Wednesday, 25 January 2012


13 January
Mike knocked off work early and we set off up north about 3.15pm. Went up Highway 1 and the traffic wasn’t bad apart from the usual difficulty getting onto the motorway leading up to the bridge. The journey took 4 hours: the road getting smaller and smaller the further north you go. Landscape’s quite hilly with some forest but mostly agricultural, with large herds of cows. Eventually we left HW1 and headed west above Hokianga Harbour, passing through the little village of Kohukohu and arriving at the Treehouse about 7.30pm. It was built by Phil and Pauline, the Aussie owners, about 30 years ago, and is nestled in a large area of native bush on a steep hillside. The lodge is on 2 floors and has a couple of small dorm rooms, a large shared kitchen and sitting area, and toilets and showers below. It was purpose built for backpackers, but now has a few chalets dotted around the lodge, linked by boardwalks. We had the Pond Hut, aptly named as it was built over a duck pond, and in the shade of a huge clump of giant bamboo. The nearest cafes/restaurants are 4km back in Kohukohu, so we’ve brought all the food we need for the w/e. We go for a half hour wander through the bush to the lookout and watch the sun go down over the harbour, then eat dinner and bed.

Tree House Lodge
Hourly ferry across the shallow waters of Hokianga Harbour

14 January
We’re in a bit of a rush to get the little car ferry across the harbour to Rawene. Most of the things we want to do are on the south side so we use the ferry quite a lot during our stay. The harbour water is very shallow; in fact at low tide Rawene is no longer accessible by boat from the sea at all. Over the other side we drive along heading west towards the harbour mouth. At Opononi you can see the giant sand dunes on the northern side, which you can surf down apparently, but it's only accessible by ferry. There's a dramatic contrast between the flat calm waters of the harbour and the turbulent seas at the harbour mouth, between the giant dunes and South Head where we park. We walk along to the tip gazing down to the boiling white waters and then take a path steeply down to a beach just round the corner. The tide’s going out and it’s a wild beach with wonderful flat rock formations, the sea’s being whipped up into a froth and just as I’m thinking no one in their right mind’s going to swim in this, a Maori family comes down the path, strips off and goes straight in. Thankfully the 2 little ones have life jackets on, but they’re all getting thrown about and knocked over by crashing waves having a wonderful time: a lot braver than us for sure. A little way back up the path we take a turn off that’s leads us round the headland along the coast with more great views down to the rocks below.

Below South Head looking across the Harbour mouth to the giant sand dunes

Back in the car we’re off to find a picnic spot. The chosen place is a long dusty drive up the untarmacked Waiotemarama Gorge Road to a waterfall. We find the perfect spot and lunch, but then continuing on to do the loop walk we hit a serious problem. Half the steep hillside has just slid downwards and what is left of the path is now only six inches wide and a foot deep in mud. There’s a rope attached to the side as a safety measure! We’d seen people earlier with very muddy feet holding their boots in their hands and should have taken note. Mike was keen to go on but there was no way I was going any further. Chickened out’s another way of putting it. So we went back to visit the weird little puzzle museum near where the car’s parked beside the gravel road. It’s one of only 3 puzzle museum’s in the world and the owner is a large bearded man who invents and carves wooden puzzles, and sells them in his museum. There’s art work too and various Kauri boards and bowls. We stay for ages talking to the inventor’s wife and end up spending a small fortune.
Beach combing

Tricerotops guarding the river mouth on Waimamaku Beach

Driving back towards Opononi we take a detour following a sign to Waimamaku Beach. We park beside a wide river at the end of the road and walk along heading to the coast. Rounding a bend, a huge skeleton comes into view: a massive ancient tree trunk resting on the sand where the river meets the coast, looking for all the world like an ancient dinosaur. The beach is staggering: must be miles long and just fabulous on this bright breezy day: no people, just sea birds and driftwood, with a wonderful misty haze rising from the sea where waves are crashing onto the shore. We see stilts, the funny varied oyster catchers, and a blue heron, as well as the usual gulls. There is driftwood everywhere and I can’t resist doing my beachcombing bit. Must remember to bring a bag with me next time.

Arty photo of driftwood

We walk for miles up the beach taking photos and just enjoying the wildness of it all. It’s amazing to me that a beach as beautiful as this has no road beside it, no cafes, no access at all in fact at high tide. So with my back to the sea and Mike beside me I’m taking an arty photo of a rock or something and all of a sudden we’re both drenched up to our thighs. A freak wave has crashed over us, and is threatening to carry away my walking boots left beside us on a rock. We dash after them and manage to catch one each. Back round South Head to Rawene we catch the last ferry back across the harbour, after a terrific day out. At the Tree House Mike cooks us a steak dinner. Not so many people about tonight.

Waimamku Beach, sand and rock stretching for miles
Oyster catchers on Waimamaku
15 January
The next morning we pack and rush breakfast again to catch the 9 o’clock ferry. I like to think we’ll be back at the Tree House again some day. Having come up to Northland on Highway 1 which follows the east coast, we plan to return on Highway 12 on the western side, making various stops on the way. The road runs parallel to the coast going through the Waipoua Forest which is famous for its massive kauri trees. The biggest are about 2,000 years old, not all that tall but with a massive girth: up to 16 metres. There are walkways round the really massive ones to stop people walking on the roots as this can spread kauri die-back disease. You have to brush and disinfect your boots too. Not a problem: you really don’t want to be responsible for killing off a 2,000 year old tree do you?

Tree Hugging one of the smaller kauri

We’re here walking in this ancient forest quite early in the morning, so few people are about and I think this helps to make it quite an experience: one’s body seems to react spontaneously in the presence of such a massive living thing, it really is awesome, and that’s not a word I often use.

Mike in front of one of the biggest kauris
We’d missed out on swimming because the Tasman Sea on the west coast is so rough, so we stop at a dune lake on the way down south, it’s a bit windy but we have our picnic lunch and enjoy our swim. More driving and then eventually we get to the famous Kauri Museum. New Zealand seems to have funny little museums in just about every town you travel through, but the Kauri Museum isn’t like that. It’s very big and covers every aspect of the kauri, and mans’ relationship with it. We spent at least 2 hours there and loved it especially learning about the men who lived by collecting and digging for gum. The collections of Kauri gum were amazing: some of it is fossilised, just like amber and like amber it can contain insects and creatures trapped forever within it. Much of it is carved into fantastical shapes: castles and boats and Maori busts. Some of the kauri wood was found when swamps were cleared and this swamp kauri was especially valued for its’ beauty and durability. There were beautiful pieces of furniture from the early days and many rooms were wood panelled with kauri and other native woods so you could compare the grain, colour and texture of each. Lovely date scones and tea to follow, then back home to Auckland.

No comments:

Post a Comment