We made a couple of stops on the way home just to break the drive up a bit. The first was literally just a few miles down the road at Kawakawa to see the new Hundertwasser building. It really is beautiful and is worth a stop if you are up in the area. Te Hononga which means the joining of cultures is ‘a joining place, a meeting place, a coming together. This is symbolic of the joining together of our Kawakawa community and Hundertwasser, Maori and Pakeha, visitors and residents, our past and future, our places (east, west), of man and the environment.’
We spent some time talking to one of the locals who happily shared her kōrero about the place and how it was a real boon for the community. It’s a living, breathing building that is well-used but is also beautifully designed from the inside out. We didn’t do the tour of the inside as we had already dallied long enough and wanted to get home but maybe next time. Shee also commented how it had opened up a space in the street so that they could now see the whenua beyond and light came in so they felt more connected. It certainly seemed that way on a hot summer day!
We stopped for lunch at Ruakaka. It was probably my last chance for a swim in the sea but by the time we got there, it was bit grey and the wind had got up and I decided not to. I must be getting old or soft! There were plenty of folk in the water though.
It’s an interesting place – quite a nice beach but the view of the Marsdon Point is a bit of a spoiler!
We had our going home heads on now so pointed south and headed home. It turned into a lovely evening and as we came down past Huntly onto the new road, I suggested to Nigel that we stop at the Scientific Reserve. I’ve driven past a few ties in the way home from work or concerts but never had the time to stop. It intrigues me that there is a Scientific Reserve on the side of the motorway!
There is a wee walk that takes an hour or so to wander around. Natives and harakeke have been replanted and there is some wetland and a small lake – Te Iringa Lagoon. A short walk takes you to an information board which explains the meaning of the pou (Te Tihi) which stand high above the motorway on the right-hand side as you drive north. Unfortunately, there is no access to them and I have wondered as I have driven north what they represent.
“Te Kaahui Hakuturi” eight massive pou standing 20m above the ground look down on travellers at the summit of Taupiri Range. The pou acknowledge the path once travelled by the fabled Patupaiarehe and the creatures of the forest. The pou are carved from treated radiata pine and painted white with black detailing to acknowledge the spiritual connection which the Patupaiarehe have to the land. Each pou looks in a different direction across the landscape, guarding over all that drive through this whenua (land). This site was lowered by a 57m deep cutting and removal of 1.3 million cubic metres of earth.“
At Te Iringa Lagoon there are 4 waka standing on their ends;
“Four waka-maumahara (canoe cenotaphs) are an impressive sight. The waka-maumahara acknowledge the four winds, which blow through the valley and are a reference to the oral histories of Te Iringa. As with all oral history there are versions of events told by victor and vanquished alike, so no two are the same. The two mokomoko (lizards) are symbolic of the two brothers Tapaue and Wharetipeti who held domain over this site.“
It was well worth stopping and having a wander to learn about the place and the pou. Next time when I’m driving north, I’ll stop in Huntley to visit Whakataki. It also looks like there are some Pā to explore close to Gordonton.
Saturday was the Tall Ships Race in Russell. Chris and Ross were back in the harbour and invited us to join them on their boat. The plan was to sail out into the bays and then watch the other boats as they raced by then go to the Yacht Club shindig in the evening. We booked into the Top Ten Holiday Park in Russell so we could roll back to the van after the shindig and then we met Chris and Ross in Russell. We sat for a while on the jetty and watched the gannets diving. They are incredible – just circling around until they spot something then like a bullet straight down into the sea.
We headed out in the dinghy to the Sula that was anchored in the bay. Since the wind was pretty much non-existent we motored out for a while until the wind seemed to pick up enough to move under sail. It was lovely just sitting out on the wee bit of deck (I’m sure it has a proper name!), eating our lunch and catching up with Chris and Ross. We watched as the Tall Ships (most of them were just yachts but I think there was at least one official ‘Tall Ship”) sailed on out. The course had been shortened due to the lack of wind so we soon saw the front runners coming back again.
