New Zealand Adventures

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oh BOI ! (Bay of Islands - Day 4 – Kayaking and Kauri Trees)

The day is overcast again but not windy. I go out again for an early morning walk and have another good breakfast at Hansen’s. When I get back I pack my bags and put them in my car and then go to pay my hotel fees . The owner and get talking about Malta because he knows from his wife that I am from there. He is originally from the UK and has visited Malta about 8 times because he is fascinated by the history of the country especially during the second world war. He tells me he became dissatisfied with life in the UK four years ago (oddly enough contrasting it unfavourably with 1975 which I thought was a dismal year for the UK) where he was a mechanic and his wife was a microbiologist. He says New Zealand living has its disadvantages (like its isolation from cultural life) but he is generally satisfied with the pace of life and the friendliness and politeness of people here.

I then go off to the Bay Beach Hire shop down the road where I had a half day kayaking tour booked. The young man there tells me that this is cancelled because of “the weather” which looks bloody perfect to me and instead of arguing the point I drive to the other kayaking shop Costal Kayakers where I arrive in time to see the morning kayaking expedition set off . So much for the inclement weather ! There is a Maori family before me who are going off together on 4 kayaks and I remember that the company has a policy of not renting to solitary kayakers (presumably for safety reasons but the Maori family surprise me by offering for me to go with them. Unfortunately by the time the helpful young man manning the shop gets to me he tells me that the last remaining kayak is damaged and cannot be rented ! By this time I am really keen to go kayaking and I swallow my pride and drive back to Bay Beach Hire where I ask for -and get- a kayak to myself and make sure that the man renting it to me knows that I am the man who could not go on the kayaking tour in the morning because of the bad weather. I change into my wetsuit and beach shoes and then am kitted out with the splash skirt and life jacket. I ask for suggestions on where to go and decide to paddle round the two small islands just off the sea-front and then go to Russell and down the Waikere inlet.

I get used to paddling quite easily and paddle around the islands first and enjoy watching the small deserted sandy beaches seagulls sitting on little rocks looking warily at me. Each island is covered with trees and vegetation and the older trees are covered with plants (either a liverwort or some salt resistant parasite). I paddle warily out into the harbour and keep an eye out for ferries, jet skis and fast speedboats but there is not much traffic here this morning. I paddle to the Russell peninsula first and stop at one of the beaches to have a snack that I had packed in with me. The beach is largely full of pebbles and is wonderfully quiet and deserted with cliffs behind me (with stairs hewn into the rock at one end with a sign saying ‘no entry’). The beach is full of shells, especially long pointed spiral shells, but there are bits of starfish and sea urchins, remnants of mother of pearl abalone shells, and green-lipped mussels. There are also quite a few sand flies which discover the delights of my exposed bits of my legs! (apparentky it is the females who are aggressive bloodsuckers - now fancy that !) It Is a nice break however with only the sound of waves interrupting the silence.

I set off again and paddle past Russell itself and into inlets past Russell where I see more birds including shags, a group of noisy antarctic terns, and two of the back red beaked waders (variable oystercatchers ?) I had seen in Bethell’s beach. This end of the Bay of Islands is full of little beaches with a few houses on the sea-shore and up in between the forest. They are full of small boats and one is a strange floating house which I realise is an oyster cleaning and collecting station when I paddle past. The closest I get to a craft is a yacht which I keep my distance from as I am not 100% sure which side of my craft I should keep to me. I wave to the man at the tiller and he waves back and calls his wife from the inside to come out and wave to me as well. I paddle on for another hour and get back to the sea-front where my four hours paddling are up . The owner of the Kayak shop who took my phone number to vall me on Saturday is there and I am barely acknowledged as I return the kayak . So much for letting me know about the cancelled trip mate, and nice to have rented from you ! I then have a shower on the beach to get the salt off me (my arms where flecked with salt which had dried from splashes on the kayak) change into dry clothes and then set off.

I had decided to go back to
Auckland via the West coast and I have two targets to see – Omapere and the Tane Mahuta giant Kauri tree. The drive via scenic highway 12 ( a two lane road all the way) gets more dramatic as you get closer to the East coast with larger mountains and more windy roads. Once you get to the Hokianga Harbour you notice the huge sand dunes on the other side. I stop at Oponomi to get a view of the dunes. This village is famous for Opo a dolphin which spent the summer of 1955 playing with children and beach balls. Sadly it was killed by unknown dynamite fishermen and a statute has been erected in its memory. It seems that morons are found everywhere though the gun-wielding bird-killing ones seem common in Malta...

I drive on to Omapere and turn off to Arai-te-uru reserve which is a small spit of land sticking out at the entrance to the Harbour. You are on cliffs overlooking the dull green harbour and the magnificent sand dunes on the opposite side. The sky is very changeable and when the sun breaks out just as I am walking up the track to the very end of the reserve I cannot help but thinking ‘God wills it’ if he is letting me take a photograph in the sunshine !

Further down Highway 12 shows more rain which gets more prolonged and heavier and the sky is now uninterrupted grey and I get to Waipoua forest . This is a reserve with remnants of the primeval forest which covered most of New Zealand in pre-European times. I notice a lot of Kauri trees and New Zealand silver fern trees which would not have looked out of place in Jurassic times. The tops of the fern trees are topped with emerging branches which curl out like elegant fractal patterns but it is too wet to get out and look or take a photograph. The road twists and turns and a few times seems to have been built to avoid cutting down kauri trees and at one time passes right between two large specimens like the Pillar of the Kings statues in the Fellowship of the Ring film. I decide to stop at the site of the oldest Kauri tree in New ZealandTane Mahuta. It is easily reached from the road by a path . The tree itself is magnificent – 168 fee high, a trunk wit a diameter of 46 feet and estimated to be about 200 years old. I meet a woman from Minnesota who has an umbrella and we use her umbrella to take pictures of the tree and of each other next to the tree in spite of the rain which is still pouring down.

The rest of the drive down takes about 3½ hours through some pretty flat and boring landscape with solitary farms and suspiciously deep ditches on each side of the road where no doubt you would lie undiscovered for weeks if you were unlucky or careless enough to drive into. I pass through kumara country where the New Zealand sweet potato is grown and past less than compelling attractions like the Dargaville museum (said to have amongst other things a pig skull from new Mexico and memorabilia from the Northern Wairoa Scottish Society) and the Kauri Museum (with more interesting attractions showing how Kauri trees played a part in New Zealand’s early development and a huge plank of Kauri that you can see on their web-site). I arrive back in Auckland at 9.00 pm having left Paihia at about 1.00 pm. The view of
Auckland from the North shore just before you get to the bridge is stunning (though not as impressive as say Chicago) and after unpacking, washing down my wetsuit and beach shoes have an early night.


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