Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Along the Kauri Coast

We’re in kauri country. We’ve traveled New Zealand’s kauri country since we turned southwest near Mangamuka Bridge and dropped into the Hokianga. Kauri, a conifer and one of the world’s largest trees, grows in this warm northern part of New Zealand. At one time, kauri spread from Northland to the Coromandel Peninsula south of Auckland. Today, the majority of kauri are in the Hokianga region.

Hokiangaa Harbour
Photo By: Bryan Goddard

Called Hokianga-nui-a Kupe– the returning place of Kupe, Maori legend says Kupe discovered Hokianga Harbour. The two headlands are Taniwha who came with Kupe. The eleven rivers that feed into Hokianga Harbour are paths made by their children. When Kupe first came to New Zealand, trees covered 80% of the land. Early Maori chewed kauri gum and mixed soot from burnt gum with oil to make moko– facial tattoos. They valued kauri for its size. At times, teams of chanting Maori pulled ropes tied to logs from the forest. The first Europeans used kauri timber for shipbuilding. Kauri’s strong straight growth made it ideal for masts. By 1900, most kauri forests had been cut down. Kauri logging ended in state forests around 1985.

Kauri Bark
Photo By: paulmcelhone

We joined Hwy 12 just after we left the ferry at Rawene. Then, we took a short drive out Signal Station Road to enjoy a view of Hokianga Harbour from South Cape. We’ll follow Hwy 12 down the Kauri Coast, visit Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, and his four sisters, then sooner or later end up in Auckland. Most tours skip this fairly remote area. The best way to explore these four protected kauri forests is by vehicle or boat. You’ll find campgrounds in Waipoua Forest and also Trounson Kauri Park– both a short distance south of Opononi. If a night in the bush isn’t your cuppa, you can stay in Opononi or Omapere and take a day trip to visit Tane Mahuta.

If you hang around with an Aussie, they’ll tell you the bush is the outback. In New Zealand, the bush is a forest– a thick forest layered with trees, shrubs, vines and ferns. You don’t want to and probably can’t get far off the path. Even though there’s no poisonous creepy crawly things in New Zealand, you might run into a weta– a large scary-looking cricket who thinks you’re large and scary-looking, or a friendly fantail. About the size of a chubby sparrow with an apricot breast and white ear patch. He’ll tag along and zip past your nose, then sit on a branch and spread open his tail for you to admire. Don’t count on a weta or fantail to lead you through the bush. Stay on the path.

Photo By: nzkiwi

You’ll find Tane Mahuta towering above a canopy of smaller trees and vines in Waipoua Forest.
Maori say Tane is the son of Ranginui, the sky father and Papatuanuka, the earth mother. The living forest creatures are Tane’s children. A visit to this ancient Lord of the Forest is calming as a church sanctuary. You’ll want to stay and let the worries of the world seep away. There are several tracks and walks throughout the forest.

Te Matua Track is posted from Hwy 12. Once in the carpark, you’ll find signs for Te Matua Ngahere, Father of the Forest. A 20-minute walk from the carpark, Te Matua, the second largest living kauri in New Zealand, is believed to be over 2000 years old. All kauri have sensitive surface roots. You’ll find viewing platforms and wooden walks around kauri. From this same carpark, you can visit the Four Sisters with their evenly spaced slender trunks joined together at the base.

Photo By: Steve Atwood

Spend an evening in the forest with the night critters. You’ll find DOC camps near the Tasman Sea or inland at Trounson Kauri Park. Trounson campsite is serviced and booked at any DOC Visitor Centre. DOC has three types of campsites. Standard and basic can’t be booked. There’s a Top 10 Holiday Park nearby. If you’re traveling by car and not camping, book a room at the Holiday Park. We’ve talked about these parks before and their discount cards. Wherever you stay, you can book a guided night walk with the Top 10 Holiday Park. They’ll take you on a night walk through the kauri where you might see weta, glow-worms, Moreporks– tiny New Zealand owls that sing through the forest once the sun goes down– or a kiwi.

Tane Mahuta
Photo By: Greenstone Girl

Spend any amount of time in a kauri forest and you’ll understand:

The Last Kauri
“Artist Rei Hamon was once manager of the Thames Sawmilling Company and had the job of supervising the felling of a large kauri above Tapu in 1961. He recalls, “When that tree fell, it had been standing there for maybe a thousand years...I went back later to where it had been standing, and there were birds fluttering around there, kaka and kereru, that had nested in that tree for generations. That was the finish. I handed in my resignation. I vowed never to fell another healthy tree.”

