A Travellerspoint blog

Big Finish in New Zealand!

...on Tiritiri Matangi Island

sunny 25 °C

We rise really early and start the 2.5 hour drive south to Gulf Harbour where we will be catching the ferry to Tirtiri Matangi Island. Julie and I have been looking forward to this week of volunteering on one of the best predator free islands in NZ. The biodiversity and large populations of bird life on the Island resembles how the mainland should be if only the explosion of introduced predators could be undone.

After a short ferry ride we arrive on the Island along with a bunch of visitors who are here for the day. Tiritiri Matangi is open to the public five days a week so anyone can enjoy the bird life along the many trails. Upon our arrival, we meet Daryl, the ranger, and Mandy the head volunteer. Both are great to chat with, very easy-going, and are eager to show us around the Island.

One of our most interesting introductions is to Greg, the Island's iconic Takahe. He is pushing 18 years old now but has contributed to the slowly growing population of Takahe on the Island. They are amazing birds to watch with their big feet and strong beaks. Each bird seems to have a distinct personality. Greg is very timid and shy with the other birds as he gets picked on. Takahe are territorial, and each monogamous pair holds a piece of the Island for themselves. However, poor Greg, who was the first on the Island, is not the best at standing his ground. So he tends to hide in the work shop under the vehicles when other Takahe come around. It's so strange to see such a magnificent endangered bird hanging out willingly in a workshop.

Julie and Greg the Takahe

Julie and Greg the Takahe


Greg and His Daughter

Greg and His Daughter

We are shown to our accommodations, an old farmhouse that has been converted for overnight visitors, researchers, and lucky volunteers like us. We claim a bunk before starting the day's work. Our volunteer work begins with Mandy showing us the water troughs which we are responsible to fill each day and clean out twice during the week. She also shows us where to find the rare Brown Teal ducks which we have to monitor three times during the week by recording their band colours and ensuring all ducklings are present. The first day is pretty relaxing and it sounds like this will be typical for the week.

Bunkhouse

Bunkhouse


Lighthouse and Historic Farm House

Lighthouse and Historic Farm House


Brown Teal Family

Brown Teal Family


Tui in Birdbath

Tui in Birdbath


View of Auckland from Tiritiri

View of Auckland from Tiritiri

Another task we complete throughout the week is cleaning and refilling sugar water feeders for the very rare Hihi, otherwise known as the Stitch Bird. Extra food is provided for these nectar feeding birds as currently the Island is home to more birds than it can naturally support. The Island is a safe-haven where birds have a chance to increase their numbers. When populations are flourishing on the Island a portion of the birds are caught and re-located onto the mainland.

Hihi (Stitchbird)

Hihi (Stitchbird)


Julie Changing Sugar Water for Hihi and Bellbirds

Julie Changing Sugar Water for Hihi and Bellbirds


Julie Changing Sugar Water with Tuis

Julie Changing Sugar Water with Tuis

Being a volunteer has some great perks because you see birds and animals that the day visitors likely don't see. This is because Mandy shows us secret spots around the Island, like the Tuatara burrows. Tuataras look like a big lizard but are actually more closely related to dinosaurs! Unfortunately these guys are extinct on the mainland, so we are incredibly fortunate to see them in the wild.

Northern Spotted Tuatara

Northern Spotted Tuatara


Popokatea (Whitehead)

Popokatea (Whitehead)

A group of researchers are on the Island studying the endangered Red Crowned Parakeet (Kakariki). They are netting the birds to take blood, stool, feather, and saliva samples in order to monitor Beak and Feather Disease found in the species. One morning we run into the researchers with their mist nets up waiting to catch these birds. Julie is really interested and we chat while they quickly work on a sedated birds taking samples. They are finding the birds to be in good health on the Island compared to the mainland.

Kakariki (Red Crowned Parakeet)

Kakariki (Red Crowned Parakeet)

Everything on the Island isn't bliss, as it sounds. It is a natural environment and predator prey situations occur. One morning Daryl approaches us with a request to help look for a lost Takahe chick. This is a huge deal since it is 1 of 230 Takahe left in the world and the survival records of chicks over the past few years haven't been good. We search high and low for a few hours but the young Takahe has vanished. Daryl says hawks and magpies have killed chicks in the past and that is likely what has happened again. (The photo below is of this missing Takahe the day before it went missing). Everyone is really bummed out as word spreads around the Island.

Takahe Chick

Takahe Chick

One afternoon we help Daryl and Dave pen up a family of Takahe and relocate them to an enclosure. The purpose of this is to allow them to be easily caught for banding and for some further research. These birds catch on quickly to anything out of the norm, so to be successful sneakiness is key.

