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|Touring New Zealand 1999 - part 4|
Rental Car Village seem to have done us proud this time and have upgraded us to a long wheelbase Toyota High Ace - they know we camp and the last renters took off with the back awning, which we scarcely use, so everyone should benefit. The cigar lighter socket worked so we could leave immediately after a chat over how we had got on fishing and sailing and ways of handling high tech equipment in backward places. The new van has a folding settee across the front and so much extra space that it looks as if we could sleep in it without moving much of our kit - we accused them of try to make sure we upgraded next time! The Toyota also seems to have a much better gearbox (5 speed and very much more positive) but is more difficult to park because of the extra length - a good job New Zealand is not short of space and always has large wide slots in most places.
After a couple of days staying with Chris and Ralph, who had just bought a new bed. They were complaining we insist on a double bed, and his parents on singles so they did not know what to get - a good job we were arriving first! This stop off gave Pauline a chance to catch up with her OU - I could hardly believe the amount of stuff she had to download - it took over half an hour online on a good line and fast modem. There was also quite a lot of normal mail - Freeserve support seem to be referring people to our site and some of them have been Emailing us for help. The number of hits seems to be increasing rapidly also due to the start of the OU term - another 700 hits in the time we were away on the boat which is almost as many as in the first two years!
I persuaded Pauline to take off enough time to head out to the wineries to stock up for the rest of the holiday. First Selaks for lunch and then over to their winery to get some fizzy, only to find they had been taken over by Nobilo and the sales are combined elsewhere. We eventually found the Nobilo winery and tried some of both ranges and stocked up. One of the most interesting wines was an Ice Wine from Nobilo - the grapes are not left to freeze on the vines - you could wait for years in the wine regions. They freeze the must and remove enough water to end up with a very concentrated must to make the wine. They use Reisling and Gerwurtztramminer and the result is extremely good and we wish we had bought more than a single bottle.We also went back to Matua to get some more of their excellent Pinotage Cabernet Sauvignon. The new years offering has been relabeled yet again but the result is just as good. I am drinking some of the first bottle which reminded me to write up this part. It is a deep purple colour and full of character - it stains Formica purple within minutes and should have years of life yet is at the bottom of their range. We also tried the 1997 Merlot they had released that actual day which was very nice - I asked to try it against their matching Cabernet Sauvignon and they immediately opened a new bottle, a complete contrast to the rather offhand approach at Nobilo.
Once I had dragged Pauline off the machine the following day we headed for Kauri country. The first stop was at Kaiwaka where there is an excellent shop specialising in imported Dutch cheeses and other produce - after a while one can get tired of any countries cheese and our purchases of Vintage Gouda and Extra Tasty Gouda with Cumin will provide a very pleasant contrast. The also have smoked eel and many other specialities but we could not indulge as we already had a large piece of venison for supper.
The first real stop in Kauri country was at the Kauri Museum and Settlers Museum at Matakohe, 140 kms North of Auckland. 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 and there were several 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 the old pictures.
It was raining for a change and we decided to stop at Dagaville but everywhere was booked up - we eventually discovered there was one of the biggest A&P shows in the country being held a few kilometers away. We therefore, for the first time this year, rang ahead and booked a cabin at the Kauri Coast Holiday Park, one of the Top 10 chain, sited on the edge of the Trounson Kauri Park. The cabin was good and had cooking, a fridge and running water for the $40 and in the end we stayed a second night as the forecast was still terrible.
The next we went into the Kauri Forests. First was 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. They have night-time walks from the Holiday Park to see the Kiwi and other fauna but unfortunately the were rained off the two nights we were in the area. We had an excellent walk round the Trounson Park during the day - it is not on the tourist route and it was very peaceful and we both decided it was the best area of Kauri we have seen. We also saw on of the Kukupa close enough to capture on video. There is a small DOC camp site at the edge of the park and we intend to return there at some point although the Holiday park with its better facilities, river and swimming pools will also be tempting.
We then went on into the Waipoua Kauri forest where one can again go on walks and see the two largest remaining Kauri. They are worth seeing but there is none of the peace of the Trounson forest as they are one the tourist circuit.