We headed out to Motuarohia (Roberton) Island where we anchored and then went onto the island to explore. There is a short walk with information boards that takes you up to the site of a Pā. The information boards are quite a work of art – images cut into rusted steel and then layered to give a 3D effect, but unfortunately, don’t provide any information about the island before Captain Cook arrived. Interestingly, this website starts by describing how the island had been inhabited for centuries by Māori but follows up by saying that the island was ‘first discovered’ by Captain Cook!
The view from the top is indeed spectacular and we spent some time up there working out the lie of the land and recognising places like Cape Brett, Moturoa Island, Urupukapuka. These were all places we had visited last year. We knew Tania and Scott were staying on Urupukapuka again and we wondered if on a beautiful day like today they would be out fishing. As we headed back down the hill, I heard a shriek – it was Tania and Scott coming up the hill! What a coincidence. It turns out that we had probably just passed another friend but deep in conversation, we had missed her. Tania saw her at the top and sent me a message but by then we were back on the boat!
Chris and I decided that a swim was in order and we dived off the boat. So good! The sun was definitely over the yardarm and so once back on the boat we cracked open a G & T. Perfect!
Back in Russell, we had dinner on the boat and then dinghied over to the Yacht Club to party into the night!
We met up with Chris and Ross the next morning for breakfast before hitting the road back home. It was so good catching up again. Now that we’re all on the same island, we might see more of each other!
I still don’t know if Nigel actually guessed what his Birthday surprise was – there were huge posters at every visible hoarding in and around Kerikeri and all over Northland advertising the Bay of Islands Music Festival and he gets all the emails advertising music events so I would be surprised if he didn’t have an inkling. Anyway, he humoured me and pretended that he hadn’t guessed!
The stinger was that we had had beautiful weather for over two weeks and the day when I really wanted it to stay warm and dry, a weather front was forecast and the 8th January was due to be wet and windy! Just typical! But I had been watching the weather and by Thursday evening the front which was originally due on Saturday but was arriving early on Friday seemed to have petered out a bit. It was now going to start raining Thursday evening, carry on all night and be fine by 3pm Friday afternoon. The festival was due to start at 3pm on Friday afternoon! Let’s hope the forecast was right now. I realised that even if the rain stopped the ground would be wet and so we probably needed a waterproof something to sit on and so after a birthday breakfast in Kerikeri, I stopped in Bunnings to get a picnic blanket.
I got Nigel to drive so that I could navigate and off we went to Kainui Road Vineyard. The rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. Armed with rain jackets, sunscreen, water bottles, a few snacks and blankets, we found a spot near the front on a not too slopey bit of the amphitheatre and then went to have a look around at the food stalls and to get some beer.
Unfortunately, Tami Nielsen had had to pull out as she had been hospitalised earlier in the week. That was a disappointment as she was one of the acts I had wanted to hear. Interestingly there was no announcement or any indication at all that she wasn’t going to be playing. I only knew because I follow her on Instagram and she had posted the day before. Hopefully, we’ll get to another of her concerts soon.
Her replacement was a young local musician called Ben Ratima. He was very good and a relaxed way to start the afternoon off. He was a really unassuming fellow; he played one of his songs called Calling all Angels and admitted that he had misspelt it when he wrote it and published to Soundcloud so that it actually reads ‘Calling all Anglez‘. Anyway, it’s worth a listen.
Next up was Melodownz. Very much in the same vein as Avondale Bowling Club and they upped the tempo a bit. Clearly more well known and appreciated by the younger folk in the crowd. I love music festivals like this because they are events for young and old alike. Music lovers really tend to have eclectic tastes and appreciate a range of music so although mostly the youngsters were up and dancing there were plenty of oldies in there too.