Dave and Daryl Bagging Takahe

Dave and Daryl Bagging Takahe


Bagged Up Takahe

Bagged Up Takahe

Throughout the week Daryl has us pressure washing the white picket fence that surrounds the historical homestead, helping break up concrete from a building that was demolished, and cleaning out the visitors centre to get it ready for another week of visitors. We also are asked to repaint the “Hobbs Beach” sign. So we throw on our togs and jandles (bathing suits and flip-fops) and Daryl drives us down to the water. After scraping off the paint and applying the first coat Julie and I go for a swim as it dries. We apply a second coat of paint and then go for another swim. Tough job but we get it done and Daryl is thoroughly impressed.

Painting Hobbs Beach Sign

Painting Hobbs Beach Sign


Some Fun on Hobbs Beach

Some Fun on Hobbs Beach


Julie at Hobbs Beach

Julie at Hobbs Beach


Painting Hobbs Beach Sign

Painting Hobbs Beach Sign


Some Fun on Hobbs Beach

Some Fun on Hobbs Beach


Julie Driving the Mule

Julie Driving the Mule

Time flies by as we work each day but we have lots of time to explore the Island spotting tons of rare and endangered species in the afternoons and evenings One afternoon I spot a couple of North Island Kokakos foraging on the ground. They are called “monkeys of the forest” as they run and hop through the forest branches and fly only short distances. We are really fortunate to spot these rare birds, since the island is home to only 20. They are even more rare on the North Island and are extinct on the South Island.

North Island Kokako

North Island Kokako


Soaking Up the Sun in the Thick Grass

Soaking Up the Sun in the Thick Grass

Julie and I cover the entire Island by foot during our afternoons off work. The East Coast Track leads us to the secluded Fisherman's Bay where we explore a maze of arches at low tide. Our favourite hike is along the Kawerau track where one ancient pohutakawa tree stands, its branches stretching incredible distances from the main trunk. Most of the Island was farmland years ago before it was left to regenerate, but this tree stands in one of the few areas of the Island that weren't farmed. Here old-growth native bush spreads along the steep hills.

Fishermans Bay

Fishermans Bay

Our evenings are filled with sunsets and nocturnal hikes. Our favourite sunset is from Hobbs Beach and is full of warmth and colour as silhouettes of sail boats float on the ocean. As darkness coats the Island after sunset we grab our torches and cellophane paper (which is held over the end of the torch to prevent blinding the kiwi) and head for the tracks. Nocturnal hikes are the only way to see the Little Spotted Kiwi in the wild, so these hikes occupy us nearly every night of the week. We are determined to see at least one kiwi while we are here in NZ and this week on Tiritiri Matangi Island is our last chance.

Julie watching Sunset over Hobbs Beach

Julie watching Sunset over Hobbs Beach

Our first night hike is pretty uneventful. We mostly just scare ourselves as we walk through the woods. But the stars are amazing out here and the weather is gorgeous, so we lay in the grass and gaze at the glittering sky.

Our second nocturnal hike is slightly better and within 15 minutes of leaving the farmhouse Julie is startled by something that races off into the bush. We poke our noses into the woods and experience our first sighting of a Little Spotted Kiwi, but neither of us get a decent photo. We continue walking in darkness along a route which Mandy recommended, listening to the kiwis' “whistle-like” calls. Over the next couple of hours we spot a total of 4!! These cute balls of feathers vary in sizes. The males are much smaller than the females as the females have to have the ability to carry the egg. Kiwis have the largest egg in the world in proportion to their body size. One female we see is particularly large being slightly larger than the size of the rugby ball. This isn't the end of our kiwi spotting though, throughout the rest of the week we spot another 2 “probing” the ground for munchies with their long beaks. This probing action leaves holes in the ground that look like someone was stabbing the ground with a screwdriver.

Little Spotted Kiwi

Little Spotted Kiwi

During our night walks, we not only search for kiwis but other nocturnal birds such as moreporks and little blue penguins. One evening as we are walking along Hobbs Beach we hear a very eerie sound coming from the bushes. It takes some willpower but we investigate further to find little blue penguins huddling in the rocks. Julie finds them “super cute”, as do I.

Morepork

Morepork


Little-Blue Penguins on Hobbs Beach

Little-Blue Penguins on Hobbs Beach

On our last day on Tiritiri we awake to pouring rain for the first time during our stay here. After a short day of cleaning out the freezers and refilling water baths, we are free for the day. Julie takes part in a guided walk before the heavy rain forces her to seek shelter back at the house. We relax until it is time to catch the ferry back to Auckland. It was great volunteering on the island and I'm glad Julie signed us up for this many months ago. Being on Tiritiri gave us a small glimpse of how New Zealand would have been before the introduction of cats, mice, rats, stoats, possums, goats, and rabbits to name a few.

