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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Ki wiwi ki wawa i te Hiku-o-te-ika - travelling around Northland and the Bay of Islands

The next part of my journey took me to the northernmost tip of New Zealand's North Island, a region called Northland that includes the Bay of Islands area. The Maori name for this region is Te Hiku-o-te-ika, literally translated as "the tail of the fish". The fish that the Maori are referring to is the North Island itself, Te Ika a Maui, the fish of Maui.
The ancient legends have it that Maui was the son of Ranginui (the Sky father) and Papatuanuku (the Earth mother). Maui's brother Tane, the God of the Forests, separated their parents' embrace to allow light to enter their world. From then on, Ranginui's tears fell down to earth as raindrops, greeting Papatuanuku who returned the greeting by sending mists towards the sky. Maui's other siblings each had their own task - they were the God of the Sea, the God of the Winds and so forth. But Maui, being the youngest, was not very popular with his brothers. Only rarely would he go fishing with them, but the one day he did, he caught the biggest fish of all - henceforth known as the fish of Maui, te Ika-a-Maui, New Zealand's North Island. The canoe that he was in became known as the canoe of Maui, te Waka a Maui, New Zealand's South Island and the canoe's anchor, te Punga a Maui, is now New Zealand's Stewart Island. This trip therefore took me to the fish's tail, te Hiku-o-te-ika!
The Legend of Maui
Photo from: http://explore-nz.blogspot.co.nz/2010/12/background-of-new-zealand.html
Leaving Nelson in the morning and flying via Auckland, I would get into Kerikeri/Bay of Islands Airport around 2:30 pm - that was the plan. According to my schedule, I had a 40 minute stopover in Auckland which was a short time considering that my flight from Nelson already arrived 10 minutes later than planned. In a hurry to make my connection flight, I discovered that the flight had been delayed until further notice. Heavy downpours and strong winds in the Bay of Islands region made it impossible for the pilots to land on the very short 1.2 km / 3,900 ft runway. The morning flight to Kerikeri had been cancelled and passengers had to take a bus to get to their destination - a 4.5 hour drive instead of a 45 minute flight that I might be facing as well if the weather did not improve. An hour later, however, the decision was made to fly us to Whangarei, 70 km / 44 miles south of Kerikeri and take us to Kerikeri Airport by bus from there. Air New Zealand - amazing journeys every day!
Arriving in Whangarei
Of course, the plane was rather small: 19 passengers, one on each side of the aisle with great views into the cockpit (as there was no room for a door), no flight attendants (no room for them either), no in-flight service. When we finally got to Kerikeri Airport, I picked up my car that I was going to use for my road trip around the area. It was a brand new Toyota, less than 8,000 km travelled.
Taking the Toyota to the beach
I spent my first night in Kerikeri in a motel surrounded by subtropical rainforest before heading off to the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. On the way, I passed beautiful beaches, rolling hills and dense forests and made a stop at a Gumdiggers Camp. Gumdiggers dig for gum, the kind of juice that trees secrete when you cut them. This gum was later used to produce water-resistant clothing and footwear, which is why wellington boots are still called gumboots in New Zealand today. There was, however, much more to discover in this camp: ancient Kauri forests (Kauri trees are evergreen trees most common during the Jurassic period, some 150 million years ago) were once spread all over New Zealand's North Island. Two natural disasters (that no one knows the exact nature of) destroyed New Zealand's giant Kauri trees some 150,000 and some 45,000 years ago. In the swamps surrounding what is now the Gumdiggers Camp, these ancient Kauri trees were rediscovered - preserved in the mud for 150,000 years, making them the oldest non-fossilised wood in the world!
Gumdigger Hut and Gumboots
Holes were dug to reach the ancient Kauri wood
The oldest timber in the world - looking at 150,000 years of history
Petrified gum featuring a spider
Going further up north, my next stop was at Rarawa Beach, a silica beach on the east coast. To my surprise, I found it quite similar to some of the beaches I'd seen on Germany's North Sea coastline and on some of the Frisian islands, only that the sand was much whiter.
Walking through sand dunes
Rarawa Beach
Enjoying New Zealand's North Sea
Having a break =)
The day's goal, to drive up to Cape Reinga, was reached some two hours of driving on windy roads later. Passing the sand dunes of Te Paki on my left, I took the road leading to the Cape Reinga Lighthouse.
Te Paki sand dunes and Cape Maria van Diemen
Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Cape Reinga Panoramic View (click to enlarge)
Many miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care
Te Reinga Point
Cape Reinga (or Te Rerenga Wairua) is an amazing place for various reasons. Firstly, it is New Zealand's northernmost point, 2,000 km / 1,200 miles east of Sydney and 10,000 km / 6,200 miles west of Santiago de Chile. Secondly, it is the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, resulting in the swirls visible in the panoramic view of Cape Reinga above (note also the slightly different colours of the water). And thirdly, according to Maori legends, it is the place from where the spirits of the deceased travel home to Hawaiiki, the land of their ancestors. From all throughout New Zealand, they travel to the Cape where there are two springs, Te Waiora a Tane ("the living waters of Tane") and Te Wai Whero o Rata. Depending on which spring the spirits drink from, they will either return to the living or descend into the underworld. Te Reinga Point in the last photo features a dark rock in the sea with a tree growing on its easterly side. This tree is an 800 year old, ancient Kahika tree, a kind of Pohutukawa that has never been known to flower. The Maori call this tree Te Aroha - Love. The spirits, according to the Maori legends, descend to the water on steps formed by the tree's roots, turn back one last time to have a look at the land of the living and then carry on to Hawaiiki, the land of their ancestors. Te Rerenga Wairua is a very ambivalent place with most tourists coming to see the lighthouse and New Zealand's northernmost point. However, many do not take note of the spiritual significance of this place - and therefore its true beauty.

