Thursday, January 27, 2011

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.

1 comment:

Laura @ Our Wee Farm said...

glad you're having fun!
Wish I'd known you were in Kaitaia - Lloyd works there :) You could have popped in and said hi.
See you soon!