Day 54 - Northland Road Trip, North Island, New Zealand

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January 11th 2014
Published: January 21st 2014
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Saturday January 11th, 2014. Northland Road Trip, North Island, New Zealand

After an al-fresco breakfast we threw our stuff in the car and headed to the 'Far North' (bit of a joke as that is really the north pole!). It is actually only moderately remote and the coastline was supposed to be amazing. Our first stop was Whangaroa, described in the AA book as "one of the most scenic harbours in the southern hemisphere".

Whangaroa Harbour (the centre of the County) is 40 minutes drive north of the Bay of Islands and 30 minutes drive south of Doubtless Bay, making the area’s attractions an ideal stopover for travellers searching for something different that speaks of authentic Northland – unspoiled and unique. The harbour is almost land-locked and is popular both as a fishing spot in its own right and as a base for deep-sea fishing. The harbour was the scene of one of the most notorious incidents in early New Zealand history, the Boyd massacre. In December 1809 almost all the crew and 70 passengers of
the Boyd ship were killed as utu (revenge) for the mistreatment of the son of a local chief who had been in the crew of the ship. Several days later the ship was burnt out after gunpowder was accidentally ignited.

Like other Northland harbours, Whangaroa Harbour is an old river system, drowned when the sea level rose about 6,000 years ago. Whangaroa is distinctive because of its steep rocky outcrops, formed of ancient volcanic rocks. The volcanism evident around Whangaroa is some of the earliest in New Zealand. The small township of Whangaroa is dominated by a pinnacle known as St Pauls, or Ohakiri. St Pauls is most likely an ancient eroded volcanic plug. St Pauls has a twin, St Peter, facing it across the water. There are extensive mangrove swamps at the head of the harbour, and some of the oldest fossils in the North Island, dating to the early Permian about 270 million years ago. The town is known as the Marlin Capital of NZ. We didn't have time to climb to the summit of St Pauls (we were heading to the frozen north remember) but we could take in the beauty of the harbour. The water was like glass, with fantastic reflections of the boats and surrounding rocks. There was also evidence that some water dwelling creature was being farmed here in vast numbers, with clearly visible beds stretching out across the harbour. These are Oyster Beds, which a local rag described as "the cancer of Whangaroa Harbour" (we found this out later on Google).

We continued north to Mangonui nestled on Doubtless Bay. Sweeping in a gigantic arc, Doubtless Bay is a lengthy bay with pretty swimming beaches and a rugged coast where there are plenty of holiday destinations. Mangonui was once a whaling port but is now noted for its historic buildings and fish and chips. We went to the tourist office as recommended in the AA Guide to pick up a copy of the "free" guide to the Heritage Trail. This guide to the 3 km walk actually cost $1 (apparently to cover the cost of removing grafiti and repairing vandalism - so NOT NZ!). The lady in the Tourist Office was very apologetic about the charge (we really didn't care!) - she was originally from England and still has family there. We chatted for a good while before embarking on the trail. The trail provides a glimpse of the great wealth of Maori and European history associated with this area (and indeed the whole of Northland).

The "bank breaking" guide explained how the Polynesian navigator Kupe visited this area about 900 AD in the canoe Mamaru. On a return trip the Mamaru brought the chiefs Te Parata and Tumoana, ancestors of Ngati Kahu. Later another canoe (these are not your average Kayaks by the way!) the Ruakaramea, was guided into a harbour by a shark (Mmmmm). Its chief, Moehuri, named the harbour Mangonui which means "large shark". Mangonui was known as a safe harbour for whaling vessels by the late 1700's and, in 1831 the first European settler arrive. By the mid 1890's Mangonui was a centre for whalers and traers; the saw milling, flax and gum industries were floursihing. This history is what would make the Heritage Trail very interesting.

First stop was the Courthouse, which is the second of 2 in the town (the first dating from 1850 was also a customs house and bond store). The present building functioned as a courthouse untill 1948 when it became a police station until 1976. It is now administered by the DOC together with the Courthouse Preservation Society. Next door is the Wharf Store dating from abt. 1890. It is made of Kauri wood. Next was Mangonui Hall (and toilets!) built in 1894. The hall was purchased in 1950 by the council as a commemoration to those who died in the two world wars. It is now known as the Mangonui War Memorial Hall.

After a bit of a walk downhill we came to stop 4 which was 'Three Early Cottages': Wrathall Cottage, Penney Cottage and Barratt Cottage (see pics). We then made our way to St Andrews Walkway (an alternative for those on foot - us!) This track afforded us great views over Doubtless Bay and number 6 on the Heritage Trail provided us with excellent views of the 3 harbour entrance Pa sites, Rangikapiti Pa to our left and Rangitoto Pa and Moehuri Pa to our right of the Mangonui Harbour entrance. The signs here had metal bars protecting them from vandalism - so at least our $ is going somewhere! Mindless in our opinion - why do this to such a lovely place?