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 largest Kauri such as Tane Mahuta (the Father of Forrest) and Te Matua Ngahere have girths of about 15 meters.The other unusual feature of the Kauri is the gum they produce in large quantities. This was much sort after for high grade varnishes, lino 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.
After a day in the forests we headed back towards the East coast and eventually the Bay of Islands. We stopped to look at the Kai Iwi lakes and Peter had a swim during one of the brief dry spells in the day. We also a look at the Maritime Museum at Dargaville which gave a further insight into the Kauri trade and the associated harbours in the area.When we stopped for petrol at Dargaville there was a big notice in the petrol station warning of heavy rain which had been sent out through the civil defense network - it promised 150 mm in the next 12 hours at rates of up to 40 mm/hour. We left the area quickly. We stopped in another cabin a camp site on the road out of Whangarei towards Whangarei Heads. We wanted to have a look at the area as the Heads and the stretch down to Whangarei is a possible alternate stop to Tutakaka if we sail the coastal passage from the Hauraki gulf to the Bay of Islands.
The previous day the van had been making a strange noise when being accelerated or under load uphill - like stones in a hub cap but there were no hub caps. Part way through the day I had a shake at the prop shaft suspecting a universal joint had gone but could feel no play. The noise got worse, more like killing a pig and people started to look at us so in the morning I had another feel and, as expected, there was now some play in the back UJ - not as bad as a front one where you can pole vault if it falls apart - but definitely something that needed fixing. I called back to Rental Car Village and there was no hassle, Michael said take it to any garage, get them to ring and keep the bill. The Toyota garage gave it a quick test drive and put it up on a ramp and agreed the UJ was completely shot. We walked round and found a book shop/internet cafe which had a useful book on sailing in New Zealand which Pauline bought to add to the North Island Wild Walks book for my Birthday. Within 3 hours of discovering a problem the Camper was all fixed and we were back on the road and the bill was about a third of the UK - under $40 including a discount for quick payment! At least Rental Car Village were happy for the nearest suitable garage to fix things with no need to try to nurse it to somewhere where they had "arrangements", Michael actually seem vaguely surprised we had rung in to find if there were particular places we should go. It is the first mechanical trouble we have had in the two years and about 120 days to date so we can not really complain. I would not be surprised if we end up with a free day next year.
We aborted some of our plans for the day but did have a quick stop to look at the Whangerei falls, they drop 27 meters and were quite impressive after the rain which had also made tracks very slipper. We then went up to look at Tutakaka Harbour - the recommended stop on this part of the coast after Kawau. The Marina were very helpful and we saw enough to help if we ever came after along sail. We then headed North for the Bay of Islands and as it was late went straight to the camp site at Hururi Falls we used previous years before and after sailing. The weather looks a bit better so we have set up the tent - at least if it tips they have good lounges and we had sleep in the van. There is also a pub with microbrewery on the site which used to do good food which it is time to investigate.
The food turned out to be OK but not as good a value as it used to be - there was however nothing wrong with the beer and we had a good evening. Yet again it poured with rain overnight but cleared enough to dry the tent in the morning after which we did our shopping in Paihia and headed to Opua where the ferry runs to Russell, the other side of the bay. Opua is also the base for most of the yacht charters in the Bay of Islands so we stopped for a chat with Carole Hescote and others in the team at Moorings where we have chartered 4 times, the last of which was the Hunter 336 (Legend in the UK) for my 50th Birthday last year. It has been a bad yea for sailing in the BOI with predominant strong NE winds meaning that the sailing has in effect been limited to the inner islands - a delightful area but restricting if you have been before. It was nice to chat and catch up - the Moorings fleet is very up to date and impeccably equipped but you pay the price for excellence.
