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Published: January 16th 2015
Episode 2 (17.01.15).
There is much to admire about New Zealand society. The indigenous Maori and white people are well integrated. There is a great respect for indigenous culture and it is pervasive here. While there are still some sore issues, race relations here are well ahead of those in Australia. Of course, Kiwis are also ahead when it comes to the recognition of gay people, as same sex marriage is legal here.
The Bay of Islands is historically important, being the first site of European colonization in NZ. We spent our last day in Paihia at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the treaty was signed between Maori chiefs and Pakeha (Europeans) in 1840. We saw the meeting house, large and ornate Maori ceremonial canoes and also caught a cultural performance. We found it very interesting and entertaining (especially the cultural performance) and I got photographed with some of the imposing-looking performers. For entry into the Treaty Grounds, there were concessions for “Pensioners, students and backpackers.” We wondered how they assessed the latter? Being able to leap to the top of a bunk bed in a single bound? Being able to cook a meal for four with a cup
of rice, a six-day old tomato and whatever else could be found in the communal hostel kitchen?
Now, the next little adventure I am about to describe is something that I will never ever forget, because I was able to tick off another iconic creature from my critter bucket list: we saw a kiwi in the wild. Kiwis are quite difficult to see in the wild. Your chances are around 1 -5% if you wander into the New Zealand forest for hours during the night (they are nocturnal). However, we learnt that the chances are at least 50% on Aroha Island (near Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands) due to an aggressive predator eradication program. So, we paid the $40 each at the Paihia Tourist Info Office, and were told to drive to a field station on the island (45 minutes away) at 10pm for a 2 hour walk. I said to Ross:
“Are you sure you want to do this? Two hours walking in the forest, and we won’t get back to the hotel till after midnight.”
But Ross was up for it, so we set off after dinner. It was a bit tricky finding the
field station, driving down unfamiliar, lonely unlit roads, and then across a dubious looking causeway onto the island. But we made it by 10pm. We were met by a cheery guy called Nathan, a recent ecology graduate who was studying the wild kiwis on the island. He gave us some red light torches and we set off into the forest, walking along dirt tracks. (Red light allows you to see the birds, but not disturb them). Kiwis are often heard foraging before they are seen. Occasionally Nathan stopped, turned off his light, and listened in the complete darkness, and we did the same. It was wonderful standing silently in the pitch black, listening to the sounds of the forest and the splashing of fish in a nearby mangrove, the only light coming from a blanket of stars above. After about one hour of sweeping his red torch light left and right, Nathan suddenly stopped and pointed silently. There, about 10 feet away, was a large female kiwi foraging in the leaf litter. At one point, she caught and ate a worm. We had a clear, unobstructed view of her for about 5 minutes, before she ambled off up the slope
and into some thick bushes. It was brilliant. Back at the field station, we did a high five and Nathan said it was a very good sighting. I had seen kiwis previously in NZ zoos, but I never thought I’d ever see one in the wild. Ross had never seen one at all, so his first ever kiwi sighting was a wild one!
From the Bay of Islands, we headed west to Hokianga, and then south along the Kauri Coast. At a local petrol station in the middle of nowhere, the guy at the counter asked me where we were headed.
“To see the giant kauri trees” I said, “and then we will stay overnight down in Dargaville.”
“Dargaville?” he said. “Dargarville is a shut place.”
“Shut?” I asked. “The whole town? Why should it be closed?”
“No, its shut. It's a shut place. A bullshut place. Crap, nothing there.”
Then I realised. The accent, the thick rural kiwi accent.
We were floored by the beautiful harbour in Hokianga, dominated by the huge sand dune facing the belligerent Pacific Ocean. Further south, Waipoua forest and its giant kauri trees were awe-inspiring. They are
remnants of vegetation that once cloaked much of New Zealand. At 51 metres high and with a girth of 13.7 metres, Tane Mahuta is the largest kauri tree known to be alive today. It is thought to be between 1200 and 2500 years old. During its many centuries in the forest, it must have witnessed moa birds stalking the undergrowth, the arrival of the Maori, then the entire history of European colonization. If only it could speak, what tales it might tell.
We stayed at Dargaville simply to break the long drive from Piahia, and it was indeed a soporific and rather uninteresting place. The woman who checked us in at the motel was an intense person, with wiry hair, thick goggle-eyed glasses and teeth like a Steinway that had fallen down the stairs.
The Dargaville motel was a rather dreary place. Pointing to a neglected garden of sagging plants within its grounds, Ross said:
“Look, even the plants here have died of boredom.”
But, like everyone else here in New Zealand, Ms. Steinway was charming and helpful. She directed us to the local unassuming pub for dinner, which actually served us the best value meal
we have had on the whole trip so far.
From Dargaville we drove most of the day to arrive on the lovely Coromandel Peninsula. The road up to Coromandel Town hugged the coastline, a great drive featuring aquamarine water, red-flowering Christmas trees and lots of shorebirds (including what must have been several hundred pied oystercatchers, very fetching in their black and white feathery attire and bright orange bills). Coromandel is known for its seafood - especially mussels – and we had a great dinner of mussels with chorizo at the Mussel Kitchen just out of town (recommended). On our second day on the Peninsula, we went to the wonderful Cathedral Cove. Under a clear blue sky (which is what we had), this place is one of the most beautiful coves I have ever seen, with aquamarine water, golden sand, white rocky outcrops, and a large cavernous hole through which you can see a single weathered white stack in the water (see picture opposite). Gobsmackingly beautiful coastal scenery. Ross said that I duped him into the 45 minute walk down to Cathedral Cove, but he forgot his complaints when he saw the fantastic views (see picture attached).
we are headed down to Rotorua, to stay with Brent and Shirl, and take in some geothermal wonders and more Maori culture.
You all know my obsession with weather. Well, incredibly, it has been warm and sunny since the day we arrived over a week ago (about 25 to 28 degrees).
Craig (and Ross).
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