23.03.2011 - 02.04.2011 26 °C
Time flies by wwoofing at Richard and Linden's. They plan to plant 1000 trees a year on their new property to return the paddocks to native bush. After buying the property, they removed invasive pine trees which smother the forest floor inhibiting new growth. Throughout the week we plant around 200 native trees along “Gumboot Bank”. All our senses are filled as our hands work the soil, our eyes feast on views across the steep valley, our ears listen to the river running, and our nose breaths in the fresh mountain air.
Other work includes predator management, eco-sourcing, and collecting seedlings, all are jobs we really enjoy. Predator management involves Linden taking us along her rat/stoat trap lines to check and re-bait them in the afternoons. She has an extensive network of traps on their land as well as neighbouring properties to keep the nasty buggers at bay giving the rare kiwi birds a better chance of survival. Eco-sourcing involves going for bush walks and gathering seed for propagation from native plants within a few kilometres of the property. These plants are well adapted to this microclimate and their offspring will be more likely to survive than native plants from other areas. We also collect seedlings growing up on the trails that lead down to the Te Mata River. After work, we cool off in the river's great swimming holes while watching out for aggressive eels.
Our nights are usually occupied either playing games, chatting, or identifying ferns. Richard loves playing a game called Farkle. It's a game using six dice, which Julie can't stand, probably since I dominate every night. On nights where Julie needs a break from Farkle, Linden helps us identify ferns that we have photographed throughout our NZ travels. She also shows us many ferns on their property that we haven't seen yet.
Julie and I work hard to earn a day off, which we use to hike up to the Pinnacles in the Coromandel Forest Park which stretches through the middle of the Coromandel Peninsula. The seven hour hike takes us up old Kauri logging trails last used around 75 years ago. Hundreds of steps were chiseled by hand in the smooth rock to make the journey easier on the pack horses. The area was completely logged of the massive Kauri tree for ship building and construction purposes. The trees grow so large that it must have taken weeks to fall and remove one tree. Due to the steep and rugged terrain, the easiest way to move the trees to the Firth of Thames where they could be used. was via the rivers. A series of dams were built along the mountain streams, where cut trees awaited behind each dam. All the dams would be tripped at once, sending the logs crashing down to the Firth.
We reach the ladders which are placed up the steep rocky part of the trail to the summit of the Pinnacles. At the top we eat lunch perching on the Pinnacles (759m) and gazing across the Coromandel Peninsula. The Pacific Ocean lays to the east and the Firth of Thames to the west. Between these two bodies of water the landscape is filled with dense forest, rolling mountains, and eroded volcanoes. The Pinnacles are the remnants of ancient volcanoes that are eroded away, leaving the tough core standing as a lasting reminder. I talk Julie into taking the long way back to the car via Billy Goat Pass. We pass logging relics, old dams, huge Kauri stumps and Billy Goat Falls.
During one of our sunny afternoons after returning from the town of Thames to get our car's WOF (Warrant of Fitness), we stop at the Square Kauri. We haven't seen an old living kauri tree yet, this one is around two thousand years old, and we are blown away with it's presence. It stands like wall in the forest blocking the afternoon sun. This kauri is the 15th largest in NZ and looks like a huge stumpy broccoli. In a fortnight while travelling through Northland we will see the largest living kauri. Excitement fills us!
After a few more days of wwoofing and playing Farkle we part ways with Richard and Linden. We are heading north along the west side of the Coromandel Peninsula and then down the east side. Our first stop is the secluded New Chums Beach just past the quiet town of Coromandel. The white sandy beach is found after a short coastal hike along a rocky shore and through a lush forest. We trek up to a small summit over-looking the hidden New Chums to bask in the sun and munch our picnic lunch. Once on the beach, we find a shady spot under a sprawling pohutukawa tree branch to lay out our towels. I hit the waves with our boogie board, while Julie watches a couple surfers catching some fantastic left hand brakes. Before making our way back to the car we stroll the length of beach in marvel of sandstone cliffs and the fantastic weather.
There is only one place to camp in Hahei, an over-priced beach-side Holiday Park. We splurge on our nights accommodations and it's a great stay but not worth the 38 bucks to pitch a tent. In the morning we pack-up in the dark and make our way to Cathedral Cove for sunrise and to beat the mid-day crowds. The sun casts dark shadows across the beach from offshore pinnacles as it emerges from the horizon. We sneak under the safety rope that blocks off Cathedral Cove to get a better look. The massive natural limestone arch looms over the sand and crashing waves echo within. The beach is a picturesque spot indeed, definitely worth the nosey.
Along the path back to the car park we stop at Gemstone Bay and gear up for the “snorkel trail” in the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve. There are floating informative buoys throughout the bay that mark the snorkeling adventure. Unfortunately the visibility is zero due to murky water conditions caused by the incoming tide and we turn back after the first buoy. We were also freaked right out of spooking sharks and stingrays in the cloudy waters.
Our next stop heading south along the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula is the town of Hot Water Beach. We stop to check out the sandy hot springs but there is no space for even our feet. So instead we watch the crowd of tourists cram into their self-dug pools. After a frantic hunt for my wallet around the car park and the beach, Julie finds it tucked into her camera bag. It is a gorgeous day and so we go boogie-boarding and swimming before we move on.
We drive inland to camp the night at Broken Hills, a historic gold mining area on the quiet banks of the Tairua River. Julie dunks herself into the fresh water to rinse the ocean off and we settle in amongst confines of the shady Coromandel Forest Park for the evening.
The dewy morning arrives and we head on a hike through the old gold mining tunnels. Along the Watercourse Track we duck through tunnels, ceilings lined with Cave Wetas (huge crickets), and pass by gold mining relics. We turn our torches on as we enter into complete darkness within Collins Drive tunnel. Julie and I hurry along the old rail track through the 500m long dank tunnel feeling slightly uncomfortable not being able to see light from either end. Despite this, we stop frequently to check out the many glowworms hanging from the ceiling.
Continuing south, we drive through the Karangahake Gorge and stop for another trek through one of New Zealand's largest historic gold mining areas. The trail follows the old rail line cut into the rocky gorge above the Ohinemuri River. After checking out an underground battery site where the excavated rock was processed for gold, we cross a bridge and head back along the other side of the river. The amazing tunnel system once used to transport materials by mule and cart is bored into the cliff high above the river and “windows” allow daylight to fill the darkness. We pass by more rusty relics and old foundations from the boom days. The area was mined extensively in the early 1900's and visitors are warned to stay on the trails due to the hazards of falling into an abandoned shaft.
From the gorge, we head north and camp an hour outside of Auckland at the Upper Mangatawhiri Reservoir. We wouldn't recommend staying here as rats came out after sunset and kept gnawing on our tent during the night. To top it off, hunters rolled through on their ATV's at 2am shooting possums! There wasn't any danger to us, since we were in sight in a large grassy field but we listened for an hour as they scoured the wooded area.
With little sleep, we pack our gear in the wee hours of the morning heading to hit the Auckland market on our way to Northland. Stay tuned for another chapter in our journey as we make our way to the northern reaches of New Zealand and discover some natural wonders!