Sunday, 28 April 2013

Whangarei to Paihia

Tonight (Sunday) we’re in the Beachside Holiday Camp just outside Paihia, a town in the Bay of Islands, about two thirds of the way up Northland, after a day of driving up the coast road from Whananaki, where we’ve spent the last two nights (with very flaky email reception, hence the lack of blog).

On Friday morning we woke up in Whangarei with a lot planned to do in the locality, the weather was pretty good so we set off and completed most of it. 
On the canopy walk next to a big Kauri
Our first port of call was a canopy walk in a forest of mainly Kauri trees, which is basically a boardwalk 7m high in the forest, giving very good views of these 500 year old majestic trees high up in the canopy, which ends at Whangarei waterfall. The kauri tree is New Zealands best known, it can live for up to 4000 years, can grow to a height of 30m, two thirds of it straight and branchless. It was much prized by Maori who used it for canoe building and Europeans for ship and house building, resulting in decimation of the forests, with only remnants to be seen today. This park, the A H Reed Kauri Park was set aside by Mr. Reed and is a rare example of what most of NZ must have looked like. 
The waterfall wasn’t bad either, pity we couldn’t get a picture of the green and red ‘parroty things’ Jackie saw fly past her!

The entrance to Organ Cave
Just round the corner was Abbey Caves, which are three undeveloped cave systems with glow-worms, which require headtorches, a bit of scrambling and wading through, in places, waist deep water. There’s no guide, you just go in alone at your own risk. There were three caves, not very easy to find, Organ, Middle and Ivy caves. Organ is the longest and best so we went in there first, dressed in shorts, tee shirts and sandles. Wet from the off, the water was fairly cool, but we soon got used to it, of more concern was the placing of feet as, although the water was clear, it got stirred up a bit as it ran over the rocks. 

In places it was quite deep and we gingerly put a foot down into flowing water, deeper and deeper until finding an uneven rock to stand on, holding onto the wall and roof for support, with just the beam of our headtorches and the noise of running water and small waterfalls, occasionally stepping over what looked like bottomless wells. It went on for quite a way and we knew it reached a dead-end and we’d have to turn round and go back, but it was worth it as it was covered in stalactites and glow-worms. We turned off the torches at the end to see what looked like a starry night sky! 
Middle cave was shorter, but you could go right through, with a nice bit of free rock climbing at the end to get out (guessed my shoulder should be OK now!). Ivy cave was described as being a bit muddy, so we went through until we reached that part, which was also where the roof was very low and the water very deep (more than waist deep), with about 1m of air above. We decided we were wet enough and had seen enough so left it at that and came out. It was great fun!

We turned off the headtorches here and the roof was covered in glow-worms
Our last sight was a lookout on top of Mount Parihaka, which gave great views over Whangarei, but we cheated and drove up rather than do the 50min hike up!

Whananaki campsite
 Deciding to move on we drove to the coastal town of Whananaki and stayed on a really nice little campsite, which we liked so much we stayed there for Saturday as well, using the day just to chill out, read the weekend papers and take a stroll over, what apparently is the longest wooden foot bridge in the southern hemisphere and then round the headland. We were blessed with warm sunny weather again, so we were outdoors all day.

The footbridge at Whananaki - the longest in the Southern Hemisphere apparently
The views round the headland
Russell from Flagpole Hill
Today we’ve had a driving/sightseeing day, taking the coast road north to Russell, across the ferry to Opua, down to Kawakawa and then up to Paihia. The coast road was great with super sea views and we could have made several detours and done some walking, but we went straight through to the very scenic town of Russell on the southern edge of the Bay of Islands. Apparently Russell was the very first Capital City of New Zealand (from 1840 to 1841!), before moving to Auckland and then Wellington, but you wouldn’t know it, it’s just a sleepy seaside town with a ferry terminal, lots of very interesting period buildings and fantastic sea views.

Motuarohia Island
This whole area is steeped in NZ history, Captain Cook visited here in 1769, anchoring at Motuarohia Island, making progress with Maori relations, Waitangi is close by (we’ll be visiting there tomorrow), which is where the historic settlement and New Zealand founding document between Europeans and Maori was signed in 1840, to give protection to the country by the Crown and recognise the rights of Maori. Waitangi Day (February 6th) is a public holiday in NZ to celebrate this important treaty.

The Hundertwasswer Toilets
We took the very small car ferry to Opua to save a long road journey on gravel roads and drove south to Kawakawa to see a public toilet! Not just any public toilet, but the famous Hundertwasser toilet, designed and built by Frederick Hundertwasser in 1997 using broken tiles, coloured bottles and found objects in a ramshackle sort of way with not a straight edge anywhere. 

Inside the toilets

It turns out Kawakawa is a great place for all sorts of reasons and unusual architecture and art is everywhere, including a vintage steam railway that runs right down the centre of the main street (unfortunately we missed the 2:30pm excursion by 15 minutes, but we still saw Gabriel the steam engine parked in his shed!).

We ended up just outside Paihia at the Beachside Holiday Park (yes, it’s next to the beach!), but we chose a site back from the beach as Jackie spotted a little tabby cat asleep by one plot, so that’s where we had to go. So far it’s had a bowl of milk and some of Jackie’s dinner and I’m quite expecting it to be brought into the van tonight!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

On through Northland

With the weather being better than forecast, we’re heading on up the east coast of Northland through a mixture of mainly warm sunshine and little wind, intermixed with occasional quite heavy downpours. It’s a place of beaches and scenery with only modest height mountains, so we’ve been cruising the lanes hugging the coast, occasionally hitting the SH1 main north road, which is surprisingly busy (for New Zealand!).

