A Travellerspoint blog

Day Six

Opononi to Matakohe

sunny 19 °C
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New Zealand really is picture perfect. That over with, we really had a big day yesterday. The trip out to Cape Reinga is out and back in the same day. What makes matters worse is that there is a gap in motorhome grounds/parks south east of Ninety Mile Beach. So once you double back to where you started first thing in the morning, you then have a couple of hours or more travel to the next evenings stop. With two young children, we have to throw in a couple of rest breaks so cabin fever doesn't set in. They get cranky mid afternoon and worse still, if they’re tired they fall asleep. Which is too be avoided at all costs. There is nothing worse than driving all day and being kept up late by children that aren't sleepy.

We managed to get to Opononi before sunset. The park was pretty rundown, but the position was right on the waterfront with a beautiful view, it was cheap and the owners where very friendly. Did I mention we were tired? It was also cold. The coldest evening we have had since we've been here. A southerly breeze added to the mix. Opononi is a small little seaside haven that sits alongside Omapere on the entrance to Hokianga Harbour. I awoke to look out over giant sand dunes on the opposite side of the harbour under a kilometre away. Within twenty minutes later they disappeared behind a thick fog that came in from the ocean. An hour later the fog had gone and had travelled further up the harbour.

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Opononi became famous in New Zealand during the summer of 1955/1956. It was all due to a visiting dolphin named Opo who was so tame that it swam with children, let them hold onto her back and did tricks with beach balls. Sadly Opo was killed by unknown fishermen using explosives. A memorial statue of Opo is erected outside the pub which across from the townships' jetty. I really like Opononi. It is small. Not much to do here, but fish. Pretty just the same. This Hokianga region is a maze of inlets and tributaries. It also has those wild beaches, spectacular coastlines and thick lush forests.

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Our journey out of Opononi took us on Hwy 12 through the forests of the Kauri Coast. The drive through the Waipoua Forest would be little changed since settlement. This special place is the protected home of the rare giant Kauri trees. The most famous resident is Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest). At 2000 years old, 51 metres high and a circumference of 13 metres - Tane Mahuta is incredible. While it isn't the oldest tree, it is the biggest. It is a peaceful couple of minutes walk from the road to the base of this majestic tree. The boardwalk takes you through the thick forest and you feel the temperature lower as soon as you enter into it. When we arrived a tourist group had already made it to the base. As we were walking through the forest we could hear their Maori tour guide calling out to Tane Mahuta in Maori and playing his respects. They happily let us tag alongside their group and we were able to enjoy the commentary on the life (which is still going) and times of Tane Mathua. The guide then sang a song of thanks and good blessings. We learnt that over 35 species of plants and animals live in the canopy of this giant Kauri.

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Tane Mahuta is monstrous. I have seen the giant redwoods in California and this is very much similar in size. Still it is incredible to think that there are living things on the earth that old. Tane Mahuta looks very healthy too. While kauri has reached it's maximum height, it will always grow across the girth. When we returned to the bago a Maori woman pulled her car up beside us and walked into the forest. She returned not many minutes later and stood beside her car, facing Tane Mahuta, closed her eyes and seemed to pray for a couple of minutes before getting into her car and driving off. This is the second day in a row that we are get to experience the Maori culture and their closeness with the environment. I am enjoying that feeling also. The environment and culture are engaging. We drove off to enjoy another 30 minutes or so driving through a forest full of such amazing trees.

We stopped for lunch and to stock up on supplies at Dargaville. This township is the kumara (sweet potato) capital of the nation. Roadside stalls (harvest is just over) sell 10 kilo bags for up to $15NZ. Lunch was at a funky café called BLAH BLAH BLAH. You would not be surprised that a few kumara dishes are on the menu. It goes well with all the local seafood.

In pace with our relaxing day we drove a further 45kms south to Matakohe to visit the local Kauri Museum. There is an assortment of huge kauri logs, planks and cross sections. It also contains alot of the pioneer equipment used by early settlers and loggers and well as replica home furnishings from the early 20th century. Well worth a visit, with a lot to see and take in.

