Saturday, 8 September 2012

Maungatautari Reserve & Kawhia, 26-27 August

It was a race against time to get down to the Maungatautari Reserve for 7.30 pm where we were booked for an interview with Sirocco the famous kakapo. Mike left work early but there’s a heavy exodus from Auckland on a Friday evening so traffic was bad and we only just make it on time. There are about 20 people booked into the same slot and we’re shown a short film about the rarity of Kakapo and conservationists’ efforts to increase their numbers, before being taken to meet him.

Sirocco, star of the show
Kakapos are the largest parrots in the world. They are flightless and nocturnal. There are only 125 left in existence, all now protected and in reserves. Their survival is miraculous really because they are such ridiculous creatures. Their favourite food is the fruit of the rimu. This is a very tall tree, up to 30m, so they climb laboriously up the trunk, eat their fill, then throw themselves down to the ground again, mostly managing to survive.  During the mating season, the male clears a runway of twigs and debris, then digs a bowl into which he places himself, making a booming noise with his breast for 8 hours a night for about 3 months, hoping to attract the female.

Poor Sirocco was ill as a chick so had to be raised by humans, the end result being that he can’t (or won’t) mate with other kakapo. On his little reserve island he made his runway and bowl in between his keepers hut and the outside toilet hoping to trap an unsuspecting human on their way to the loo in the night.

The viewing tower within the Maungatautari Reserve

It’s this unusual behaviour that made Sirocco world famous in the following video clip taken from a Stephen Fry TV program: . Since then the NZ Prime Minister has made Sirocco a conservation Ambassador, and he now spends his time travelling around NZ raising funds for the cause. 

After our interview with the famous parrot we make our way to Out in the Styx where we’re booked for the night. There’s an all-in-one price for bed, breakfast and evening meal, and the menu is simply: ‘Take it or Leave it’. We love it: good home-made food with a choice of dishes. The owner is friendly and helpful and his wife is obviously a great cook. There’s a large group of dairy farmers just finishing off with speeches as we arrive and we soon have the place to ourselves, relaxing beside the wood fire.

Back garden of Out in the Styx with Maungatautari on the skyline
Next morning we have a terrific breakfast, then go off to see the reserve in bright sunshine. The entrance is manned by a lovely old couple who give us a bit of its history and send us off in the right direction. Such a contrast between this clear bright day and the cool green half- light of the bush. The reserve is essentially a mountain, a large part of which has been fenced off and made pest free. There are many very large old trees so the canopy is very high above you, even the tree ferns and nikau palms are tall. The bush is still and quiet but for the trickle of streams and the birdsong which breaks out intermittently close by. The birds here seem even more relaxed about human beings than usual in NZ, and many of them come very close indeed, as if they’re attracted by our soft low speech. We see kakas, many beautiful stitch birds, NZ robins, tomtits, and bellbirds. There’s a rather lovely wooden viewing tower but it doesn’t take you quite high enough to be able to see over the tree tops.

View across to Kawhia Harbour in the far distance from the hills we had to cross to get there
We drove on westwards through Te Awamutu, and over the mountains to get to Kawhia. It’s a small sleepy town on the edge of a large inland harbour and we’re booked into a bach for the night. A lovely drive through bush covered mountains, and at one point we stop high up and look down at the harbour sparkling in the distance. We have lunch in one of the two cafes, then find our bach. It’s basic and quite cold but clean and there’s a large telly with good reception which in itself is a bit of a luxury for us. We meet Rowena, our Maori landlady, who’s a bit of a character, and lives next door at the w/e’s. We plan to watch the sunset at Ocean Beach and return the next day to dig for hot pools at low tide.

Kawhia wharf and harbour on a beautiful still afternoon
Meanwhile we take a walk around the town and harbour’s edge, and suss out the best place to eat (not that there’s a lot of choice). We pop into the local store to buy breakfast for tomorrow as neither of the cafes open till late. The shop is in a sad state and has the most miserable shop keeper imaginable, what a difference a decent store would make to the place, and a smile come to that. At 6.30 we’re heading to Ocean Beach. We walk up high over a giant sand dune and down onto the black sand beach. We find a sheltered hollow and watch the show with our backs to the dunes. There are a couple of other people around; a Maori Mum sat up on top of the dunes with 2 girls who are wave- jumping way down at the shoreline, and a loner sat above us, the unmistakable smell of dope drifting down around us.

Sunset on Ocean Beach, west of Kawhia
Mike builds us a fire to keep warm back at the bach and we go out to the Blue Chook for dinner. The food turns out to be exceptional: delicious fresh John Dory with chips and salad. Very friendly atmosphere and great service, as we sit eating dinner and watching the All Blacks beat Australia.

A gentle grey morning on Ocean Beach with Mount Karoi in the distance, which we climbed while staying in Raglan,
Next morning we walk for miles on Ocean Beach and though we keep digging our toes into the sand at the water’s edge, we don’t manage to find the renowned hot pools of Te Paua. Far away to the north we can see Mount Karoi which Mike and I had climbed, when we were staying at Raglan months ago. We go back to Kawhia for coffee, then begin the long drive home. I don’t suppose we’ll ever be back, as Kawhia’s a dead end, not on the road to anywhere else, but it made for a good stop over and was a memorable sunset.

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