Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Olympic tsunami!

Photos: 1) Dining nook at the Postmaster's Lodgings in Rawene, a 150-year old Kauri house 2) The wharf at Opononi 3) Ross & Liz take in the view of the wild Tasman Sea 4) Tane Mahuta, the oldest living Kauri tree in New Zealand 5) Uncle Ross dramatically introduces me to a tree that I've forgotten the name of.... it was great entertainment.

Well, today is a bit of a mash-up. While Uncle Ross is finally starting to feel better, by the end of today I will have come down with a sore throat.

The day started innocuously enough. While Ross and Liz enjoyed some leisurely morning reading, I amused myself by watching a bit of Olympic action on the telly. Being away from home during the entire Vancouver Olympics has been a bit difficult for someone who loves to watch them as much as I do, so whenever I have the chance (they are few and far between!), I am transfixed by the moving picture box. All was well and good until my Olympic fix was rudely interrupted by a tsunami warning for the east coast of New Zealand, triggered by the recent earthquake in Chile. I find myself somewhat disappointed that we're now on the west side of the country.

After a delicious breakfast out on the deck in the sunshine with my new feline friend (I hereby name you Achoo! because that is what you do to me) and a view for miles, it's time to pile back in the car to continue our journey back to Auckland. Our first stop is in Opononi on the Hokianga harbour, naturally just down the road from Omapere. According to Wikipedia, their combined population was 477 on the 2006 Census. Perhaps you've also heard of Opo, the orphaned wild bottlenose dolphin who became famous in New Zealand in the summer (our winter) of 1955-56 when she would play with the children of Opononi. Sadly, she was found dead on 9 March 1956, and was buried with full Maori honours in a special plot next to the town hall.

This part of the Hokianga harbour is magnificent! Liz and I walk out to the end of the Opononi wharf to watch some Maori kids jumping off, and I read a big sign back at the beach which warns mariners all about the real dangers of the (sand) bars at the mouth of the harbour. They're really quite serious about these bars. There are 8 things you must do prior to crossing, while number 9 on the list says to stay away if you're in doubt. Looking toward the mouth of Hokianga harbour (twelve thousand years ago this was a river valley), I can see massive - and I mean massive by Ontario standards, my only frame of reference - sand dunes which help to explain the bars underwater there. Those dunes are so beautiful. I wish I could dash across the water to surf down them!

Instead, we're headed out to Arai te Uru Recreation Reserve, a little way down the road from Opononi, where we'll get great views of the whole harbour and the wild Tasman Sea outside these sheltered waters. The rocks out here are quite neat with swirls of orange-brown colours in them. Lots of cream and orange and brown and green, with sandy gravel paths underfoot. If I step nearly to the edge of the cliffs we're on, it's a l-o-n-g way down to some lovely sandy beaches by the crystal clear water. I take a few photos of the plunge to freak my mom out later.

I'm exploring the Waipoua Kauri forest with Ross & Liz now after we feel obliged to pay the guy sitting in a truck to keep an eye on the car. Feels like a bit of a scam, but whatever. We're here to see, in part, Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest. Coincidently, he's also the oldest living Kauri tree in New Zealand, about 2,000 years old. To give you an idea of just how massive he is - because photos really don't do him justice - his trunk height is 17.7 meters (about 58 feet), his total height is 51.5 meters (about 169 feet), and his trunk girth is 13.8 meters (about 45 feet). He's a big, B-I-G boy. Like me, you will get a kink in your neck gazing up at his absolute splendor. That's why these brilliant DOC (Department of Conservation) people have built a second viewing area a little further from him where you can get a better idea of his enourmous self. From this second viewing platform, the people at his base are so teeny tiny! No wonder he is the son of Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatuaunuku (the Earth Mother).

The Four Sisters are another important part of this Kauri forest. They are four Kauri trees which grow in very close proximity to one another in the Waipoua Kauri forest. They reach gracefully to the sky as we circle the viewing platform in wonder below them, straining our eyes upward while listening to the calls and cries of birds nearby. A quick stop a bit later gives me a chance to climb up the Forest Lookout - a former fire lookout that offers spectacular views of the endless forest beneath me. I can't get enough of all this greenery!

Stopping in Dargaville for a bite to eat, Liz and I linger at the Blah Blah Blah Cafe while Ross explores the local museum. The wooden carving of a kauri gumdigger in the foyer pays tribute to the people of Dalmation descent who came over in the 19th century when kauri logging and gum digging were popular. I amuse myself in the bathroom by spotting a clever map of the world on the wall - the traditional map is inverted so that New Zealand is no longer at the bottom, or no longer Down Under.

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig. We're toiling down the east coast road, enjoying the scenery rolling past such as the flourescent pink sheep (a live one running around in a paddock by the road) at Sheep World, but are detoured at one point by a reputed accident which has closed part of our route. This means we don't get home until after 7pm and I am wiped. I'm sick and tired, but never sick and tired of New Zealand, if you know what I mean. I slowly repack all of my belongings because I'm on a long day trip tomorrow, and an early flight the following day, so this is my last chance to get organized. I stare at the heap of clothes, souvenirs, and chocolate covering the floor and bed, and I wonder if I will ever sleep tonight...

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