Tuesday, 10 April 2018

10 April 2018 - Whangarei Central Holiday Park, Northland

We had thought to have spent our last few weeks about Whangarei back out on Jumbo, but a day trip about a week ago showed us that the sun was already travelling too low across the sky to spend much effort shining upon solar panels on our motorhome roof, if we were to settle back there. The opportunity had passed and we had missed the boat, the story of our time back in New Zealand this summer. So we stayed on here in central Whangarei enjoying the mod-cons a commercial camping ground offers, and will do so for another week yet. We are already considered “permanents” here by the management, and as such enjoy the discounted weekly rates. While the other permanent residents are a pleasant lot, I did not really want to be tossed into the same basket, but after this length of stay, why should we not be? 

My mother’s health problems have not gone away and serve instead to heap the guilt on as we work toward our departure for the northern hemisphere. The one consolation is that if we were required to return at short notice, we would not be rendered destitute by the unbudgeted expense.

We have continued to enjoy lunch, dinner and in-between dates with our friends and family, even popping down to Auckland for the day over Easter to share our middle grandson’s 10th birthday cake. He was more intent on enjoying his new Xbox rather than hang about with oldies such as ourselves, but then we were happy to pass the hours with his parents who we see so little of.

Easter saw the annual New Zealand Motorhome & Caravan Association Rally here in Whangarei, a marvellous event for the area having over a thousand vanners descend upon the region. The holiday park here saw a number of these stay for a night or two before and after the event; to replenish their batteries and pantries and to make use of the more generous water supply. We have never attended an annual rally, only regional events and of course the “Music in the Mountains”  at Tapawera last year. This Easter we had family commitments, however we did make the effort to attend the Annual General Meeting. Now we do have a few shares in this company and that, and when we have turned up at a shareholders’ meeting have had the impression that many have turned up for the refreshments laid on. Up at Whangarei’s Barge Park, under the massive marquee there were no sausage rolls or cups of tea on offer, just a large crowd of passionate association members who had come to have their say or show their appreciation for the volunteers that give so much of their time and effort. We were most impressed with the calibre of office bearers and the keen interest of the lesser members, there for the “business” not the cream cakes. 

Even after all these weeks we are still ticking our way through a list of to-dos before our leaving; it may well be seen as rather tragic that we are spending our days planning for our ensuing trip rather than enjoying the moments of the present. Well actually we are doing some of that too.

Kiekie reaching for the sunlight
Just last weekend, apart from wining and dining family, all of which does little for one’s weight, we did undertake a walk which I have been looking forward to re-doing for some time. In an attempt to reckon when we did last do this particular walk, we tried to gauge how old our youngest son would have been when we dragged him along with us. Given that he will be thirty years old this year and he was hard to drag along after the legal age of being left home alone, it must have been at least sixteen years ago; I would hazard a guess that it was nearer twenty years ago. 

On Sunday we packed our lunch and set off up Three Mile Bush Road, on the north western edge of Whangarei, or more correctly, Kamo, and found our way to the Pukenui Forest Loop Walk. When we last did this, we parked on the grass verge of the more significant rural road and walked across a farm to access the forest. Nowadays one turns up a side road and parks in a well-defined car park, before walking along a manicured gravel walkway bordered with formal stone walls, skirting cattle filled lush green fields dotted with well-established native trees,  before entering the wilder reaches of the forest, fenced off to keep the kiwi in, if fences do confine kiwis. Obviously there is a hope, or even belief that such fences keep kiwi eating dogs out.

The Pukenui Forest bounds on to the Western Hills Forest, making for a 1,500 hectare expanse of green bird sanctuary. The Pukenui State Forest itself covers 592 hectares and was last logged in the 1920s. Since then there has been healthy regeneration and happily, the logging rapists chose to leave many kauri and other fine specimen of native trees. Evidence of DOC’s trap setters is all along the walking trail which I find encouraging although my more suspicious husband would say they put them near the trail to woo the public into thinking they are doing a better job than the reality. Whatever the truth, the population of stoats, weasels, rats and possums must in part be decimated by even the smallest of efforts.

There are two walking tracks for the average walker, who must, at the very least, be sure footed because there are roots and rises to discourage many. There are also other trails that wend their way through to others in the Western Hills, poorly marked and only for serious trampers, which we are not. 

Pausing for a picnic lunch
For those who do persevere on this walk, advertised to take between three and  four hours, much of it follows the Mangere Stream, sometimes climbing away and then back again guided by orange triangle markers. These days the trail is easier to follow than it was twenty years or whatever ago, and certainly lovelier. But then I do believe I am fitter these days despite being that much older; modern medications mean that sufferers of COPD can manage their active lives better now than before.

