Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Opononi on the Hokianga Harbor

We're camping here on the shores of the Hokianga Harbor, a big beautiful blue slash in the map, with astonishingly high sand dunes across the water. 

For a wee settlement, it has a nice bar/restaurant down the way, where we walked for a flat white. (BTW, several alert readers asked the age of Tane Mahuta from yesterday's post and my research says, remarkably, between 1250 and 2500 years old.)

You can get a boat from the dock to take you across to the giant sand dunes. Some people boogie board down them. I was contemplating this, but think our timing's off, since today was blustery and tomorrow is a holiday.

Look at the cars! We are definitely seeing the effects of the school holidays, which run through this weekend. Many people take off the post-Easter week because everyone gets Anzac Day off tomorrow.
Anzac Day is the solemn day of remembrance of those Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who have fought and died for their country. It is marked annually on 25 April, the anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War
On a lighter note, Opononi became famous in the mid-1950s when it was visited by an extremely friendly dolphin called Opo, who let children ride on her back. There's a statue of Opo in town.

Opo’s short life is described in this illustrated children’s book, which tells the story of the playful dolphin and the people who loved her. (Ed note: and don't we love the malleability of language?)

The story goes like this...
Opo, a young female bottlenose dolphin, enchanted the residents of the Northland seaside town of Opononi for 10 months, from June 1955 to March 1956. First noticed in Hokianga Harbour by farmer and boat owner Piwai Toi, Opo cautiously began to approach the beach near the Opononi wharf in spring and early summer to make contact with locals.

Once the first newspaper articles and photos appeared in December 1955, Opononi became a magnet for holidaymakers wanting to see her. Hordes travelled by car or bus along dusty, unsealed roads to stay in the camping ground or the hotel, both of which quickly became booked out.

Opo enjoyed being with children most, juggling beach balls or beer bottles on her snout, but she had her favourites among the adults as well (more here)...

Opo's grave

There's a beautifully rendered mural in town telling the history of this place. Note giant moa legs below.

We had a nice walk along the harbor, clouds scudding, showering, rainbow-ing.

Here's a map (these maps never show up in e-mail, so if you can't see click here):

Monday, April 22, 2019

Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest

Today we stood in the presence of Tane Mahuta, the largest kauri tree in the world. It is virtually impossible to capture its majesty in a single photo, not to mention its energy.

This Guardian piece is so nicely written I'm quoting from it...
Just a short walk down a wooded gangway into the rainforest of Waipoua, near Dargaville on New Zealand’s north island, is a living giant. Its name is Tāne Mahuta and it’s a kauri tree – one of the largest types (by girth rather than height) in the world. Tāne is named after the Maori forest god and, in the myth, is the fruit of the primordial parents: his growth having broken apart the embrace of Ranginui, the “sky father” and Papatūānuku, the “Earth mother,” allowing the space and light for life to flourish.

Walk beneath Tāne, which is 51.5 metres tall and has a trunk girth of 18.8 metres (a challenge for the most ardent tree-hugger), and you can’t help but feel moved – and incredibly small. It isn’t just physical majesty that brings tourists flocking to Waipoua to visit “the lord of the forest,” it is the atmosphere around the tree.

200,000 people visit Tane Mahuta annually

This photo from the Guardian captures something of its immense presence.

“Sometimes people are overwhelmed and end up crying,” says Vanessa Rapira of the Te Roroa tribe, who is employed by the Department of Conservation to be near Tāne in all weathers and to serve as its ambassador and its protector. “It is the energy that the visitors pick up, not only from Tāne Mahuta but also the surroundings,” she says.

Trounson Kauri Park

Yesterday we took a field trip to the Trounson Kauri Park not far from our campground. And suddenly we're back humming Joni Mitchell's "Took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum." Only there's no charge to stroll the Department of Conservation's 40-minute walkway and gawk at these gentle giants while feeling every muscle in your body slowly relax into contentment.

Trounson Kauri Park is the antithesis of the Kauri Museum we visited last week. The former was established as a 1100-acre gift and is a densely biodiverse landscape dominated by mature kauri (Agathis australis) that command you to breathe deeply and look up. Plus lots and lots of birdsong.

The museum is more an homage to resource extraction, though some of the exhibits were instructive in showing the size of these monster trees and the gorgeous pieces fashioned of their wood.

See the slab below

Full disclosure: Art would have liked to take it home.

And yet...
Kauri forests once covered 3 million acres from Northland to Te Kauri, near Kawhia and were common when the first people arrived around 1,000 years ago.