Back in Auckland, we completely unpack our car into our room at the backpackers because we are heading to the Car Market in the morning with hopes of selling it. Our room is a disaster zone with our gear and purchases from seven months in NZ. It takes a bottle of wine to get motivated, start packing, and decide which things to leave behind. We have a hard time parting with extra clothing and food that just won't stuff into our packs.

Mailing our Goodies Home

Mailing our Goodies Home

By 8am Sunday morning we are parked at the Car Market and Julie is wheeling and dealing with any interested buyers. It is a little stressful since we really only have today and tomorrow to sell the car before we fly over the Tasman Sea to Australia. After a couple of interested buyers and test drives, we make a deal with some German girls that like our clean, well maintained ride. We part ways with “The Hobbit” for 2000 bucks, 400 less than we bought it for. This isn't too bad for seven months worth of driving.

Selling The Hobbit at the Car Market

Selling The Hobbit at the Car Market

With our last day in Auckland we shop up and down the streets of Parnell Village for one-of-a-kind NZ souvenirs, before heading to another backpackers close to the airport. We hit the Internet hard catching up with family on Skype and blogging like mad. It's an early night, since our shuttle to the airport leaves at 3:50am.

Julie Crossing the Road in Parnell Village

Julie Crossing the Road in Parnell Village

At the airport, there are problems with my e-ticket, and we end up getting upgraded to first class! Very flash! Heaps of room, great food, reclining seats, and booze. After a lovely 3.5 hour flight, we touch down in Sydney to start the last leg of our travels. In the near future we'll upload a collection of photos from AUS. The writing will stop here, since there aren't enough hours in the day to explore this vast country and blog to the extent that we have been. Julie's photos are sensational, so download them, steep some tea, and let the slide show take you to another world.

Posted by ontarions 18:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

The Wonders of Northland NZ!

sunny 24 °C

We are on our way to the Avondale Market in central Auckland as the sun is rising. It is suppose to be a great market but it turns out to be a wee bit disappointing. Julie is hoping for an artsy organic vibe but it is more of a Polynesian flea market. We pick up produce having no idea where it comes from as most of the people working the booths don't speak english. We finish up at the market quickly and head on to the Kauri Forest in Northland to see some hulking trees that have been around for a couple thousand years.

Julie at the Avondale Market (Auckland)

Julie at the Avondale Market (Auckland)

After a relaxing four hour Sunday cruise we arrive in the Waipoua Forest on the west coast. We pull off the winding motorway through the shaded ancient forest as we reach the start of the first hike of the day. We are off to be greeted by Te Matua Ngahere (The Father of the Forest), the widest Kauri tree in New Zealand. The boardwalks lead up to and stop about 25m from the grand-daddy. It is hard to capture the whopping 16.4m radius with Julie's camera but I think you'll get the idea. Next we take the path that circles the Four Sisters, a group of kauri trees fused at the base. They aren't quite as impressive but an extremely rare phenomenon to see.

Old Picture of Kauri Log Train

Old Picture of Kauri Log Train


Old Kauri Logging Picture

Old Kauri Logging Picture


Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) - Widest Kauri

Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) - Widest Kauri

Jumping back in the car, Julie and I head deeper into the forest and stop at the most famous tree in NZ, Tane Mahuta meaning Giant Kauri. It towers over the surrounding forest at 51m with a girth of 13.8m around! It is hard to fathom that he has been residing here for around 2000 years. Think about what has happened around the world in that time frame and he has been keeping it real the entire time.

Tane Mahuta (Giant Kauri)

Tane Mahuta (Giant Kauri)

We spend the night at a DOC campsite called Forest Pools in the Puketi Forest along the Waipapa River. After a long day of driving and tree gazing we sleep like logs. Throughout the night it sprinkles on and off, and we emerge from the tent into a dense blanket of fog. Huge tree ferns arch out of the mist and lean over the river creating an eerie atmosphere for oatmeal eating.

Giant Sand Dunes at TePouahi Reserve

Giant Sand Dunes at TePouahi Reserve


Swimming in Hokianga Harbour

Swimming in Hokianga Harbour

Today we plan to hit the giant dunes of the Tauroa Point Reserve for some sand tobogganing. After hiring a couple of sleds we hike about 30 minutes around the rocky coast reaching the sweeping dunes. Hiking up the dune is by far the hardest and steepest hill we have climbed thus far in NZ. The sun is blazing down and the sand is really heating up. From atop the wind-blown pile, Ninety Mile Beach stretches north disappearing from sight. I am the first to blast off downwards to sea level, scaring the crap out of myself. The only way to stop is to jam your heels into the sand but air born sand soon fills my eyes. Non-the-less, it is exhilarating and Julie loves every second of it except climbing to the top. She only climbed up to the very top once. After a couples of runs on this deserted dune we plunge into the cooling ocean waters to rinse the sand that has coated our sweaty faces.

