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Published: March 24th 2010
Sunrise over Onerahi taken from the deck of our holiday home. Peek through the trees on the right to glimpse the sea!
Our final day in Whangarei came around way too quickly but one of the benefits of renting a house from the hospital is that we don't need to vacate until 3pm. And that meant we had pretty much half a day left to enjoy ourselves before packing up and heading home - awesome!
We were up in time for sunrise and were treated to a lovely light show despite the grey looking skies. Minutes later, a light drizzle set in and some even more stunning colours began to emerge in the sky in the shape of a double partial rainbow. I took a walk to the end of the drive, crossed the road and could see the pretty colours bending out across the Onerahi coast. Just lovely.
Now, on Thursday night as we were driving up to the house for the first time, I spotted an intriguing sign just a few streets away pointing to Abbey Caves. A quick flick through our old Rough Guide informed me that there were indeed 3 caves worthy of exploration pretty much on our doorstep. That said however, the book also mentioned the apparently rather more impressive caves at Whatipu (no giggling please!)
Not one but 2 rainbows - that must be lucky!
which we would more or less pass by on our journey back to Auckland. Dilemma. In the end, we opted for the local caves and got our torches and wet weather gear ready.
Heading down the road indicated by the sign I had seen the other day, we twisted and turned but didn;t see any sign of our target destination. A common problem with road signs in New Zealand is that they are frequently only set up for traffic coming in one direction. That means if you are coming down the road the other way, all you see is the back of a road sign until you're well past it and then you need to have a passenger who can stick their head out of the window to look back and read it. As I'm sure you've guessed already, this was exactly what happened to us.
Glynn expertly pulled a U-ey (that's Kiwi for making a U-turn) in the narrow lane and whizzed us neatly into the little parking spot at the top of the path to the caves. On the official wooden sign there someone had kindly written a warning that thieves operate daily in this spot
Queen Jude rests easy on her giant rock throne.
- presumably because once you're down the path and in the caves, you're pretty much out of sight of your vehicle and it's an easy target for them. We considered whether leaving the car was a good idea but it was still pretty early on a Sunday morning. We figured that the sort of person that would break into a car was also likely to be the sort of person that might have had several beers on a Saturday night and was unlikely to be up yet....hopefully.
Picking up the trail, we headed down some crude wooden steps, past some bemused looking ponies and cows grazing in the neighbouring fields and into a clearing littered with unusually big chunks of rocks. The shape, colour and texture of the rocks suggested they were of a similar formation to the Pancake Rocks we saw at Punakaiki on South Island back in 2007. Curious, we continued on past a sign pointing to a stone forest. All around us were mini monoliths that reminded us now of the Shilin Stone Forest we visited in China, although these rock were only a fraction of the size.
Further along the pathway, a sign directed
Jish and Rufus escape Jude's clutches and head out on their own mountaineering adventure.
us to the first of the 3 local caves - Organ Cave. (Ok permission to giggle this time!) The entrance to the cave looked like a partially collapsed roof, with big chunky lumps of stone strewn about quite randomly. It didn't look like there was a clear way down at first glance so we continued on to the next cave, the imaginatively titled Middle Cave.
Here there was definitely a clear way down towards the cave's mouth and Glynn wasted no time going into Tomb raider mode, picking his way carefully across the giant boulders and into the cave itself. If it weren't for the glow of his flashlight, I would never have been able to see him in the pitch black down below! Now it was my turn to clamber down which wasn't too tricky until the bottom when I needed to hold my torch but use both my hands to steady myself at the same time. Not so easy!
Deeper into the cave, I thought to myself that the creature Gollum from Lord of the Rings would have been right at home here. Just at that moment, Glynn discovered some rock pools dotted between the boulders
A cave where men can find their organs apparently.
still full of water despite the relative drought in the area of late. Looking closely into the pools we could make out the moving shapes of little grey shrimp or lobster like creatures. Not quite Gollum but pretty neat nonetheless. Capturing one on camera was difficult as they were very sensitive to the light but it was amazing to see life surviving in such a dark dank hole. We attempted to venture deeper into the cave as this would link on to the third and final cave, however there were lots of deep pockets of water between the rocks and neither of us fancied our chances of making it in and out again without slipping and getting seriously drenched feet.
Climbing back up out of the cave, we made our way back to Organ Cave again and this time spotted a little track leading round a bend and into the cave at a better angle. Feeling intrepid after our first cave incursion, down we went again. Glynn reached the entrance first and made a quick assessment of the terrain - rocky, slippery and much wetter than the previous cave so we decided not to continue in. It was still
Could be a scene from one of the Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones movies. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Cambodia!
fun to scramble around the entrance and pretend we were on an Indiana Jones-style adventure.
Making our way back towards the car a little later, we were relieved to find everything just as we left it. We double-backed on ourselves a little so that we could take a look at an interesting house that we had passed on our way to the caves. Sitting on a hillside was the most bizarre construction of a building that can only be described as a UFO house. It looked absolutely brilliant and now I totally want to live in a UFO house too!
We were very pleased with our last bit of adventure in Whangarei but alas, it was now time to clean the house, pack up the car and make our way back home. The journey back to Auckland though was fraught with hold-ups, ranging from being stuck behind tractors and slow moving campervans on single lane roads to major congestion in Manukau, not 10 minutes away from home. Apparently there had been a fatal crash on the main trunk road here which was made worse by the fact that this road was currently serving as a detour for motorway
Glynn makes his way to the middle of the 3 caves, surprisingly called Middle Cave!
traffic while the motorway was resurfaced.
What should have been our last 10 minutes of travel turned into a 2 hour gridlock we hadn't bargained for. In all, it took us more than double the time to get home than it did to travel up to Whangarei. I guess some you win, some you lose. Nevertheless, it was without doubt a fab holiday and I'm sure we'll be back in Whangarei again soon :-)
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