Our last few days in New Zealand
When we left you it was Thursday 24th April, we had just been to Hobbiton and were heading to Northland.
We spent most of Thursday driving.
We drove around Hamilton, through Auckland and had a short lunch break at a waterfall before continuing to the northern capital Whangarei where we booked into a campsite in the late afternoon.
The next day we planned to reach the end of the sealed road at the top of north island at Cape Reinga. You can get slightly further north but it would have involved driving onto unmade tracks, tramping and some planning. At the end of the day you would get the same view.
The top for tourists is considered the Cape.
Nigel started the driving in heavy rain and tried to avoid a couple of black birds with large red beaks that were just sitting in the road. He sounded the horn but the silly birds still sat there and sadly at least one hit the van with a dull thud. Helen tried to lay a guilt trip onto Nigel - she would regret it.
A few minutes later we swapped over drivers and a few kilometres down the road another bird, identical to the one Nigel had hit, flew directly in front of the windscreen. A very loud "oh no" (or words similar to that!) came from Helen's mouth and we had a bird strike which smashed the lower driverside portion of the windscreen. No harm done (well, the bird didn't come off at all well).
(Photo's of windscreen and bird)
We could still see out of the windscreen adequately and after driving for about another hour we eventually managed to get phone reception as we were in the middle of no-where.
We phoned the hire company and after a couple of hours the company rang back and explained that as we were in the middle of a bank holiday weekend for the commemoration of Anzac Day, everywhere we could get a new windscreen was closed and wouldn't open until Monday.
We discussed our options with Rob from Wilderness motorhomes - it was obvious that we had lost too much time to make Cape Reinga that day and decided to find a nearby campsite.
We decided to continue our journey to the Cape on Sunday and then head to Kerikeri a town that according to Rob may have a replacement windscreen for us on Monday.
Later that evening we researched on the internet the birds that had struck the motorhome and found out that they are "Pukeko" also known as the "swamp hen" and they do apparently have a suicidal tendency when foraging for food on the highway and often end up as road kill. They are a very common bird so we didn't harm any endangered species. However we both think we need some good karma, if we were Buddhists we would definitely be reincarnated as slugs.
On Sunday we continued our journey north in bright sunshine for a couple of hours to reach Cape Reinga.
This is a very sacred place for the Maori people, if you look at the very northern tip of North Island it resembles an enormous diving board and the Maoris believe that once their souls depart from their bodies they dive off North Island at Cape Reinga and begin their spiritual journey to their homeland.
When you arrive you are clearly instructed that the area is considered very sacred and that you should not drink or eat at the Cape. There was however one numpty who climbed down to a beach and started writing his name in the sand. In the interests of international harmony we hastily avoided anything to do with him.
There is an amazing tidal display as the currents from the Tasman sea and the Pacific ocean meet at the Cape.
There was a lighthouse with the standard signpost with distances to major landmarks and a tree on a prominent rock that is considered extremely sacred as the Maori souls use the roots of the tree to make their way into the sea. This area is called "The place of leaping".
The numpty was writing his name in the sand about 50 meters away from this Pohutukawa tree which is so important they have given it a name "Te Aroha"
This type of tree is similar to the silver birch in its ability to grow anywhere.
Having experienced some culture we headed south again and stopped for an adrenaline rush activity.
Surfing the giant sand dunes at Te Paki on the 90 mile beach
We hired sand surfing boards and received brief instructions which were basically lie flat, hold onto the board and dig your feet in for breaking.
There were two dunes that had been prepared for surfing, the first was a nursery slope but we opted for the second, an almost vertical 80 meter sand dune nicknamed "Psycho" (Photos)
After this bit of fun we continued our drive to Kerikeri where we camped ready to hopefully have the windscreen repaired the next morning.
On Monday morning after a couple of phone calls we were redirected an hour down the road to Whangarei were we had spent our first night in Northland and which is the main regional city. This was where a workshop had been found that could replace the windscreen.
When we arrived we were given the news that it would take about 3 hours so we ventured into the centre of the city for coffee and then lunch while we twiddled our thumbs waiting for the new windscreen. When we picked up the van we wrote the rest of the day off and stayed at a local campsite planning our last few days in New Zealand and matching our activities to the weather forecast.
On Tuesday we had a day with lots of heavy showers so we decided to head to the Kauri Museum. This has an amazing display of how the Kauri forests in Northland were harvested by the first settlers for their wood and a yellow gum. The gum sets like resin and resembles amber. We are planning to visit the enormous Kauri trees in their native forest later this week.
We took a drive to Dargaville where on a hill beside a small museum and totally out of place are the two masts from the Greenpeace ship "The Rainbow Warrior".
For those of you who have forgotten, this ship was blown up at its anchorage in Auckland by the French secret service on 10th July 1985.
The wreck is now a dive site having been relocated off the north east coast.
