Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Waikato River Mouth

Sand Dunes at Port Waikato

Sand Dunes at Port Waikato

Looking for a sunset

The best we could do

Seal at Port Waikato

Our friendly fish givers

Coffee stop by the Waikato River

The Battle Cemetery at Rangiriri

Sylvia’s Comments

Whilst watching the television at breakfast this morning we saw highlights from the finals of the Rugby Sevens held at Murryfield. Today it was not bathed in sunshine and the feelings of perhaps wishing I was there were not as evident today. At least the All Blacks (or AB’s as they are referred to here) won. After this it was packing up time and getting on the road again.

Today we are going to drive to Port Waikato, a small community which sits on the mouth of the Waikato River. We have spent a lot of time along side this river, which is the longest one in NZ. We were at the origin of the river where it left Lake Taupo and now we would see it join the Tasman Sea, just south of Auckland on the west coast. Our journey was along SH 22 which once again took us into some hilly, pastureland country and then eventually along side the ‘Mighty Waikato’. It was now a much wider river and flowing at a more sedate pace than when we had last seen it. We had been recommended to visit Port Waikato by some travellers we had met at Lake Tarawera, who had said it was a lovely little place. We had then met some other travellers who said they wouldn’t cross the road to visit it. So with these mixed reviews we decided to look for ourselves. We turned off the main road and drove east along side the river all the way to our destination. It was a lovely drive and we arrived at a small coastal community and found a camp site for the night.

After lunch we decided to walk to the small shop we had passed on our way in. When we got down to the river beach we saw some really big sand dunes separating the township from the sea. After collecting our shopping we walked back through a lovely little community park and gardens and then along the sand to the sand dunes trying to find the sea. Heading in the direction of the crashing waves we climbed up and down over large sand dunes, finding even more in front of us. Eventually after walking quite a long way following different tracks, we came out on to Sunset Beach, close to the surf rescue headquarters. Our camp host had recommended we visit here for a lovely sunset. It was now getting close to sunset but with the many clouds about it did not look too hopeful for us. We hung about for a little while, and although we saw some really lovely colours in the sky, there was no sunset.

Setting off along what we thought was the road back we began to think we had gone the wrong way, when the road seemed to be taking us around the back of the community. So making a u turn, we walked back and turned into another road, only to circle around a housing estate ending back where we started. That was a first for us to walk around a housing estate as we usually drive around them when we are lost. Seeing some people in a garden for the third time, we thought it more sensible to ask the way as it was now getting dark. It turned out that we had been on the correct road in the first place, but not walked far enough along. We arrived back at our van just as it got dark.

On Tuesday morning it was a glorious day and we thought we would stay another night and see a sunset. We spent the day doing washing and some repair works on the van hoping we were going to be in luck tonight. At 2.30pm the clouds rolled in and once again we were going to be out of luck with our sunset. What a shame, but we have had a couple of nice quiet days in a lovely place. On Wednesday morning we left the camp and drove back through the township and slowly along side the bay looking to see if we could spot any of the three seals that live in the area. One was sleeping on a small island, close to the side of the road, and we pulled up to have a look at it. Jeff got a closer look when he stepped into the side of the river and ended up with a wet foot. Back in the van we set off and as we were travelling around a bend a gentleman flagged us down and asked if we would like the gift of a fresh fish. He and his partner were having a successful day fishing. We explained we were not good at gutting them and he very kindly prepared the fish for us. We pulled onto the side and stood talking to them for a while, and another two fish were caught. They moved to Port Waikato from Auckland about 6 months ago and really sang its praises. What a nice couple they were.

With our fish in the fridge and instructions as to the best way to cook it, we said good-bye and continued on our way. We drove into the town of Tuaku and did some shopping, before joining SH 1 and driving south. Once again we were driving along side the Waikato River. At the small township of Rangiriri we visited the Rangiriri Battle Site Heritage Centre. This small café/ museum have an audio visual show telling the story of the decisive battle between the British troops and Maori warriors. On the 20th November 1863, 1,500 British troops, backed by gunboats and artillery, were repulsed a number of times and lost 60 men as they tried to storm the Rangiriri Pa. During the night 500 Maori warriors left the Pa and in the morning the remaining 180 thought the British had raised a white flag on a boat. Thinking this meant they wished to negotiate, the Maori warriors also raised a white flag. Unfortunately for the Maori warriors they had mistaken the white ensign as a flag of truce and soon found themselves surrounded by 500 British troops. The warriors tried to explain to the troops that they had not stopped fighting and wanted to continue, but wished to buy some gunpowder for their weapons. The British explained they would rather take them prisoners and end the battle. So as prisoners of the British they were imprisoned on an island where they were allowed boats for fishing trips. Guess what? They used the boat to escape and returned back to their area, what a surprise.

The battle ground now has the SH 1 passing right across it and a housing estate built on part of it. It is a shame that the most significant battle in NZ is not preserved, back home the Scottish National Trust or Historic Scotland would have had the site preserved as an historic site. However one part of it still remains and we were able to drive up and visit it. Our journey down SH 1 took us through Huntley, a coal mining town with a large power station, and then to Ngaruawahia, the site of the Maori Queen’s headquarters, the Turngawaewae Marae. Visitors are only allowed to visit the Marae on Regatta Day which is in March.

We arrived at Hamilton, NZ’s largest inland city at tea time and found a lot of traffic NZ style. But the navigator got us right to the campsite door with no problems, what a gem.

Tonight we enjoyed our fresh fish supper.

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