03.04.2011 - 09.04.2011 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.