First off, our apologies for not updating the blog as frequently as you may have become accustomed to during the European leg of our trip. Internet access is not as prolific here in NZ. Furthermore, for the most part the weather has been fantastic (75-85 degrees F) so we’ve been out exploring the natural beauty of this country.
It’s raining today so we thought this was a good opportunity to update the blog with some highlights of the past couple weeks.
The Hill’s in town-
We had a great time with Kevin & Meghan Hill over the past couple days. I played college baseball with Kevin. Him and his wife, Meghan, are on the tail end of a 5-week vacation which had them in Australia the past 4 weeks (in some places they missed the tragic Victorian wild fires by hours). Before heading back the States they spent a couple nights with us here in Red Beach. We had an excellent visit which included some memorable meals, swimming in “the cove”, and of course the retelling of college baseball stories which our wives are probably tired of hearing but somehow never get old for us (if you’ve never heard the infamous “Home of the Warriors” story remind me to tell you next time we have a chance).
Prior to the Hills arriving Tina and I spent 5 days exploring the Northland & Bay of Islands. Here are some highlights:
Matakana Farmers’ Market-
We departed on our 5-day mini-tour early on the Saturday before last and drove North on HWY 1 via Orewa to Matakana. The Saturday morning farmers’ market in Matakana had been recommended to us by a few different people as being one of the best in the region (“so get there early”). We were not disappointed. Upon arriving we grabbed some tasty pastries & coffee and had ourselves a look around. The booths at the market were bursting with locally sourced produce & gourmet confections. Although the poring rain made being outside somewhat unpleasant it also curtailed the crowds which made the experience all the more enjoyable.
We hung around long enough to purchase a couple items and hear a local dixieland jazz quartet play a few bars. One of the items we purchased was a bottle of apple-feijoa juice which was sweet, tangy, and tart. After talking with the proprietor we learned that the feijoa is a fruit mostly found in the Southern Hemisphere and is grown heavily in NZ. Yum….
Russell & The Bay of Islands-
Saturday afternoon after a brief stop for lunch in Whagarei we arrived in Opua where we caught a short ferry to Russell. The weather on our drive north from Matakana had been much like a typical spring day in Oregon with rains showers and bright sunshine alternating with what seemed like every mile. But as we loaded the ferry boat bright warm sun-rays shown down and we were able to shed our layers for the trip across the bay.
In the early 19th century Russell became the first European settlement in NZ. Today, the charming small town features water-front cafe’s, art galleries, and gourmet food grocers not unlike what you might find in the San Juan Islands. Unfortunately, the sunny weather didn’t last long so Tina and I got in the car and drove South to find a camping-spot and hopefully escape the wetness.
Our hope was to find a quiet scenic campsite where we could enjoy the evening and celebrate St. Valentines Day. We ended up about 30 km south and west of Russell at the scenic reserve at Whangaruru North Head. Although the setting was nice we were met with grey clouds that would open up shortly after we got done cooking our dinner. The wind and rain didn’t cease until the next morning which kept us inside the shelter of our car and tent. We did our best to make the most out of the occasion by playing tic-tac-toe on our fogged in windshield. There is no question that this will be a memorable Valentines Day for us.
Cape Reinga & Tapotupotu Bay-
After a night in Kerikeri we drove north to the tip of NZ at Cape Reinga on Tuesday morning. We were blessed to have sunny weather which created beautiful scenery. Cape Reinga marks the very northern tip of NZ and is also where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The estuary where the two bodies of water collide is marked by white caps and apparently violent surf on days when the weather is stormy. We liked this area so much that we decided to stay the night nearby.
After spending time at the Cape we drove east and south to Tapotupotu Bay. Descending down the windy gravel road into the bay we were presented with the beautiful setting that we’d call home for the next 24 hours. It was here that we made up for the in-climate weather we experienced on Valentines Day. The sun was bright, the temperature perfect, and the water was warm for swimming. That afternoon we took in some beach time before enjoying some dinner at our beach front location.