One of the headline bands that we had gone for was up next; The Beths. We saw them just after lockdown in Raglan at the YOT Club. It was a very small, cosy gig with just 100 or so people so very different to a music festival with maybe 1000 in the outdoors. We weren’t disappointed. Such fabulous music works anywhere and Liz Stokes is a consummate professional who just makes good connections with the audience.
Up next was one of New Zealand’s favourite sons – the eponymous Dave Dobbyn. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever knowingly heard any of his songs but I certainly recognised some of the tunes when he sang. We took the opportunity to wander off and get something to eat just before he was due to start as we really weren’t that bothered about hearing him. We came back to find most of the crowd, young and old crowded around the stage, dancing and singing along – we only just managed to rescue our blanket and shift it a little bit up the hill. Toddlers were sitting atop their parents’ shoulders singing the songs and waving their arms – they must force-feed them his CDs in the car! I have to say that I can’t quite see why he has such cult status, but then I wasn’t growing up in the 70s in New Zealand and I understand that for the teenagers then he brought something new and fresh to the music scene that compared to the music coming from the US and the UK. I thought I’d better take at least one photo!
The headline act was BENEE. All the kids had been running round in sweatshirts 6 sizes too big for them all afternoon and now they rushed to the front to get prime position. I was intrigued to see how she performed live as I had heard that she had been disappointing in a previous live concert. However, those thoughts were quickly banished when she started singing and then when she engaged with the crowd. She was incredibly personable, she spoke directly to people especially the kids and she is a natural performer without being pretentious at all. The crowd loved her and we really enjoyed her performance too. She finished by bringing a group of wee girls who were being squashed at the front up on stage with her. It was clear that three of them were friends but the fourth one was on her own. So, the lovely thing was, when the three joined hands to dance together, BENEE took the other little girl’s hand and danced with her so she wasn’t left out. So special, those kids will remember that for a long time!
We had decided that a change of scenery might be good for us. Never let it be said that I had tired of beaches and the sea but my poor skin was bearing the brunt of my penchant for the sea and coast. So, into the forest we went.
The ngahere is one of my happy places, the coolness and the trees and the sounds of the birds and insects. “Puketi Forest is an ancient kauri (Agathis australis) forest located in the heart of New Zealand’s Northland. Along with Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland.” We have been here before to see the Kauri Trees on one of Nigel’s birthdays – we bought cakes from a bakery and the four of us sat and ate them under the majesty of these mighty trees.
This time we were just two and we had bikes – I had insisted we bring them and so we were damn well going to use them! The Pirau Ridge Track is an ‘easy 11 km walking track, with walking and mountain biking opportunities’. Sounded good and it connected with the Pukatea Ridge track that goes through a beautiful regenerating Kauri forest. So ‘we’ thought it would be good to cycle to the junction, stash the bikes in the forest, go for a walk in the forest and then cycle back again. Easy peasy!
It pays to look at a proper map before believing Doc information. If we had have done so we would have seen that the track crossed lots of contour lines! In itself that’s not bad – we’d done plenty of hill-climbing after all! But hilly metalled road with 2 inch grade gravel is not the best terrain for rolling bike wheels over either up or down! The first km was flatish but then it started to climb and when we got to the top of the first hill, it went down again. What goes up must come down and that’s pretty much what happens for the next 8km! Thankfully the gravel reduced in size somewhat after 4km and was easier to navigate. Being in the forest might have been pleasant enough, we heard some birds and the forest kept most of the sun off us but there are no views and it isn’t really very pretty. But the killer was that every 200m or so there was a possum trap, and pretty much every trap had a possum in it and some of them were positively minging! They were the humane traps that drive a spike through the possum’s brain and kill it instantly as it tries to climb the tree. The smell of death was at times overpowering – and just try not breathing deeply as you’re trying to get up a steep hill!