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It was mid afternoon when we exited the museum. We decided to drive the 1km further down the street to the motorhome park overlooking the river. We have done a lot of miles over the last few days and decided to make camp early, let the kids enjoy the playground and allow us to wind down. It was great. The Top 10 Matakohe, would be my favourite stop so far – plus we only had to share it with 3 other vans. Nice and quiet. Tomorrow we head back to Auckland to get the van checked out then we head out to the Coromandel Peninsula, so it's goodbye to the Northlands.

Posted by petty1912 14:46 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day Five

Cape Reinga to Opononi

sunny 23 °C
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Todays visit to Cape Reinga was always going to be a high point for me. Principally because of the famous little lighthouse sitting out on the cape. It was great site, but for more than that, which was a real surprise for me - more of that later.

It was just over a 110km drive from Waipapakauri Landing to the cape. Of course, lots of sheep, beef and fruit farming the entire journey. We saw some emus on a farm also (we had to look twice to make sure). The eastern coastline is dotted with fishing townships. Near Te Kao we saw the silica sands on the eastern coast and 10 km or so further north was the Te Paki giant dunes on the west coast. New Zealand is very narrow at these locations. You can almost see from one side to the other. At Waitiki Landing we hired a sand board to try out the dunes at Te Paki on the return journey.

Onwards to the cape – the gravel road is now almost completely sealed. Only approximately 10km left to be sealed and that is currently under construction. Our arrival to the cape was the vision of the Tasman Sea. Wonderful blue! Before entering the carpark at Cape Reinga, a sign in English asked that you do not eat or drink beyond this point during your visit. This was something we repected, but as the sign was only in English the message was not understood by those who couldn’t read it.

The 10 minute walk down (downhill) to the lighthouse is dotted with signs of local facts and legends. Cape Reinga is known by the local Maori as the place of leaping, where the souls of the departed leave. It is the Maori belief it is the departure point for the spirits of the recently deceased, who were said to climb down the stairs (roots) of the twisted pohutukawa tree that lives on the cliffs on their journey to Hawaiki. The tree is still there and mysteriously unlike all other trees of it’s kind, it never flowers. It is a very spiritual place and the signs and stories that they tell you make you feel that this isolated but beautiful place is very special. You can feel something around you and it isn’t just the amazing vista. I loved it here. It was hard to leave.

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The little light lived up to my expectations and more. I stood and touched it. Walked around it, wrapped my arms around it and took about 50 photographs of it.

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I sat beside it and looked out into the nearby swirling seas where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. As they come from opposite directions, the waves collide in huge white caps. Amazing to look at. We spent about 20 minutes looking around the lighthouse before heading back – up the hill. Lunch was had at the base of the Te Paki sand dunes. The boys all climbed up with their board for an hour of “rolling down the sand hills”. I climbed up, but with the camera. They had a ball. Well worth doing if you are ever in the area.

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The rest of the day was spent driving to our next overnight stay. This would be Opononi.

I was thinking of the souls of the Maori departed leaping into the sea the whole way.

Posted by petty1912 18:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Day Four

Paihai to Ninety Mile Beach

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Today's highlight was definitely the first activity we did today. We splurged $85 per adult and $40 on Sam (Pat was free) on a open seated power cat ride out to The Hole in the Rock off Cape Brett. We looked at more sedate half day cruises, but this trip lasted only 90 minutes (ended up being 120 mins). We wanted to look at a few more things today and the shorter trip got our vote. After taking 20 minutes to put on our wet weather gear, I was beginning to wonder that this was one of those adrenaline rides that NZ is famous for.

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A deckie that was untying us as we set off said that the sea was extreme today so we should be prepared. Everyone laughed and said...nah, it’ll be alright. Sam was excited and started giggling as we powered off like a rocket. The sheltered waters of the Bay of Islands is a lovely aqua blue. We stopped briefly as we came upon a pod of bottlenose dolphins. The kids loved it. This encounter had everyone excited about what was to come. There were a couple of people who decided that they hadn't found their sea legs so we dropped them off at an island promising to return in 40 or so minutes. There were lots of groups of kayakers exploring many of the different coves as we took off around the corner to Cape Brett. As we rounded the corner we got our first glimpse if the open water which we were heading out into. The boat had to navigate through the narrow Waewaetorea Passage which had monster waves crashing onto rocks either side of where we needed to go. This was a quick introduction for what was going to be a thrilling if not scary ride out to Cape Brett.

