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Rotorua Karangahake Gorge

23rd February 2012

Through Kaharoa Gorge to Mural Town and on to El Dorado

    The rain drummed down on the car all through the night, and when dawn came my wagon was standing in a shallow lake.
    The shower block provided refuge for a while, but there is only so long you can spend soaking under a jet of hot water. As a refugee, I shuffled across to the communal kitchen. Here I tried to call my youngest daughter to wish her happy birthday; yes my two daughters have birthdays on consecutive days. Sadly she wasn't picking up the call, and when I thought about it she was probably working.
A Selection of Katikati Murals
    A young woman in the kitchen yawned. "The rain getting you down?" I joked. "No, I'm just tired. There were some noisy people on site around 02:30 this morning," she sighed. She had come down from Alaska with a friend, who had turned out to be exceedingly needy, and it seemed to be wearing the young woman down, though she bravely smiled. They were flying home today; I sensed a relief in the young woman's voice.
    She seemed a sensible woman, married with a couple of kids, and she and her husband never lived beyond their means. For the last ten years she had worked as a fire-service paramedic. Budgets were being squeezed and she had to work much longer hours as they were understaffed. This, coupled with the internal politics of the company, was leading her to consider a career change. She had the full support of her husband, but she wasn't sure what direction to take yet.
    We discussed the financial ailments of the world, the health service in the US (the sue culture was putting her off medicine as a career), and the American educational system. I learned that there is no uniformity of educational standards across the US. Each state is autonomous in how it runs its educational system and the standards it sets. In Alaska, some school programmes are being set up under a joint agreement between parents and teachers, and that approach seems to work effectively, though it is akin to private education.
    The poor woman yawned again, and summoned the energy to go and collect her friend and set off on their mammoth trip back to Alaska.
    I made my way out of Rotorua, skirting the ancient lake, and headed up north through the Mangorewa Kaharoa district. This area was nature's supermarket. In summer of times gone by, the hills and valleys of the district, clad in dense native forest, were a rich hunting ground. Maori trapped, cooked and preserved kaka, kiwi and kereru (pigeons) for winter stores. The feathers were saved for use in kakahu (cloaks).
    Traps were set for kiore (native rats), another important source of protein. The many rivers in the area were home to eels (tuna), which congregated there before starting their long migration to their ocean breeding grounds.
    The Mangorewa River and the Ohauparn River are significant features within the Kaharoa Gorge, down which I was descending, and signify the transition between the Tauranga and Rotorua areas of the Bay of Plenty.
Waihi Beach
    The proverb below identifies a history of travelling on this inland route:-
        Kia makinakina te ara ki uta.
        Kia makinakina te ara ki tai.
        E rere te tangata ruinga ora.
                The track inland is icy.
                The track to the coast is arduous.
                Travel safely.
    Early tourists travelling to visit Rotorua's "Thermal Wonderland" sailed from Auckland to Tauranga, and then travelled by coach along this inland route. There was great excitement when the first coach used the road in 1873. It had come all the way from Napier to Rotorua, then on the new road through the gorge to Tauranga. Soon a regular mail coach service was established using the road through the gorge.
    Tauranga held no interest for me, so I skirted around it on the back roads, and headed up to Katikati.
    Katikati's claim to fame is that it is the only planned Ulster settlement in the world. The small town's history is celebrated with murals on any wall space available. The standard of artwork was quite good, and thus deserved its title of "Mural Town".
    As I continued further north, I took a turn-off across to Waihi Beach, a 9km long swathe of sand. This "one-stop slice of paradise" is a mix of permanent residents and holiday homes served by mainly owner/operator businesses. The village was growing fast with many new residential sections carved out of farmland which has become available for housing. The prevalent beach culture includes one of the oldest-established surf clubs. By some freak of nature, it was not torrenting down as I arrived, so I took the opportunity to stroll along the beach to stretch my legs and breathe in the salty air, a refreshing change from Rotorua's fragrant fumes.
    I decided to make Waihi my base for exploring the area, once described as New Zealand's El Dorado. Waihi's story is a rich tapestry woven through with threads of pure gold. It was this precious metal which attracted people to Waihi from the late 1800s onwards. Currently there are three working gold mines in Waihi, two underground and one opencast. Today, only metres from the centre of town is the edge of the latter, a huge open-pit mine. Wandering down Seddon Street, I came across bronze statues, restored historic buildings and interesting displays depicting Waihi's heritage.
    During the evening I met up with Tom and Anjou in the camp communal kitchen. Tom was a self-employed blacksmith and Anjou was a fashion designer. The couple were on a cycling epic. Over the last two years they had cycled from Devon across to New Zealand via Europe, the Middle and Far East, and Australia. New Zealand was their final destination, for which they had allocated three months. Being aware of how long they had taken to explore the Coromandel Peninsula, they now knew they couldn't explore the country as much as they would like to. Besides, Tom was now losing his motivation, particularly after the last two days of solid rain. The pair normally slept in a tent, but tonight they were having a real treat and sleeping in a cabin.
    Over some wine, Tom recounted tales of some of the folk he had met, and how helpful they were. He reckoned he had made more friends over the last two years than in the previous forty. Naturally, cycling that distance, they had numerous mechanical problems with their bikes, and they had always managed to bodge things with help from the locals to keep them going. It was at such times that they met the strangest of people but with abundance of help and friendliness; barriers just dissolved away and humanity came to the fore.
    "Where would you want to cycle next?" was the natural question to ask. Tom had a faraway look in his eye, then smiled and proposed, "South America. I will have to learn Spanish," he laughed. His partner, Anjou, came from the former East Germany, and he seemed to have mastered German quite well. The couple retired early for the night, they had cycled a fair way in shocking weather, so who could blame them.

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Rotorua Karangahake Gorge

Uploaded from Holiday Park Campsite, Whitianga on 28th February at 16:15

Last updated 28.2.2012