So, we we were glad when we got to the junction. We stashed our bikes as planned in the bush and set off on the walking track to find a pleasant place to have lunch. Our plan to go for a sizeable walk was tempered by the thought of retracing our wheels back the way we had come. The forest really is beautiful though. We quickly came to stands of Kauri that went deep on either side of the track. Although it is is another ridge track, at this point, it seems quite wide and there is a boardwalk on some of the path. There were Kauri of varying ages, some quite tall and wide, others still small but plenty of them. We wandered through appreciating the majesty and beauty of the forest especially after such a grind to get there!
The Kauri and the broadness of the ridge peters out after about a km and the path starts to descend. At this point, the path is less well defined and we decided that we should head back and find a spot on the boardwalk to have lunch.
The return journey was less of a challenge than we had expected – maybe we were just inured to the smell and the grind of gravel!? – and we were soon back at the van. Time to head to Kerikeri and the relative civilisation of Chris and Ross’ section which was to be our campsite for the next few nights.
I was tempted to stop and take a photo of one of the many dead possum but couldn’t quite make myself get off the bike and get close enough! But I found this tiny skull in the undergrowth – it wasn’t neatly arranged like this! I found the pieces and put them together. Not sure what it is – too big for a mouse – could be a stoat …?
I had an early start with a run along the beach. I’d planned to just run out for as far as it went and then back again but aiming for 12km. Not my favourite running terrain but I needed to get out and do something after a couple of days mooching about. After a chat with my running buddy Jo, I decided that the hard packed sand might be good to do one of our sprint runs on the programme. So, I dragged myself reluctantly out of bed at 7am having been prepared the night before and made sure my shoes weren’t hidden in the cupboard under the bed!
Our question about how often the beach returns to its pristine condition was answered. Not a tyre track in sight – beautiful!
I wasn’t really feeling it but set off and decided I’d just go with the flow; if the speed didn’t happen I’d just stick to my original plan of 12km. But then again the speed work would mean it would all be over more quickly and I could go for a swim sooner! Haha! Such are the mind games when we run! The undulations from the waves were a bit of a surprise and made it a bit difficult getting into a rhythm but I worked out a way of picking my way between and over them and settled into the warm up. Surprisingly, when I was called on to up the speed, all went well. I had to do a ten minute warm up then 4 x 1km reps at 5min 10secs pace with 2 minutes recovery between each then finish with ten minutes cool down. A sensible person would have done two reps then turned round and come back but I sort of still had it in my head that I was going to do 12km so I just kept going! Madness! Very pleased that I hit my target pace and then came back to complete 12km. I had another 2kms to walk to get back to the van but that was good for stretching the legs and cooling down even more before I jumped into the sea for a swim. Bliss. It turns out that Tokerau Beach is 15km long so just as well I didn’t try to go as far as I could before turning around!
Back at the van we had a leisurely breakfast, packed up and were on our way by 11am. Our vague plan was to head towards Mangonui, have a tutu there looking at some Pā sites – there was actually a 12km walk on Wildthings that linked them all up but Nigel had also seen that we could drive to them so we decided to do a bit of both!
By the time we arrived at Mangonui it was midday and we were ready for a coffee and a wee snackette of something. We pottered around the art gallery and the shops and then headed out to Rangikāpiti Pā. Rangikapiti means “Gathered together”.
It is a stunning spot with 360 degree views. It’s a while since I’ve done a 360 photo but this was a perfect spot. It also seemed like a good spot for a handstand! Minor hitch was that I was wearing a skirt – but I just did what I used to do as a kid and tuck it into my knickers!
“Local traditions suggest that Moehuri made landfall at Mangonui from the canoe Ruakaramea, along with his son Tukiato. Moehuri was guided to the area by a shark, after which he named the locality (mango meaning shark, nui meaning big or great). As thanks to his guide, Moehuri placed his protection over the shark.” (from DoC brochure)
After spending some time at the top trying to imagine what it would have been like living up there with that vantage point, working out the access points and the natural defensive lines, we headed down a track. It took us through some beautiful shaded bush – more cicada serenaded Manuka – to a point where the terrain got steeper and there were ropes strung from tree to tree. I navigated my way down for a while until it was quite rugged and it was clear that the path, such as it was, was just going to lead down to the rocks at the end of the headland. Definitely a good defence from attack!
