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Friday, May 4, 2018

Weather with you: west coast and Northland, NZ

Probably the best known New Zealand pop songs are those by the Finn brothers. Neil was in the original lineup of Crowded House, and when Tim joined the band they had an international hit called “Weather With You.” While we were in NZ the iPod kept going back to this song, like a theme. I wonder why:
“Everywhere you go
Always take the weather with you”

We had three sunny days in New Zealand. One was the day we hiked from Hahei Beach to Cathedral Cove, on the Coromandel Peninsula. One was the day we made our way from Tongariro to Raglan, on the west coast. And the other was the day we took off from the camper van and joined a tour up to Cape Reinga, at the tip of Northland, the part of the North Island that stretches above Auckland.
As I wrote a few posts ago, New Zealand has some unique native wildlife. You might have wondered why the only picture I have of a tuatara, the little dinosaur, is from Auckland Museum, and the only picture of a kiwi is this:

The answer is, we tried but we couldn’t find any! We stopped at the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park on the sunny day. Before paying, we saw that there was a “tuatarium,” where they keep that species as well. You might have thought the sun would tempt a tuatara out into it, but George was hiding, unfortunately.

So we tried the kiwi enclosures. Both of them. Now kiwis are nocturnal, so I wouldn’t have expected to see one in the wild anyway. But neither of us saw anything in the nocturnal house. No movement, no creature anywhere. I remember nocturnal houses at zoos having a kind of purple light by which you could see the nocturnal animals. Maybe they determined that was bad for the animals. In any case, I’m happy Otorohanga has a sanctuary for kiwis and other native birds, but we saw nothing more exotic than a duck.
"Sometimes it's all about the kids having fun," T. said.
We continued to pass fun road signs. In Huntly there was a place called Cheep Liquor. Maybe it’s like Dairy Kreme—they misspell Cheep deliberately because it isn't really cheap. We also kept stopping at picnic places, which are everywhere along NZ roadsides, but have no other facilities such as toilets or trash cans.

It’s no wonder. Every man and woman in New Zealand is employed fixing various portions of road. Fortunately, since we were used to such a leisurely, winding pace, the road works everywhere didn’t slow us down much. We got lots of good views of the hills and then flatland along the Kaipara Harbour. Now we know why NZ looks so lush and green.

Arriving at Raglan, which is a surf town in summer, was a big relief. It wasn’t the season for swimming in the Tasman Sea, but we walked down along the black sand beach in time for sunset. The little boys playing there were charming, stopping their mom, me, and anyone else to tell about the “sea creature” they’d found in the sand.

Our campground was on a spit of land, so we took a footbridge over to the town. Not much going on, but there’s always fish and chips. Peter had warned us about “fush and chups” as they say in NZ. You order the kind of fish you want (from what’s fresh that day) and then wait for them to cook it right then, along with fresh chips. It would never work in a busy place, like Britain or Australia, but then I’d never even heard of the fish I had—gurnard. It was delicious. 

Walking back we could see a crescent moon, and the Milky Way. From sunshine in the morning to our starriest night, it was also the first day in New Zealand I hadn’t worn my rain jacket. At all. It was as if the country wanted to see the poppy T. bought me from New Zealand's Returned and Services' Association.

The next morning when I got up, there was a perfect rainbow standing right over the campground. It didn’t last long enough for me to get my glasses, let alone my camera. But I saw it.
We made our way along the west coast of Northland, camping the second night at Dargaville. We didn't go into the Dargaville Museum but we did stop there, for the views from the top of the hill. It's the site of a pa, a Maori fortified settlement. You can see signs of these defensive terraces around many volcanoes on the North Island. And there's something else outside the Dargaville Museum that I wanted to see: the masts of the Rainbow Warrior.
For those who don't remember, in 1985 the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland Harbour. She was a Greenpeace ship on the way to document France's atomic tests in Polynesia (it's amazing how many parts of the world were dirtied like this). New Zealanders were shocked to learn that a terrorist bombing had taken place in their country, killing a photographer. They were even more shocked when it emerged that the terrorists were actually French spies, acting on orders from their government.

The condemnation of France by its ally, the U.S.A., was tepid enough to anger New Zealand. This was one of a number of factors that pushed the New Zealand government to adopt an anti-nuclear policy and one of non-alignment with any of the nuclear powers, which it maintains to this day. Of course not all Kiwis are enamored of their country's distinctive stance. I imagine Canadian businesses are. 

Back to our road trip and the jewel north of Dargaville: the Waipoua Forest. We were on Highway 1, the main highway on the North Island, but there were still plenty of hills and twists for our driver to enjoy.

The Waipoua Forest is the best preserve of the kauri forests that once covered much of the island. We stopped and walked in the Trounson Kauri Park, seeing many of these enormous and ancient trees.

Then we found Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest. He, as the Tane Mahuta ambassador referred to the tree, is the largest kauri alive, and may have been living as long as two thousand years. “So when your castles and cathedrals were built,” said the ambassador, “he was already a thousand years old. And he is still living!”
Some sights are just said to be impressive, and when you see them, they don’t do anything for you. But Tane Mahuta is impressive.

