Tuesday 9th December 2014 Day 92
Breakfast again at 8.00am with bags packed and checked out at 8.30am. We have been offered the chance to visit the Blue Lagoon this morning, being dropped off by the party heading for the Siwali caves and we left at 8.45am. Apparently this area was used for the Brooke Shields film ‘Blue Lagoon’. Crossing between islands proved to be exciting as the wind created very choppy conditions. The beach was deserted when we arrived and Eric headed out to check out what was on offer while Joyce relaxed on the beach. Eric then took Joyce for a tour of the reef. Although not as rich in coral the number of fish was particularly impressive, with again clown fish, cornet and box fish in evidence. An interesting experience was in feeding the fish with bread, which attracted the Sergeant Majors who were then chased off by larger fish, generating shoal behaviour with an audible whoosh. The other sounds included the parrot fish munching coral. It was an excellent way to finish our experience of the Fijian Islands.
On our return to the resort we showered and changed before being serenaded by the assembled staff with a farewell song and being adorned with a flower necklace. We got onto the small boat which had collected us and travelled across the channel, again being bounced around. The ferry was not the vessel we had expected, being a smaller ship, and it took quite a time to load the passengers and their luggage from five resorts. Once loading was complete we headed south along the Yasawa chain, calling at other resorts to exchange passengers. The weather was again overcast and windy so we settled in the main cabin which had no videos but did have, albeit intermittently, free WiFi which allowed us to catch up with e-mails for the past week. Finally we passed through the Mamanuca group, where we had started and the islands used in the Tom Hanks’ film “Castaway’, before arriving at Port Denarau where a coach waited to take us to our hotel.
We had pizzas sitting on the beachside, enjoying the sunset, before retiring to arrange our packing for the international flight.
Wednesday 10th December 2014 Day 93 Auckland arrival
We checked out of the hotel at 10.00am and sat by the beach, Joyce enjoyed reading in the hammock, until it was time to leave for the airport at 11.30am. At the airport a moderate queue was encountered but check in was relatively quick once we had reached the desk, with the news that we were to be sited by the wing emergency exit, giving us more leg room.
We used the time before departure to spend our last few Fijian dollars, acquiring drinks and a very small and light souvenir. The fight was relatively short and we approached Auckland flying down the north east coast of North Island, passing over Craddock’s Channel between Little and Great Barrier Islands, across the Hauraki Gulf and along the Tasaki River towards the airport. As we were on final approach the aircraft accelerated and turned away and the Captain informed us of a problem with the flaps, which needed to be checked on another circuit. We therefore climbed again and rejoined the landing circuit above Little Barrier Island. We were advised that the landing might be bumpy and the need to buckle up tightly was paramount. We began the approach and this time, with a little more aircraft movement, we reached the ground in one piece.
As we headed towards immigration and baggage reclaim we took advantage of a Vodafone sim offer which allowed the minutes to be used for international calls, an option not available with our Australian deal.
Disembarking was quick and passport control relatively painless. As with entering Australia we were fast tracked through the automatic gates and again Eric successfully navigated the machinery but Joyce had to visit the desk. However, this meant that she had another passport stamp which Eric missed out on.
We had been lulled into a false sense of security as to the speed of entry into New Zealand with our luggage being quickly on and off the carousel. However, once we headed towards customs we joined a very long queue to pass through biosecurity and this took 40 minutes to reach the desk, where we were questioned. In entering Australia we had declared our walking boots, having been used in New Guinea, this time we declared our wood products. Since they were polished and varnished, all was well. Eventually we got to the other side of the x-ray machines without incurring a fine and went in search of the car hire company. Eric had again used an off airport company and since it was now 6.15pm we discovered, from phoning them, that they had all gone home. However the car was available from the “park and fly” company compound and a further phone call to them ensured that we had a place on a shuttle bus. Deciding that it was getting late, we bought sandwiches from a kiosk for our evening meal, and took our luggage on its trolley through doorway 11 to await the bus, standing in the cold, under a dripping canopy, as the rain poured down. Fortunately, our raincoats were on top of the luggage, placed there in case we had been over weight. What a difference to Fiji.
The shuttle minibus duly appeared and took us to the car pound where we collected our car. The weather precluded a thorough walk round, so Eric took photographs of the vehicle for future reference, noting a few scratches.
Once we had taken possession of the car the next job was to set up the gps to navigate us to our B&B for tonight. Once powered up Eric was dismayed to find that the unit thought we were still in Cairns and driving around the car park, even with good satellite reception, failed to disabuse it of this belief. Stopping on the road outside the car park, investigation of the menu revealed that we had to select the NZ map manually. Once this was done it identified the correct location and we could programme it for our destination of Whangaparoa.
