54. Easter Holidays up North

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April 30th 2009
Published: July 31st 2009
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 Video Playlist:

1: Talking parrot 7 secs
2: Nick sledging on the sand dunes 14 secs
3: nghghg 23 secs
4: Paula's poi poi practice 10 secs
5: Maori tribal dance 23 secs
Distances from Cape ReingaDistances from Cape ReingaDistances from Cape Reinga

e.g. London 18,029km, South Pole 6,211km

On Good Friday we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the centre of Auckland to witness the procession around the city enter the Church, led by volunteers carrying a full size cross.

Around midday we picked up our old college friend Andrew from the airport and headed further up north from Auckland, predictably called Northland, and, as we had recently turned back our clocks, it was not until just after sunset that we arrived at our destination of Paihia, our base in the Bay of Islands area.

One part of the car journey up there was especially impressive as we came up into the brow of a hill and suddenly the jagged Whangerei Heads came into view straight ahead, surrounded by Bream Bay, and as it was dusk the water appeared almost cloud-like and the mountain was like some mythical outcrop from Lord of the Rings. En-route we felt compelled to stop at a famous public convenience in Kawakawa - the Hundertwasser Toilets. Commissioned in 1997, they are the last works of Austrian Friedrich Hundertwasser. I have to agree I was pretty impressed. He encouraged locals to take part in creating his work of art by crafting
Good Friday procession through the streets of AucklandGood Friday procession through the streets of AucklandGood Friday procession through the streets of Auckland

Volunteers carry a cross resembling Jesus' steps to his crucifixion
tiles and windows from old bottles and designing mosaics to decorate its walls (see photo).

Of the all the amazing scenery in New Zealand, it is The Bay of Islands that is often ranked near the top of the list, due to its numerous pretty coves and sparkling clear waters that range from turquoise to deep blue. As well as being a natural wonder, it is also the place of ultimate historical significance for New Zealand, as it is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between 46 tattooed Maori chiefs and the British Crown in 1840, securing British sovereignty over New Zealand. The 150 islands are popular with visitors but thankfully the vast majority of them are not populated.

Known as the hub town of the ever-popular Bay of Islands, I expected Paihia to be pretty touristy but was pleasantly surprised by its peace, beauty and strong laid-back feel. Our lodging was called the Pickled Parrot, the avian host of which was, you’ve guessed it, a parrot. Mainly resting on its open-air climbing frame, an unexpected challenge was a return journey to the bathroom without it hopping on your shoulder for a bit of variety. I must
Beach view from WaitangiBeach view from WaitangiBeach view from Waitangi

Where the Land Treaty between British and Maori was first signed in 1840
note that although the pictures here look like I have just punched Andrew, I am in fact amiably attempting to provide an alternative hopping platform on my arm. (Also see video in last blog entry Received: One Gannet)

On Easter Saturday we visited the place of most historical significance in NZ, the Waitangi National Reserve, the site of first permanent contact between European and Maoris, and now where the NZ, Maori and UK flags fly (NZ is the only country with 2 official flags, as well as their well-known commonwealth one, there is The Flag of the United Tribes of NZ).

There are a few focal points: firstly, the colonial-style 1832 Treaty House, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed (the last Maori chief’s signature to be added to the Treaty of Waitangi in September 1840 was in Kawhia, where we had been earlier in the month). Secondly the highly intricately-carved Maori meeting house built in 1940 to commemorate the centenary of the treaty, which is unusual as it is for several tribes and not just one, and finally the 35m war canoe, also built for the Centenary, which was carved from two huge kauri trees.

We also watched (and took part!) in a cultural show at Waitangi: Nick was chosen as the guest chief (i.e. ‘volunteered’ by Paula) to represent us visitors when enacting a traditional first encounter with a Maori, by doing the hongi (pressing of noses) mutual greeting, symbolizing a sharing of life breath. He and Andrew later got right into the spirit of things by taking part in a rendition of the intimidating Haka dance (complete with chest thumping and tongues sticking out - scary stuff - also see video).

In the afternoon we took a cruise up along the Bay of Islands coastline, which became the South Pacific Ocean, past several of the larger islands to a place called Cape Brett and an small island known as ‘Hole in the Rock’ because it was a huge piece of rock with a hole large enough for a big boat to pass through - which we did. We passed the place where Captain Cook stopped while in this area, but the highlight of the trip was finding a pod of large bottlenose dolphins. They were bigger (about 2.5 metres long) than those we swam with in Kaikoura in the South Island, and flipped themselves in the water around the boat; as we sped off, a mother and baby (calf) raced alongside us.

