We were North of Auckland near Riverhead as it passed and the local winds did not seem anything like as high as we expect, some quirk of the typography as we were actually quite high upon a hillside - nothing moved and no branches came down overnight and by mid-morning the sun was breaking through and we removed all the ropes from Garden furniture atc. The shift in path made a huge difference.

By Tuesday when we flew out the weather was perfect again with the sun shining. The flight home was as tedious as ever and worsened by a delay in Hong Kong making it nearly 36 hours door to door. We have mixed views on Cathay Pacific, the flight from NZ to Hong Kong on an A340 was cramped with barely reclining seats, the next leg better. Food was very basic but they served Häagen-Dazs ice-cream at 0400 in the morning to those who were awake. Cathay Pacific did have lots of recent films with almost every Oscar Nominee so we caught up with "The Imitation Game", "The Theory of Everything", "Interstellar" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" as well as a few less memorable films.

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Content revised: 18th July, 2020