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Whangarei Kerikeri

8th December 2011

A Loo with a View, a Den of Iniquity and Chasing Dolphins Around the Bay of Islands

    Up with the birds this morning and soon heading up SH1 to the Bay of Islands. The tedious drive took me through undulating hills of pastureland and forest. There is not a lot of traffic on these roads. The petrol and logging trucks always seem to have a trailer, and in the case of the loggers, sometimes two trailers. How on earth does one go about reversing if you have a trailer attached to a trailer.
    Soon I was passing through the small town of Kawakawa, the only town in New Zealand to have a railway line running down the centre of the main street, though it should be stated that only vintage trains ferrying tourists use it now. It took my mind back 18 months ago to my journey on the Durango-Silverton Railway in Colorado, where the rail track went right up a dirt track main street in Silverton and just terminated without a platform. However, the key attraction of the town are the Hundertwasser public toilets, the creation of the reclusive Austrian artist, ecoarchitect and philosopher, Friedrich Hundertwasser, who lived in the town from 1975 until his death in 2000 at the age of 71. I just had to go and spend a penny. The interior employs tiles, glass and bottles of all shapes, colours and sizes to create a vibrant, chaotic effect, with a grass roof.
hundertwasser_public_ toilets
Hundertwasser Public Toilets
    Once relieved, I topped up again with a coffee on the main street. This was a small compact town with everything you might wish for down the main street. It had vitality and energy, and the residents were pretty friendly; they seemed to have time to sit and have breakfast together and pass the time of day.
    Heading further north brought me to Paihia, a 2km-long strip of low-rise restaurants, bars, hostels and motels plus an abundance of trip operators, providing the gateway to the Bay of Islands. I pulled into a car park next to the string of tour operators, and soon I had booked a four hour cruise around the Bay of Islands. As a bonus, I could do a 10 minute ferry ride to Russell, and be picked up from there by the cruise vessel in a couple of hours time. Sounded like a good plan to me, so I went for it.
    While sitting on the open deck listening to the rhythmic humming of the engine, with gannets swooping overhead, the short ferry ride brought me across the waters from Paihia to Russell. This isolated location on a narrow peninsula was once a fortified Ngapuhi fortified village known as Kororareka (Sweet Penguin). The tribe allowed it to become the first European settlement in the early 19th century. In the lawless early days of the nation, Kororareka was a swashbuckling haven for whalers, sealers, and convicts on the run, and earned the reputation of being the "hellhole of the Pacific". At the end of January 1840, when Captain William Hobson arrived as Lieutenant-Governor, one of his first duties was to select a fitting settlement to be his seat of Government. As Kororareka was scarcely suitable for the purpose it became necessary to form a secondary settlement in the district. Hobson chose nearby Okiato, which he immediately renamed Russell after Lord John Russell, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. It remained the capital until the following year, when the Government was removed to Auckland. On 1 May 1842 fire swept Russell, destroying Government House and the offices. The town was never rebuilt and the name was loosely applied to Kororareka, which was part of the Port of Russell. In January 1844 Governor Fitzroy formally incorporated Kororareka within the township of Russell.
Policeman's House and Fig Tree
Russell Houses
    Ex-dens of iniquity are always popular, and hordes of tourists make the trip across to the small town to try and recapture a whiff of its colourful past, but the beach orgies have long gone. It is indeed a small development, and the few streets are soon criss-crossed. One of the town's oldest buildings is Christ Church, built in 1836 by local settlers with partial funding by Charles Darwin. Skirmishes between the local Maori tribe and the British in 1845 left bullet holes still visible. In 1842 the Pompallier was built as a printing works for the French Roman Catholic bishop, Jean Pompallier. He arrived three years earlier and was alarmed to find Anglican and Wesleyan tracts being translated into Maori. The Catholic missionaries built a rammed-earth structure in which Catholic teachings were printed, almost forty thousand volumes over the next eight years. Today, Pompallier was a museum, mainly focussing on a tannery, leather making, printing and bookbinding. The garden was lush and rich in a rainbow of colour from beds of flowers. To cap it all, a woman was playing croquet on the lawn.
Pohutukawa Tree
    The police station was now a policeman's home. The historic house was designed by W. H. Clayton, the colonial architect in the late 1860s. First occupied in 1870, it served as a custom house until the 1890s. It became a police station and residence in the early 1900s. The adjacent Morton Bay Fig Tree (ficus mactophillia) was planted by the first collector of customs, Mr E. B. Laing, who served from 1870 to 1886.