View from Tauroa Point Reserve

View from Tauroa Point Reserve


Sand Tobagganing at Tauroa Point Reserve

Sand Tobagganing at Tauroa Point Reserve


Julie Taking Off

Julie Taking Off


Sand Dunes at TePouahi Reserve

Sand Dunes at TePouahi Reserve


South End of Ninety Mile Beach

South End of Ninety Mile Beach

From the dune we head east to Keri Keri where Dave Woolley's bach (holiday home) is located. We met Dave back when we canoed the Whanganui River and he insisted that we stop in for a night or a week at his place. He is happy to see us and glad to hear of our travels through the North Island. Julie and I brought lamb to bbq and Dave roasted a huge pan of veggies to fill our bellies. Dave is unbelievably hospitable and generous to us. He had a bed ready with towels and wash clothes laid out, just like at a resort. We find out later that he used to own a motel in Keri Keri and really loved running it. We chatted until I couldn't keep my eyes open and thanking Dave about hundred times we headed to bed.

Stone Store in Kerikeri - Oldest Stone Building in NZ

Stone Store in Kerikeri - Oldest Stone Building in NZ

We thank Dave again in the morning before heading into Keri Keri for my birthday breakfast at Cafe Zest. I eat like a king, things I haven't tasted in months, like bacon! After the feast, we continue south along the east coast to Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where New Zealand came into existence with the signing of a treaty between the Maori and British settlers in 1840. The grounds are littered with museums and historical sights, such as the longest kauri canoe, waka taua.

Waka Taua (Maori War Canoe made from Kauri)

Waka Taua (Maori War Canoe made from Kauri)


Hongi (Traditional Maori Greeting)

Hongi (Traditional Maori Greeting)


Waka Taua (War Canoe)

Waka Taua (War Canoe)


Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Julie and I drive further south to camp along the beach for the night at Otamure. The secluded beach is lined with pohutukawa trees and is a great place to watch the stars come out. Julie has surprised me for my birthday tomorrow, with a day exploring the waters rich with marine life around the Poor Knight Islands.

Poor Knight Islands

Poor Knight Islands

Bright and early in the morning we pack up and depart to Tutukaka where we load onto a boat and cruise out 25kms to the Islands. Along the way a huge pod of dolphins play in our wake and everyone on board is on the bow taking pictures.

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphins


Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphins

Before jumping in the water the divers are grouped into three along with a dive master. It turns out that other diver in our group, Dwight, is from Saskatchewan. He has done heaps of dives in Thailand and has some great advice for future diving vacations. After gearing up and checking each others' equipment out, we stride off the end of the boat and make our decent to a boulder-strewn ocean floor. It is like no other dive we have been on as we glide through the kelp forest and sneak up on fish and moral eels. We encounter many stingrays resting in sandy sections between the boulders and we watch as small colourful nudibranchs (a snail without a shell) cling to the kelp.

Yellow Eel at Poor Knight Islands

Yellow Eel at Poor Knight Islands


Stingray at Poor Knight Islands

Stingray at Poor Knight Islands


Nate in Kelp Forest

Nate in Kelp Forest

Between dives we warm up with hot soup and tea while the captain relocates the boat to the next dive sight, Blue Maomao Arch. The dive through the arch is stunning as sunlight beams in through a couple of holes in the ceiling. Every colour of sea sponge imaginable line the walls as if someone went crazy with spray paint. Past the arch the dive master points out tiny coral coating the rocks. It is super fragile and we hover carefully above it. Dwight has some awesome underwater camera gear and promises to send some of his Poor Knight photos our way to add to our blog.

Scorpion Fish at Poor Knight Islands

Scorpion Fish at Poor Knight Islands

It is an awesome dive and we can't believe the diversity of life in such cold waters. We camp the night in Tutukaka at a Holiday Park with hot showers to warm our chilled bones. In the morning we are off to Ben and Isabelle's, a short distance away for our final wwoofing experience in NZ.

Pukeko (Swamp Hen)

Pukeko (Swamp Hen)

Julie and I pull into an amazing property perched high on a mountain side over-looking rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Ben quickly comes out to greet us and show us around their “eco-house”. They have been planting many native trees and one of our wwoofing duties is too clear weeds that are choking off the young plants. His house also needs to be oiled to help preserve the wooden exterior before winter. They have been using a eucalyptus based environmentally friendly oil that has to reapplied every couple years.