We camped for two nights in Ahipara, at the bottom of Ninety Mile Beach. The beach is actually just under ninety kilometres long, but the holiday park is nice. A roaring fire in the communal room did not go amiss! The wind chill had been below freezing in Tongariro National Park.

It was from here that we booked a day trip up Ninety Mile Beach and to Cape Reinga. After all that driving, it was nice to have somebody else do it, not least because we were in a bus-sized dune buggy that actually drove up Ninety Mile Beach. 

There are a lot of Croatian names in Northland. Many Croatian people settled here to work at gum digging, which I finally learned has nothing to do with gum trees (eucalyptus), but the sap from kauris. People used to harvest this “New Zealand amber.” Now that the kauri is a protected species, it can only be harvested from peat swamps where the trees have been buried for hundreds or thousands of years.

Like a lot of other immigrants, the Croatians received a less than warm welcome, especially during the Great War when they arrived on Austrian passports. Maori people in the area called them tarara, which was what they joked the Croatian language sounded like. Today, many people in the area have both Maori and Croatian heritage.

I’m not sure how I feel about a beach that people drive all over, or as far as they can with a quad bike or 2WD. Probably like a jet ski, it’s obnoxious for anyone else who’s trying to relax on the beach, but it’s fun when you’re on it.

The forecast was right: it was clear and sunny all day. And our trip was good value for money. The 4WD took us to the top of the beach and then to the Te Paki dunes, giant sand dunes of white silica. Our objective here was to “surf” down the dune on old body boards. It was more like sledding than surfing, only it’s much tougher to walk up a sand dune than a snowy hill. On my second run I took the brakes off and let fly across the water at the bottom.
Photo courtesy of T.
Thence to Cape Reinga, the holiest marae or sacred ground in all of New Zealand. It’s where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.

Maori tradition also says that this is where souls slide down the roots of a lone pohutukawa tree, to begin their journey to paradise.

We walked down to the lighthouse, which dates from 1941. On the way back I had enough in my legs to climb up and over the bluff. Barely, after climbing the dune. I kept finding sand on my face and even in my mouth!

When Christian missionaries came to this country, they planted a lot of Norfolk pine. They liked the way the top of the tree resembles a cross. Our guide pointed this out and then I started seeing Norfolk pines everywhere—almost as often as maraes.

It was such a calm day that the usual mist was absent at Cape Reinga, and we were able to see across to the Three Kings Islands. We could also see the westernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Maria van Diemen.

Our lunch stop was at Tapotupotu Bay. The disadvantage of being with an organized tour is that we couldn’t walk to Tapotupotu Bay, or spend as much time there as we liked. But Auntie Joyce and her mate fixed us a very good lunch. 

That afternoon it was too warm for the communal fire. We sat in the sunshine back at our campsite, in the camp chairs. It was one of the only times we got them out. 

On our last full day in New Zealand, we made our way down the east coast. At some points the coasts are as little as 10 km apart. We had to drive mostly inland, as Highway 11 was closed south of Paihia, but we did pause for a bit at Doubtless Bay.

At Kerikeri we stopped to see the oldest stone building in New Zealand, the Stone Store. The nearby mission house is the oldest European building in the country. They are relics of Anglican missionaries, as are many of the cute little churches I seemed to see everywhere we went.

This is the region of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where Maori and Europeans first encountered and made treaty with one another (however often it would later be breached by the Crown). We couldn’t get there because of the highway closure, so I made a special pit stop instead.

These are the Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an artist and architect born in Austria, lived nearby for several decades until his death. He was known for eco-works like these, featuring ceramic mosaics, colored bottles, and grass and plants growing on the roof. 

It was a very rough turnoff to Uretiti Beach, but it made for a nice final lunch stop. You just walk over a little bluff on a sand walkway and you are on the beach.

Before reaching Sandspit, our last campground, we meant to stop at a winery. As with the tuatara and the kiwi, I’d been pursuing wineries with no luck, and my luck was not to change. The winery didn’t do tastings on Mondays. The closest I got was the wine I bought in stores, or fireside at the Chateau Tongariro.

But better late than never, I sat at a picnic table—wooden! dry!—on our last evening. Our campsite looked out at Hauraki Gulf. I thought about what I would miss about New Zealand. The kiwi fruit, feijoas, Vogel’s crumpet-like bread. The campgrounds, which were all nice and had a powered site for us whenever we turned up. Not so much the rain or Bluebird “crisps” (there are only two or three in a bag, which is a relief).
Sunrise from our campsite
My abiding image of New Zealand will be those little boys on the beach. Kids, and some adults, running around the beaches and campgrounds enjoying themselves, and often barefoot! At Sandspit Holiday Park there were six boys of varying ages “challenging” each other to some kind of game. Another was tossing a rugby ball to himself. The TV lounge, which had old cinema seats installed (antique junk was the theme of this campground), was empty. The screen was dark.

Why would anyone turn on a screen? I’ve never seen a country more beautiful, anywhere in the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We enjoyed a chuckle at your hyperbolical, "Every man and woman in NZ is employed fixing . . . roads"; were fascinated by your account of the huge trees of the Waipona Forest, especially Tane Mahuta; and loved the stunning photos of Cape Reinga and "Sunrise from our campsite." G & )