After Dargaville we headed to the coastal town of Tutukaka where we camped for the night.
On Wednesday we both took on different activities,
Nigel had an early start to go on a days diving while Helen had a lie-in for a couple of hours before she had a snorkel and cruise.
We both had boats going around the Poor Knights Islands reserve.
The weather was perfect with calm seas and no rain to see the amazing islands, rock arches and caves. The area is a wildlife reserve with no-one permitted to land on the islands or fish in the vicinity.
The area is pristine and quite rightly believed to be one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The snorkelling wasn't at all bad either.
On Thursday we headed to the Kauri forests to see the BIG! Trees.
We had to drive for a couple of hours to reach the forest and then turned into this small gravel carpark where there was an official looking sign demanding $2 for vehicle security. On closer inspection this wasn't a protection racket but an official arrangement by the Department of Conservation to prevent car thefts.
We paid our money and after scrubbing our shoes and spraying a chemical onto the soles we walked into the Kauri forest. The first trees we visited were called the four sisters and they were unusual in the fact that four Kauris had grown so close together which is uncommon. The second tree was called Te Matua Ngahere "The Father of the Forest"' this tree wasn't particularly tall at only 29.9 meters but the trunk girth was 16.4 meters and this makes it the second largest Kauri in the world. The third tree we saw was named after a local forester called "Yakkas". It was only the 7th largest tree in the forest and only 43.9 meters tall with a trunk of only 12.3 meters in girth, but the difference was you could get up close and personal. (Photo)
Helen took on the role of "Tree hugger". We returned to the van and after a short drive we came to the main attraction. The largest Kauri tree in the world. This tree was called Tane Mahuta " The Lord of the Forest".
It is 51.5 meters high and the trunk girth is 13.8 meters
This tree was estimated at over 2,000 years of age and Maori legend tells that this tree was the son of the sky and the earth and is the life giver to all living things. These trees are truly magnificent - all you can do is look on in awe.
On the way to our overnight stop, we visited a lookout at the small town of Omapere and then travelled on to Opononi where a very friendly dolphin called "Opo" became a local celebrity when she gave children rides on her back.
We ended the day at Waitangi on the west coast.
On Friday we had a bit more culture, going to the Waitangi treaty grounds where after several periods of warfare the first agreement between the Maori chiefs and the representative of Queen Victoria was signed in 1840.
This was the recognised birth of New Zealand.
We had a guided tour showing how incompetence in translating the British version of the treaty to Maori (by a Brit) caused untold problems up to and including modern times. However, we were also told of a British Lord who bought the land surrounding the treaty grounds and very generously bequeathed it to the New Zealand nation to ensure that it was protected. We saw an enormous war canoe that is used for ceremonies and needs around 120 men to power it and there was an all singing and dancing cultural display that wouldn't have been out of place at Disneyland, but it was all harmless fun.
On Saturday we had our last day of adventure in New Zealand. We couldn't leave the north without cruising the Bay of Islands. The highlight of the cruise was sailing through one of the islands by going into "The hole in the rock" which is a natural rock arch.
The cruise was very picturesque with 144 islands in the bay, the description of an island being any piece of land that is surrounded by water and had some form of vegetation growing on it. Otherwise, it's a rock.
Today is Sunday 4th May (Star Wars day) and it's our last full day in New Zealand (quiet sobs) and we have spent the time preparing to hand back the motorhome and sorting out our baggage ready for tomorrows flight.
For the last night we decided to stay in a motel about 2 hours from Auckland airport.
Well, it's time to say goodbye to Aotearoa, "The land of the long white cloud" (Maori name for New Zealand).
We both think that we have had a good in-depth look at New Zealand and to stay any longer would have involved seriously lower temperatures as winter is just around the corner.
The activities that require fine weather are closing down and the change in temperature has been noticeable.
Our last thoughts about New Zealand -
We absolutely loved it, would love to return and wished it were a bit nearer.
We can now distinguish a New Zealand accent from an Australian one.
Possibly, along with Canada, this is the country we would emigrate to if we were twenty years younger.
Sorry, but their Marmite is rubbish compared to ours.
They are an amazing Rugby nation, every town seems to have a rugby ground and if you haven't heard, they are the current world champions.We weren't allowed to forget it.
Don't try and use public transport to get around. It doesn't really exist.
When driving, pull over or be prepared to have the person behind you hug your bumper and then overtake you at the most inopportune moment.
A final thought.
It's very strange that a nation should name themselves after a small, nocturnal, flightless bird (Kiwi's) but it sums up the whole country, they don't really care - they're just so easy going.
Tomorrow we will be returning the motorhome and transferring to Auckland international airport for our overnight flight to Los Angeles in the USA.
We will be crossing the international date line so that we arrive in LA before we leave New Zealand.
We'll be staying the night in an airport hotel before our flight to Cancun in Mexico.
So our next edition will hopefully be from Mexico.