Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Ocean vs. Sea @ Cape Reinga

Photos: 1) Planting my native species at Te Rerenga Wairu 2) Battleground of the Tasman Sea (left) and the Pacific Ocean (right) 3) The massive Te Paki Dunes down which I sandboarded - my new favourite sport! 4) The author dips her feet into the cold, wild Tasman Sea 5) A Maori headstone in the graveyard at Te Waimate Mission.

It's an early day here in Bay of Islands. I'm on a bus trip to Cape Reinga today, going to check out the (almost) northernmost part of the North Island. I figured it would be a fun thing to do since I've already been to the (almost) most southern point of the South Island in the same trip. There's a bit of tour bus confusion among the gazillions of us waiting out at the street in front of our hotels. I finally find myself on the correct bus although the driver warned me that I'd be travelling with the "older" crowd unless I wanted to wait for the next bus. Heck, I'm used to being a younger one already so why not again today? I bid Liz and Ross a great day of R&R in Russell and climb aboard. The sun is coming up beautifully behind some clouds out over the bay as we head north along the coast.

Passing through Kerikeri (say like "keh-ree-keh-ree), I admire the extensive groves of citrus trees and the massive walls of bamboo growing along the road. The first time I encountered such towering bamboo was in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, then again in the Windward & Leeward Islands in 2006/2007, but I still find myself floored by how tall they grow and how pretty the stretch of greenery looks. This is the first time I've been in such bamboo groves when it hasn't been a gazillion degrees of dripping humidity.

We're in Puketi (say "puh-keh-tee") Forest now for a chance to stretch our legs and crane our necks while checking out massively towering kauri trees in this subtropical rainforest. The fourth largest living kauri, Te Tangi o te Puketi, with a height of 50.9m (167 feet) dwells here. This area of delicious greenery is 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of beauty, and along with the Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland:

After passing through gorgeous Coopers Beach (a little bias here) in Doubtless Bay, so named after Captain James Cook sailed past the entrance to the area in 1769 and recorded "doubtless a bay" in his journal, it's time for a BBQ lunch at Houhora Big Game & Sports Fishing Club, perched at the edge of the water in Houhora. No doubt my cousin Teddy would enjoy a day out with these guys - it's all about fishing here! According to their website, you haven't lived until you've fished Houhora. Regardless, the seafood-free lunch is delicious and I stuff myself accordingly. After 11 days of tramping in the bush, I haven't yet kicked the new habit of filling myself at each opportunity due to uncertainty of when the next meal will arrive. A few minutes to myself in the hot sun after lunch, then we're herded back onto the air-conditioned coach for more time to admire the gorgeous passing scenery.

At last we've arrived at Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga)! We don't have much time here so I take a quick side trip to plant a native tree as part of the restoration project taking place here. It's an ecologically sensitive area, home to many rare and endangered plants and animals, along with being one of New Zealand's most visited sites, drawing over 120,000 visitors a year. Te Rerenga Wairua is also very important to all Maori as the departure place for spirits on their final journey to the homeland of Hawaiiki (distinctly different from Hawaii, for the record). The Maori name, Te Rerenga Wairua, means leaping-off place of spirits. The cape is the point where spirits of the dead enter the underworld.

Another fascinating thing about Cape Reinga is that it is the point where the Tasman Sea to the west meets the Pacific Ocean to the east. You can see a distinct area of turbulence where the two waters collide which is pretty darn cool! If you look closely, you can spot whirlpools and swirls, not to mention differences in shades of blue. I hike out to the lighthouse which shone for the first time in May of 1941, and was automated in 1987. If I cross my eyes and squint hard, I think I can see Sydney! I wish I could see some's another sunny, sweltering day of summer here.

Time for a quick loo stop in the eco-toilets, then our bus is lumbering down a streambed (with water in it) to the MASSIVE Te Paki Dunes on our way to 90 Mile Beach. These dunes are ri-di-cu-lous-ly tall! As you can probably tell, I've never been to a "real" desert where dunes of this magnitude are probably commonplace. Even better, we're going sandboarding down the dunes!!! I've just hit the entertainment jackpot. After a quick demo and safety advisory by our bus driver, I find myself hiking up the side of the dune in slow-motion. It's slo-mo for two reasons: there are a lot of people in line ahead of me as there are numerous buses stopped to disgorge their tourists, and stepping uphill in the sand means that your foot slides back nearly to the point of departure so it's really more like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back which makes for a different kind of hiking. Finally, it's my turn and I'm so excited! I lie belly-down on my boogie board, upper body propped up by my arms which are bent at the elbow, hands pulling up on the front of the board to avoid jamming it into the sand by accident. No high-speed sandy face plants today. My legs trail behind me off the back of the board as my feet will be the brakes. Ha! Brakes are for wimps, I say! My guide gives me a good shove, I close my mouth while applauding myself for keeping my sunglasses on to protect my eyes, and whoosh!! I'm flying down a giant hill of sand, headed straight for Te Paki Stream below, and I'm having so much fun!! I trail my feet in the sand for about 2 seconds of braking, then abandon all attempts to slow myself and am eventually launched across the streambed for quite a distance, sending up a giant spray of warm water all around me, and having the time of my life. I finally slide to a giddy stop to applause from my fellow bus people, and discover that I'm not even wet, just kind of sandy. Oh, if only we could stay here for hours....!

Sitting behind the bus driver does have certain advantages as we plow down 90 Mile Beach. I get to pepper him with questions and learn things like the fact that 90 Mile Beach isn't actually 90 miles long. It got named way back when people travelled this area with horses, and it took 3 days to cover the length of the beach. With an estimated average 30 miles/day of travel x 3 days, it was assumed that the beach was 90 miles long. Technically, the beach is only 55 miles long (88 kilometres), but since Australia has an 80 Mile Beach and what Kiwi wants to be outdone by the Aussies?, the original name stuck. The travel of 90 Mile Beach by coach has to be timed carefully - they have that tidal thing here, and the tour buses can only drive the beach at low tide. We stop about halfway along to plunge our feet in the cold Tasman Sea and check out pretty shells, then all too soon we're back on the bus and having our afternoon tea stop at Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a most excellent place to do a little shopping too:

Reuniting with Ross and Liz back in Bay of Islands, we swap stories about our fun days as we head across Northland to our eventual overnight destination on the west coast. On the way there, we stop to stretch our legs and check out Haruru Falls where I spot some gulls having a bath in a pool above the waterfalls. We also wander around the grounds of Waitangi House, a rich spot for local history as this is the location where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Another stop for history buffs is at Te Waimate Mission House, the second oldest building in New Zealand. We don't technically go in the house, but I enjoy wandering around the graveyard with Liz, checking out some beautiful graves and interesting markers. To some it sounds morbid to say I like graveyards, but I wander them around the world in order to appreciate how unique each one is, and to learn about local customs. I found some really pretty graveyards by accident once in Verona, Italy, when I was looking for Juliet's tomb. They're usually fairly quiet too, making them a nice spot for a picnic on a road trip as my mom can attest to from her childhood.

A stop for some pizza and views of a gorgeous sunset while watching children play hide-and-seek in a yard with virtually nowhere to hide, then we're finally at the Post Master's Lodgings in Rawene. Their logo has an uber creepy-looking fellow on it, but I'll forgive them because this fabulous kauri house is made entirely of kauri wood and is about 150 years old. We have a great room for ourselves with an ensuite bathroom, and I'm the perfect height for my little bed tucked in one corner. Sometimes, being the short one in the family pays off....

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