We aren't too thrilled with the work but the oiling job isn't too bad after all, since the stuff smells great and we blast tunes all day as we work. We really bust our asses to finish the job for Ben, since he stresses the importance of us finishing it while we are there. He isn't very thankful for our hard work and his only comment when Julie asks “How does it look?” is, “It looks done”. Luckily we are only here for three nights before volunteering on Tiritiri Matangi, a predator free island managed by DOC.

Over the couple days at Ben's we have plenty of prepping for our volunteering at Tiritiri. All of our gear, clothing, and food must be clean and free of dirt, bugs, and seeds. After hitting a great growers market in Whangarei with heaps of organic local produce, we are stocked up and ready to say good-bye to Ben and his family. It was a very short stay and we were glad for that.

Posted by ontarions 20:47 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Wwoofing and Coromandel Peninsula

...Huge Blog!

all seasons in one day 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.

Julie Clearing Room for Native Tree Planting

Julie Clearing Room for Native Tree Planting


Wwoofing at Richard and Linden's

Wwoofing at Richard and Linden's


Sunrise at Richard and Linden's - Firth of Thames in background

Sunrise at Richard and Linden's - Firth of Thames in background

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.

Clearing the Stoat Traps

Clearing the Stoat Traps


Julie Collecting Native Seeds

Julie Collecting Native Seeds


Podocarp Seeds

Podocarp Seeds


Linden and Julie along Te Mata River

Linden and Julie along Te Mata River

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.

Maidenhair Fern at Richard and Linden's

Maidenhair Fern at Richard and Linden's

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.

Steps Hand Chiselled into Stone

Steps Hand Chiselled into Stone


Historic Kauri Dam

Historic Kauri Dam


View from Pinnacles Track of East Coast Coromandel Peninsula

View from Pinnacles Track of East Coast Coromandel Peninsula


Tangle Fern on Pinnacles Track

Tangle Fern on Pinnacles Track

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.

The Pinnacles

The Pinnacles


Julie Climbing Up The Pinnacles

Julie Climbing Up The Pinnacles


Looking South from The Pinnacles

Looking South from The Pinnacles


Julie at The Pinnacles

Julie at The Pinnacles


Kauri Stump along Billy Goat Pass Track

Kauri Stump along Billy Goat Pass Track

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!

Square Kauri

Square Kauri


Julie and Square Kauri

Julie and Square Kauri

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.

New Chums Beach

New Chums Beach


Julie under Pohutukawa Tree at New Chums Beach

Julie under Pohutukawa Tree at New Chums Beach

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.

Sunrise at Hahei

Sunrise at Hahei


Sunrise at Cathedral Cove

Sunrise at Cathedral Cove


Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove


Julie under Cliffs at Cathedral Cove

Julie under Cliffs at Cathedral Cove

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.

Gemstone Bay Snorkel Trail

Gemstone Bay Snorkel Trail

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.

Crowds at Hot Water Beach

Crowds at Hot Water Beach

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.

Campsite at Broken Hills

Campsite at Broken Hills

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.

Cave Weta in Watercourse Tunnels

Cave Weta in Watercourse Tunnels


Collins Drive Mine Track

Collins Drive Mine Track


Glowworms in Collins Drive Mine

Glowworms in Collins Drive Mine

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.

Mining Relics in Underground Battery

Mining Relics in Underground Battery

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!

Posted by ontarions 17:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Catching Waves in Raglan

sunny 25 °C

How you go'in? This is the NZ way of asking - how are you doing? Julie and I love the kiwi lingo and some of it is hard NOT to pick up, such as the word “rubbish”. We pack up our belongings and hit the road heading north from New Plymouth along the west coast. Our first stop is Mike's Organic Brewery for an early morning taste test and to purchase of some beverages for myself.

The plan for the day is to explore the massive cave system in the Waitomo area but due to crazy amounts of tourists with the same idea, our primo option is sold out. Instead we decide to stop at a couple of free caves along the way to Raglan. First stop is Mangapohoe Natural Arch, a giant limestone arch, accessible by a short stroll off the highway. We walk through the deep gorge that once was a long cave formed by the river until the roof fell in. We reach the arch, all that is left of the cave ceiling, as light streams in onto the dark floors. Further along the loop giant fossilized oysters cover the rocks which are scattered throughout the fields. Our second stop is at Piripiri Cave and we disappear into the darkness – literally. Our torches are in dire need of new batteries and we can't see a thing.

