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Published: March 4th 2011
27th February – late on Saturday evening there was a violent thunder storm in the area with some heavy rain and a spectacular lightning display. But on the Sunday morning it was dry again. We had decided to explore the coastline a bit so set off towards Opotiki about 45 kilometers away. We were in no hurry and stopped a couple of times by beaches where the sea was a stunning colour. People were fishing, some were jogging or walking, a couple were surfing and one or two swimming. But the length of the beaches made it seem as though they were virtually deserted. At each location we had a splendid view of White Island and, perhaps because of the rain during the night, the volcano was giving off a huge plume of steam which was clearly visible even without binoculars. After a while we arrived at Oportiki – a small town with a curious mixture of old and new buildings. Some of them were of local historical significance and we sought out a few and, in particular, a church. There seemed to be quite a large Maori presence – perhaps more than we had encountered elsewhere. The many murals gave
a colourful feel to the place. We spotted a nice café and had lunch before seeking out the “port”. Opotiki is on a river but close enough to the river mouth to accommodate sea fishing. It was a fairly small port catering for individual leisure fishing boats rather than industrial boats and judging by the number of empty boat-trailers in the car park there must have been quite a few on the water. But the port was an ideal swimming spot and there was plenty of kit there in the form of slides, ropes, diving boards and pontoons to encourage the locals. It was quite entertaining watching the local kids, again mainly Maoris, enjoying the water.
We drove on from Opotiki and found another couple of beautiful beachside picnic spots where a stroll and a paddle were the order of the day. A cup of tea from our flask and a piece of cake were enjoyed in the company of a feral cat. It seemed in very good condition yet there were no buildings within miles of the place so we suspect it had been abandoned there. But it seemed quite happy exploring the area and took refuge from
time to time in a small, thick copse which was nearby. We got talking to a Scottish tourist who had been fascinated by a tour he had done of a kiwi fruit farm. Like us, he wasn’t aware of how they were grown until he did the farm tour. On our return journey towards Whakatane we took a small detour to find a well advertised botanical woodland called ‘Hukutaia Domain’. On the way we spotted some kiwi fruit “vines” and stopped to take a closer look and were able to confirm what the Scottish man had told us – they grow in hanging clusters like grapes on bush-like vines of about 5 feet high. Later we were to try to buy some at the local supermarket but I resisted on principle as the ones available were imported from Italy!!! Local ones were not yet in season. The botanical woodland was well worth the detour and included a “burial tree” – a huge puriri tree named ‘Taketakerau’ with a cave-like opening at the base and which, as the name suggests, was once used as part of Maori ritual during burial services. The tree is about 2000 years old and has three
guardian statues (Teko Teko) around it. There were many native plants and younger puriri trees in the woodland.
Back in Whakatane we took some rolls we had bought in Opotiki to the river front and ate them while we watched the sun go down. A chap came along, pinned a paper figure to a post and took a few photos. Intrigued, we asked him what it was about and he told us about the ‘Flat Stanley project’ an international literacy and community building activity for people of all ages – check out their website: http://www.flatstanley.com
On Monday, as we booked out of the motel, we chatted to one of the staff about our onward journey. When we mentioned that we planned to travel to Napier via Gisborne there was a sharp intake of breath and he looked surprised. Why aren’t you going via Taupo he asked and we repeated that we wanted to see Gisborne. “Ah well” he said, “it will take some time but it will be very pretty!” Reluctantly we left Whakatane behind and headed back up the coast towards Opotiki passing the lovely beaches we had visited the day before. At Opotiki we turned inland
and followed a road towards Waioeka Gorge. The road followed the same river that entered the ocean at Opotiki and soon it began to wind dramatically and the hills on either side started to close in. We began to realise why the lad at the Whakatane motel was surprised at our choice of route as progress was slow but the scenery was beautiful. We stopped for a quick cuppa before beginning to climb away from the river up through the wooded ravine. The sheer drop from the road in places was quite un-nerving and it was a bit like driving through the Swiss Alps. Poor little Tart was doing her best but with her small engine and all our luggage on board she found it a bit of a struggle. But she did it and we didn’t have to get out and push once! Much of this area has been planted with pine trees and logging is big business here. Consequently there were a lot of lorries on the road carrying huge loads of timber. Eventually we reached the top and started to drop down through equally dramatic scenery towards Gisborne. At last the steep, twisty road straightened and the
countryside flattened out into an area ideal for fruit growing – especially vines. We reached Manutuke and realized that Gisborne wasn’t actually on our direct route. If we wanted to visit we would have to do a “there and back” round trip of about 20kms. We sought out the local pub and had a fish and chip lunch to mull over what we should do as we still had a fair way to go to Napier – our eventual destination. We decided that we didn’t have to rush to Napier so we chose to go and see what Gisborne had to offer and we were so pleased we did.
We drove through the town centre which seemed very pleasant and on to the local lookout. What a great view it was and the sea was a wonderful turquoise colour and seemed quite calm. Down in the harbour a huge ship was loaded up with logs ready for a destination unknown – probably China. We were transfixed by the unreal scene before us but after a while a statue caught our attention. We guessed that it was supposed to be Captain Cook as he had landed in Poverty Bay in
October 1769, but it certainly didn’t look like him. The inscription explained that, to mark the bi-centenary of the landing, the city paid for what they thought was a statue of Captain Cook. It was similar to one that had been made for the Captain Cook Brewery in Auckland but since then it had been discredited and has become a source of great embarrassment for the Council and great amusement for photographers and tourists. Who is he? No one knows!!
Back down from the lookout, in a park bordering the harbour, we found another statue of Captain Cook but this one was a much better likeness. The plaque explained that, because Captain Cook and his men misunderstood traditional Maori challenges of welcome, some of the Maoris were killed and Cook hastened back to his ship, Endeavour, without picking up any provisions for his onward journey. With the crew feeling impoverished, Poverty Bay was thus named. Cook went on to plot the first map of New Zealand which, even to this day, is extremely accurate.
We thought that the road from Gisborne to Napier would be easier but we had to negotiate another hilly “pass” where progress was delayed
Hiona St Stephen
infamous because of a murder of a missionary there
by the numerous logging lorries either crawling slowly up the hill or descending the other side in low gear. Also we encountered an extraordinary number of road repairs going on – it must be the road repair season! As we got closer to Napier the countryside leveled out and we passed lots of apple orchards and vineyards. We were relieved to see the city sign after a mammoth day’s driving for Graham – we had done just about 400 kms. Little Tart had done her job well and survived to face another day!
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