50 minutes later we were outside our accommodation and were soon settled into our room. WiFi was on offer so Eric decided to check the bank account and was shocked to find that Barclaycard had taken by direct debit a significant sum of money, far greater than had been spent, especially since we had been unable to use the card since 4th November. The card started to be declined after payment to a motel had taken 3 attempts, due to system problems, so Eric had assumed this was the reason it was no longer available. Our Australian Vodafone package had not allowed overseas calls so we had not pursued the matter. Eric had also been concerned that he could no longer log into the Barclaycard website to check his account and had received an e-mail to inform him that he had opted for a paperless account. His worst fears confirmed Eric took advantage of the overseas call option and after sorting out that the + in international numbers was a double, not a single zero, was able to speak to an excellent agent at Barclaycard fraud who went through the account and found that a significant fraud had been perpetrated, which involved large cash withdrawals in Canterbury since October, while we were using the card in Australia. Apparently the fraudster had managed to get a new card and pin issued to them, passing the security checks. An hour later, having checked October and November’s statements, most of the illegal transactions were identified and we were promised a refund which arrived in the current account the next day. There is some more checking to do but the matter does seem to be sorted, with a new card being issued and the old account closed.
Having spoken to Barclaycard Eric then had to speak to Santander to let them know of the next 3 months travels for their credit card, as they would not accept more than 6 countries and 3 months of travel at a time.
Sandwiches followed, then bed.
Thursday 11th December 2014. Day 94 Puhoi piefest
We were still a little shell shocked after yesterday’s events so we took our time departing, being away by 10.00am, heading along the Whangaparoa peninsula. Our first stop was Army Bay then the Shakespear Regional Reserve, passing through a security gate to access the park. The pohutukawa trees were in flower, New Zealand’s national flower, creating a beautiful picture.
From here we headed north to the Pukemateko reserve at Omaha beach, with its wild yellow lupins, harakeke and Norfolk Pines, and then Orewa beach, with an abortive attempt to see a pa (maori hillfort) in the local reserve, and then on to Waiwera. The route then headed inland and we made a small detour to visit the historic village of Puhoi, established by Bohemian settlers. Here we enjoyed a lunch of very tasty meat pies before driving through Warkworth to Matawan, Sandspit and Leigh, with its harbour reminiscent of the rias of Cornwall. North of Leigh we stopped to view Goat Island, the centre of a marine reserve and were able to watch cormorants feeding their young in a cluster of nests, in pohutukara trees along the cliff edge.
We then went to Pakiri Beach where the road again headed inland before reaching the coast again at Mangawhai. We then travelled around Bream Bay from Waipu Cove to the western edge of Whangarei Harbour and then into the town of Whangarei. The motel was easily found and we settled in. Joyce was not too well, the meat pie having disagreed with her, so Eric made a quick trip out on foot to the nearby supermarket for some easy to prepare sustenance which was cooked in the in room kitchenette.
Friday 12th December 2014 Day 95 Whangarei wheyhey
After a reasonable day yesterday, with just a few brief showers, the rain set in again. After checking out at 10.00am we drove to the Town Basin, the tourist centre and marina of Whangarei. We took advantage of the retail opportunity and harbourside coffee, before visiting the historic Reyburn House, now an art gallery. We were particularly taken by the tear shaped glass vases created by Lynden Over, but after careful consideration decided we really could not add two 1.5 kg vases to our luggage.
Leaving the town we visited the A.H.Reed Kauri Reserve; it was still raining heavily so Joyce enjoyed the shelter of the car while Eric walked to the falls and along the boardwalk to the two large Kauri trees. Returning to the car we drove to the 26 metre high Whangarei falls, both walking down the path in the heavy rain and enjoying the views from the lookouts on both banks. Eric then walked down to the bottom of the falls.
Having enjoyed Whangarei we turned the car north eastwards, still following the Twin Coasts Discovery drive passing through Ngunguru and Tutukaka, where we stopped at the Marina to buy lunch at the small general store. Matapouri provided a scenic spot to eat the lunch and a short walk on the beach, then on to Woolleys Bay and Sandy Bay. During the afternoon the weather improved with the cessation of rain.
Rejoining Highway One we drove near to Kawakawa then into Paihia for a five night stay at the Bayview Motel. The apartment had a well equipped kitchen/living space, separate bedroom and a large balcony with an excellent view over the Bay of Islands. A foray to the nearby supermarket yielded provender to produce a delicious fried chicken and vegetable dinner.
Saturday 13th December 2014 Day 96. Northland navigation
On a prebooked tour to the very north today so up early and waiting outside the motel at 7.10am. The bus arrived on time at 7.15am and after a few more stops to collect other passengers we left Paihia with a full coach. Hughie, our driver guide, is Maori and is a fount of knowledge about the region. He also serenaded us during the trip with Maori songs covering welcome, death and farewells.
The forecast for today had been dire, but the morning started dry albeit with grey skies.
We drove past Kerikeri and through Kao, passing its conical, terraced pa site. Further on we could see in the distance the distinctive mountain of Taratar with its monolithic peak and pair of smaller sugar loaf summits. At Tapia, on Doubtless Bay, we paused for coffee before passing through Awanui, then driving on to 90 mile beach. Hughie had clocked it at 64 miles and put forward a number of explanations for its name, the simplest being a mistake in the units of measurement. The drive was impressive with the surf on one side and the dunes the other. In places the dunes have been breached by storm waves and the old Maori shell middens could be seen. The crossing of streams required some caution, given the cutting of channels into the relatively flats beach surface, and in places required driving into the surf.
