At last report we were on our way to Mangawhai Heads for an eight day housesitting gig. We drove from Thames to MH zooming by Auckland without stopping. Our plan was to be at Carol and Chris’ house by noon. We were in Mangawhai by 11am and on Saturday morning this gave us the chance to check out the Saturday market. It was a nice little market and we picked up a few things for our visit. Fresh bread, fresh veggies and fresh eggs mainly. Carol and Chris’ home is beautiful. The weather was gorgeous and the doors that opened onto the deck completely opened an entire wall to the outdoors. It was amazing. Every morning we opened those doors as the outside air was often warmer than the inside. We were able to wear shorts which was exciting for us since New Zealand is entering winter. We had three cats in our care: Tiger, Ginger and Billy. They came and went whenever they wanted so our job was just to keep the food and water full. They actually came around for some attention a lot. Billy often slept in the bed with us at night. Tiger was a little more shy but did warm up to us eventually. For a couple of days we did not do a lot really. We hung out and enjoyed the warmth and their beautiful home. It is also nice to cook a meal without other backpackers around. Well I mean for Nic as she does most of the cooking. We did keep up with our alternate day run schedule but it is quite a hilly area so that can be a bit hard for running. One day we drove to Waipu which was only about 20km away. This entire area which is pretty much at the beginning of the Northlands region is coastal. The beaches are amazing and the surfers love it. We actually went to Waipu Cove to hike the Waipu Coastal Track. All tolled I think it was a couple of hours long. It was not that well groomed and because it was high tide we had to stay up in the hills. This area also has pancake rocks like we had seen in the Catlins. We hiked the trail which ended at the road and walked the road back. After the hike we went into Waipu to pick up a few things at the grocery store. On another day we drove up to Paihai in the Bay of Islands. It was a good couple of hour drive. We booked a boat trip on bookme.co.nz. Normally it was $99 per person but we got it for half price. The boat ride is 4 hours long through the Bay of Islands. There are 144 islands in the Bay of Islands and most of it is now protected lands in NZ. The boat ride also included a light lunch. The boat ride was pretty cool. Besides cruising around to see the different islands that we were once navigated by Captain Cook, we saw tons of dolphins. They were extremely playful and put on quite a show for us. They jumped out of the water with fish in their mouths and threw them around. Maybe not so great for the fish but pretty neat for us to see. There was an option to go swimming with them but they said that we could not because there were juvenile dolphins in the group. Frankly Nic and I had no intentions of jumping into that cold water with them. Another highlight of the boat tour was an area called Hole in the Rock. This is an island that quite literally has a hole through it. Like other areas we have seen in NZ where the water has worn away the rock, in this case it has worn a large hole completely through the rock of this island. There is a cave beside the hole that will likely someday be a second hole in the rock. Perhaps in a hundred thousand years. I will have to come back then. The water through the hole was quite rough. The waves hit one side of the island and the funnel shape of the hole seemed to magnify the intensity of the waves. Our captain told us that it was too rough to drive through. Then all of a sudden he revved the engines hard and went right into the hole and passed through to the other side. Very cool. One other highlight of the boat tour was the stop at one of the islands. We had about 45 minutes to eat our lunch and hike around. This was enough time to climb to the top of a nearby hill which afforded us a great 360 degree view. Quite a panorama. After our lovely stay in Mangawhai Heads we drove further up into Northlands. If you stay along the eastern coast you will pass through the Bay of Islands. From Whangerei however we went north through the central area and through a gorge. The weather for the drive was horrific. It rained hard and it was dark as we made our way through the gorge. Dark and rainy is quite scary on terribly winding roads. We arrived in Kaitaia in the early evening. We stayed just outside Kaitaia in a small town called Ahipura. Ahipura is along the western side of the Northlands peninsula. On the west is the Tasman Sea and the east is the Pacific Ocean. We booked ourselves a tour for the next day. We came all the way up here for one thing. Cape Reinga is the furthest northern point in New Zealand. It is at this point where the Tasman and Pacific converge creating fantastic waves. We booked a tour from Kaitaia up to Cape Reinga and back. There was actually a lot more to it than that. The tour vehicle is kind of like a bus but is not exactly a bus. It is a custom built vehicle for this tour. We left Kaitaia at 9am and our first stop was at the Kauri Kingdom. Kauri trees are some of the largest trees in the world. They are coniferous trees but there are no living kauri trees north of Kaitaia anymore. These trees have been dug up and have been buried for hundreds or thousands of years. People discovered the buried trees when they were out gum digging. Gum is amber. It is hardened tree sap from the kauri trees. Early gum diggers found the amber on the ground but later had to dig for it. They found the amber around the roots of thes buried trees. This area used to be swamp land but as the water levels fell the ground became more solid. Many of the kauri trees were found all laying the same direction leading them to believe that an event, likely a tsunami, took them all out. These trees are huge. In the Kauri Kingdom (which is essentially a store), a spiral staircase is cut in the middle of a kauri tree up to the second floor. You can buy wood carvings, furniture and other wooden items made from kauri trees for sale. They are quite expensive I suppose due primarily to the fact that the wood is between 50,000 and 150,000 years old. Very old. We then drove to Gumdiggers Park. It is a place that was formerly used by gum collectors to collect amber. It is now set up to educate people about gumdigging including the lifestyle of the people who did this as a career. The gum was used to make varnish but the demand for gum ended about 50 years ago. You can buy pieces of amber with insects inside… just like in Jurassic Park. They are quite expensive though. We drove further north through pine forests. The pine tree is not native to New Zealand. It comes from North America. They plant them and clear cut them over huge expanses throughout this area. Apparently, as they cut one area and then replant the area, by the time they have moved throughout the entire region that area is now ready to be recut (30 year cycle). Northlands is a huge forestry area. The tour included lunch at a restaurant along the way. It was a full buffet lunch. We paid $55 for the tour. However when we got on the bus at the Kauri Kingdom other people had come from Paihai. They basically had the same tour but cam an extra 2 hours on the bus and stopped for fish and chips on the way back. They paid $149 per person. If you ever do this tour it is much cheaper to do it our way. After lunch we got to Cape Reinga. We had 45 minutes to hike up to the lighthouse at the very tip of the cape. It was not as windy as one might expect. The waves were not that wild. I think the waves depend on the wind direction. You can tell where the Tasman and Pacific collide though. You can see a line where whirlpools form and you can see waves coming from two directions meet. Not as dramatic as Nic had hoped. Frankly, you can drive this yourself if you want. The reason not to however is because the tour drives back on 90 mile beach. The beaches along the western side of the peninsula are drivable if you have the right vehicle. To start, our bus drove through a stream until we got to very large sand dunes. We stopped to do some sand boarding. You climb up to the top with a boogie board. Then you slide down like you are on snow. You use your feet to slow yourself down. If you don’t however you can hit the stream at the bottom and shoot across the water. Nicola hit the breaks all the way down. I on the other hand wanted to cross the water. Unfortunately, at the bottom I hit a bump, lost my grip, flew off the board and rolled into the water. Elbows and knees all have raspberries on them.
