Saturday, January 29, 2011

3 Days in Ahipara

Sunday, January 30th, 2011
Kaitaia, Far North

Just a quick update from Kaitaia again (the library isn't open since it's Sunday, so we're sitting in the van, pirating the free wireless at McDonald's. Our life of randomness continues...)

We spent 3 nights in Ahipara, on Jade's back section. It's been so nice to not really travel for a few days, and to just explore the beaches and countryside around the village. We spent most of Thursday in the library in Kaitaia due to the fact that it bucketed down rain all day. By midday we, and everything in the van, was already thoroughly damp. The heavy rains continued well into the night, and we couldn't find any covered picnic shelters or anything, so cooking dinner was rendered hopeless. We spent the evening eating fish and chips from the local takeaways shop, parked up at our campsite, playing cribbage and listening to a local radio station that was broadcasting American country hits and taking requests from people in Nigeria (see what I mean about the randomness? There are only 3 radio stations that come in in Ahipara, and this was one of them).  

The storm, another tropical cyclone cell that blew over from Australia, lasted only till the middle of the night, with heavy winds remaining but clear skies and sunshine in the morning. These storms are very short-lived, but involve heavy rains, 100% humidity, and lots of wind. The wind soon dried all of our stuff out yesterday morning, and we spent the day on and around the beach. One of my dreams for this trip came true, as we walked out on the rocks at Shipwreck Bay at low tide and picked a dozen fresh mussels and cooked them up for lunch. On the surf tour back in 2007, our guide showed us where to go to pick the biggest mussels- who knew that I would retain that information and put it to use four years later? They were deliciously fresh, cooked in white wine and garlic, and somehow tasted all teh better for being cooked on a single burner butane stove at the side of the road in 35 knot winds!

We surfed for 2 1/2 hours at Shippie's in the afternoon, with the water to ourselves because the waves were so small. But we couldn't pass up the chance to surf it again, and goofed around in hip-deep water, catching 1-footers and getting some fun little rides. The parking for Shippie's is on the beach, and Lucy proved her worth once again by taking the drive down there in stride- down an incredibly steep driveway, then through a rocky stream and out across the beach. Thank you, four wheel drive! We got a lot of funny looks, because almost all the vehicles that go down there are "Utes," or utility vehicles.

After dinner yesterday, I fell into bed and was asleep in minutes, while Matt stayed up late hangin' with the bros, getting to know Jade and his buddies. We had a lovely morning today, cooking eggs and tea in "camp," then a look at the beach, where the waves weren't big enough to justify a surf. After we run our errands in Kaitaia, we're going to be heading up the peninsula towards Cape Reinga, taking about 3 days to go up and back. I'll have another update when we get back to civilization. In the meantime, here's some photos of us messing around in Ahipara, generally being beach bums:

(Click on photos to enlarge)
 Photos during the storm. The brown water is runoff flowing in from the river mouth. 

 Shipwreck Bay from above

From the rocks beyond Shippie's

The shipwreck of Shipwreck Bay, at low tide. 

 Little Lucy on the big, wide beach. 

 Matt and our mussel bounty. 

Cooking up lunch. 

 The aftermath...

 An unintended victim...


One of many Monarch butterflies we have seen.

I'll catch up with you all in a few days, with the next batch of photos and adventures!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five Days in the Life, in Photos

Friday, January 28th, 2011
Kaitaia, Far North

Here's a bit of a photo essay (perhaps slightly out of order) and at the bottom, some more description of our life on the road. We are having such an amazing time so far, and due to the warmth of the season and how much effort we have put into our relationship recently, we are both agreed that we rock at this lifestyle, this time around. We are constantly giddy with the fun and newness of our adventures and being here together, and are loving not knowing where we'll end up each day, and proud of being game for whatever the next challenge is, whether it be finding a place to freedom camp, dealing with only a few hours' sleep due to a huge swarm of mosquitoes inside the van, or figuring out how to cook dinner in 20 knot winds.
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Tuesday morning at Snells Beach.

Dinner in a park in Waipu, Tuesday night.

Walking around the mud flats at the Waipu River Wildlife Refuge, Wednesday morning.

 Above Mangawhai Heads on Tuesday afternoon.