Mangapohoe Natural Arch

Mangapohoe Natural Arch


Giant Oyster Fossils

Giant Oyster Fossils

Onwards to Kawhia and the Te Puia Hot Springs that are located perfectly on a secluded stretch of sandy beach. I ask the owner of a gas station about the hot springs and he gives me the lowdown on how to find the hottest springs. He enquires to where we are camping for the night and of course we haven't planned for that just yet. He mentions that they have a free camping spot behind the gas bar and suggests that we pop back around after soaking in the springs to stay the night. It sounds like a great plan, a little bit of back tracking, but we like the sounds of “free”.

We hit Te Puia Hot Springs just right, as the tide is low and there is plenty of hot water peculating to the surface. There are a few people conveniently leaving, so we scope our there abandoned dug holes for the hottest pool. After a bit of hand digging, our beach hot tub is ready, and we slide in to a little bit of heaven.

Te Puia Hot Springs

Te Puia Hot Springs


Julie an I at Te Puia Springs

Julie an I at Te Puia Springs

Julie and I decide to take up the free camping offer at the Oparau Roadhouse, which turns out to be a great decision. Bill and Brenda are the generous owners that have been taking in weary travellers for twenty years. They also run a backpackers accommodation which is empty for the night, so he persuades us to stay there for the night. We get the entire place to ourselves and we get to sleep in a comfy bed instead of pitching our tent. Not even a half hour since Bill left is he back around with leftover meat pies (a NZ staple food) from their restaurant that will be tossed if we don't eat them, so I score a free meal as well! Julie can't eat the pies since she isn't eating wheat and dairy and after a few minutes there is another knock on the door by Bill with a plate of food perfect for Julie. Unreal! Kiwi's are such welcoming and generous people, a trait that is rubbing off on us as we make our way through the country.

Sunset from Oparau Roadhouse

Sunset from Oparau Roadhouse

In the morning we thank Bill and Brenda about hundred times, sign their guest book, and hit the road to Raglan where we are hoping to get a surfing lesson. Along the way, Bridal Veil Falls sounds stunning, so we hit the short trail to the picture perfect display. By 10am we reach Raglan and start contacting different surf schools to find the best rate. We end up with Steve that runs Surf Safe, which is an awesome deal for great lessons from a killer surfer. After about an hour of onshore instruction at Ngarunui Beach, it is time to hop on a board and ride the rolling surf. The breaks are consistent which makes it easy to catch the waves. Julie catches on too fast for my liking and looks like a pro compared to me. We both have a totally tubular time with Steve and get a great handle on surfing. Rad.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls


Ngarunui Beach - Awesome Surfing

Ngarunui Beach - Awesome Surfing


Surfing Julie

Surfing Julie


Surfing in Raglan

Surfing in Raglan


Classic Surf Wagan

Classic Surf Wagan


Steve from Surf Safe in Raglan

Steve from Surf Safe in Raglan

We're both wiped after dominating the waves all afternoon, so we make the call to stay around Raglan for the night. Solscape Eco-Retreat over-looks town and the misty coastline and seems like the perfect place for the night. Julie is instantly amazed at the unique facilities and eco-structures around the property. There are a couple of outdoor kitchens with cobb ovens, cool teepees to rent and stay in, cabins made from old rail cars, an earth-dome, veggie patches to use, and educational signage everywhere. It's an amazing place to stay and it would be a great idea to start up in Ontario.

Solscape Eco-Retreat near Raglan

Solscape Eco-Retreat near Raglan


Trains Used For Accomodations at Solscape

Trains Used For Accomodations at Solscape


Earth Dome at Solscape Eco-Retreat

Earth Dome at Solscape Eco-Retreat


Earth Dome at Solscape

Earth Dome at Solscape


Cob Ovens at Solscape

Cob Ovens at Solscape


Teepees at Solscape

Teepees at Solscape


Outdoor Kitchen at Solscape Eco-Retreat

Outdoor Kitchen at Solscape Eco-Retreat

Hamilton is our first stop of the day after packing up at Solscape. The Hamilton Gardens are a great place to wander through this morning to get new gardening ideas. Julie is particularly fascinated with the herb garden section and we jot down some new herbs to plant for medicinal and cosmetic uses.

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens


Julie in the Herb Garden

Julie in the Herb Garden


Brick Arches at Hamilton Gardens

Brick Arches at Hamilton Gardens

Continuing across the North Island we end our day near Te Mata on the Coromandel Peninsula. We are starting another wwoofing job at Richard and Linden's little piece of paradise high on a hillside over-looking native bush and the Firth of Thames. They prepare a great fish dinner before we watch the sun set over the ocean. We talk about their property and how they are sustainably managing it for native timber. Linden is a very hard working and determined lady, that is quickly transforming their property from paddocks and invasive gorse to native bush. Should be a great wwoofing time, with various forest restoration work planned for the week.