On Tuesday morning we got up early to watch the sunrise and go for a long hike along the coastline. We hiked northwest to Sandy Beach and back and were rewarded with incredible coastal views. By the time we got back mid-morning we had worked up a sweat and went for another swim in the bay to cool down. Very nice!
Hokianga Harbor & The Waipoua Kauri Forest-
After three nights of camping we decided to book a room and spend the night in a bed. We had been recommended the Copthorne Hotel and Resort at the Southwestern edge of Hokianga Harbor in a small town called Omapere and so booked a room and drove south. The patio of our room was situated with a beautiful view west where we could watch the Tasman Sea roll into the harbor. After a relaxing cocktail hour overlooking the water the fatigue of our early morning hike set in. We ended up ordering room service and falling asleep watching The illusionist with Ed Norton.
About 40 km south of Omapere lies the Waipoua Kauri Forest. This area is what’s left of the dense kauri forests that used to cover this region (logging and “gum-digging” have decimated much of the natural land). Wednesday evening we took a night walking tour with a local Maori guide into the forest to learn more about the natural habitat and the kauri trees which make this area famous. This will definitely be a highlight that Tina and I will remember for a long time. Our tour-guide Bill led us on an amazing 3-hour walk through the forest in which we learned about how the local animal and plant life helped his ancestors sustain a living over the preceding centuries.
In addition, he also took us to see some of the most amazing trees I’ve ever seen. Kauri trees have thrived in this area for thousands of years and as Bill explained provided not only practical value to the life of his Maori ancestors but also Spiritual significance as well. After seeing these trees in person it is no wonder why. They certainly have a powerful aura about them.
Although there are many gigantic 500+ year kauri trees scattered through out this forest that are magnificent to look at, none are more amazing than the Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the forest) and Tane Mahuta (Lord of the forest). Bill explained that each of these trees hold special spiritual significance in his culture and therefore he performed special prayers announcing our arrival before confronting the trees. As the darkness of the night set in and the silence of the forest surrounded us hearing his prayer made me feel like I was present during the times his ancestors occupied this land. It was a very powerful experience!
The first of the trees that we visited was Te Matua Ngahere. It stands 30 meters high and has a girth of 16 meters. The trunk is estimated to hold 208 cubic meters of kauri wood. The most amazing stat about this tree is that experts believe it is approximately 4,000 years old!!!! Take a moment to think about this. Can you think of anything else on this earth that is a living organism that is 4,000 years old? This tree is powerful, beautiful, and certainly a sight to see. It is also worth noting that Lord of the Rings film director Peter Jackson studied this tree in creating the tree character fangorn for his film.
The second tree we visited was the Tane Mahuta and is thought to be 2,000 years old (about the same age as Jesus). It stands about 170 feet high, has a girth of 13 meters, and is estimated to have 240 cubic meters of wood in it’s trunk (although it’s trunk is not as wide as Te Matua Ngahere it is much taller). This is the largest known living kauri tree and is also a beautiful sight to see. Upon leaving this tree and the Waipoua Kauri Forest Bill called upon us to pay our respects to these trees and to nature. He reminded us that nature provides life and to respect our natural surroundings as his culture has done for centuries. Since I come from a society where we often separate our existence from that of nature I was very thankful for the reminder.
That night we camped at the southern end of the Waipoua Kauri Forest near Donnelley’s Crossing. When we finally laid down in our tent and looked up to the sky we were given an awesome display of stars. Neither Tina and I are knowledgeable astronomers but looking up at the constellations visible in the southern hemisphere was none the less a special experience following our night tour.
We will depart our bach in Red Beach which we’ve occupied since February 1st this Saturday and begin our journey South. For the next 6 weeks we plan to spend much of our time exploring the beauty of the South Island. We hope to do a few backpacking trips and have plenty of hikes. As a reminder, our car-naming contest is coming to an end soon. Get your entries in no later than Sunday!.
Click this link to view more photos from our NZ adventures.