Sunday, 29 July 2012

Prologue to A&A's Big Adventure

6 July
At long last the house is sold, contents packed, loose ends tied, and Anne & Andy have finally moved to New Zealand. I pick them up at the airport early on a cold foggy morning, but by coffee time we’re sat outside the cafe over the Domain in brilliant sunshine wearing T-shirts. So glad the weather’s good for them though it must be weird to come from an English Summer (albeit the worst in living memory) to a gloriously warm Auckland Winter. We meet Mike for a sushi lunch at Mt. Fuji and are warmly welcomed as ever by the owners. This evening we eat out at De Grand and enjoy the lovely Thai food while A&A struggle with jet lag. Andy nearly falls asleep in his dinner and Anne becomes hopelessly hysterical.

Just rounding the corner before Dacre Cottage, where estuary meets sea

7 July
Glorious weather again so decide to go north walking by the Okura Estuary around to Dacre Cottage. We set off crossing the river and entering deep bush climbing quite a bit. The bush is cool and dark on this bright sunny day. Over the ridge we descend down to sea level and come out onto a beach at the side of the estuary. It’s low tide so we continue walking around the beach over rather slippery rocks, and rounding a headland we come to a stretch of clean white sand with Dacre Cottage at the far end. It’s a lovely warm spot for lunch, and we can look across the water at Shakespeare Park, Tiritiri Matangi, and the hills of the Coromandel Peninsular in the far distance. We walk back the same way to avoid a steep climb through the bush.

That evening we have Peta and Jem round for dinner and Andy gets our fire going for the first time this Winter.
Lunch in the sun, with Dacre Cottage behind
Crossing a stream in the bush above Karekare beach
8 July
Our Sunday walk and we’re off to Karekare, the beach where The Piano was filmed. Another glorious day and, with lunch packed, we’re off in a north-westerly direction. We start off on Highway 16 and the road gets progressively smaller and more and more twisting till the last stretch which is gravel and descends steeply to the little car park near the coast. We’ve done this walk twice before but never in such great weather. Steep climbing through bush to get us to the top of the ridge with just the occasional glimpse of the beach below us, then it levels out a bit and becomes very muddy. We were expecting this: last time we were here a woman fell, broke her leg and lay awaiting the helicopter rescue. The mud slows us down a lot as we have to pick our way through on roots and harder ground trying to avoid the mud pools.

Emerging from the gloomy bush into the bright sunshine in the reeds of the lagoon area
I guess it takes about 2 hours in all till we descend again to sea level , coming out from the cool gloom of the bush into the bright sunshine of the swamp area. The lagoons seem to have grown, I guess because it’s Winter, but the way is pretty clear over board walks through the reeds and under patches of cabbage tree. We see black swans again over in the distance and eventually reach the black sand dunes which in the bright sun are positively glittering. It’s a strange and beautiful place and wonderful for A&A who, still suffering from jet lag, feel as if they’ve just arrived in Wonderland.

Mike, Anne & Andy on the black (almost purple) glittering sand of the dunes at Karekare

We climb the first and largest dune and then flop down in the sun to eat lunch. After a long rest we meander through the sand dunes following the path indicated by orange-topped poles which guide us over to the tunnel. This is a magical place: a large lagoon immediately beneath the cliffs with welcome swallows darting across its surface and tiny fantails flitting about in the surrounding trees. A couple of Paradise Shell Ducks are hooting at eachother. We rest for a while at a conveniently placed picnic table before making our way through the tunnel which had been blasted through a spur of rock for the transporting of logs, back when the bush was stripped of most of its kauri trees. We walk along what was once a railway track, parallel to the cliff base, no longer on sand but through a lovely green area between cliffs and dunes, alive with birds, finally coming out onto the black sand of Karekare beach where it’s an easy walk back to the car park.

Walking back along the beach towards the car park
 12 July
During the week A&A have focussed on sorting out finances, buying a car, and planning their campaign, but on Thursday evening we set off on our road trip up north. Mike has the Friday and Monday off work and the plan is to get to the northernmost point at Cape Reinga with various stops on the way. First we drive up to Whangarei where we’re staying at Pilgrim Planet again for the night.