We crossed on the ferry which runs every 15 minutes or so to get class to Russell and stayed at another of the commercial Top 10 sites. The weather did not look good but the cabin prices were very high for a very basic cabin so it was the tent. We walked round and chatted in the DOC office and watched their video of the area which painted a very different picture of the settlers and the Treaty of Waitangi to that at Te Papa in Wellington. It also gave more background on Russell which used to be the main port and whaling station in New Zealand - it was known as the hell hole of the Pacific with low bars and more run by ship jumpers and convicts. There were interesting tensions between the tribes, the missionaries and the settlers and the inhabitants of Russell and the threats of a French invasion which led to Great Britain reluctantly becoming involved and offering first protection then Sovereign via the Treaty.It once more tipped with rain overnight and cleared long enough for us to pack up in the morning. We went into the Maritime museum then spent a couple of fascinating hours at the Pompallier which was the first "industrial" premises in New Zealand set up in 1841 by French Roman Catholic Marist missionaries to hold their printing press at their mission station at Kororareka (now Russell). He building is interesting in that it is constructed in rammed earth (traditional in their native Lyons) - they were worried about the quality of the local soil but it has stood the test of time and the only repairs needed to the walls were where modification had been made. Th building has bee fully restored by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust which, as I mentioned earlier has reciprocal arrangements with the UK National Trust but is much more dynamic and less hidebound. The printery, book-binding and tanning pits are now working to produce reproductions of the prayer and instruction books in Maori that the Marists printed some 150 years ago. We found the original tanning techniques and demonstration fascinating - they are having to relearn the art with much trial and error although there are full drawings of the tools in some early French books. It is a much longer process than we realised and it can take several years to fully tan and process a cow skin and six months even for thinner skins such as goat, deer and sheep and involving many stages as well as the steeping in the tanning solution derived by steeping the bark of a local wattle. The leather was used for bookbinding and production of shoes which the missionaries had rapidly worn out.
Back across the ferry we went to another of their properties - the Stone House at Kerikeri, which was the first stone built building in New Zealand in 1821 and was owned by the missionaries for the first 6 years before becoming a general store. We saw it when it was still open as a store a good few years back, since which it has been closed for a major renovation by the Trust. Again fascinating bits of information and details of the renovation/reconstruction round the building. They are also trying to obtain and display the typical goods sold when it was a trading post such as muskets, nails and rope. They are also selling typical goods where they can obtain them such as various historic style nails - we did not enquire the price of the muskets.Next door is the Kemp house, another trust building which we have visited several times before. We did not go in but had a look at how the historic style garden is progressing. By now the day seemed to have disappeared so we did not go at look at the reconstructed/restored Maori village of Rewa which is the opposite side of the basin to the two Trust buildings. We saw that last year and took a lot of video and pictures so were less inclined to pay to see it again when it is unlikely to have evolved significantly.
Kerikeri is in the middle of a major fruit growing area and the campsite we chose seems to largely be occupied by foreign fruit pickers at this time of year and was very economical. Parts resemble the sort of shanty tents/huts reminiscent of the reconstruction of the gold diggers accommodation - bits of draped tarpaulin and branches tacked into the trees to form shelter. Most unlike the previous Top 10 campsite we had left in Russell two thirds the price and a very different ambience. The cabin was very roomy and well equipped for $32 but the kitchens were seriously in need of repairs - Pauline found half the rings did not work whilst all the young returning workers needed to cook their pasta and omelettes simultaneously. Talking to the boss and others the following morning we discovered we were one of the few there who were not doing temporary work or were students and usually both.
Before leaving the area we went to see the Collins Bros Steam Sawmill which is a few kms outside KeriKeri (there are signs in the town to it). This is a working sawmill, rather than just a tourist attraction, driven entirely by steam generated from the waste wood. The main boiler drives a large steam driven generator set, which used to provide standby power for a major hospital, and a number of smaller engines. The waste low pressure steam is then reused to heat the incoming water and finally to heat the kilns where the cut wood is dried for 10 days. We had been before and find watching the process by which logs are turned into stacks of planks and the way everything is reused fascinating. At present much of the equipment is driven from the generator but they have also put in the foundations for a large engine they are restoring to drive sections of the plant - most of the family are steam enthusiasts. They do not seem to have many visitors and this time we were given a guided tour to ourselves by Maree Collins and not even charged as it was a return visit. Well worth the visit if you are in the KeriKeri area, especially if you have been following the logging story, but do not expect them to be cutting up Kauri! They are coming to the UK soon and we must remember to send her some contacts when we get back.
We then drove North to a lovely DOC camp site at Rarawa. It is set in tall pines on the edge of a stream which leads down to a long golden sand beach - the sort that is so firm that you scarcely leave footprints on it. The surf was a bit too much to swim but it was lovely for splashing at the edge - the surf close to the beach was very mild and more like being in a whirlpool than in the stuff that rolls you over and leaves you bruised on the beach. By 1630 the other four people departed leaving us with without anyone in sight as far as the eye could see. We eventually walked back up and set up the Red Devil in a leisurely manner with a bottle of the Matua Pinotage to help things along - it stains cool boxes purple as well as Formica - rich stuff.