There are also some stretches of steps and board walks, mainly near fine old kauri which might be affected by die-back disease if we were allowed to wander willy-nilly about off the trail. Nikau, punga, kahikatea, totara, supple jack, kiekie and rewarewa dominate the forest, or at least that alongside the track.

Posing near one of the kauri
We paused to lunch beside the stream, seating ourselves upon fallen nikau palm fronds and enjoying the peace of the New Zealand bush. Below us we watched a languid eel, at least a metre long, make its way upstream, a fat wood pigeon land clumsily on a bough on the opposite rise, a fantail dart about making the most of the insects we had disturbed on our arrival. Later we traced the flow of the stream on our maps and found that it flows generally westward, joining the Wairoa River and eventually out into the Kaipara Harbour by Dargaville; I do enjoy tracing river routes from their source on maps, happy to leave the physical exploration to the likes of Livingstone and his ilk.

The last part of the 8.2 kilometre loop trail, given that we walked it in a clockwise direction, follows an old logging tramline. This stretch of relatively flat walkway is a relief after labouring up and down hill. We returned to the car park just within three and a half hours, quite an effort for us who have been so very lazy of late.

Lately I have been making an effort to walk into town to the supermarket, the library, the shops and my parents who live just across the river, in a poor attempt to train for our time in London. Of course this is all countered by the stocks of left over ice-cream and other calorie laden foods lingering in our fridge since entertaining family members and friends. 

My hair is overdue for a cut but I must bear with it for another week when I shall indulge myself with cut and colour, also in preparation for the travelling public. We already have a stock pile of prescription drugs ready for our trip, although I do wonder how there will be space for shoes and other necessities in our bags; still we have managed in other years. Just one more week and we will leave Whangarei for our trip down to Ruatiti; it will be cold further south and I should be worrying about preparations for our more rustic stay in the mountain ranges rather than our months in more civilised counties of England.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

22 March 2018 - Whangarei Central Holiday Park, Northland

Soon after breakfast the next morning, dozens upon dozens of horses arrived, by trailer or truck, in the company of their riders, both young and old. It was clear that if we did not make a move, we would soon be hemmed in by the equestrian types who were clearly not amused to have even fellow Kiwi tourists clutter their space.

It had also been made clear over breakfast that The Chauffeur was keen to check out the NZMCA’s newest park over property so we headed north up the east coast, retracing routes travelled over the past few days, on up through the lovely rural land which fringes the Bay of Islands, through surprisingly vibrant Kaeo and on north skirting the Whangaroa Harbour, the road essentially passing over the estuary. Soon we arrived at Mangonui, Coopers Beach where we picked up some morning tea calories, then Cable Bay where we parked up to consume them with thermos coffee.

Tokerau Beach lies on the northern shore of Doubtless Bay, en route to lovely Maitai Bay, the DOC camp we stayed at last year (or was it the previous?). We had never actually checked out the residential areas of the settlement at Tokerau Beach, so it was a plus that our Tomtom took us via the scenic route to our next camp.

Rangiputa on the Rangaunu Harbour
Arriving at the cleared section, now fenced and grassed and apparently ready for we gypsy members, we were horrified to see the state of the entry and wondered whether we would become bogged down once through the gate. Fortunately no such thing happened and this was probably more to do with the fact that I stayed well away from the driving operation; hysterical wives have little positive to contribute. And as we parked up next to the motorhome along the fence, who should we find ourselves next to but the van we had been too cosy with on that boggy camp at Rainbow Falls out of Kerikeri. How they must have cursed our arrival!

Totara North on the Whangaroa Harbour
That night the van was rocked and rolled by the buffeting winds coming in from the south east, and it was those same winds, worsened by rain that turned us away from Maitai Bay at the end of the peninsula the next morning. I had been keen to do a walk out to the point, however neither of us was inspired as we peered through the windscreen on arrival, nor encouraged to park up in the camping ground for our next night. It would seem that our DOC Pass would not be  used at all and the cost would have to be written off (by us) as pure donation.
Instead we backtracked down the Karikari Peninsula and turned into Rangiputa which sits on the southern edge of the large but shallow Rangaunu Harbour, near its entrance. Despite being New Zealand’s fifth largest harbour, covering 115 square kilometres, Rangaunu is not a familiar name to the average kiwi. In fact I am not even sure how to pronounce it. Sheltered from the winds we lingered beyond the surprisingly built up settlement, reading and just soaking up the atmosphere. Had we continued on a little way, we would have found a more expansive reserve to park up. When we did walk on through to the small point, we found other motorhomes had had the same idea as us; to hole up for the morning out of the inclement conditions.