13 July
In the morning we plan to walk somewhere along the Tutukaka coast which stretches north of Whangarei up to the Bay of Islands. After the necessary coffee stop we find a perfect horse shoe bay at Matapouri. The sand is white and the sea a beautiful turquoise, it’s really tempting, and not too cold really so we can't resist a paddle.

Down the board walk to Matapouri Beach

We walk the curve of the beach and then climb a path up a bank at the far end. It’s a steep slippery climb and will be far worse on the way down but at the top we’re in a wonderful grove of nikau palms, their stripy trunks reminding Mike of the pillars at the Mezquita in Cordoba. We’re hoping to find a way round the headland and back a different route but it doesn’t pan out that way and we have to go back down the slippery slope, hanging onto branches like monkeys as we drop down to the beach again.

At the far end of the beach we climb the headland
Mike in a jungle of Nikau Palms
Looking back down on the beach from the top of the headland
It’s a great coastline and we’ll definitely be back but now we’re heading to Kerikeri where A&A are meeting some friends. We get there just in time for tea and cake with them, and then work our way on State Highway 1 through Kaitaia to Ahipara, arriving at dusk.

The longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere. We stopped here in search of lunch, but found none
Me on the balcony of our Beachfront flat as seen from the beach
We’re staying for 2 nights at Ahipara Beachfront which is a 2-bedroomed flat above the owner’s accommodation. It’s a super place with amazing views right onto the beach. This is the southern end of 90 mile beach which stretches almost all the way up to Cape Reinga. Loads of people drive on this beach and it is in fact a designated highway. We go out for a quick walk on the beach (not too many cars around) before eating a fish & chip supper, which included battered scallops and a delicacy called ‘raw fish’, which is exactly that, marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, and tastes great.

14 July
Happy Birthday Andy and it’s presents at breakfast. We’ve decided to follow our landlord's recommendation to do the Cape trip on a coach. Apparently it’s the best way, and will also gives Mike a break from the driving. We’re the first to be picked up at 8.30 from the house, and it’s a beaten up old Chinese bus with a tiny little Maori guy as driver. He seems rather grumpy and doesn’t say much as he drives around collecting other tourists from Ahipara and Kaitaia. When we’re all aboard he pulls over just before going onto the beach and gives us his introduction which is a bit of a send-up and has us all in fits of laughter. From this point on he’s a different person, giving us a wonderful commentary on where we are and what we’re seeing, interspersed with Maori myths and funny little tales he makes up himself for fun. When there’s a lull he sings us beautiful Maori songs, and of course we all sing Happy Birthday to Andy.

Our coach arrives on 90 Mile Beach, before heading north (it's actually only about 50 miles long)
Driving up the river towards the giant sand dune. We were on first and grabbed the front seats

Driving up the beach is great fun but we’re glad Mike’s not doing it in the company car, especially when we reach the river. Instead of crossing over it, he does a 90 degree turn and drives straight up it. You have to do this quickly apparently otherwise you begin to sink in the sand. We’re soon driving through reeds and heading towards a giant sand dune, still in the river, but eventually he pulls the bus up onto a bank and we all get out.

Trudging up the dune only to sledge down again
He gets a load of plastic sleds out of the bus and everyone carries their sled up to the top of the dune to slide back down again. I say everyone but actually I didn’t do it: I reckon it was probably more fun watching other people try. Most little kids flew down but some went head over heels or backwards and older bigger people had the greatest difficulty getting the sleds to move at all. Back in the bus we’re heading closer to Cape Reinga over the last stretch which is very hilly farmland.

We stop for lunch at a beach, eat our sandwiches and have our tea and biscuits (all part of the service) then go for a stroll on the beach before the final stretch to the Cape where there’s a large car park and good views down to the spit at the end. We walk down to the light house but as we only have about half an hour here there's not really enough time to walk down the beach at the foot of the cliffs or explore any of the paths around us. It’s an important spiritual place for the Maori but unfortunately you don’t really get a feel for this side of things when you’re here with coach loads of other people.