On the way back, we got off the boat at the small town of Russell, directly across the bay from where we boarded the boat in Paihia. This town must have one of the most interesting histories in NZ: originally it was a Maori settlement known as ‘Sweet Penguin’; in 1830 hundreds of people died in the ‘War of the Girls’; in 1845 the British flagpole was cut down (for the fourth time) by a disgruntled Maori; and the town was generally a hang-out for escaped convicts, whalers, prostitutes and drunk sailors, leading it to become known as “the hellhole of the Pacific” and for Charles Darwin to uncharitably write that “the majority of the British there were the refuse of society”; it also managed to fit in being the country’s first capital. Today it is a sleepy village (pop 1,140), and there we saw the oldest church in the country, Christ Church from 1847, as well as walking up the hill where the flagpole was felled 4 times, which gave good views over the land and sea. We ended up having
Hoping our Easter chocs haven't melted in the heatHoping our Easter chocs haven't melted in the heatHoping our Easter chocs haven't melted in the heat

Easter Sunday picnic lunch at Tapotupotu Bay, Northland
dinner in Russell in The Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which claimed to be the oldest licensed premises in NZ, a fitting place for Andrew to sample his first Kiwi beer.

Easter Sunday was another beautiful day, and we joined a coach trip up to the northernmost point of the North Island and back. First stop was a Gumdiggers’ Park, a forest of very, very old Kauri trees (many dating back 40,000 years). Extracting the useful gum from these trees was hard work but big business in these parts from the 1870s to 1920s, the gumdiggers spent their time in mud probing for gum with long spears, and then digging it up when found, to be used for varnish etc. In this park, there is the oldest non-fossilised wood in the world, some of which is dated to more than 100,000 years ago - this prehistoric wood was covered by peat swamps before the last Ice Age, and sealed from the air, which preserved it. The oldest conclusive age of a kauri tree is 2,000 years.

Back on the coach, following an unsealed road up the east side of the narrowing peninsula, we had a great lunch stop at Tapotupotu Bay and Nick had a swim in the sea to work up an appetite. Not our usual Easter lunch, we had to race to eat the chocolate posted to us by Nick’s Mum & Dad before it melted to mush in the heat!

At the very tip of the North Island we arrived at Cape Reinga, 290m above sea level, its famous lighthouse is where the Pacific Ocean collides with the Tasman Sea. It is a place of great spiritual significance to the Maori, who believe it is “the place of the leaping”, where the souls of the dead gather before they enter the next world. According to tradition, the spirits leap from the 800-year old pohutukawa tree on this windswept cape to begin the voyage back to their final resting place in their ancestral island home of Hawaiki.

Our journey back took us down the west side of the peninsula where saw many more picturesque beaches and stopped for a quick spot of sledging down sand dunes (heaps of fun!), but the main highlight was a drive along Ninety Mile Beach (not actually 90 miles - more like 90km, but still impressive!). Wide and long,
Paula & bus driverPaula & bus driverPaula & bus driver

On the Ninety Mile Beach "highway"
it is actually an official Highway when the tide is out, where traffic rules apply!! As the bus drove along it for about 30 minutes we enjoyed watching the big waves, ocean surf and fishermen hauling in their day’s catch. Continuing on the seafood theme, it would have been rude not to patronise the Mangonui Fush ‘n’ Chup Shop for tea at sunset, as several different people had insisted on it and we could see why for the views as well as the food.

On Easter Monday it was time to head home. As we were driving out of Paihia, the (still fine) weather and a glimpse through the rear-view mirror of the Sea Kayaking hut on the beach proved all-too tempting so we did an about-turn and hired kayaks for an hour and lunched al fresco with yet more sea views. We took an almost direct route home (excepting a cheesery and a winery!), and concluded that a fun-packed weekend was had by all.

Back in Auckland, and before Andrew headed on his merry way south, we dined in a smart Viaduct restaurant (thanks Andrew!) one night and made a collective Shepherd’s Pie at ours on the other.


Additional photos below
Photos: 55, Displayed: 28


9th September 2013
Maori wood face carving

its cool
i like this

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