Posted by ontarions 22:01 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Rocking Out in New Plymouth...

...WOMAD!!

semi-overcast 24 °C

From the quiet Ohinepane campsite, we follow “The Forgotten World Highway” along winding shingle roads. The historic road takes us over six saddles with robust views of some insanely rugged farmland. I spot a sweet fishing hole near Morgan's Grave, the burial site of a road surveyor, within the Waitaanga Conservation Area. The area is lush with steep, narrow river valleys. I grab the gear and we slid down to the river's edge via a slippery tributary. Within five casts I land a healthy brown trout getting soaked in the process. While walking back to show Julie, who is snapping photos around the bend, the spunky brown flops and I loose my grip. It slaps down onto the wet clay bank, and I do too onto my knees, trying to get my hands on him. The trout out manoeuvres me and I end up with muddy legs, wet feet, and no evidence.

View of Rolling Paddocks along Forgotten Highway

View of Rolling Paddocks along Forgotten Highway


Creek Near Morgan's Grave

Creek Near Morgan's Grave


Fishing in Tangarakau River

Fishing in Tangarakau River

After about 4 hours of driving along winding roads with beautiful surroundings, even if it consists of mostly paddocks, we stop on the south side of Mt. Taranaki to explore Wilkies Pools. The short hike take us through the Goblin Forest containing twisted kamahi trees draped in lush ferns and moss. At the end of the track is Kapuni Stream which has scoured a series of pools in the bedrock. The rock is so smooth it used as a waterslide in warmer weather! Small waterfalls cascade from each pool as we sit and take in its beauty. Mt. Taranaki supposedly dominates the skyline but there is heavy cloud blocking the view and threatening us with a downpour.

Wilkies Pools - Mt. Taranaki

Wilkies Pools - Mt. Taranaki


Wilkies Pools

Wilkies Pools

From the pools we finish the drive to Bruce and Nelle's in New Plymouth. They have a huge property in the city with a fruit orchard, plenty of gardens, and an amazing view of Mt. Taranaki (if it would clear off). We have an awesome feast, before Julie and Nelle rush off to see Te Radar. He is an environmental comedian who has his own reality tv show called 'Off the Radar'. Nelle received two free tickets and her friend cancelled on her, so Julie is the lucky one who gets to tag along. I stick around and get acquainted with Bruce while the sun sets and Mt. Taranaki slowly emerges. Bruce and I watch an amazing display of colour in the sky behind a silhouette of the dormant volcano.

Mt. Taranaki Sunset

Mt. Taranaki Sunset

When Julie and Nelle return they give us some one-liners from the show and it sounds like it was pretty funny. Before bed, we discuss with Nelle the possibility of tramping the Pouakai Circuit and when the best time would be during the week. The forecast is saying that tomorrow is looking sweet as, so we plan to start our two day hike in the morning.

The alarm sounds at 5am, and we bounce up and start to pack our gear for the hike. By 8:30am we are at the North Egmont Visitor's Centre located at the base of Mt. Taranaki. The skies are clear, the air is brisk, and we are pumped for the six hour hike to the Pouakai hut. The track starts out with hundreds of stairs and we climb steadily through montane forest and subalpine scrub. We are instantly rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding landscape as the track emerges above the treeline. Our clear day doesn't last though, as the weather slowly changes on the mountain until we are blanketed in clouds. During the morning hike we pass the shear Dieffenbach Cliffs, the iron and manganese oxide stained Kokowai Stream, the active Boomerang Slip, and the vast Ahukawakawa Swamp. This track is packed with an array of different ecosystems and Julie is snapping pictures like crazy. The active Slip is a bit dicey and reminds us of the Kalalau Trail in Kaui. Before entering the slip there a sign reading “Danger Active Slip. One person at a time, no loitering”. Here, no loitering is for the safety of the loiterer – as at any time rocks could come crashing down.