Looking south from Cape Reinga
The most northerly tip of New Zealand from where Maori spirits fly after death. Its a calm day so the 2 seas meeting here,
Pacific and Tasman, are relatively still.

All together at the base of the light house, Cape Reinga

After this it’s back in the bus for the return journey back down to Ahipara, by road this time, stopping off for enormous ice creams on the way. It’s been a really smashing day out for us all and a good birthday treat for Andy. Our little Maori guide made it a very special day which we won’t forget in a hurry.  Thank goodness we didn’t attempt it in our car!

This evening Mike cooks goat osso bucco for dinner with ‘raw fish’ as a starter and apricot crumble for pud. A worthy birthday dinner after a great day out.

15 July
The weather’s taken a turn for the worse as we pack up to leave Ahipara, so we decide to go for a walk in the morning before the rain comes. We head off south to Shipwreck Bay. It’s very grey and not much visibility, could start raining at any time. We’re mostly on sand or scrambling over rocks. Above us are the famous gum-digging fields of the 18th and early 19thcenturies where tons of valuable kauri gum were dug from the swamps to be used as varnishes in the western world. Nowadays Shipwreck Bay is famous for being a surfer’s paradise though we don’t see any here today.
Buried ship in the middle of Shipwreck Bay

But guess what, there really is a genuine wreck right in the middle of it. Obviously been there a very long time and covered in rust and barnacles. We’re doing this walk at low tide and are able to walk right around the headland on great flat rocky outcrops. We see another baby seal struggling to get back into the water. Cars are also able to drive around here so we have to keep out of their way, mostly Maori families off for a day’s fishing, one group even on horseback. We settle against the cliff base for our picnic, then continue round to another secluded bay. There are a few ramshackle baches dotted around though no access except for the beach at low tide or boat I guess.

At low tide locals drive around the base of the cliffs to go fishing
A peaceful pearly grey day, and as we’re on our way back a gentle rain begins to fall. By the time we’re back at the car it’s proper rain which only gets worse as we do a bit of shopping and set off driving south for the Tree House through forest and hilly farmland all very wet. Mike’s attempt to get us all to Mitimiti Beach fails again as it turns out to be 3 hours away according to the SatNav. During the journey we get very good at identifying varieties of cows, seeing belted Galloways and Charolais as well as the usual Fresians and Jerseys. In fact there are far more cattle than sheep up here, maybe the sheep are mostly in South Island. At the Tree House Pauline makes us welcome as usual, Anne cooks a lovely mushroom risotto, and we settle into our bunks for the night, after a frantic game of 99, which I win incidentally (sorry Anne!).

16 July
A miserable wet Monday morning. We pack up quickly and shoot off to Kohukohu for a splendid breakfast sitting outside under cover with the heaters on. We catch the ferry over to Rawene, do the little Art Gallery and the famous pickle shop, grab a coffee, and then set off down the west coast highway.

We stop at Tane Mahuta, the largest living Kauri tree, which A&A haven’t yet seen. You can’t fail but be moved by its massive presence. Getting out the car we’d heard a loud fizzing noise and find we have a puncture which Mike and Andy fix in record time while me and Anne shelter from the rain. We continue the drive south on a winding road through the Waipoua Forest.

Lunch in Dargaville then next stop is the Kauri Museum. It’s fantastic and enormous containing everything to do with the Kauri tree industry, from early logging days and Kauri gum digging, to the largest carved gum collection and a life size 19th century 2 story boarding house. It also has massive machinery some of it still operating and Andy’s most impressed by their huge collection of chain saws.

We continue the journey home in the gathering dusk and pouring rain. This evening, it being our last together for a while, we go out to eat at our favourite Japanese restaurant, Tatsumi, exquisite food in a beautiful setting.

17 July
A&A’s car arrives and we say goodbye, as they head off south on their big adventure: new car, new country, new life. Very exciting!

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