We climbed uphill to St Andrew's Church (No 8) which was opened by Rev Matthews in 1860. The churchyard graves record many names from Mangonui history. The belfry ates from 1862 and the building was extended as recently as 1976. Next door, number 9, was Mangonui School. This single room school was opened on July 2 1884. Prior to this the children had been taught in the church with an average of 12 pupils, and later, in a schoolhouse on Tasman Street which is further along on the heritage trail. From 1950 the school acquired new buildings, expanding to accommodate the growing number of students.

We then walked on up the street to, site 5, the Sailors Grave. At dusk on September 3, 1864, three young sailors lost their lives in an accident while crossing Mangonui Harbour. Four others survived. The drowned men were Alexander Rait, an English seaman aged 22. Edmund Moody, age 24, a black American slave who had arrived the previous May on the Plover, and John Rose who was a 24 year old American. Why they are buried here is a mistery. The actual grave site is 3 metres behind the heritage trail marker. We retraced our setps and turned off right down Tasman Street where there is an early colonial villa which was built in 1902. We couldn't go in as it was a private house. Before this ist was occupied by early Mangonui doctors.

Number 11 on the trail was the first purpose built school in Mangonui. As mentioned earlier classes had previously been in held in St Andrew's Church. From its inception in 1877, Mangonui County Council also held its meetings here after school hours. When the new school was built in 1884 the Council had exclusive use of this building until they moved to Kaitaia in 1918. Contunung down a steep hill we came to site 12 which is an example of original homestead. The pit-sawn kauri house was built by an Englishman for his NZ born wife. It remained in this family for 100 years but by the 1970's it was derelict. Subsequent owners have restored the property. We couldn't enter as it is a private residence.

Continuing on around the bend we arrive back on Waterfront drive where we came to the Old Oak Hotel (No 13). This hotel was originally called Mangonui Hotel. In 1906 when the Settlers Hotel in Mill Bay was demolished the name and licence were transferred to this hotel. In 1910 the name was chanaged to the Old Oak because at that time there was a 30-40 year old oak tree in front of the hotel. The building has subsequently been used as a boarding house, a private residence, a butchers shop, restaurant, craft shop and now it is a hotel again.

Further along Waterfront Drive is the Feist Bakery built in 1920 on the site of an old sadlery dating from 1900. The ajoining cottage was built shortly after 1920 and housed most of the subsequent owners of the bakery building. The bakery was extended to accommodate wood fired brick kilns which in turn gave way to electric ones. By the mid 1900's the need for local bakeries had disappeared and the building lay empty. It is now a craft shop.

We took a look at the site of a flax mill before returning to the main town where we came to the Leser Buildings. This complex of buildings was built by a German, Gustav, Leser, in the early 1900s. Next was Crick Cottage built in 1864. It has been extensively renovated and is now privately owned. The Bank of Australasia Building opened in 1911 with 37 customers. It is now an Estate Agents. We returned to the car to continue our journey northwards.

We passed the settlement of Coopers Beach and stopped at the settlement Cable Bay which sits on the shores of Doubtless Bay. There was a lovely beach here. This lovely beach is littered with rock pools and has pinkish coloured sand. The weather was a bit iffy and it was quite windy. We took some pics and continued on our way - we had a long way to go to Cape Reinga! We continued up the SH1 until we couldn't go any further. The end of the highway was marked by a huge car park. We found a space (with difficulty) and then set off to walk to the only easily accessible northenmost point
of NZ. (The real one is Surville Cliffs - 4 kms further north but you can't get to it because there isn't a road (you have to tramp a long way).

At Cape Reinga, the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea dramatically merge. The track goes to the point and to the Cape Reinga lighthouse. The views were spectacular. You could clearly see the swell where the two bodies of water met. In the distance there were 3 islands called the Three Kings Islands. They have been isolated for so long that many of the species found there are quite distinct from their mainland cousins. Since 1930 these islands have been a pest free sanctuary for these wildlife jewels. Animals found here include various types of land snails an lizards. The best known of the plants is Teccmantha Vine, specimens of which can be found in many NZ gardens. All of them descend from a single surviving vine found on Three Kings Island in 1948. We went down to the lighthouse and took some more photographs of the fabulous coastline. We returned to the car and headed back south.

We turned off up the gravel road towards Spirits bay which is at the north end of 90 mile beach. This golden sand beach stretches for kilometers and, with a 4 wheel drive, it is possible to drive its entire length and emerge at Ahipara Beach which is our destination for tonight. Unfortunaltey this is another forbidden "road" so we would have to go the long way round on the highway. The Te Paki nature reserve is also here and the Te Paki sand dunes are famous. It is possible to dune surf or boogie board down these mountainous dunes. They were so high that the people surfing on them looked like ants. We saw a Range Rover (or similar vehicle) emerge from the river bed which provides access to the north end of 90 mile beach.

We returned to the SH1 and headed south towards Kaitaia which is the northernmost town in NZ. We stopped at the local Countdown and did a shop before heading to our accommodation at Ahipara. This was a holiday park. We were given a cabin which was a bit hot but clean and pleasant (the YH was full). M went for a walk to Ahipara Beach which marks the southern exit of 90 mile beach. Glad we didn't risk the drive as the sand was too thick at this end to allow an easy exit.

We had a nice dinner and retired after a really good day.

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