We climbed back up and to the car to drive rather than walk to Cooper’s Beach and the next wee ramble around the Taumarumaru Reserve. This beautiful walk takes in several Pā and stunning beaches. It was so hot though and we were wilting in the heat! There are three Pā sites in this reserve;
“Taumarumaru consists of Taumarumaru Pa itself, two smaller pa named Te Homumu and Otanenui and nine other associated sites including small, isolated complexes of pits and terraces, midden, gardening soils, and gardening plots delineated by a network of reticulated drains. Together this collection of sites represent a typical prehistoric or protohistoric archaeological landscape of a large, central pa or defended village, smaller headland pa, open or undefended sites or kainga and associated areas of food preparation and or consumption, and gardening plots.”
The story of who built them and lived there is all tied up with Rangikāpiti Pā. Let’s go back to Moehuri and the shark;
“Some years later when his own son Tukiato killed the shark, he and his accomplices were banished from Rangikapiti and established their own pa at the western end of Coopers Beach, called Otanenui – ‘The place of the old man Tamure’ was named after the large old snapper found in abundance nearby. The slopes below the pa were gardened and produced good crops of kumara, hue (gourd), and the first potatoes, pumpkins, marrows and European fruit was grown in the area.” More information can be found in this linked brochure.
We wandered around the reserve, visiting each of the Pā and the small beached between them. It is an inspiring and interesting place and we reflected on how easily it could have been lost to developers as it really is prime real estate. Māori clearly picked it for its position and we’re not sure how it escaped the urban sprawl but somehow out did. What a jewel and a real asset as it stands to the rohe.
Finally, we headed down to Cooper’s Beach and I had another swim. We had heard people talk about Cooper’s Beach and we can see why it is a popular spot. The beach is so pretty and the water was deliciously warm and the waves gentle.
By now we were hungry! A quick stop at the supermarket for some supplies for the next day and then back into Mangonui. Mangonui is allegedly the best place in Aotearoa for fish and chips. So, we decided that if there was place to park and if there wasn’t too big a queue and there was something vegetarian for Nigel, we would have tea here. If not, we’d head down to Puketi and prepare dinner in the van. Quite a lot of ‘ifs’ there but time was getting on and it was going to be another hour before we’d get to Puketi so we were willing to give it a go. The Atua must have all lined up because all the ‘ifs’ came together. We had to wait about half an hour but that soon went by with a beer. I have to say that whilst the fish and chips were good, I’m not sure they beat Raglan Wharf for price and value combined with freshness and tastiness. Maybe they are a victim of their success and have got greedy. At Raglan the portions are twice as big, half the price and just as tasty!
Anyway on the road again and off to the coolness of the forest. A bit of a trek on metalled road for the last 12 km or so but we settle into the DoC campsite in Puketi Forest Park for the evening with some different sounds around us – and bitey things for the first tin=me all holiday. The drawbacks of a forest!
One of the places we noticed as we looked for a campsite yesterday evening was an olive grove and an invitation to taste. I suggested cycling out from the campsite – it was only a few km away but Nigel wasn’t convinced. In the end, we called in on our way out to Maitai Bay. It’s a small family-owned place and unfortunately, as a result of not being able to harvest as many olives as normal due to COVID lockdown, they had pretty much run out of olive oil and had no olives left at all. Anyway, we had a taste of the oil and bought a bottle to take away.