 Mural of a fantail and Nikau palms on the restrooms at Snells Beach. 

The river mouth at Mangawhai Heads, Tuesday.

The view we woke up to on Wednesday.

 Crazy rock formation near the Abbey Caves, Whangarei. Wednesday.

 The waterfront in Whangarei, Wednesday afternoon.
Whangarei Falls:
 Morning at our roadside campsite near Baylys Beach, Thursday. 

 Trounson Kauri Park, Thursday.

Matt and the Four Sisters kauris, Waipoua Forest, Thursday.

 Te Matua Ngahere, "Father of the Forest," New Zealand's oldest Kauri tree. To stand in front of this ancient tree was incredible. Aged at around 2,500 years old, Te Matua was in New Zealand for 1,500 years before the Maori ever came to Aotearoa, and was probably alive during the lifetime of Christ.

 Not the biggest Kauri tree. Girth (circumference) at breast height is 53 feet, and the tree contains 78,000 feet of board timber.

Standing in front of this tree, it was impossible for me to believe that a being like this does not possess untold amounts of wisdom, memory, thought and soul.

 "Don't forget the tree!" Despite my goofy posture, we were in total awe and respect of these trees.

 This is Tane Mahuta, the largest living New Zealand Kauri tree. "God of the Forest," estimated to be 1,500-2,000 years old, with a circumference of 14 metres and a height of 51m.

This tree is epic in hugeness and age. The largest and oldest kauri every documented burnt down in the 1890s. It was estimated to have been 4,000 years old at that time.

 Somewhere in the Far North, Thursday.

 One of many roadside picnic lunches. Waipoua Forest visitor's centre, Thursday. 

Leaving the village of Rawene via ferry, on Hokianga Harbour. Thursday.

Ahipara, the Far North, Thursday evening. 

It feels like we've been everywhere in the last several days, but it hasn't been so rushed that we haven't been able to take it all in. I feel like we have sufficiently absorbed all that we've seen, and made time to see the things that are important to us. And we really have the van-camping lifestyle down this time. We've barely spent anything so far besides for petrol, thanks to menu planning and stocking up before we left Taranaki. Unlike our previous van-travels, it is summer now, and the warmth means easier camping. We can shower outside now, which means either using our solar shower, washing off in the ocean and then rinsing with freshwater, or using the public showers at a surf beach and quickly soaping and shampooing while in our bathing suits. We have mastered the scrub-down bath, which can be done either at a sink in public restrooms, or out of a dishpan at a campsite. I can wash my hair in the dishpan as well, and having short hair is ideal for camping- no tangles, no worries, and easily held back with a bandanna when it gets a bit greasy. We've spent to money so far on showers, campsites, or laundry, and are perfectly content so far. We fill up our water containers at public parks or restrooms (which exist in every New Zealand town, no matter its size), and although we have to buy bagged ice for the chilly bin every 2-3 days (and they don't make block ice in this country, only cubed), we keep it in tupperware containers in the cooler and then drink the water when it melts. We pick up rubbish whenever we find it on the beach or the side of the road, and have become particularly resourceful when it comes to spotting a good camping place (well off main roads and out of everyone's way are the rules for a good freedom camping site, and the presence of other campervans is always a good thing). In spite of all the driving, we are both proud of what a low-impact lifestyle we are living otherwise. We always pack out our trash, and make use of public facilities to the maximum. We are conscientious of our surroundings and make sure we take good care of ourselves. Matt even suggested that we take a few minutes every evening to do some fun little project for stress relief. Even though we are having fun and it has been very low-stress so far, it is a great idea and has added a fun new component to our lives on the road. Some of our activities so far have included shoulder massages, coloring, and telling silly stories.

And not least, life in the van is made comfortable by a mosquito-screen skylight that Matt built a while ago, which fits into the rear sunroof, providing us with ventilation and views of the stars at night. It's a pretty great place to sleep, with the sounds of crickets (SO loud right now) and birds and usually some cows throughout the night, and the breeze blowing in, but not the bugs.

We're living the dream, really. The dream we had for a long time, of living nearly for free, with all of our possessions with us, not needing the amenities of a "comfortable" life, and doing well with what we have. Here we are, doing exactly that, and loving it! 