Mt. Taranaki from Ergmont Visitor Centre

Mt. Taranaki from Ergmont Visitor Centre


Dieffenbach Cliffs on Pouakai Circuit

Dieffenbach Cliffs on Pouakai Circuit


Boomarang Slip on Pouakai Circuit

Boomarang Slip on Pouakai Circuit


Ahukawakawa Swamp

Ahukawakawa Swamp

After a nourishing stop at Holly Hut for lunch, we stash our packs, and decide to take the side trail to Bells Falls. The boardwalk trial descends down and around the Dome, a curved lava vent, to where the Ahukawakawa Swamp empties forming Bells Falls. The falls are about 31m and slide down between two steep cliffs. From the falls we return to Holly Hut, grab our bags, and start across the mammoth swamp. It is a sensitive area, a single footprint can remain for years. The boardwalks winds through the thick sphagnum moss and scrub-grass to a small bridge crossing a quiet stream. From the swamp the trail heads up one of the ridges that protrudes into the swamp like a huge finger. Dead mountain cedars killed by possums over the last 50 years stand like thousands of gnarly skeletons, amongst the re-emerging forest. The Taranaki area has the longest running vertebrate control program in NZ, in hopes to stop the mass destruction of their forests. Along the top of the ridge the winds and clouds whip through the tussocks as we finally reach the Pouakai Hut.

Julie and Ahukawakawa Swamp

Julie and Ahukawakawa Swamp


Mountain Cedar Killed by Possums

Mountain Cedar Killed by Possums

We hope for the skies to clear but the stubborn clouds stick around until mid-morning when we reach the tarns. I am desperate for a reflection of Mt. Taranaki in an alpine tarn, so we hang around for about an hour watching and waiting for a clearing. Luckily Mt. Taranaki peaks out between heavy clouds as they quickly roll past. From the tarns the track, which mostly consists of boardwalk, ladders, and stairs, wears away on our legs as we climb steady to the summit of Mt. Henry. Here we are greeted with more dense grey nothingness. We descend to below the treeline and the trail quickly becomes very rugged and the pace slows. We climb up and down, and in and out of steeply eroded river valleys crossing countless waterways. With hopes that each tree root we grasp is secure we lower ourselves down vertical inclines. After roughly six hours of some of roughest track we have travelled in New Zealand, we reach the road and walk the final stretch back to the car.

Sunrise at Pouakai Hut

Sunrise at Pouakai Hut


Tussock Bush

Tussock Bush


Mt. Taranaki and Alpine Tarn

Mt. Taranaki and Alpine Tarn


Mt. Taranaki

Mt. Taranaki


Julie Decending Root Ladder

Julie Decending Root Ladder


Pouakai Circuit Day Two

Pouakai Circuit Day Two

Back at Bruce and Nelle's we have to work overtime to make up our time spent tramping. I spend most of the week helping Bruce construct a drying cabinet behind his wood stove. This will be used for hanging herbs, dehydrating veggies, or drying wet gear, as the stove pipe gives off usable heat. Julie works at the Hive Taranaki Environment Centre for the week, helping put together the Water Module for the Sustainable Living Program. Speaking of sustainability, she rides an e-bike to work everyday and raves about the beautiful ride along the ocean.

We spend our time off work either at the beach or hiking as New Plymouth is surrounded by miles of primo surf beaches and great hiking trails. One evening we climb to the summit of Mt. Puritutu, a small lump on the coastline to take in a sunset. The quick and steep hike provides awesome views of Mt. Taranaki behind the sprawling city.

View of New Pymouth

View of New Pymouth

Saturday morning, prior to heading to WOMAD, we stop downtown to wander through Puke Ariki, New Plymouth's new museum displaying the area's rich Maori history. We quickly race through the museum as we are stoked to head to the concert. Jeremy and Ruth, previous wwoofing hosts in Westport, informed us of WOMAD and we have been eagerly waiting for the festival for months.

Puke Aruki - Moa Display

Puke Aruki - Moa Display


Wind Wand

Wind Wand

After parking we make our way into the venue, Brookland Bowl, and it really reminds us of Hillside, our hometown festival. The main stage is a huge natural amphitheatre with great sound and heaps of places to lounge around in the sun. We take in some great tunes, I eat a crazy amount of worldly fare, and Julie has a hay-day strolling through the artsy market. Trinity Roots, a favourite NZ band of ours, plays a great set as the sun is setting and the audience mellows out. We come across some unique music like Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer, and some awesome music such as Lawrence Arabia which we add to our playlist.

WOMAD Crowd

WOMAD Crowd


Tiki Taane

Tiki Taane


Tiki Taane

Tiki Taane


Tiki Taane

Tiki Taane


Richard Nunns Preforming

Richard Nunns Preforming


Ancient Maori Instruments

Ancient Maori Instruments


WOMAD Bowl of Brooklands

WOMAD Bowl of Brooklands

What a great time in New Plymouth and the Taranaki area! We both love the area and wish we could have more time to explore the surf coast further. Julie really wanted to take surfing lessons here but we ran out of time. Hopefully we can find another beach along our journey with gentle surf for a couple of shark biscuits (inexperienced surfer) like us.

Posted by ontarions 16:54 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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