It was an eventfully night - as we sat in near darkness soaking in the atmosphere we sensed something on the edge of our vision and a torch revealed a small kitten disappearing into the distance. After a few minutes it reappeared sitting on the top of one of the tyres and responded favourable to our scraps. Then as we sat in darkness first a tail brushed past then the silence was shattered by the loudest purring we have ever heard circling round us until a little head nudged a hand. A couple of minutes latter there was a thud of and arrival on a lap followed by a climbing up round our shoulders. It was definitely looking for some new owners. We spoke to the caretaker carefully in the morning as cats are considered vermin in the National Parks and shot or trapped but he new about it and has been helping it in its search for a home - it should succeed as it is not only very friendly but has lovely fine tabby markings.
Whilst washing hands etc after it departed we also saw our first live Possum drinking from the pool at the bottom of the tap - it was absolutely fearless and continued to drink whilst the torch shone on it until we were a pace away then, when it had finished, ambled into the distance. They are real vermin and are destroying the NZ bush. There are estimated to be 70 million now and there is $2 head money on them and big campaigns to get people to wear Possum skins. They were an unfortunate introduction from Australia and have no natural predators in NZ so there are major trapping and poisoning programmes in many parks and farming areas where they carry bovine tuberculosis.
The next day we worked North via some side roads looking for fishing spots to another DOC site at Kapowairua (Spirits Bay). Another site within sound of breaking surf on another dazzling white beach - this time less a fraction less fine and looking as if it was composed of finely broken shells. The site is more exposed as it does not have the tall trees but with adequate numbers of flushing toilets and even a couple of cold water showers. It would seem there is good fishing on the rocks of an island connected by a rocky causeway at the end of the beach - we saw several groups return with a large (several kilo) fish for supper from the shoreline after quite short times. The beach seemed better sheltered and sea lower so it was possible to swim and laze the afternoon away.
We were told at the previous camp site about some amazing sand dunes and set out to find them. Having retraced our steps to the main road we stopped at Waitiki land where there is petrol (the earlier signs about last petrol heading North were not true) and we also bought ice for the cold box. The first we have had to buy for a long time as we normally freeze nearly full soft drink bottles or 1l Yoghurt containers in camp freezers - they stay frozen in our thick polystyrene cool box for more than a day - we still had blocks of ice from Auckland after over a week. The $6.50 cool box from Payless plastics has been a real winner - the last ice cost almost that! Heading on we discovered the sand dunes down the Te Paki Stream Road and they are well worth a visit but are on the tourist route as the buses use 4km of the stream bed to get down 90 mile beach where they tear down the sands to save traveling on the gravel roads and avoid speed limits. 90 mile beach is an amazing continuous sweep of beach, deserted apart from the occasional surf caster and the dreaded coaches - it is not quite 90 miles long, actually 102 km but quite still something to see.
We then went on up to Cape Reinga where to our disappointment the DOC office is no longer permitted to sell ice creams or any food because of some Maori dispute - the locals are allegedly threatened to burn it we were told. One can walk down to the lighthouse and see the distant Pohutukawa tree where Maori spirits leave on the first staging post to immortality. Legend says once the Maori soul had slipped down the Pohutukawa tree to the underworld it climber up to one of the Three Kings Islands, which can be seen offshore and there finally left for the world of its ancestors.
We then went on a DOC camp site only a few kilometers along the coast at Tapotupotu Bay. It has a busy picnic area visited by some of the coaches on a small but beautiful shelter beach with good swimming. There is a small camp site at the end of the beach and we found there was one site up the hill on the right immediately after the entry which has Stunning Views out over Tapotupotu Bay. We are thinking of staying another day and try our hand off the rocks at the end as 2 kilogram bags of our bait (pilchards) has now thawed and we are not sure how successful our efforts at salting it have been. We were told that salting is a good idea as it not only preserves the bait but makes it firmer so it stays on the hook longer. We did not get round to fishing the first day - we just swam (or Pete did) and sat looking at the view assisted by a bottle of Lindauer Brut and very rigid avocado. Pete has not helped the veg and fruit crisis by a bargain sack of oranges for only $5 so we also have to consume 4 or 5 a day to get through them in the next few weeks.
