Camp NZ Begins
23rd January 2017 On the road Southwards, New Zealand style.
We were relieved that we had not left Zoonie before the weather bomb hit Whangarei as our little tent would have had a rude awakening to its career passage. There was plenty of tent space at our first camp, Sandspit, just north of Orewa, since everyone had packed up and left in disgust.
All around our little tent island were semi-permanent caravans of antique vintage, locked onto shed-like extensions. An interesting mish mash of second homes. Along the foreshore were cabins, some very old and all called boxes, Match Box, Tool Box, Wine Box etc. Boat names were novel too, Oarsom and Bloody Hull for a red hulled number.
Our main reason for coming to this area was to take a water taxi across to Kawau Island and explore some rocks to the south of the island known as Challenger Rocks. They are where an ex Norwegian Pilot Cutter met her end back in 1931. She was a sail only boat and got caught in a strong southerly wind and north going current. She would not go about and without an engine her fate was sealed. Fortunately all her crew, husband, wife, two very young children and the dog survived.
As the rocks did not coincide with any of the tripper routes to and around the island we hired Steve to take us on a perfectly flat sea to our destination. The flat sea conditions were the same at the time of the maritime disaster we were exploring, which must have helped the survival of the family.
Steve dropped us off at the Mansion House Quay infront of the fine colonial mansion that was bought by Sir George Grey in 1862. He was an early Governor of New Zealand and gave full rein to his love of architecture and global flora and fauna, improving the house and setting free wallabies, zebras, peacocks and many new plants onto the safety of the island. Wallabies still roam the island but the only zebra left is a skin, lying on one of the upper storey floors.
We sat on the veranda of the little restaurant enjoying a coffee while a peacock strutted about along the crinkly and curved tin (corrugated iron) roof overhead. Soft brown NZ Wood Hens pecked the ground around us. They are kiwi look-alikes, just with a shorter beak.
The house has had a mixed career since Sir Grey’s day; like so many old mansions part of its life has included years of dereliction. The crew of our wrecked pilot cutter struck lucky as they were brought here by fishermen in the time that Sir Lawson Reeves and his family were turning the estate into a tourist area with a comfortable boarding house in which they could re-cooperate.
Many of the forest walks seemed to be closed because of recent storms but we took a likely path and at the far end found the Staff Only sign. Tree-felling had been in progress but the workers were absent for our trek.
We had to leave our shoes at the door before looking around the house, which was shady and cool under its wide two floor veranda. Two of the giant Kauri trees had been shipped to the UK at great expense to be turned into pillars for the main entrance room. The walls were panelled kauri and the ceilings typically high to take away the hot air below. The house is now decorated and furnished as it would have been in Sir Grey’s time, a beautiful place to imagine and explore the life of the NZ gentry back in the 19th Century.
Back at our somewhat more humble home in the camp some modifications to the bedding arrangement were necessary. We had spent the second half of the precious night in a chilly state, clinging to each-other for warmth! So the two blankets went under the bottom sheet and on top of the air mattress, itself on the dense foam mats over the two groundsheets. The icing on the cake, laid over the top sheet, our down filled quilt, no more chilly nights for us!
We had Leicester Trewins to thank for our early morning walk the next day. He was the altruistic man who spent much time and effort digging a track through the nearby bush to Horseshoe Bay on the side of the river. First we had to climb the road passing various ‘art objects’ like an oversize chair and table, fishing rod and bottle opener to the giant NZ 200 year old Pohutukawa Tree, or Christmas tree.
Backtracking a few steps we joined the track for an enchanting walk, the early morning sun filtering through a variety of leaf shapes. Up and down along the narrow soft bush path we ambled until it came to an end above a neatly mown area of grass atop Horseshoe Bay. Rob swung himself on a wooden swing seat suspended from a benevolent tree while I tried to photograph fan tails, tiny, pastel coloured birds who fan out their pretty tails to catch flies as they fly. They flit about so quickly I had to resort to ‘shooting’ a painting of one in a restaurant.
When we left this our first 3 night camp we called in to Warkworth to research our next area in the ISite Tourist Office. Then on to Orewa to take out some AA cover for our 1998 Volvo, or to be more precise, some recovery cover in Rob’s name for any vehicle. It’s not that we don’t trust the car but we don’t want to be stranded somewhere remote on the South Island with no help nearby.
Our second camp is here at Waitamo and I am writing this sitting in the lounge dining area of the Juno Hall YHA Lodge, a fine wooden building built by the farmer Juno and his doctor wife Anne. Some youngsters are watching TV, the 11 day old piglets are snuffling through the light soil around their hairy mum’s resting body. The bad-tempered deer has just disappeared over the hill and the blind sheep is grazing a stone.
One of the really nice things about staying in places like this is the amazingly interesting people we meet. Yesterday, after a hot walk back from the village we were having a cooling swim in the pretty pool when we were joined by a young cyclist who had just cycled up from Queenstown, and is a director in the BBC Bristol wildlife documentary unit.
Just a few hours previously we had spent a relaxing few hours exploring the Spellbound glow worm caves, one on foot and the other in a damp red inflatable, in the company of lanky guide Jimmy with his laid back dry sense of humour, “You can all turn your headlights off now………..Boo.” On the van I had sat next to a young man taking a year out from Bedfordshire to harvest chick peas on an Australian farm. Did you know that the dust from chickpeas is highly inflammable? His job was to hose down the combines if they started to smoulder. He met his German girlfriend on their travels and now their futures are joined.
A couple of days ago we took ourselves off down the Te Anga Road to check out the Piripiri Caves, Marokopa Falls (a little bigger both ways than the Whangarei Falls) and the Mangapohue vast Natural limestone Bridge. Along the damp walls of the gorge approaching the latter a family in front of us kindly explained that the columns of water droplets, glistening like little diamonds, threads were made by the glow worms (larvae form of the Fungi Gnat) to catch flying bugs. When they are ready for a meal they just real in the lines like mini fishermen and eat the bugs, fast food.
The valley is a beautiful mix of hills, grass fields, forest and sparkling river with tiny huts on its shores. Where its bounty enters the Tasman Sea the sand is black and the dunes are anchored in place by a unique blonde NZ grass. Just off shore, the last hundred round-finned Maui dolphins cling to the bannister of survival.
Tomorrow we move on to The Tongariro National Park for our second visit and hope the weather stays as agreeable as it is now.