     The tourists who alighted from the same ferry as me were the same tourists who bumped into each other in their reconnoitring of the town, and soon all met up again in the smattering of coffee shops and restaurants. I stopped off at one of the sea facing cafes, and got talking to the women on the next table about the beautiful Pohutukawa tree a few metres away. This was in full crimson bloom, which Maori read as the promise of a warm summer. Similar in a way to our holly bushes really; plenty of berries indicate a cold winter. The odd thing about the Pohutukawa tree, standing underneath it and looking up, you can hardly see any red flowers at all. A tui bird was leaping about the branches wearing his black plumage and white throat. His call would start off as a low drone, shifting to a blackbird warble, moving up the scale to a high pitched chatter.
    The women, a Swede, had been travelling for four weeks. She had started off with her brother, but their objectives differed; he preferred to dash around the country taking snap after snap out of the windows of the vehicle they were travelling in, only staying one night at places. The women however preferred to travel more slowly and just soak up what she came across at leisure. So, after one week they parted company (until the flight home together), and she was travelling on her own using busses. She had one week left before they departed together back home.
Some of the Smaller Islands in the Bay
    We talked about our differing travel plans. She was envious of my mammoth stint, but she was tied by bonds of work, as most people are. Employed as an administrator for the Swedish church, the woman was divorced, with three children ranging in age from five to eleven. Their father and parents were looking after them while she took the break. After her father died at an early age of cancer, she realised you only get one crack at life, and you never know what is around the corner. So she grabbed the opportunity and hence she was here. I can understand her philosophy, but whether I could leave my kids at that age is a different matter. Now I think my kids are just glad to get shot of the old fool for a few months.
    Soon I was on board the small cruise vessel that would whisk me into the bay. The Bay of Islands is a drowned-river system on the east coast of North Auckland between Whangarei and Whangaroa Harbours. It comprises 144 islands, as well as several inlets or arms leading into the bay, chief of which are Kerikeri Inlet, Waikare, Mangonui, and Purenua. The Bay was visited by Kupe and Ngahue in the tenth century and Toi called there some 200 years later. In 1769 Captain Cook, who coined the name, was the first European to arrive there. In the early 1800s the Bay became the recognised watering place for ships whaling off New Zealand. The bay has huge historical significance. Firstly the warm climate, abundance of seafood and deep, sheltered harbours contributed to a dense pre-European Maori culture in the bay. Now, numerous churches, mission stations and orchards found around the bay testify that the area is the cradle of European civilization in New Zealand.
    The bay is one enormous aquatic playground with turquoise waters punctuated by 144 islands to explore, it is one of New Zealand's main tourist attractions. Alan and Rex, who I have sailed with many times, would adore sailing around such exotic and warm waters. Many of the islands are subject to the Department of Conservation-led Project Island Song, which aims to rid many islands of introduced predators and turn them into wildlife havens. Assorted birds will them be reintroduced to many islands, notably Urupukapuka Island.
Cape Brett Lighthouse
    We cruised along at 25 knots, the idyl of shimmering turquoise waters being broken by the throaty roar of engines, with huge watery fins trailing behind us. We past seemingly endless beaches and islands, with blue water, and mountains of cool green mangroves all around. With southerly breezes gently brushing away the cares and frustrations of the world, it's no stretch at all to imagine what drew "outsiders" to this magnificent little part of the world. The skipper made a diversion to where a pod of dolphins had been reported. True enough we came across an expanse of about fifty bottlenose dolphins, totally ignoring us and going about their business of feeding. That was an impressive sight indeed, seeing so many in the wild.
The Hole in the Rock
    The boat carried on in a north easterly direction passing between islands through narrow waters, observing unusual basalt formations on some of the smaller islands, the geology being akin to the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. We weaved amongst the islands all the way up to Cape Brett, the northern most tip of a long peninsula. Here a solitary white lighthouse sat on an isolated cliff setting, a small path zigzagging up the green hillside from a building near the sea. The lighthouse was built in Thames on the Coromandel, barged up the coast and winched 149m above sea level. The lighhouse keepers lived and worked here from 1910 when the light was first lit, until 1978 when a new automated light went into service. Opposite Cape Brett was Piercy Island, named by Cook after the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. It presented itself as a rugged rocky pinnacle rising 148m above the sea, and was also known as the Hole in the Rock. A cathedral sized hole sat under the island, linking one end to the other. Our captain lined up the vessel, and gingerly sailed through the 100m long cavern, with just 2m to spare on either side. That takes some bottle, and if there is the slightest swell, they don't practice that manoeuvre. The captain informed us that when heavy rollers come roaring down the coast and hit the island, they are funnelled into the hole, and just mount up to the roof and explode out of the opposite side. Wow, that would be an impressive and humbling sight to see.
