Friday, May 31, 2019

Ruakaka Estuary and Bream Bay

Camping just above an estuary like this one brings the birdlife.

We walked to the beach this morning under gunmetal skies, weathering periodic rain. This is Bream Beach, the very same massive arc of sand we walked seven weeks ago at the start of our Northland tour.

Back then we were staying at the DOC campground just a bit south of here and it looked like this.

A little shopping today too. Here's a cheeky sauv blanc for the snarky oenophiles following along (you know who you are)...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Rainy Day in Northland

Nobody's complaining. We've had weeks and weeks of hot sun and gentle overcast. Today was the first time we broke camp in a downpour. It rained hard for the hour drive to Ruakaka and we set up in more rain. Then the sun came out. And rainbows. This feels like a good spot.

Busby Head Track

We drove to Whangarei Heads for this walk, one of the easiest on offer but still plenty challenging.  Every walk we take here, every single one, feels like a gift.

 To start: grazing cows and a promising vista.

And we turn the corner to...a crisp view of the Marsden Point Oil Refinery. More here. I can smell this place from our campsite in the right wind. Time to get out of here.

A bit farther along are the remains of a gun battery, built to defend the port in 1942, when the Japanese were cruising the Pacific.

 Observation post, disguised by rock

On we go, leaving behind petrol and memories of war.

Excuse us, please.

Looks like paradise to me.

This is an easy 3-km path, though the spur down to Smuggler's Cove adds at least a kilometer and a lot of elevation, cardiac challenging and intense, even with periodic pauses.


On the return we meet Danny, a mental health RN from Denver who's here with his wife house-sitting until they figure out where to buy a parcel of land to live on. They started by getting residency in Australia and that got them in here. His RN was a big plus. We must have talked for half an hour to this affable guy.

On the drive home, a cafe beckoned...

Flat whites and a giant choco-banana muffin, y'all

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Strange Days at the Holiday Park

Yesterday we drove 20 km from the Whangarei in-city campground to a place that has no air pollution or traffic noise. When we pulled in about 10:40 am we saw a sign saying to phone if we arrived while the campground hosts were out.

So I did and the guy yelled at me over the phone for arriving too early. This never happens here--campgrounds are some of the most relaxed places on earth and we've arrived at plenty of them early in the day. (Also, pro-tip: don't yell at people who want to give you money.)

Most would say choose a spot, get set up, and we'll settle up when we return. This guy directed us to pull over to the side of the driveway and not enter until he got back. So we did, because there aren't numerous choices out this way and it's the ideal spot to hike the Whangarei Heads, which looks like this from the air.

We had a nice walk along the water and a picnic in the caravan while a misty rain fell and rainbows appeared.

A couple hours later they returned and he acted like the exchange had never happened (personality disorder?). He guided us to the spot I showed yesterday, on pavement next to the water.  We agreed, even though I wanted to park in the grassy area with trees. He said we'd get stuck there because it was wet.

So this morning he approaches us and says the garbage people can't get at the bin with us parked where we are and could we move...over to the grassy treed area...and he's happy to give us a free night in thanks. So we broke camp (which is a nice way of saying we did everything we'd do to move the camper 200 km but instead pulled the camper about 200 yards).

Leaving yesterday's spot (tide out)

Here we go, and isn't it a much prettier location?

Art used the remote control to position the caravan with front window to water.

That's the story. It made me laugh. Oh, and every time I open the door to the women's room it's like stepping into a time machine (or the tardis) because they run a music channel playing all 70s all the time. Linda Ronstadt. Fleetwood Mac. Neil Young. Beegees. Motown. Bowie. This makes me laugh too, every time.

We are working dogs in a cattle truck unaccustomed to being photographed

After all this we took a drive to Pataua for some walking, part of our path verging on sacred Maroi ground. We're guests here and grateful for the chance. I stumbled on a cool site called Maori Maps: Your Guide To Our Home. It tells me the iwi (people, nation, tribe) is Ngāti Wai.

This beach on the Pacific's Ngunguru Bay is magical.

 Site of a Maori pa

Nearby, wee Pataua North and Pataua South are separated by a footbridge. We walked it and the undulating beach.

