Beautiful beaches, big trees, bad bread...

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Friday, November 4, 2005

We landed in Auckland around mid-morning on Tuesday 1 November, and picked up our hire car, a silver Nissan Pulsar which we named Silvie. She wasn´t nearly as powerful or as much fun to drive as Goldie, but got us up to the Bay of Islands by mid-afternoon.

We took the vehicle ferry across to Russell, a pretty little village with plenty of history, built around a sheltered cove. It´s the site of the first European settlement in NZ, and is jam-packed with quaint wooden Victorian houses. We enquired about sailing trips around the bay, and booked a day cruise aboard Kingfisher for the next day. After pitching camp in the welll-equipped camp site near the village centre, we headed down to the wharf for some sunset fishing. The smelly squid bait we´d bought proved a hit with baby snapper... Rich hooked quite a few, but unfortunately none were big enough to keep.

The next day, Wednesday, at 10am we boarded Kingfisher, an 11m custom-built yacht owned and skippered by Stephen and Sue Western. The skies were cloudy but the wind was just right for a spot of serious sailing... ah, how great it felt to be on a yacht again! Steve and Sue gave both of us plenty of opportunity to helm, which we thoroughly enjoyed. There´s no better way to explore the big, blue bay dotted with green islands.

At noon we anchored in the lee of a large island with a curved beach of lovely white sand. Rich brought out his fishing rod and within minutes caught a snapper just big enough to keep. Yum! Sue offered to cook it for lunch, as starters.

Along with Steve, we took the tender to shore and walked up a hill, from where we had magnificent views to other islands and over the whole Bay. We continued on the track over the island to the other side, where another sparkling sand beach stretched out before us. Quite idyllic. In the meantime, the weather had improved and we even ventured into the water after lunch! Pretty freezing though. The good, strong breeze held for our sail back, and Rich helmed most of the way.

We were moored back in Russell by about 5pm; the two of us took our fishing rod down to Long Beach, a pretty white stretch of sand on the other side of Russell, and tried our luck for a few more hours, beers in hand. Though nothing was caught, it was a pleasant way to spend the last of the daylight hours before returning to camp for a nice steak on the barbeque.

The following morning, on Thursday the 3rd, we broke camp and drove towards the west coast - the Kauri Coast, as it is called for the significant stands of large Kauri trees still to be found here. Extensive subtropical rainforest, of which the mighty Kauri (Agathis australis) was king, once covered most of the North Island, but logging and agriculture have reduced it to pockets. Some of the best preserved trees may be seen in the Waipoua Forest reserve

We stopped off and visited a number of these remarkable specimens. At 51 metres, Tane Mahuta is the tallest tree in NZ. It is believed to be around 2,500 years old and boasts an impressive trunk cicumference of 13m! Needless to say, we were dumbstruck in the presence of this mighty old ´lord of the forest´ (the meaning of its Maori name)! We also walked to a number of other large Kauris, including Te Matua Ngahere, which is shorter but stouter than Tane Mahuta, with a trunk circumference of 16.4m

We stopped for a picnic lunch along the way... within minutes of eating his sandwich, poor Rich started to feel pretty ill. The bread we´d bought officially had no sunflower seeds in it, but we could only think that some bits of sunflower seed had made its way i at the bakery. The poor lad felt pretty unwell for the rest of the drive, and I took the wheel. I´ve never been all that keen on driving abroad, but at least the roads were quiet.

After a few stops to admire more magnificent Kauris, we headed down the coast to Muriwai Beach, a quiet seaside reserve about 80km north of Auckland. It seemed nothing more than a convenient stop for the night, but we were pleasantly surprised at what we found: a long beach with fine, blue-black sand; about 10 or so kite-surfers whizzing up and down the length of it, making the most of the rolling surf. We watched their impressive jumps as the sun went down... check out the sexy picture attached.

The next morning, Friday, we strolled over to the point, the site of one of the world´s few land-based gannet colonies. The colony was positively bursting at the seams and some birds were nesting just below the viewing platform - so close one could touch them! We gazed out at the smelly, squawking, flapping mass of white birds in awe... they´re so graceful when gliding solo above the waves, but on land, when nesting, they´re as gregarious as gulls! How awesome to be so close to them and watch their noisy comings and goings.

From Muriwai, we tackled the drive south to Rotorua, about five hours. More about that part of the world in the next entry...
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