We drive up to Muriwai Beach which is north west, above the Waitakere Hills. There’s a large gannet colony at the southern end of this famous surfing beach and although it’s January and quite late in the season we’re hoping the baby birds haven’t flown the nest. In fact you can smell the colony before you can see it, and although you can’t get really close, because the birds are perched on ledges below you, the mottled younger birds are still there along with the small fluffy white balls of the more recently hatched. They are fabulous flyers and it makes quite a spectacle. We then drive up to the northern end of the beach, park at the end of the road, and start walking further north along the beach. The tide is pretty high and we’re not sure if it’s coming up or going down (should have learnt by now to check before setting out!) so we take the safe route and cut into the dunes backing the beach, on a path running parallel to the edge of the sea. For the first time we’re walking barefoot on the black/purple sand. I love dune areas like this; they always give me a feeling of other-worldliness. It’s a strange and precarious environment but at the same time of course reminds me of being over St Ouen’s dunes back home in Jersey .
|Gannet colony at Muriwai|
It’s quite hard going struggling through deep sand, but certainly easier barefoot so long as you don’t tread on any prickly grass. We stop and picnic with our backs to a large warm dune , then continue hoping to find a way back through to the beach so we can return a different way. Eventually we climb up and over dunes to the beach but find the tide just as high as before, so we end up walking along a narrow gap between the wall of sand dune and the sea. It's quite tricky and, bearing in mind how rough and unpredictable the sea is here, we occasionally have to run up and out of the way of approaching waves to avoid getting drenched.
|Cutting through the dunes at Muriwai|
Sunday 30 January
We set off pretty early heading south for Hamilton. We’ve got 2 nights’ accommodation in the surfing town of Raglan which is on the coast west of Hamilton. On the way down we decide to visit the famous Waitomo glow worm caves south of the city. More rolling green hills and lots of cattle on the way. We stop for lunch in a cafe in PIrongia near the high PIrongia Hills. New Zealand does really good cafes, and this is one of the best, serving lots of home-made cakes (predominantly carrot which is my favourite) and snacks (corn stacks, eggs benedict etc) along with really good coffee.
The caves are pretty impressive and we’re shown around by a Maori boy whose ancestor first found the caves back in the 1800s. It’s very orderly with good steps and tiled flooring, the usual impressive stalagtites and mites, but when you get quite far down you go into a little boat in the darkness which is pulled across an underground lake by the Maori lad, and up above you are thousands upon thousands of tiny green lights shining for all they’re worth. The glow worms are actually the larvae of moths and the light is to attract insects. Really quite magical. Back in the light and we drive onto Raglan. We have a little self-contained unit, converted garage we think, with kettle, fridge, microwave and en suite. It’s a pleasant walk along the river into town where we have a drink in the Harbour View listening to the locals making music on the verandah, then eat across the road.
Monday 31 January
Today we plan to walk up the nearest mountain, the Karoi. It’s nearly 1000m high and is pretty steep uphill all the way. It becomes apparent that it has a number of peaks and our walk takes us up one of the ridges to get to the highest. I’m not that keen on ridge walks but this one is different. It has thick vegetation both sides so there’s no sense of vertigo at all even though you’re walking along a rocky ridge with really steep slopes both sides. The biggest problem is the mud. Although it’s a lovely hot sunny day, the path on some of the ridge sections is very wet and muddy. I think the top’s in cloud quite a lot of the time, so it doesn’t get a chance to dry out. We soon encounter a ladder section which is fine, and then the first of two sections where there is over-hanging rock and you have to pull yourself up on chains. It’s very hard work, and requires a lot of strenuous climbing. The worst of it is that the chains are wet and muddy so you don’t feel you have a good grip on them, but we manage OK, and I’m actually quite proud of myself. The top still seems a long way away and the mud’s getting no better so in the end we have to call it a day and head back. Going back down is actually more scary than the climb up as we have really tired legs and have to tread very carefully.
|Mike on the way up with the ridge behind leading to the first peak|
|The first chain section, serious climbing|
Back in Raglan, Mike reverses the car just a little bit too close to the house and the wretched tow bar goes through the plate glass of the French windows. What a bugger! So we end up trying to get in touch with the owner and then phoning the glaziers who luckily were able to come round straight away. And all we wanted to do was lie down and have a little siesta after one of the most challenging walks we’ve ever done. Out later to eat at the Orca restaurant which has wonderful food and great service as well as beautiful views across the estuary towards the sea. It’s a beautiful evening and there are loads of lads jumping off the bridge into the river, and our troubles with the door are virtually forgotten. Gaynor, the young South African owner/doctor calls in later. She’s very understanding and nice about it all.
|Looking out to sea from the restaurant in Raglan|