Coming from Queensland I am used to boating and sailing in rough seas, but these have always been associated with strong winds. Today there was no wind hardly to speak of. The Great Barrier Reef always shelters us from this kind of swell. The swell was 3 to 4 metres. Some of the waves we came down the trough quite hard, but the majority were just bumpy. Most of us got a good drenching. Looking up from a seated position to look at a crest of a wave was a experience I had never shared with my children. They were loving it. Sam was grinning the whole time and Pat was yodelling happily each time we crashed down onto the ocean. He had the entire boat sniggering at his excitement. I was not really enjoying myself at this point. The 10 nautical miles to Cape Brett seemed bone jarring. The large rock jutting vertically out of the sea looked very onimous.

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It seemed quite mysterious sitting out in the ocean by itself. I managed in between the churning waves and sea spray to get the camera out for a few snaps. I was more interested in getting pics of the Cape Brett Lighthouse. The camera got wet so it was put away for the return trip. We stayed out and about the rock for 10 mintues before heading back via Russell and picking up our missing crew mates. The trip got the big thumbs up from the boys. I was just glad to get off.

After lunch we jumped back into the bago and headed for Kerikeri. This little town was settled in the early 1800’s because a local Maori Chief Hongi Hika had stirred up relations with a lot of the other tribes in the Northlands area. We visited the Stone Store, the Kemp House and the Mission Gardens which were built/established in 1822 and 1819 respectively. The Stone Store and The Kemp House are the oldest buildings in New Zealand. Both are colonial styled and in great condition. I spent 20 minutes ambling around the gardens which were in their spring flowering glory.

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We also visited Makana Confections. Through the glass window you can watch chocolates, truffles and macadamia nut brittle being made by hand. That was as close as we got to the chocs though. Too expensive – but they are handmade.

Still following Hwy 10 we travelled through more farmlands (lots of avocados, sweet potatoes and citrus). This route is dotted with little townships. In Kaeo we saw first hand how the locals like to park their cars.

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Doubtless Bay is somewhere I’d like to explore more of. Said to be the first landfall of the legendary Polynesian explorer Kupe and early European Whalers. There are lovely beaches and heaps of water sports. From then on we passed a lot of managed forests. Some which are currently being felled. This meant there were a few logging trucks on the road. Something I hadn’t seen much of since my childhood.

The further north we headed the more the forest changed from being tall and lush to that of more squat and hardy. Tonight we camped along side Ninety Mile Beach at Waipapakauri Ramp. Only 4 other campervans with us in the park. Ninety Mile Beach can be driven along when the tide is right. No rental vehicles though. Good fishing and lots of water activities to do here. Too cold for us, but we were happy just being in the surrounds. The little settlement consists of a group of bach’s and that’s it! We enjoyed a warm evening which was a welcomed change. Looking forward to more good weather.

Posted by petty1912 18:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day Three

Whangarei to the Bay of Islands

semi-overcast 23 °C
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The rain finally stopped during the evening, but the cloud cover remained. This meant it remained a quite warm evening and certainly not as cold as I had expected. We all woke early and were able to get on the road well before 9am. Our first stop was the Whanagarei Falls. This is a very accessible local sight that is a short walk from the carpark. The falls drop 25m into a lush, bush fringed pool.

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There is a short 20m loop walk should you wish to go to the bottom. After taking a few pictures we drove east towards Ngunguru, Tutukaka and Matapouri Bay via the Coastal Loop Road. This was a pretty drive through farm lands and citrus orchards. The orchards had old stone pitched waist high walls going for many kilometres. Quite a sight on their own. As well as sheep and cattle, we also passed a deer farm or two. Our youngest son Pat was certain they were reindeer. Ngunguru is a little coastal village nestled by an estuary. Lots of watersports and fishing.