As dusk fell we discovered another of the delights of the Bay - mosquitoes, small with a fairly minor bite but irritating when they are in large numbers. Nothing is perfect and any irritations with the bites was rapidly dispelled the following morning as we watched a large pod of dolphins cross slowly past the bay, leaping, twisting somersaulting many times their length out of the water, there were even some tail first dives - Tapotupotu Bay was sold for another day.We explored the rock platforms, tried a little fishing of the rocks without a lot of success, Pete hooked one big one but it eventually managed to get into the rocks and kelp and escaped whilst Pauline caught one Kawahai too small too cook and something we did not identify which was even smaller. Whilst we were fishing and losing our tackle in the foul ground a local came by and advised us to go to the other end and fish in the breaking water over the kelp without any weights. We continued a bit longer in the same place casting the whole Pilchards which had turned lovely and rigid after their salting - we lost less tackle but caught nothing more. The evening was lovely and mild and Peter explored the swimming holes in the stream - glorious and warm in the setting sun and with the incoming tide one could just lie in the water and drift upstream under the overhanging Pohutakawa.
The following morning at Tapotupotu Bay Pete went swimming and he could see lines of 40/50 cm fish outlined against the sun through the curling over surf. We never realised that they came in close and swam in the surf line like that. We had already decided it was so nice we should maybe stay another day and this indicated we ought to have a more serious attempt at fishing especially as we had run out of fresh food. The rest of the morning was spent making up tackle whilst the tide went out enough to get on to the rock platforms.
We tried the original side where there had been the big bite but nothing so we walked round to the other side and picked a couple of spots. First cast from Peter was slowly pulled in until he was just about to retrieve it before it tangled in the kelp below him when there was a flash of silver and there was a three and a half pound Kawahai on the line only a couple of meters away. It was rapidly hauled out and as it was being grabbed on the rocks it cut through the line but too late - we had supper. There seemed no point in continuing after that single cast so we walked back. We had no scales but got an estimate of the weight from the water displaced in a bucket and measured it at 53 cm - real beginners luck. It tasted great grilled on the Red Devil with Kumara with lemon completed by a bottle of Alan Scott Sauvignon Blanc - there was plenty left of the Kawahai for another meal.
We left after a leisurely start and swim and ended up doubling back to Rarawa after looking at the Wagener Museum - lots of interesting bits to see as in many of the settlers museums but no real theme - everything from a two headed sheep to a collection of 460 chamber pots. There are working demonstrations of early washing machines, telephone exchanges and mechanical music. It would take hours to do it justice so it is in the visit on a wet day category.
Back at Rarawa and free of mosquitoes, it was time to try the next batch of Avocados from a roadside stall which had been slowly ripening. I have been meaning to include the recipe for our version of Guacamole (especially for Sue who for must be desperate for inputs for Pipeline by now) for some time so here goes. Mash a ripe avocado with a fork, press or very finely chop three large garlic cloves, add the finely chopped peal from half a lime (or lemon) plus the juice from one third of the lemon/lime and add a little chilli powder or cayenne pepper and beat with the fork until it is very smooth. Serve as a dip with pieces of carrot, cucumber or Tortilla chips with sparkling wine late in the afternoon when there is nothing important to do and you do not expect visitors.
As dusk fell the delightful little tabby kitten returned and consumed vast amount of tinned milk and salmon before playing happily with the cork on the end of a guy rope and crawling all over us. Comment from Pauline - the end of a purfect day. The caretaker and the DOC staff are apparently going to try to find it a home in one of the local villages as nobody has adopted it yet to his and our surprise. The Rawara caretaker Ralph and his wife Sue were a fund of information and we spent a long time talking before we left in the morning - it seems they backpack round a lot of unusual parts of the world and write travel books.