We travelled south again to Taipa and stayed at a private park over property near the one lane bridge which is in the process of being replaced. Our hosts, an elderly couple who offer their guests an A4 sheet of all that is on offer as well as clearly spelling out their charges for various services (electricity, water, laundry), left us to set up and wander down to the rather dingy Foodmarket where we bought carrots at an inflated price. On the way back up the road we spotted the fish’n chip shop and decided to shout ourselves greasies for dinner, thus making the expensive carrots temporarily superfluous.

Morning tea at Pia Pia Reserve
The next morning saw us again retracing our route, south through Cable Bay, Coopers Beach, detouring around through charming Mangonui, although not so charming in the wind swept drizzle.  Further south at the north end of the Whangaroa Harbour we turned east and drove out to Totara North, nowadays a very small settlement, a community hall, a bar and cafĂ©, a derelict sawmill, a boat ramp and wharf, these latter two offering the most activity. There were two significant fishing vessels tied up here along with a large ocean-worn yacht which will be paying $30 a day for the privilege of sharing the wharf with the industrious.

Totara North is a small settlement on the northern side of Whangaroa Harbour. It is home to around two hundred close-knit residents and has a primary school with 38 pupils, a community hall and gardens, The Gum Store bar and cafe, a now derelict timber mill, a wharf, a shed for crayfish processing and a boat ramp.
Mature puriri at Waimate North
 The steep bush-clad hills of this northern side of the harbour tumble almost all the way into the sea and offer little flat land on which a town could grow, but prior to the 1990's when the last privately-owned kauri trees were milled, Totara North's proximity to the sea, the kauri trees and kauri gum fields, allowed it to exploit its nearby kauri forests and to become a thriving and prosperous community and a hub of commercial activity and enterprise in Northland.

In the 1870s a couple of boat builders set up shop here and turned out wooden boats and ships up to 350 tons for all over the southern hemisphere, using the local kauri and hardwood timbers. By the end of that century Lane & Brown employed about a hundred men and had built over seventy vessels. The enterprise obviously brought other business to the settlement; a school, boarding houses, stores, a bakery, a rope works, a brickworks and a post office.

These days the old mill belongs to Te Runanga o Whaingaroa, and until recently this Maori administrative body  used what remains of the shed to house carved waka, hardly a safe and secure spot for treasured craft.
 We wandered about for a while before setting out once more, but soon turned off Highway 10 onto a secondary road that further hugs the very beautiful but rugged coastline. This winding road is all sealed, and is certainly steeper than the more inland route, but offers splendid views, We stopped at Wainui, parking above the sea at the Pia Pia Reserve. From here the bay lay out before us, the waves washing into toward the rocky pohutakawa clad shore. What a glorious sight this must be in December when they are in full bloom! 

Quirky street furniture in Kawakawa
Further south we gave Matauri Bay a miss although we did pause for a photo opportunity on the road high above the bay. This is one of the jewels of the coastline, however we would rather remember it as it was the first time we drove in and stayed. Then the road was rougher, but did not take one past the hovels the locals live in and there were no signs restricting the tourist to parking areas from which no views can be enjoyed. Then too there was no residential development, if roadways and infrastructure without construction can be called “residential development”. All of this stalled several years ago, when there was strife between hapu members. Goodness knows the situation now, but from high on the hill it looked as if folk like us had all decided to leave the locals to it. There is still a sign indicating a motor camp down there, so I guess others might well discover a very different story if they bothered to venture down the steep access. And my comments here will be doing the locality no favours.
A rugged coastline
The weather was still dodgy, but we still had days free before another round of appointments and some new work required of which we learned as we came into cellphone contact again. After refuelling at Whakapapa near Kerikeri, we headed inland to the Bay of Islands P&I Showgrounds at Waimate North again; a tried and true refuge, with power, toilets, musical magpies, swooping hawks and swifts, and a herd of curious calves.

The next morning after a particularly peaceful night, we headed back to Kaikohe, on now all too familiar roads, this mid-North having become our temporary stamping ground. In the “metropolis” we stocked up at Countdown which offered fair prices and an inferior ambiance to the New World just up the street. But well satisfied with our shopping , we headed next to the dump where we spent a rather lengthy time chatting with a honey-mooning couple from Exeter, keen to learn the ins and outs of emptying a full toilet cassette. In the end, I suggested we leave them to the rest of their sanitation requirements because they had only five weeks (less the days it had taken to fill the aforesaid cassette) ahead of them to see the rest of New Zealand.