Quote from:
Joanna Orwin, Kauri: Witness to a Nation’s History. Auckland: New Holland, 2004, p.174

Lyn Harris

RV in NZ: How to Spend Your Winters South in New Zealand


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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

South to Hokianga Harbour

November in New Zealand can be wet, even where we’ve been wandering around north of Auckland. Wet is not fun if you’re traveling in an RV, small van, or tent camping with an auto. Who wants to spend their day ducking wet clothes in a movan or reading three-year-old magazines in a Laundromat while waiting for the dryer to cook your sleeping bag? Even if you’re on a tour hopping from heated resort to heated resort, you’ll never see the scenery your tour director wants you to believe lurks behind the clouds. In New Zealand, December and a whole new season of summer weather is here. Each December, I was always impressed to leave California and the shortest days of the year, spend a night watching movies on the plane, then step into Auckland’s flower season and long daylight hours.

Hokianga Ferry

Photo By: Greenstone Girl

We last stopped in Kaitaia. Now, we’re headed down Hwy 1. We’ll be leaving Far North and drop back into Nortland about 25 kms south of Kaitaia. If you booked a short tour to Cape Reinga, you’ll zip south on Hwy 1 past Omahuta Forest and Puketi Forest and cut back into the west side at Kawakawa a little south of Opua where we caught that ferry to Russell in the Bay of Islands. We’re taking the road less traveled as usual, so we’re going down the west side of the North Island towards Hokianga Harbour, more water, and a vehicular ferry. We’ll end up around Opononi near the entrance of Hokianga Harbour on the Tasman Sea. There’s never a lot of travel time when wandering around New Zealand. It’s not like trying to drive across Texas or across and down Florida. From Kaitaia to Kawakawa is around 100 km. Exact mileage for any driving day can be found here.

Manginangina Kauri Walk

Photo By: cmcfall

If you came to New Zealand to hunt, mountain bike, camp, or just wander around in the bush, there are several tracks and walks in Omahuta Forest & Puketi Forest. Kauri Sanctuary Walk, a short loop that takes about 30" to walk, can be reached from Hwy 1 just a little south of Mangamuka Bridge– where we’ll be turning west. If you’re not much of a walker, the Manginangina Kauri Walk has a boardwalk built through mature kauri and a swamp forest. Omahuta Forest is managed by DOC. They recommend “high degree of skill and experience as well as route-finding abilities” on Pukatea Ridge Route.

Mountain biking is popular on old logging roads. There’s a DOC campground in Puketi if you want to mountain bike through this native forest, or think chasing down a wild pig without having him chase you down sounds like a dream vacation. Hunting permits are available from DOC. This is a dense rough area even with a map and permit. You need a guide that knows the area. I don’t hunt. I do hang around with pig hunters and have one in my family. Wild pigs are big, mean, and smelly. New Zealand’s “Captain Corkers” are feral pigs supposedly released by Captain Cook.

Wild Pigs

Photo By: f.lee42

At Mangamuka Bridge, we’ll turn south a short distance to the small village of Kohukohu, an old timber mill town, and the Hokianga Vehicular Ferry about 4 kms beyond this small town. The Kohu-Ra operates daily between The Narrows and Rawene. Crossing takes about 15 minutes. Also called Te Kohanga o TeTai Tokerau– the nest of the northern tribes– Hokianga Harbour cuts almost halfway across Northland. Surrounded at one time by kauri forests, ships maneuvered the sandbars while loggers stripped the land. It’s quiet now with few roads through the mangroves and sand dunes. Clendon House, part of New Zealand’s Historic Place Trust, is in Rawene– the third oldest European settlement in New Zealand. Built in 1860 by shipowner/trader James Reddy Clendon, this home is open to the public.

Rawene Home
Photo By: PhillipC

Nearby Opononi is a good place to stay and explore Hokianga Harbour, sand dunes, Horeke– an old ship building town, or the Koutu boulders along the beach. One of the best and easiest ways to explore the harbour is by boat. The Information Center in Omapere can help you book a cruise. If you don’t have time for a boat trip, at least turn off Hwy12 just south of Omapere on Signal Station Road and drive to South Head for a view of the Harbour.

Horeke Road Church and Graveyard

Photo By: Tony & Leah

A little over three hours drive from Auckland, you’ll want to spend time around Opononi or its sister Omapere. If you’re RVing, camping, or backpacking and looking for something a little different, The Tree House Eco-Lodge– north of the ferry landing is suitable for small movans. No cats allowed– it’s a bird sanctuary. You’ll find many accommodations in and around Opononi and Omapere– resorts, campgrounds, B&Bs, or Farm Stays. Check here, or ask at the Information Center.

Many Maori trace their ancestry to Hokianga Harbour. If your time is limited, Hokianga Harbour is not far from Auckland. Squeeze in some time to explore this area some consider the “Birthplace of the Nation.”

Lyn Harris

RV in NZ: How to Spend Your Winters in New Zealand


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