One of the areas he suggested we looked at was the Karikari peninsular so we decided to have a look. There is a DOC camp site at the end but washing etc was getting a bit desperate and there were demands for hot showers so we stayed at a commercial (top 10) camp site at Whatuwhiwhi on the sheltered Doubtless bay side. They had cabins but we decided to use the tent which will be the seventh night in a row. As soon as we set it up the camp cat arrived and as I write this it is asleep on Pauline's lap as she watches the washing dry. We will have a look at the DOC site at Matai tomorrow - it is supposed to have good fishing and snorkeling of the rocks at the ends of the twin bays.
The caretaker at Rarawa who suggested we should investigate the Karikari peninsular, in particular directed us towards the DOC camp site which is reputed to have both good fishing and snorkeling off the rocks. It is right at the end of the peninsular and Matai could well be the most beautiful beach, or more correctly twin beaches, of all of those we have seen in Northland. The beaches are soft white sand and the central promontory and the ends are rocky with good diving. Peter had a look round the central rocks with fins and snorkel and it had a fair amount of life and went very deep very quickly off the rocks. At low tide there are big sandy pools with sections deep enough for swimming left within the rocky outcrops. The whole setting is glorious and the bays are very sheltered for swimming as the ends come in. The camp site is in two parts and does not have views directly of the bay but is divided into sheltered sections by lines of trees. It is all rather more regimented than most DOC sites with the individual sites marked out and numbered for high season when there is a DOC representative present but even so it must be at or near the top of our list for a visit in the future - we would have stopped if we had any provisions left.
We continued along the main coastline down to Mangonui, a historic port and eventually stopped at a commercial camp site within sound of the surf at Taupo - vintage equipment, some the like of which we have only seen in settlers museums but very cheap ($7 each). At least it was manned - the first one we looked at Hihi Beach had a sign "shop and office open when the fishing is bad - find yourself a site" maybe it is the end of the season. The feline saga continued at Taupo - here we were accosted by a friendly and very solid ginger cat who was determined to share our lamb and steak off the red devil.
In the morning we returned to look at Mangonui, a pleasant fishing village but now full of tourist shops and house agents. It does have however have a fabled fish and chip shop which also sells fresh fish. We had Blue Nose and chips for an early lunch - you select the pieces you want and they weigh and cook them. They are absolutely fresh, you can watch them being gutted, filleted and passed straight through to the counter. We also bought some John Dory and Hapuka to take away - John Dory is arguably one of the best of the New Zealand catches - it looks like a flounder but swims almost upright. They also smoke fish so we had some smoked Kingfish and Gemfish.
The next two days were spent in a commercial site in Matauri Bay where we had a pitch almost at the edge of the sea. We did not fish but there were lots of regulars with boats and we saw someone bring in a monster Crayfish which was bigger than the stuffed one on their wall - just caught with a snorkel and gloves. The new owners of the site only took over earlier in the week and were still finding their way and what their store carries. They had no filter coffee so the new owner said she would bring enough for a couple of days from her home and it duly turned up at our pitch. The store already carries a reasonable stock and promises to improve - there is even petrol and diesel although at prices that make it more for emergencies and boats. There is also a dive center which runs courses and fills tanks etc. which could be fun in the future - we had only done "tourist" dives in the Caribbean so far.
At one end of the site at Matauri Bay there is a Waka, the traditional Maori war and inter-island canoe 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. 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. She is a popular site for divers. We only intended to stay one day but ended up staying a second day and it is on our list for future visits.
We worked our way down the coast and stocked up with provisions at Kerikeri before crossing over on the ferry from Opua to Russell. We worked our way round a scenic drive, much of it unsealed roads but with magnificent views of bays and beaches we had only seen from the Bay of Islands. We crossed over to the other (East) coast at Whangaruru, another potential stop if we ever sail down the coast from the Bay of Islands to The Hauraki Gulf. We stayed at a lovely DOC site at Whangaruru North right on the seas edge - at high tide you could surf cast from the side of our tent we were so close! The site has plenty of taps for washing etc and also has a hand pump for the best water we have found so far. One previous group even returned with a small tanker and spent 4 hours filling it by hand to take back to Auckland to make beer. There is even a washing board and mangle by the beach.