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The winding roads, children going crazy over the vistas meant we missed the turnoff to the Tutukaka Recreational Reserve. I therefore didn't get a picture of the lighthouse. Not overly impressed by my mistake there. By the time I remembered, it wasn't worth turning around. So we kept driving towards Matapouri Bay. Lots of hills, more never ending forests and sneak peaks of the beautiful and rugged coastline. The seas were quite rough due to the strong winds. Matapouri Bay has a lovely white sand beach. There are small mermaid pools to discover at low tide (we missed the tide). From Ngunguru every little village onwards consists mostly of large modern beachhomes, bach's and the odd store. Whale Bay, Woolley's Bay and Sandy Bay seem to have lots of expensive weekenders. The almost 2m breaks meant there were a number of surfers out trying their luck. The water is quite cold, so they were all by themselves on the beach. Our journey then headed westwards towards the main highway (SN1) north. We stopped at Kawakawa for lunch in the sunshine. It was the first time we had a decent break in the rain. The reason for stopping at Kawakawa was to sit in the Trainspotters Cafe to watch the Bay of Islands Vintage Train "Gabriel" and see tourist like us milling around the public loos across the street. This toilet block was designed by the renowned Austrian Artist Freidrich Hundertwasser. They looked very Gaudi-ish. I took quite a few pics of this interesting handiwork.

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Following a great lunch here we head north to Paihia. This is yet another coastal town and one of many in the Bay of Islands area. Paihia is the township where you catch the car ferry to Russell or a daytrip out to the Hole in the Rock or Cape Brett areas. We wandered around Paihia before heading to Waitangi, where the nation of New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. During the day you visit the cultural centre and at night local maori perform modern cultural productions. The boys didn't find the cultural centre engaging so we didn't get to discover too much here. The cover charge is $20 per adult and $5 per child, which is a two day pass. We didn't think that the 90 minutes we would be there justified the cost, so we jumped into the bago and headed back south of Paihia to find a campground from the evening.

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The Beachside Holiday Park is south of Paihia on the Paihia- Opua Road. It is nestled on it's own private and secluded beach and is relatively small. When we arrive we are only the third van there, by evening there were at least 10 vans parked side by side. Most of us here are Aussies, from all over - Brisbane, Melbourne and Emerald to name a few. Lovely place. Facilities are basic, but clean and tidy. Most of all the internet allows me to download from my USB.

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Small win for me finally as the blog is suffering from neglect. Hope the sun comes out again tomorrow as we are heading out onto the water. Then we head north to Cape Reinga - lighthouse heaven! Oh joy..

Posted by petty1912 14:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Day Two

Auckland to Whangarei

rain 19 °C
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After a quick induction with the motorhome we where off - straight to the supermarket. As we have done a motorhome holiday before, we learnt that it is better to undershop rather than buy too much. Small fridge, small cupboards, etc. Most of all it is important just to get the basics and grab bits and pieces as you need them. The kids will always try to talk you into more though.

With that done we really were off on the motorway northwards. Within the first 2 hours we had two little incidents with the bago. First a weird warning light came on. Then after stopping at a set of traffic lights the car (triptronic) wouldn't get into gear. Bloody mercedes benz! Twenty minutes later the light went out and the "gear" thing never happened again. After a quick phone call to base, we awere told to call in at Auckland for an hour in a weeks time to get it checked.

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Needless to say that with the lack of sleep, we weren't feeling too adventurous today. So off to the Northland city of Whangarei. The drive was relatively short. The countryside was mostly hilly. We found the only toll road in the whole country and to make matters worse it is unmanned. So to get some info we stopped at the first major roadhouse to ask. This was a good idea as there was a vending machine there to allow travellers to prepay! The toll road cut over a hour off our trip and was worth the $4. The rainy and windy weather meant that we travelled at a comfortable speed and the roadworks kept things interesting...lots of potholes! The country side is always a distraction and after you see your first pink sheep, you can't stop looking for more. My kids are hooked!

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Tomorrow we are exploring around Whanagrei and then heading northwards to The Bay of Islands. Hope the sun comes out!

Posted by petty1912 22:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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