We headed out along the peninsular to Maitai Bay and walked the Headland Loop. This is a short walk (4km) that goes from the top of the DoC campground, through a field above the beach and then through Manuka forest out to the headland where there are spectacular views of the bay and across the sea. We walked from where day visitors can park which adds another km or so to the walk. The first thing we noticed was the sheer quantity of honey bees buzzing around the Manuka trees – photos just don’t capture it. Then a weird creeping plant that grew over the Manuka and seemed to be strangling it. We haven’t seen it before so will need to try to identify it. There were also a couple of other plants that we haven’t seen many of before – some work to do on identification.
As we left the paddock and entered the avenues of Manuka trees the noise of the cicadas intensified – I love their sound and for me, it is a real sign of summer and they remind me of the south of France too. I can’t help but start singing a very irreverent French song the chorus of which goes like this:
C’est la chanson des cigales
Pendant que les fourmis travaillent
Les cigales elles se régalent
Les pied en éventails
It’s the cicadas song
Whilst the ants work hard
The cicadas party
their feet in a fan shape.)
You have to sing it with a Midi accent or it doesn’t really have the same effect!
We carried on through the manuka and then the path rose (not more hills!) quite steeply and we had views all around us. We reached a high point where it looked like there was a choice of path. The right hand branch was the one we wanted and the description didn’t mention another although it looked like a well-worn 4wd track for at least as far as we could see. Alarmingly, there was a rusty old-fashioned iron ‘Man Trap’ animal trap attached to the post the marked the way on. Clearly not in use but could be dangerous for little, inquisitive hands.
We started to descend the right-hand track – it dropped away quite steeply to the headland. I think we had imagined that we would end up at the highpoint of the headland but in fact, this track took us all the way down to the rocks by the sea and a view out across the bay.
Nigel stopped as the path got more rugged and much steeper and watched me scramble down. Clearly these rock pools don’t get washed over very often as the water in them had evaporated leaving salt crystals.
Once I rejoined Nigel we climbed back to the junction and I went for a brief exploration of the left-hand track. It pretty much only goes as far as you can see and although it has been a path in the past, it is now very overgrown and I gave up when the gorse started to scratch!
We headed back to the van and I had a swim while Nigel prepared lunch. Maitai Bay really is a beautiful beach. Interestingly though, after yesterdays little rant about cars on beaches, there are notices asking people not to drive on the beach to protect the dunes and the space.
There is also a rahui in place stopping people from fishing and collecting seafood. There are two beautiful pou on the top of the hill – (I wonder if it used to be a pā?) which were erected to mark the start of the rahui. They represent tupuna Kahutianui and Te Parata, and on the other side, the gods of the sea Hinemoana and Tangaroa.
We decided to visit the Karikari winery to sample the local plonk. Officially the wine cellar was closed but they still let us in! It’s an incredible place high up on the hill with an amazing view. We were spun the spile and the wine was pretty good so we ended up getting a couple of bottles – one of their Chardonnay – unusual for us but it was a bit different and one of the reds. Looking forward to enjoying them at some point in the future!
By the time we got back to the van, it was time for food and then an evening walk on the beach. We wondered about how often the tyre tracks from the cars are washed away and the beach goes back to its natural state. There were still plenty of people driving along to do some evening fishing or maybe just taking a short cut along the beach – who knows? One hapless person had got themselves stick in the soft sand on the access road and was being pulled out by some locals. I wonder how often that happens?
A very lazy start to the day in paradise. A morning swim, leisurely breakfast, another swim and then time to pack up and move on. We had a vague idea that we would head towards the Karikari Peninsular and see what we could find to do there. We needed to dump our grey water as the tank was full and that probably meant we needed drinking water too. Electricity was less of a problem as the solar panels seemed to be doing a good job at keeping us ticking over and a hot shower might be nice too so we looked to book into a ‘proper’ campsite.
We tutu’d down the road and stopped on the way in Te Kao at the wee shop to get some essential supplies – bread, shampoo, milk and a beautiful kete. I wished afterwards that I had asked who had woven it but I will carry it and always know where I bought it.