Pied shag (I think) airing out its wings. More at NZ Birds Online.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Whangarei: Food, Haircuts, History

Camping days unspool with frightening rapidity as we're busy walking, eating, and reading. Every once in a while we need to restock the larder and tend to basic needs, like car maintenance and shaggy heads.

I got some delectable snapper at the big grocery in Whangarei, enjoyed this morning on vegetables with more of those raspberry kiwis on the side.

We're camping in the city, which is different and fun, though we're not staying long enough to do it justice. The people running this campground started doing so just one day before we arrived and weren't even unpacked when we pulled in. She reminds me of the woman who runs the kitchen on Downton Abbey, capable and flustered simultaneously, but extremely friendly and well meaning.

Very brief history--more here:
The Māori iwi Ngāpuhi occupied Whangarei from the early 19th century, and the Te Parawhau hapū lived at the head of the harbour. Captain James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour were the first Europeans to sight the Whangarei Harbour entrance. On 15 November 1769 in the harbour they caught about a hundred fish there which they classified as "bream" (probably snapper) prompting Cook to name the area Bream Bay.[2]

Whangarei Municipal Building

We came here to shop, get haircuts, set up an appointment in Auckland to have the Rover serviced, and plan our path for next week or so, highly unlike us but occasionally necessary. Here's Art awaiting a flat white pre-shearing.

A friendly, funny, and smart woman called Shey cut my hair today. We had a most interesting exchange about her life so far: she left town for Australia, where she spent some years, finally finding herself at loose ends in the outback in desolate northwestern Australia, where she proceeded to meet her veddy English partner and now husband-to-be (the universe provides).

She asks what I want. I tell her I'd like her to fix my hair in the wake of several ham-handed self-trimmings, which I do with embroidery scissors. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," she responds.

While I wait for Shey to cut Art's hair I thumb through the predictable salon mags. The piece on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, fluffy on the outside here, but made of strong internal stuff we know, was better than I expected. She is truly something.

All kinds of history
US Marines play blackjack in a camp near Whāngārei, circa 1943. These men are probably from the 3rd Marine Division, the bulk of which was stationed in camps around Auckland, Warkworth and Whāngārei before heading to the Solomon Islands in October 1943.

Environment Aotearoa 2019

Read it and weep. Full article here.

While it paints a grim picture in many respects, the report's assessment of native ecosystems and the plants and animals they contain is particularly bleak.  Almost two-thirds of rare ecosystems were threatened by collapse, the report said, and thousands of individual species were either threatened or at-risk of extinction.

Those species include 90 per cent of all seabirds, 84 per cent of reptiles, 76 per cent of freshwater fish and 74 per cent of terrestrial birds.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Off-Season Chill

According to Outside Magazine, this photo is real--read more by clicking here. Probably most of you have seen it already, but it still has the power to shock.

Traffic jam on Mt Everest

One of the real treasures spending time in NZ off season is its relative emptiness--no lines, no hiking back-ups like the photo above. The downside is that some restuarants are closed for the season, but that we can easily live with.

Today we set out from our campground to find the Tutukaka Lighthouse.

We departed at 1 pm based on the tide tables and the recommendation of our camp host. There's Tutukaka harbor below.

Seductive bays on both sides of the peninsula.

Then we came to the stairs, gravity feeding us down, though Art would count them on the return and report later.

Such curious landforms.

Here's where we thought the tidal challenge was, and it is, though it turned out to be the first of two. See the waves coming at each other over the sand?

About every third wave they would meet. I'm going for it!

 Once we got to the other side we were off a proper path and onto what looks like lava.

And here was the rub. Somehow we were too early in the low tide process to cross this without a) wet feet and b) possibly wrecking our ankles since the lava continued underwater. We stood here for about 15 minutes trying to work it out.

Coming the other way we saw this group, each of whom lunged over the opening and made it to the other side. (The dog was most graceful.) Impressive.

I'll be honest: the intrepid explorers turned back. It was time to walk up 189 stairs and remember that it's the journey, not the destination.

Sitting at the top of that segment, I zoomed in on the lighthouse. Nothing to write home about.

But the views were superb
On the return, we ran into a couple (I think this was their car) and he asked if we'd made it across. I told him our sorry story and he declared his girlfriend was going to carry him on her shoulders because he didn't want to get his new trainers wet.

 The walk back to camp took us past Schnappa Rock, our restaurant from the other day.

Flat whites for this crew...