Published: October 7th 2007August 2nd 2007
Our final few days were spent going a little further north, with our first stop being the Kauri museum at Matakohe. Kauri trees once dominated the New Zealand landscape, but now only a few percent of the original forests remain. Hence conservation work is taking place to preserve the few remaining examples of these giants of the forest that grow to about 40 meters tall in 500 years.
It has to be said that at the end of the day the museum was about a type of tree and although this sounds quite boring, I actually quite enjoyed it. I won’t bother you with every detail of the museum, but essentially in just over a 100 years much of the forest was destroyed by logging, gum digging and burning. Just to explain the gum digging part, the Kauri tree produces a gum that seals off its damaged surfaces. Europeans realised that this gum could be found under ground around the trees in a fossilised form that could be used for numerous purposes, including glues and varnishes. Kauri gum was a very sort after item, becoming big business and a export item. Although Europeans have devastated these forests the Kauri is
a very hardy tree and it is good to see new trees starting to grow in protected areas. Anyway, I think that’s enough of my ramblings about the Kauri.
Further north we undertook the now familiar practice of a side trip off the main road to find a quiet spot for the night, ending up by Maunganui Bluff at Aranga beach. Not much to say, very windy and a bit of rain but pleasant enough for us to have a quick walk on the beach before returning to the main road in the morning. Then it was onto Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) a giant famous Kauri tree and on to the Signal Station Lookout at Omapere, otherwise known as "the heads" at the mouth of Hokianga harbour. A few miles further is Opononi where we learnt about ‘Opo’ the ‘tame’ dolphin that hung around here for a while in the 50’s and was National news, before meeting an unfortunate end with a fishing boat after only a year or so of fame.
Then it was right across the top of the country from west to east, over to Waitangi where the famous Treaty was signed between
Maori and Pakeha. We checked out the treaty house from the outside, wandered around the huge Waka (war canoe) and walked around the coastal trail - all the free bits basically. Carrying on through Pahia we caught a ferry from Opua to Okaito and to the peninsular that makes up the outer edge of the Bay of Islands. After a failed attempt to walk to a disused whaling station (nowhere to park, lots of warnings about theft and broken glass) we had yet another mammoth search for an overnight camp spot!! Eventually we found somewhere high up in the hills on a gravel road Ngaiotong Scenic Reserve, parking under some tall trees thrashing around precariously in the strong wind.
That was the furthest north we went, after which we started heading back toward Whangerei, taking in a few scenic spots and beaches on the way and camping for the night near the beach at Te Arai point. Lots of very nice shells there, people surfing and if it was a bit sunnier would have been a great place for a dip. Even without a swim it was a pleasant change to find somewhere nice to stop, without being hassled,
having a great view and actually feel like we could have stayed there awhile rather than being glad to leave! On the way back into Auckland we stopped off at Warkworth to look at the place where Geoff had WWOOFed before and then continued onto the big smoke ready for our flight the next day. We camped at Takapuna Beach just north of the city, with surprisingly good views of Auckland Harbour. That afternoon, we made it into town to see the Mystic Truth art exhibition (free on Mondays!), what can I say.....far out man! The next day was an absolute nightmare, having discovered that British Airways had cancelled one of our flights completely without mentioning it to us (not the first time either). We also logged onto Travelblog to find that 75% of our efforts had evaporated with apparently no chance of return. You may remember our depressed email at the time - thankfully with the help of friends and Travelblog themselves finding stuff, it is all OK now. On top of all that I managed to melt my trousers and we rushed around failing to find a 2nd dive computer that we had decided we needed for Galapagos.
One good thing happened in that a friendly Thai man at the ACER repair place quickly fixed our keyboard (again for free), that’s the second time we have just walked in to one of their repair places and had stuff sorted quickly and at no cost.
As for the weather, the incessant rain wasn’t letting up and other campers were struggling to get out of the waterlogged site and Geoff reckons winter was perfect time to visit NZ! Before we gave the camper back, we managed to get a parcel sent back home (it’s always good to lose a few kilos) and we donated our spare food, books and a flask to a nice lady in a supermarket carpark, whose son was working in the UK. After returning the camper we were given a lift to the airport ready for our flight to South America and a friendly farewell in the form of NZ$50 departure tax.
The South Island had been great but the North Island hadn’t had quite the same appeal for me, to be honest we were both ready for some ‘real traveling’ again and to meet some other people, as the camper had been a
great independent way to travel, but a little isolating. We weren’t sure what to expect of South America, but were hoping it provided more of a challenge, given our very basic level of Spanish we reckoned that that only would make things interesting.
And so we left Australasia, heading for our last continent on this big trip, hoping for some better weather and relieved not to have to look for any more free campsites!
There are more photos below