Yesterday we left Orewa to arrive firstly at Wenderholm Regional Park (we thought our van from Wenderkreisen might feel at home in Wenderholm!) and took a walk past an 1860’s ‘historic’ house and round a headland, beautifully tended in amongst the trees, with BBQ’s, shelters with seating, taps and, nearby toilets with showers, all free to use and all with stunning sea views and a $5/person campsite (although we found it too late!).

Jackie with rucksack on Mullet Point
After endless very scenic seaviews we arrived at a place called Scandrett Regional Park with its ‘historic’ (1860’s) homestead and farmhouses, right on the beach. The leaflet we picked up said “Don’t miss the chance to head out to Mullet Point and see the fantastic views from the historic Maori pa site. Pack a lunch and enjoy a leisurely lunch at the Point”. Sounds good to me, so while Jackie was looking round the gardens of the homestead, I got lunch together, packed a rucksack, handed it to Jackie to carry (well, I can’t carry one can I!) and off we set. I included the big carving knife, chopping board, French stick, cheese, pate and all the trimmings, plus obviously, raincoats, hats and gloves (yes, it probably was heavy!). Great views at the top and a great walk (come on Jackie, what’s the problem?).

Doesn't this look like a desert island (except for the hills in the distance!)
Leigh harbour
After the buzzing metropolis of Warkworth we stayed on the little coast roads, went through Leigh (which is supposed to be a typical English seaside town but it didn’t look much like it to us. Nice harbour though) and ended up at a campsite at Pakiri beach, where the river frequently almost floods the surrounding area as the sea banks up the sand blocking the river flow. They keep on having to clear a path through the sandbank to avoid flooding (quite exciting for kids to dig with spades I’d have thought, except they’d probably get swept out to sea when the bank finally gave way – there was a lot of water being held back!).

Mangawhai Head
Today we continued north through more coastal roads, stopping at Mangewhai Head (very scenic and nice scrambles over the rocks right out to the head - and we saw a young seal, playing and basking in the sun, the first one we've seen for months!) and did ‘dog rescue’! On the main road towards the beach was a brown labrador standing in the middle of the road looking lost and a bit panicky. Other cars didn’t stop, but we did and he was such a placid, cute dog who wanted reassuring and stroking. Obviously being lost he lay down off the road and let us fuss him. He had a free phone number and ID code on his collar, but we had no cell phone reception, so were just wondering what to do, when his owner came by in their car. We got him in their car, she thanked us very much and drove about 100m to their house! Oh well, he seemed lost – maybe he was just missing them!
Jackie had to do a bit of climbing
The young seal we saw playing

A final stop we made was at a rocky beach where we collected green lipped mussels for our tea! Its the first time we've managed to get enough for a whole meal, but we had to be selective to get one's big enough. At the campsite tonight we cooked them in white wine, onion and cream, followed by stewed feijoas (supplied by Robyn) and custard - fantastic! 

Jackie collecting mussels for our tea!
We’ve now made it up to a place called Whangarei which seems to have quite a few things to do, a canopy walkway through native Kauri trees, spectacular waterfalls and hilltop lookout walks, plus Abbey Caves, an undeveloped and unguided system of three glowworm caves. Take a torch and, if the waters more than waist deep, don’t go in! Enter at your own risk it says. Sounds like fun, think tomorrow might be quite busy, I’m a bit concerned we might not get back in time for tea and cake!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Up into Northland

Short and sweet this entry will be, we did the doctor thing and that was all fine – B will be approached by a knife on the 7th May to ‘deal with’ both his left shoulder and right hand! He was also given the once over over the rest of his body, and there is nothing else that needs looking at or keeping an eye on, so that’s good news. The bad news is we missed a call this morning saying if we could be at the clinic he had a cancellation for 13.15. Doris the sat nav said 13.54 so sadly we missed that! Oh well, it’ll give us time to enjoy Northland, and then 10 days or so to either go back to Tongariro or go to Gisborne, the long and rugged way round!

We stopped with Robyn and Murray for a cuppa on our way past, and came away with the van groaning under the weight of fruit and cake, we really are having healthy breakfasts, peanut butter on toast to keep us going, then a combination of apple (picked from the roadside, though B did end up slithering about in rotten apple and says he’s never stopping again), pear (from the garden of the house we looked at), feijoa (from the garden, from the drive of the ‘quirky’ camp or from Robyn), passion fruit (from Robyn), kiwi fruit (Robyn) and banana (supermarket!) We can also confirm that pureed feijoa with custard makes a very acceptable pudding! (Feijoa are small hard skinned fruit that you eat the centre of with a spoon, vaguely reminiscent of pear, but not really like anything else!)

Something else for Robyn and Murray after mentioning "7 drunken nights" once or twice when we were with them, after we left them the first time, as we were walking past the Irish Bar at 11.15am in Whakatane, we had to stop and sing along to ...... 7 drunken nights! we did get some funny looks!

The 3km long beach at Orewa
We are now at Orewa so haven’t really made it very far, but the cake was calling so we had to stop! Plus we needed to get over the shock of $46 at last nights campsite in Miranda!

We’ve just had a call from John, and fingers crossed, his offer has been accepted on a house in Napier, sounds great, and even has a swimming pool for cats! (A hot tub to anyone but me!) We’ll just have to have another trip out here to give it the once over when he’s moved in!