Yep, life is pretty good right now!

The Road North

Written January 27th, 2011
Ahipara, Far North

(Posted Jan. 28th, Kaitaia, Far North)

Where to begin. We made it to the Far North much faster than I anticipated (our travels being dictated by where there happens to be surf), and in four days we have seen and done so much that it is hard to know where to start! I have a couple photo essays in the works, but I’ll give a little narrative of where we’ve been, then post most of the photos separately.

We left New Plymouth later than we anticipated on Monday morning. Auckland and Northland were battered by heavy storms on Sunday night, and there was quite a lot of flooding and a “king tide,” a very high tide that put sea water onto many roads and into a lot of houses. We decided to take our time heading north to let the waters recede and the winds die down. (On the way north we did see the Waikato River, along with many other streams, had burst its banks after the heavy rains).

(Click on photos to enlarge)
 Heavy, silty runoff heading for the ocean in North Taranaki

The debris on the grass is at the tide line from the King tide just south of Whangarei.

After saying some bittersweet goodbyes to our friends at the Wavehaven, we headed north around the bight, retracing our steps back through the Waitomo and the Waikato to Hamilton, where we got on Highway 1 north towards Auckland. We had thought about camping south of Auckland that night, but as we were feeling fairly energetic, we decided to just blaze on and get north of the city all in one go. Traffic was heavy on the Waikato Expressway, so we pulled off in the little burg of Bombay and made dinner in a pretty park, waiting until 7 pm to get back on the motorway. Our stalling worked a treat, and we sailed through Auckland just before sunset, enjoying the views and the variety of available radio stations.

We found a place to camp in a waterfront park in Snells Beach, where there were several other campervans parked up. We woke up to birds singing and gorgeous views of the bay we were on, which was part of the Hauraki Gulf.
On Tuesday we decided to further explore the section of coastline we were on, and made for Mangawhai Heads, a reputable surf spot up the coast. We pulled up in the car park at the surf beach, walked over to the railing, and saw this:

Bright sun, perfect rolling waves, and a variety of breaks to choose from. Thus, we spent the next two hours surfing in the warmth of the Hauraki Gulf, with view of the Hens and Chickens Islands and Little Barrier Island. We also stopped in at Bennett’s of Mangawhai (remember the feijoa and passionfruit chocolates from Christmas? Yeah, this is the factory that makes those) and toured the chocolate shop and saw the factory area where their chocolates are made. 

Tuesday night we continued our explorations along the coast, driving to Waipu Cove and exploring the beaches and small towns on the side road that provides a coastal route up to Whangarei. We located a camping spot at the access point to a wildlife refuge at Waipu River, but decided it would be prudent to not arrive there until after dark. We cooked our dinner in a park in Waipu Village, enjoyed the sunset, and found this weta:
Matt's hand is for size comparison.

Matt spotted a Portland on the map, so of course we had to do a little side trip. Portland, New Zealand, consisted of about 12 houses and a school, but it was a Portland nonetheless! 

We spent Wednesday morning walking out into the wildlife refuge we camped at, enjoying the huge variety of shells and the beauty of the waves and the clouds and the lovely light. 

Tiny sea star, big sea snail.

The rest of Wednesday was spent in and around Whangarei (fahn-gah-REY), the last city as you head north. Whangarei is slightly smaller than New Plymouth and is a massive sailing center, so we pinicked in the downtown park and then walked around the marina looking at the gorgeous sailboats. 

 Massive sundial in downtown Whangarei

We napped in the shade, picked up a few essentials (cash, bug-proofing agents for the van, saltwater soap) and then headed out to the Abbey Caves. The caves are just outside of town, and are undeveloped and free to the public. To get to them we hiked through a series of gorgeous paddocks, marked by incredibly shaped rocks. 