I would have loved to stay longer, however, my accommodation for the night was the Ninety Mile Beach Holiday Park, some 100 km / 62 miles south. Ninety Mile Beach is not actually 90 miles in length, but only 90 km / 55 miles. This is because in the early days of settlement, the missionaries followed the assumption that a horse could travel 30 miles (50 km) in a day and it took them three days to travel along the beach on horseback. However, they did not take into account that walking in sand takes longer than on solid ground, hence the name. The holiday park I stayed at was located right on the beach, allowing for a marvelous sunset experience.
Ninety Mile Beach - speed limit 30 km/h!
And yes, you can drive on the beach...
Sunset over Ninety Mile Beach
The next day took me further south, travelling via Kaitaia to the Hokianga Harbour. The Hokianga Harbour is an inlet from the Tasman Sea that extends about 30 km / 19 miles inland. It is in fact a river valley that was flooded after the end of the last ice age. I stayed the night in one of the most spectacular hostels I've ever seen, the Tree House in Kohukohu.
The Tree House

View from the kitchen
Funnily enough, the owners had family living in Newtown, NSW and went over to Kohukohu in 1981 to set up this special hostel. When asked about where the closest supermarket was, the owner, Phil, replied: "Oh it's best to take the ferry." Any bigger township was at least an hour's drive away from Kohukohu with the local grocer selling overpriced products. Instead, I actually ended up taking the vehicle ferry across to Rawene. It departs every hour on the hour from Kohukohu, takes 10-15 minutes across the Hokianga Harbour and departs Rawene every hour at half past, leaving me 20 minutes to do my shopping before catching the ferry back to my hostel.
The Hokianga Vehicle Ferry between Kohukohu and Rawene
The next day, I then took my rental car on to this ferry to continue my trip south to the Waipoua Forest, one of the few places that still features live Kauri trees. The biggest Kauri tree in New Zealand is Tane Mahuta, "Lord of the Forest", referring to Tane, the God of the Forest mentioned above. While this tree is "only" 51 metres / 168 ft high, its trunk has a girth of nearly 14 metres / 45 ft, meaning it would take at least 6 adults to reach around it. Its volume is equivalent to 517,000 milk cartons, 113,700 gallons of petrol or 7,300 kegs of beer - a truly amazing and awe-inspiring giant!
Tane Mahuta (click to enlarge)
Tree ferns in the Waipoua Forest
My way back up and across to Paihia led me past the villages of Opononi and Omapere on the southern coast of the Hokianga Harbour and to the Arai-te-Uru Scenic reserve with 360° views of sand dunes, a sheltered inlet, the open sea, forests, beaches and rock formations - to put it in a nutshell: a place that simply cannot be captured in pictures, not even panoramic pictures. But anyway, here are my attempts:

Arai-te-Uru Panoramic View (click to enlarge)
Arai-te-Uru Reserve facing inland
After an hour's drive from the west to the east coast (yes, it is that narrow), I reached the final stop of my trip, Paihia - the gateway to the Bay of Islands. Staying in a motel near the town centre, everything was within walking distance including the Marina from where passenger ferries depart to the township of Russell across the bay. Russell was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand, featuring New Zealand's oldest church, oldest hotel and oldest petrol station. Owing to the early stage of settlement, the township of Russell was neither subject to Maori nor British law and soon became known as the "Hell Hole of the South Pacific". However, the architecture of this place remains as a silent witness of the early colonial times.
Russell Panoramic View (click to enlarge)
The Beach Esplanade in Russell
It was also in Russell that the British Governor Hobson read his Proclamations that constituted the beginning of the Treaty of Waitangi, the next and last stop of my trip. On February 6th, 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi established a British Governor in New Zealand, recognised Maori land rights and turned the indigenous population of New Zealand into British subjects. Different from the proceedings with other indigenous groups such as the Aboriginal people of Australia or the Native Americans on the American continents, this treaty provided the indigenous population of New Zealand with a supporting document to later reclaim their tribal land (because the British, of course, did not stick to the Treaty). The Treaty of Waitangi is considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation, which is why February 6th, Waitangi Day, has become New Zealand's national day, with major festivities in 1990, the 150th anniversary.
The Treaty House on the Waitangi Grounds
Maori war canoes on display at Waitangi
The inside of a traditional Maori meeting house
The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840
In review, I cannot believe that this was just a four day trip, yet such an interesting and intense experience. My way back to Christchurch passed without further complications or disruptions, taking me half-way over this beautiful country that I have come to love so dearly - for its nature, for its people and for its humour.
Air New Zealand sickness bag

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