After a couple of trips on the sand board, we drove out onto 90 Mile Beach. Captain Cook called this beach 90 miles of desert oasis which nowadays is nicknamed 90 Mile Beach. It is not 90 miles long. It is 94km. If you are lucky you will see wild horses running on the beach. Unfortunately we didn’t. We drove all the way back along the beach which is much straighter than driving on the highway. We ended a couple of minutes from the Kauri Kingdom. The next day we drove from Ahipura further south along the western side of Northlands crossing a ferry and finally stopping near Tromsoon Park. We stopped a couple of times in the kauri forest. This is a living forest with living kauri trees in it. We saw the largest kauri tree in the world. It has a trunk height of about 17m; it is about 17m around the trunk; and is about 51m in total height. We also saw the 2nd biggest kauri tree as well as a group of kauri trees called four sisters. These four kauri trees seem to share the same root system. We stayed at a Top Ten Holiday Park where we had learned that the owner did night tours in Tromsoon. This was our one and only chance to see a kiwi in the wild. Kiwi birds are nocturnal so it is very difficult to see one. They are also endangered and so it is very difficult to see a kiwi. We had heard there was a chance to see a kiwi here. The owner, our guide, was Chris and he agreed to do the tour even though it was just the two of us. We left the park at 7pm. Kiwis are colour blind. They are afraid of white light but cannot see red light. Chris used a red flashlight as we walked through the park. The night skies in New Zealand are unbelievable. Just being out at night is breathtaking. We walked throughout the park for about an hour and a half. The odds of seeing a kiwi according to Chris are about fifty-fifty. I am happy to report that we saw one… Maybe two or maybe the same one twice. In the first sighting, the kiwi ran under the wooden pathway on which we were walking. In the second sighting, we saw a kiwi run into the bush. It might have been the same one or it might have been a different one. Nevertheless, we saw a kiwi. After the night walk in the park we returned to the Holiday Park. Chris showed us glow worms as well. We did not realize we would see glow worms so this was just a bonus. We had thought about going on a tour to see glow worms in Waitomo but there they are in caves and the tours are expensive. There were not as many at the Holiday Park as I am sure there are in Waitomo. Glow worms are not really worms. They are gnat larvae. They glow which attracts bugs that got caught in the larvae and absorbed and consumed. The next day we went to Auckland. We only planned a couple of nights in Auckland. Auckland is a big city and I hate driving in big cities. We had to return our rental car on the 29th. We could rent the vehicle for 48 days on our visa and visa would cover the insurance. We returned it and then rented it again this time paying for the extra insurance. We also went to the ballet. Nic has been trying to see a ballet all around the world during our travels but it has never worked out. Coppelia was playing in Auckland. We had to see it. After two days in Auckland we were heading out of the city. First we stopped and bought snorkels and masks for our Fiji trip. We drove through Hamilton where we stopped and bought bathing suits and a couple of other things for Fiji. Then on to Taupo where we stopped at a second hand store and picked up a couple of other things for Fiji. Then we bombed down to Palmerston North. Ten years ago, Nicola spent six months travelling in Africa. She met a Dutch girls, Christa, and they spent three weeks travelling through Zimbabwe together. Christa now lives and works in Palmy. We had hoped to visit Christa earlier after we were in Wellington but unfortunately Christa had to return to the Netherlands. So, we decided to come and see her now. It was a really nice visit and I am sure a great reacquaintance with Christa. We went out hiking a couple of times and out to dinner a couple of times. Christa and her boyfriend Fraser made us an amazing dinner our first night there. Christa describes Palmerston North as the armpit of NZ. We have heard that before. I thought it was a pretty nice area. It was particularly nice meeting some locals and hanging out with them. Today we left Palmy after three nights at Christa’s. We drove to Napier in the Hawkes Bay region. Napier was devastated in 1930 by an earthquake. All of the buildings were rebuilt at that time. All of the buildings have an Art Deco style. They call this the Art Deco capital of New Zealand. Tomorrow we will drive towards Auckland. We won’t go into Auckland though. We will stop somewhere within an hour of the Auckland airport. The following day we fly to Fiji. I am ready for the hot sun and beaches of Fiji. This will likely be my last blog entry before returning to Canada. We will likely not have internet in Fiji. I will do one more entry at least at the end of this amazing adventure. P.S. We stopped for the night in Hamilton on our way to Auckland. A great place for Nic to visit. The botanical gardens are quite beautiful.