There are four caves, and with little information before we arrived, we weren't really sure what to expect. But armed with hiking boots, torches (flashlights) and headlamps, we descended into the first cave to find that the bottom of it was a flowing stream. Adding one of many new adventures to our list, we ended up doing some self-guided spelunking into unknown underground territory. It was incredible. We left our boots at the entrance, rolled up our trousers and waded into the darkness, and were almost immediately met with huge constellations overhead, thanks to thousands of glow-worms hanging on the walls and ceiling of the caverns. I've never seen anything like it- in the dark dark darkness of the cave, it was as if the sky opened up with thousands of bright greeny-phosphorescent stars, but those little lights were actually emanating from the insides of tiny (1 inch long or less) worms on their gossamer threads. There was no way to get a photo of it, but we kept turning off all of our lights just to get more time looking at the amazing underground milky way. 
The whole cave was probably 100 or so metres deep, and we scrambled over lots of rocks and waded through knee deep water to get to the end of it. At one point Matt forged ahead and found the water to be thigh-high, and I nearly stayed where I was, but at his urging kept going, with visions of prehistoric cave-dwelling crocodiles in my head. It was all worth it though, and the water not even too cold, and we couldn't believe that we'd gotten such an amazing caving experience on our own, without a guide, and for free. We could have paid $200 to go down the Waitomo Caves, but we were pretty glad we did it our way. 

In the evening we visted Whangarei Falls at the edge of town, taking a short loop walk around for a variety of views of the falls. 

Then we headed for Dargaville and the west coast, arriving at Baylys Beach at sundown, where we took advantage of the surf beach showers and soaped and shampooed in our togs as the sun set beautifully over the ocean! 
 Hard to beat this.

Written Friday, 28th January, 2011, in Kaitaia

Thursday morning (yesterday) found us camped at the side of a remote gravel road between fields of cows, and the day's drive took us up the Kauri Coast and through the Waipoua Forest, with stops at Trounson Kauri Park and the several ancient and amazingly huge kauri trees along the highway. 

 We disinfected our shoes before entering and leaving the kauri forests. The trees are in danger of a dieback disease that is carried in the soil, so visitors are asked to be careful about cleaning their footwear.

After visiting the Kauris, we headed inland and crossed Hokianga Harbour on a 20-vehicle ferry. 

 Our first view of Hokianga Harbour. Stunning. 

 Matt on the ferry from Rawene.

We ended the day's travels with the 65km drive to Ahipara, the destination we have talked of for the last couple of years. The scenery in this remote region of the Far North looked like this:

...and this:

...and this:
 We were exclaiming at the scenery at every turn. So beautiful and pastoral.

Home to Shipwreck Bay and the location of the surf tour Provo and I joined in January of 2007, Ahipara lies at the south end of Ninety Mile Beach, and as soon as we arrived, we jumped on our boards and paddled out, and I almost immediately caught the longest ride of my life. The point break at Shippie's is perfect, with epic peeling waves no matter the size of the swell. Yesterday the waves were only 1-2 feet, but they just keep breaking, and breaking, and breaking for as long as you can stay on your board. Matt was stoked to surf a break that was surfed in the film The Endless Summer, truly a dream come true for him. 
 Shippie's at last...

Continuing our string of good luck with the free camping, Matt met a local named Jade while sitting in the line-up, and we were invited to camp on his back section, which happens to have a beautiful view of the sea and the dunes, and is just a block or so from Ahipara's two shops. We'll stick around in Ahipara a couple more nights, maybe more if the surf is good, then head towards Cape Reinga at the furthest northern point of New Zealand. 

Matt, dinner and sunset at our makeshift campsite last night.

After days of sweltering heat (it was in the mid-90s, Fahrenheit in the van all day yesterday. The thing is like a solar cooker, and the air con is useless, so our air conditioning system consists of a spray bottle full of water...) we woke up to rain today. It's only supposed to last till midday tomorrow, and then the sun will be back. We've been incredibly lucky with the weather so far on our trip, and the rain actually brings a welcome change. 

So that brings us up to speed on our trajectory over the last few days. I'll take the time to post lots of pictures in a couple more posts as well, this trip has made for some epic photos so far. We're taking advantage of free wireless at the library in Kaitaia, which is the last town of any size in the Far North. Home to a few thousand people, this is the last chance for groceries and petrol heading north and is only a 15 minute drive from Ahipara (which has a population of a few hundred, with many more in the summer due to loads of vacation homes on the edge of town towards Shipwreck Bay, known as "Yuppiepara").

See the next post or two for more photos of our journey so far.