Brian & Lynn Bulmer who are the current caretakers gave us a lot of advice on fishing in the area and we spent several hours chatting to them. It turned out his brother lives a couple of roads away from Jenny and Kev in Leeds - it is a small world! We spent a lot of the time fishing - surf casting, off the rocks and trolling. We did not catch a lot Pete had a couple of small snapper out of the surf the first morning and the morning we as we were packing to leave Kawahai came into the bay and we were advised to just cast lures into the area they were feeding and retrieve them (trolling) - it works and the Kawahai apparently will even fight over the fish shaped metal lures. Brian and Lynn each got one and so did both of us although mine was hardly worth keeping unlike Pauline's. We are at least learning to cast sensible distances although even our 8 foot rod is a bit short compared to a proper 12 foot surf casting rod. Overall a very pleasant stay where we learnt a lot more about fishing. A site we will definitely go back to although it can get busy earlier in the year - we were spoilt as we were only one of perhaps 6 groups and there must be 20 sea edge pitches plus a number of less desirable ones. We had a spectacular sunset before our final night under canvas giving a super ending to the years camping.
We returned to Russell to the Top Ten Holiday Park where we had an up-market cabin so we could do all our washing and clean up etc after the 12 days under canvas and in preparation for the packing away of our kit for storing when we return to the UK at the end of the week. The best three cabins have decks and spectacular views over the camp and the Bay to Waitangi and Paihia. The Kawahai Pauline caught augmented by my tiddler gave us a good size lunch with lemon Kumara and we ate out in the evening at the Duke of Marlborough as we did last visit.
Sat around until we had to vacate the room then went down to Russell round the shops where we bought some polycarbonate glasses to replace one of the Matua ones we had broken. Discovered a good fishing tackle shop which also made rods and carried out repairs. They put a new end on the rod Pauline had damaged the end of trying to break monofilament line to fit the troll the previous day - $7.40 for the parts and labour and ten minutes of advice!.
We also bought an interesting bread from the Russell bakery - it was called Remora (or something like that). It was described to us as a potato bread which uses fermented potato juice instead of yeast to get it to rise. It is a very light white bread and we were told originally made by the Maori - the lady who sold it to us said her mother used to make it in camp ovens which used to give a very much more crisp crust than their bakery oven. The texture, colour and taste turned out to be very much like an overgrown brioche. We have rarely been disappointed when we have tried local specialities.
We then worked our way across to Goat Island which is part of the Leigh Marine Reserve. The snorkeling was unbelievable - I have never seen so many large fish in one area before even in the Caribbean reserves. You could stand in the water up to your waste and have dozens of large (50cm) fish round one including snapper. With a mask I must have seen 8 or more types round the rocks, in the kelp and just swimming over the areas cleared by the sea eggs. It was an awesome experience and even accepting that many by the beach are attracted by people ill advisedly feeding them and indicates what the sea must have been like round the New Zealand coastline before it was commercially overfished.
We found a very nice and quaint campsite at Sandspit (opposite Kawau) - the buildings round the office have been done up to look like a row of old shops with the windows full of goods. The cabins all have names not numbers and we got Willow complete with a bay window, decking with roses rambling over the top, fridge, cooking and microwave for $36. They have dinghies and canoes one can borrow as well as fishing rods and flounder spears - all free. They have a library and TV and Video room which looks as if it has lots of tapes. The facility buildings are old but spotlessly clean and the Men's room was full of potted plants and there were even a huge bowl of fresh flowers over the urinals. Pauline completed the washing and drying and the dryers seemed to run for ever on the standard $2 coin - you are usually lucky to get 20 minutes. We sat on the decking with the last of the Morton Pinot and some nibbles and were mobbed by the local ducks - they are so tame they try to get on ones lap to eat and one even allowed Pauline to pick it up.
The following morning started the homegoing preparations, cleaning out, final drying and packing the tent etc. after which we went down to the wharf at Sandspit just in case we could catch lunch but no such luck - the tide was coming in past the wharf at an incredible rate. We worked our way back via Devenport for lunch and a visit to White's Dairy which claims the biggest ice creams in Auckland - they go up 7 scoops in 5 flavours for $4 but we could only manage the $1.50 2.5 scoop jobs!
We then dropped into Charterlink to have a word with Deanna and fixed up the provisional dates for sailing next year - it will be busy with America's Cup This seems a very appropriate point to finish the saga for this year.
Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 22nd April, 1999
Changed to Popup Images on 15th April, 2002