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!
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.
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!