The introductory material at the Trounson Kauri Park takes a decidedly different tack than the museum.

 Park benefactor, an early settler


Walking through this forest feels like a sacred act. One doesn't necessarily notice the kauri right away. Like ghosts, they seem to emerge out of nowhere.

I'm reminded of a phrase in this Letter to London from a young Extinction Rebellion activist: The aim of these protests is "to create moments in time when humanity stops and fully considers the extent of the harm we have done and are doing to life on earth." (Amen.)

In order to grasp the motivation for immense tracts of kauri to be razed, here's a summary through the lens of NZ Dept of Conservation:
Maori used kauri timber for boat building, carving and building houses. The gum was used as a fire starter and for chewing (after it had been soaked in water and mixed with the milk of the puha plant).

The arrival of European settlers in the 1700s to 1800s saw the decimation of these magnificent forests. Sailors quickly realised the trunks of young kauri were ideal for ships' masts and spars, and the settlers who followed felled the mature trees to yielded huge quantities of sawn timber of unsurpassed quality for building.

The gum too, became essential in the manufacture of varnishes and other resin-based products (ed. note: including linoleum). The gum was obtained through digging, fossicking in treetops, or more drastically, by bleeding live trees. More forest was cleared as demand for farmland and timber increased in the early and mid 20th century.

Today most large kauri trees grow in protected government preserves. We'll be visiting the largest kauri in NZ tomorrow, on our way to somewhere.

This, from a remarkably salient piece in the NYT (The Earth Is Just Alive As You Are), struck me as germane in pondering the vast tracts of kauri extracted from NZ since the 1800s...
The Amazon sustains much more than itself, however. Forests are vital pumps of Earth’s circulatory system. All of the water that gushes upward from the Amazon forms an enormous flying river, which brings precipitation to farms and cities throughout South America. Some scientists have concluded that through long-range atmospheric ripple effects the Amazon contributes to rainfall in places as far away as Canada.

Today kauri face a new threat. Kauri dieback is a fungus-type disease, Phytophthora agathidicida (PA), which is having a devastating effect on New Zealand’s kauri forests in Northland, Great Barrier Island and, potentially, the Coromandel Peninsula.
There is no known cure for kauri dieback, but we can help reduce its spread by cleaning boots and equipment and avoiding kauri tree roots. Any movement of soil around the roots of trees could spread the disease.
If this prevention works, it's simple. Use the built-in brush to scrub the soles of your shoes and then step on the green rectangle to get a spray of disinfectant.

Immense gratitude at the foot of these survivors.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Live At Baylys Beach

To view this vid at our site, click here.

Baylys Beach

Here we are at Baylys Beach on the West Coast for the long NZ Easter weekend, the campground filling steadily, families and friends coming together for the holiday. There are vintage caravans and new ones, tents, people staying in the wee baches, and a monster beach a couple blocks away. At 107 km long it's part of NZ's longest driveable beach.

I'm a little conflicted about cars on beaches, but with the tide out there's room for rush hour traffic on this broad sandy margin of the Tasman Sea. A sign says it's safest to drive two hours before and after low tide, when the sand is hard, and to avoid being stranded when the tide comes in. Understatement!

We've been hiking around the golden dunes, doing some serious up and down.

This morning on my way to the kitchen I accidentally got caught up in a rugby game being played next to our caravan. One of the elders told the kid with the ball: throw it to the lady, she wants to play. So I put down my stuff on the grass and successfully caught the easy toss, acquitting myself less splendidly on the throw-back, but at least I didn't fumble.

Here's a 1970s truck camper, made in NZ. The nice people here with it are just trying it out.

 Cafe that I wish were open.

Here's a map of our location (click here if you can't view), just a few minutes west of Dargaville:

Dargaville is built along the edge of the wide Northern Wairoa River, two and a half hours drive north-west of Auckland. Maori settlements and marae (meeting places) have been scattered around the area for hundreds of years. 

The township of Dargaville was established by Irish businessman Joseph McMullen Dargaville in the 1870s, during the heyday of kauri felling and gum digging. It was largely settled by Dalamatian immigrants, whose descendants still live there today. Dairy farming is the main local industry; the district also produces around two thirds of New Zealand’s kumara (sweet potato) crop.

There's a close-knit beach community here, nestled in the hills.

On our return we ran into this woman contemplating where to set the pavers in her new garden area. She has a good eye. Her outdoor space was peaceful and the energy flowed freely.