At the egress of the Te Paki quicksand stream we stopped for a photo opportunity, with the backdrop of huge active dunes. The coach then drove carefully along the stream until we stopped at the popular spot for sandboarding. Grabbing a boogie board from the bus Eric headed for the top of the dune with the rest of the party while Joyce stayed at the bottom to video the action. Eric’s first descent was stop start and he did not cover himself with glory, only sand. The next two goes were far more satisfying with smooth fast runs to the stream at the base of the dune.
Regretfully, we had to tear ourselves from the fun and continued our way up the stream and on towards Cape Reinga, through native forest and bush and through a landscape of steep, deep valleys. The New Zealand upland landscape is very distinctive in terms of the complexity of valleys incised into the surface, with a wide range of heights of the interfluves. The lower ground is also a complex of rolling hills and valleys, with a range of streams and rivers, dominated by gravel as sediment.
Cape Reinga is sacred to the Maoris and is the site where their souls depart, this was where Hughie sang the Maori song which he dedicated to all our departed loved ones. The cape marks the meeting place of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, which can be seen as a line of white water where the wave energy of the two water bodies interact. From the car park we followed the well made path down to the lighthouse, admiring the panorama of the surrounding headlands and bays. As we walked the grey clouds thickened and the sky grew darker and spots of rain began.
Having reached the most northerly point in New Zealand we admired the lighthouse and the signpost showing how far we were from London, Sydney, Antarctica, etc. and then we made our way back up the hill as the rain set in. Once the party had assembled we drove south again to Houhoura, where we enjoyed a lunch of fish and chips at the local Big Game and Sports Fishing Club.
Lunch concluded, we headed back towards Pahia in the increasingly heavy rain, seeing in the distance the sand dunes of brilliant white sand dunes of Parengardnga Harbour and passing the distinctive twin towered, white and green painted Ratana church at Te Kao with the words “Arepa” and “Omeka” (Maori transliterations of the Greek words Alpha and Omega) on the towers.
Near Awanui we stopped at the ‘Ancient Kauri Kingdom’, the factory shop of an enterprise that excavates 45,000 year old Kauri tree trunks, buried in coastal sediment as a result of a tsunami. The timber is salvaged and used to create furniture and objet d’art. The kauri tree had been extensively felled in the late 19th and early 20th century, so this is a valuable resource to save cutting the remaining trees. It is estimated that the original kauri forests contained trees taller than the redwoods of California. The buried timber had been known for a long time and had previously supported the gum digger industry, which excavated them for the resin that was used for varnish and other products.
Having enjoyed the retail opportunity and the quality of products on offer we retraced our steps south eastward. At Waitaruka another pa was pointed out and soon after Kaeo we turned west towards the Puketi Kauri forest, driving up into the hills on a gravel road. The rain stopped as we arrived at the boardwalk, lulling us into a false sense of security. The Manginangina walk took us through several groves of kauri trees, some of impressive girth of over 1.5 metres. Apparently each metre of diameter relates to 3 centuries of growth. Just before we finished the walk the heavens opened and we returned to the bus soaked, well Eric did as he had not put on his coat, while Joyce had been far more sensible.
A 50 minute run brought us back to our motel where we enjoyed the sandwiches we had carried, not expecting lunch to be provided.
Sunday 14th December 2014 Day 97 Treaty trove
In the programme, today was planned as a light day, in between organised trips. The weather overnight had been gales and heavy rain, which let up as we breakfasted. We then walked to the local Anglican church of St Paul’s which had its service of 9 lessons and carols today; it included a nativity performance and a female acapella choir. It was a very enjoyable service which made us think that Christmas is really on its way, as strange as that feels to us travelling in warmer climes, despite the homelike wet and windy weather.
After the service we had coffee in the apartment then drove the short distance to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the national monument to the establishment of New Zealand, on the spot where this historic treaty was signed. The visitors centre was very informative as to the background and significance of the treaty, with an excellent film presentation. The problems caused by differences in translation and cultural understanding between the English and Maori versions of the treaty were well explained, as was the history of conflict and reconciliation between the groups in creating modern New Zealand. The site is very well presented with a nature reserve, the war canoe built for the centenary celebration, a reconstruction of a Maori fishing settlement, the flagstaff on the treaty ground itself and the house occupied by the British Resident, James Busby, who was instrumental in encouragement of the establishment of the unified Maori nation and the treaty between the British and Maoris. The other major building is the carved meeting house, also constructed for the centenary, which showcases Maori art in terms of carving and weaving.
We spent over 3 hours in touring the site then returned over the narrow bridge across the Waitangi river to photograph the other memorial to the treaty constructed by the Maori nation in 1880. A very late lunch was followed by a foray for ice cream and a look round the shops before returning for clothes washing, blog writing, chicken dinner and skyping before bed.