A Travellerspoint blog

May 2011

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)

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