Where is the Mint Sauce?
    We headed back down the islands, aging making a detour to make contact with another pod of dolphins, before pulling into Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island, where we were allowed an hour to stroll around the island and explore as we saw fit, so long as we didn't disturb the sheep. I and several others made for the path that climbed a hill up to a viewing point. On the top the views were staggering, I was knocked for six. This was heaven, and I was only seeing a tiny fraction of the islands from this vantage point. With all the greenery, water and sheep, I could have been back in Wordsworth country. Absolutely stunning, that is all I can say.
    I got chatting to one of my fellow passengers while gazing out on this expanse. He was an American from Milwaukee, now living in Germany. I gathered his parents were German. He had travelled around Australia in four separate stages, and was now tackling New Zealand's north island. He loved diving, and would have loved the time to go diving around these islands.
    We parted company, he downhill while I dallied for a while transfixed by the views. All too soon I left and wound my way down the hill, killing time by strolling along the sandy and shell strewn beach, lulled into oblivion by the gently lapping waters, until the boat was due to leave. On the final leg of the journey, I sat near a couple; the chap hailed from Somerset but had been here 36 years, and his wife was a Kiwi. They originally lived down on the south island, shunning the north, but now they have bitten the bullet and moved up to the Coromandel Peninsula. "Most people live on the coast of the peninsula, but we prefer to live remotely on the spine of the mountains," he told me. "Oh, I'll be passing by there at the end of February. I intend to drive over the 309," I replied. "That is where you'll find us, right on top near the 309," he smiled, "you can't get more remote than that." We chatted a while about how our respective countries are faring, and how countries have been living beyond their means for too long, and it now impacts us as well as future generations. The crunch was affecting this land too.
    Whenever he returns to Britain nowadays, he is increasingly aware of the widening gap between the rich and poor. New Zealand has a breed of people who spend millions on a piece of property, but for most of the country, the boom or bust attitude is slipping away, and property prices are now becoming more then what most people can afford to pay. However, he did tell me that it wasn't long ago when you could buy a house on the south island for $1. People just couldn't get rid of them. Of course the taxes etc. would still be linked to what the property was actually worth. As we passed by a bach on one of the shores (bachs are New Zealanders second homes), the chap's wife told me most New Zealanders own one, in a usually fairly basic condition. Hmm.... makes me think of the beach huts at Southwold. The last I heard they were selling for �30k each!
View from Urupukapuka Island      (please use scroll bar)

Bottlenose Dolphins
Haruru Falls
    We came across yet another pod of dolphins, which were altogether in a much more playful mood. Once our vessel was stationary, one of the crew leaned over the side and started beating two sticks together. The sound almost resembled the clicks made by dolphins. Very quickly we had the pod converging onto the sound, frolicking and rolling onto their backs. With their upturned mouths they looked as though they were having great fun. One even caught a fish in the sea and just played with it as a cat does with a mouse. I was overawed with these sleek, sociable creatures with a permanent smile on their faces, and the antics they got up to. When the time came for us to take our leave, they leapt into the air in our wake, performing somersaults just to show us how smart they are. No doubt I'll see many more on this trip.
    Once back ashore, I checked out campsites, and found a beautiful little campsite by Haruru Falls. The charming receptionist came from Jersey. She had only been over here a short while, and this was the first job she had landed. One of the perks was her own van to sleep in on site. These Brits get everywhere, and all seem to land on their feet. My pitch almost sat by a small sandy beach in front of a decent swimming hole, which was fed by the cascading falls themselves. What a way to fall asleep tonight, listening to the endless cascading waters.

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Whangarei Kerikeri

Uploaded from Hihi Camp, Hihi on 9th December at 18:18

Last updated 10.12.2011