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Published: September 9th 2010
Seagulls and ducks
The delightful sound of seagulls running up and down the roof of the campervan woke us from our slumber on Thursday 2nd September in Russell. As we opened the doors to let in the light from the overcast skies, we saw that our camping area had become an aviary! Ducks, seagulls and some nondescript, small brown birds had gathered round the van, probably drawn in by the delicious aromas of the sizzling bacon Rachel was preparing for my breakfast sandwiches.
After a very short ferry crossing from Russell (a peninsula) to Paihia, we were at the gateway to the Bay of Islands, a very popular destination for tourists in the north of New Zealand. The Bay of Islands are a scattering of 144 islands off the east coast, varying in size, some are deserted and some have small commercial and residential inhabitants as well as campsites and walking trails. They were named by Captain James Cook when he sailed into the bay, counted 144 islands and came up with the imaginative and creative name, The Bay of Islands. The weather was still fair but overcast when we booked our cruise out into the bay which was due to leave about
two hours later.
We filled the spare two hours by driving the short distance to Waitangi and the famous Treaty Grounds. It was at this site that the local Maori chiefs and Lt. William Hobson, a representative of the British monarchy signed a treaty which secured British sovereignty over the country in February 1840. It was an interesting couple of hours where we learnt of the politics and history behind a country born a relatively short time ago. The grounds included a traditional Maori meeting house built (or whare, with wh being pronounced f in Maori) for the centenary celebrations of the treaty and featured ornate carvings inside and out. We saw the exact place the treaty was signed and also a huge Maori canoe, again built for the centenary celebrations in 1940. In the visitors centre, we bumped into some Maori warriors (just wondering around, you know, like you do) and browsed through some of the very impressive greenstone (jade) weapons and ornaments that are big business over here.
The wind had ratcheted up a notch or three by the time we climbed aboard the large boat that was to take us out into the Bay of
Islands and the captain warned of rough seas and the unlikelihood of spotting dolphins due to the weather. He said that in the shelter of the islands, the seas would be manageable but once we got out into the open ocean it may be a different story. The reason we were heading out into the open ocean was to visit a famous rock! Or more accurately, a famous hole in a famous rock! The most visited island in the bay, is the Hole in The Rock, a large archway in a large rock that towers 178m out of the South Pacific. All manner of vessels including high speed jetboats take passengers out to see the rock and to travel through the hole.
Undaunted, we started out to see and began a guided tour of some of the larger and more renowned of the islands, with the captain narrating and telling us the history, both Maori and Western, of the spectacular grouping of rocks, islets and islands we could see. Before long we were bobbing around in the water around 150 metres from the shore of a sizeable island being told about the holiday homes lining the beach, when we
Rachel and a Tree
Similar tree to that used to build the canoe
were instructed by the captain to look in the water at the front of the boat. The ten or so of us on board dashed to the front and were greeted with the sight of eight or nine sizeable bottlenose dolphins swimming in the dark water around the boat! We were very excited as we snapped away on the camera at the beautiful mammals gracefully gliding around just under the surface. They were surfacing regularly and close to the boat as we were given a short lesson in all things dolphin by the crew. It was great to see such fantastic creatures up close and in their natural environment, but unfortunately we were back on our way all too quickly. As we sped up in the boat away from the pod, some of the dolphins started to play in the wake, jumping and flipping barely five metres from us. Rachel loved seeing this show that they were putting on for us and was disappointed to leave Flipper and his mates behind.
Soon it was time to leave the calm waters of the bay behind and head out into open waters. Another warning from the captain followed as he told
Treaty of Waitangi
The spot where the treaty was signed in1840
us to sit down, hold onto something and more ominously hold onto our lunch! He wasn’t being overly dramatic either as the large ocean swells made the boat heave up and down and many of the passengers almost heave up! After ten minutes of being thrown about, we reached the Hole in The Rock and unfortunately, due to the weather conditions, the captain was unprepared to attempt passing through the hole, so we had to make do with a few photos and then make the half hour journey back to shore with the boat pitching and swaying violently in the ocean waves.
Despite the weather, sea conditions and not being able to go through the rock, we had a great time, learnt a lot about this picturesque area of New Zealand and were thrilled at having seen dolphins so close. We had a short walk around Paihia to acclimatize to being back on land after almost four hours out to sea and came across a cute little farmers market to explore just as the heavens opened!
Our base for evening was a little campsite near the base of the Haruhu Falls, a cute little waterfall just outside the
town we had spent the day. The evening was uneventful, apart from Rach and I starting our ‘Travelling World Championship of Games 2010’! This important competition consists of three events at the moment. Rummy, the dice game Yahtzee and the card game Uno. We played a bit of all three that night and despite ending the night equal stevens in Uno and Rummy, I was taught a lesson at Yahtzee by my wife, who says (although I don’t believe her) it was her first time playing the game.
Friday morning brought the daunting prospect of the long journey back down to Auckland. A prospect that was made brighter by the fact that one, we are on a seven month holiday, two, we are in a new and exciting country, and three, nothing should be daunting and everything should be enjoyable when you are on a seven month holiday visiting places like New Zealand! We took a route down the east coast this time and the highlight of the trip was the hour we spent driving through the Waipoua Forest. This vast forest is home to some of the biggest and oldest trees on planet Earth, the Kauri Tree. After
Outside the whare
It is custom to remove your shoes before entering the whare
driving along roads hugging the rugged coast of the Tasman Sea, we came to a little layby just inside the north edge of the Waipoua Forest, where a signpost directed us (on foot) down a pathway into the gloom of the imposing shadows to a tree known as Tane Mahuta or The Father of the Forest. The tree was over 50 metres tall, and the trunk was over 8 metres in circumference! It was gigantic and to put it into perspective, it was 1500 years old when Shakespeare was born and just starting to appear out of the ground when Christ was born! Quite humbling and makes you realize just how insignificant we are on this planet.
We limped back into Auckland through Friday evening rush hour traffic and arrived back at the campsite we stayed at on our first night after seven hours on the road. The previous couple of day had been good fun and given us an introduction into the history and culture of the Maoris, a culture in which we were going to be thoroughly immersed in over the coming week, and a glimpse of the natural and scenic wonders this diverse country has to
The next blog, in a few days time, will be a story of more campervan troubles, big city life, and the generous hospitality of the locals here. Bye for now.
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