Lunchtime views at Bland Bay
We headed east again, this time to Kawakawa, home of the famous Hunterwasser toilets, which we took the opportunity to use. This visit I was more concerned about slipping on the wet tiles than enjoying the quirky and colourful architecture, however that said, one should never miss the opportunity to relieve oneself here if passing through. 

As we toured south onto Highway 11, which would normally take one back up to Paihia, we were accosted by several road workers whose sole occupation was to turn back such travellers. The road across the hill to Opua was temporarily closed by a slip which meant those heading through to Paihia would have to back track to Puketona and travel in from there. I can only hope that few touring foreigners have been discouraged from checking out that lovely area by the road closure.

Bounty of the sea awaiting the fillet knife
However we were intending otherwise, to head across to the coast east  of the Bay of Islands without relying on the Opua ferry. To do this one must travel on a very windy gravel road up across the edge of the Russell Forest, through the rather isolated Maori communities of Karetu and Waikere, each of these situated up marshy estuaries of the Bay. Once one reaches the sealed Russell Road, turns easterly and then south down the coast, the rewards are well worth this inferior connecting  road, although there are few spots to pull over and admire the views of the churning sea and the rugged and rocky coastline. We were keen to stop for lunch well before our day’s destination, but were not able to do so until we reached Bland Bay on the Whangaruru Peninsula, just kilometres short of our night’s camp. This is however a delightful spot and we dined with views out to the open sea beyond the small sheltered bay, and observed the oyster catchers and other tourists over lunch, both great entertainment.

From the path to Picnic Bay
As we came down the steep hill into DOC’s Puriri Bay camp, we were astounded at the number of camping parties there, given that we are at the end of summer. The camp is now a well-manicured, sculptured  and managed arrangement, where the guests come after having reserved their ‘pods’ on-line and we were lucky to secure a spot just one row back from the beach, without following normal procedure. Rules and regulations and regimes rather spoil what was a fabulous wild camping spot, but then it was 2005 whan we were last here.

This is a “scenic” camp which means there are on-site managers, toilets, cold showers, rubbish and recycling facilities, and of course, beautiful scenery. Most of those set up along the shore line were NZMCA members with DOC passes, maximising their 14 day allowance, well set up with kayaks and fishing gear, and sharp filleting knives to prepare their healthy evening dinner. We were delighted to be presented with a bag of filleted fresh snapper from one fisherman, surplus to their storage facilities and better on our table than flung back into the sea. But apart from watching the fishing activities of these frugal folk, the kayaking antics of a group of school girls and the coming and going of campers and wildlife, the rabbits and stray dogs, and the views across the sheltered harbour, we did little during our two day stay. 

Views down to DOC's Puriri Bay Camp
One morning we walked across to Picnic Bay, then climbed up to a couple of vantage points to take photos, and to pretend to be “active”, but most of our time was spent reading and relaxing. This was after all supposed to be a little holiday, although in truth the greater part of our life is one long holiday.

This morning we broke camp before 8 am and headed back to Whangarei, accompanied for a while by the Whangaruru school bus, around the head of the harbour, past the turnoff to Oakura, on past Mokau and Helena Bay, then up the problematic Helena Bay Hill, a nightmare for those whose job it is to keep roads open through the winter months. Soon we were back out on Highway One, heading south. We called into Waro Lake at Hikurangi, which has become a popular spot for whizz-bang camper types to overnight.  

The lake and surrounding land is a refashioned limestone quarry, which over the past few years has become a most attractive reserve offering walks and a peaceful layby.  Once before we used the clean waters of the lake to wash off the road grime, and then ended up with lime residue all over the van surface. I did remind The Chauffeur of this, however he preferred to deal with the aftermath rather than drive the motorhome into the city in its filthy state. And that is how we came to arrive looking so clean and shiny after having travelled many kilometres on gravel road.

Waro Lake
So here we are back in Whangarei to deal with those pesky issues that have managed to catch up with us even on the road, to dine with friends who we have so long neglected and sadly to attend a funeral , albeit of an aged and ill relative by marriage. On a happier note we will attend our youngest granddaughter’s afternoon tea tomorrow; it will be delightful to catch up with Aurelia, her little friends and of course her family.