Then we pulled down to Rarawa Beach for a walk and to have lunch. We were a tad disappointed as neither of us had remembered that vehicles were allowed on it. We had remembered beautiful white sand that squeaked as you walked on it. It was white but it was flattened by the cars that were all along the beach. I’m just not sure what I think of cars on beaches. There was some parking at the end of the main road but not enough for the number of people who visit. Most cars were full of families with heaps of beach stuff; picnics, chairs, surf boards, boogie boards which I know are a pain to lug down from a car onto the beach especially when you have to manage kids as well. But I like the idea that my beach experience is a natural one, just people, maybe dogs (but I’m a bit ambivalent on dogs too) and maybe a trolley to cart all the stuff down but not motor vehicles.
When we looked back at the photos from last time we were there, it was a couple of weeks later, the beach was deserted and there were no tyre tracks so maybe we just hit it at a very busy time and the rest of the year it’s all good.
Nevertheless, we walked along to the end, beachcombing as we went and enjoyed some peace and quiet just sitting on the rocks looking out at the waves. I didn’t swim although I had planned to – it was a bit windy and I was put off by the whole experience.
We decided that the carpark at Rarawa wasn’t the best place to make food and time was getting on so we called in at Pukenui for some chips and a drink. Back on the road and our next stop was in Awanui for petrol and we also got some fresh tomatoes, a rock melon and sweetcorn from a roadside stall – all of which were delicious – so reminiscent of travelling in France and getting fresh produce from the side of the road!
Onwards to Karikari Peninsula and we ended up at Tokerau Bay campsite – it really is a case of sticking a pin in the NZMCA directory and picking somewhere! The first one was full so we just carried on. It’s a small site clearly been around for a while but quiet and family oriented. It was lovely to see kids playing on the grass in the middle of the campground. The amenities were old but clean and well-maintained. Our host was just lovely and told us how they have cut back on the capacity since COVID to ensure that everyone is safe and has space to keep themselves to themselves if they want to. We effectively had a double space all to ourselves!
The beach is interesting – it’s not the prettiest of beaches and because it’s long and flat it is used as a road and so vehicles hoon up and down. I’ve already expressed my views on cars on beaches but the problem in Aotearoa is that they are classed as public roads and beaches like this one are so long and flat that they are drivable. When I posted about it on Facebook with one of my photos a friend suggested that Tangaroa gets his revenge frequently when cars get stuck in the sand. It made me smile a wee bit when we saw a car having to be pulled out of the soft sand at the entrance to Tokerau Bay the next day! We watched someone on a trail bike racing down the beach, doing wheelies and hopping over the soft sand close to the dunes as we sat out in the envying sun on the beach. But mostly it was fishermen driving to their fishing spot and casting out their lines – still don’t know why they can’t just walk along the beach. I have memories of my Dad trudging along with all his fishing gear and standing on cold East Coast English beaches – maybe the Kiwis have the right idea after all?!
Nigel was ready for another day out. Well, he didn’t say he wasn’t and we had talked about going the other way from Tapotupotu Bay to Pandora Bay. The walk according to the DoC times and distances was either 9km or 10km and 5 and a half hours. After yesterday’s outing we were sure that it would be wrong so we decided to set off and see how far we got. I had done two reasonable runs in the last two days so was happy to go with the flow and walk more or less with Nigel. I set my watch to ‘hike’ rather than ‘Trail Run’ so that I wasn’t tempted to run.
The plan was to get away earlyish so we weren’t walking in the heat but it was 10.15 before we set off! The best laid plans of mice and men!
Oof! It’s a pretty steep climb out of the bay after a gentle warm up on the boardwalk through the mangroves. Once we reached the first high point we could see the path in front of us – climbing up and then dropping down, and then up and down!
There was little in the way of shade but the views are amazing. After about 3km the path settles into a Manuka lined ridge still undulating but trending steadily downhill. Much pleasanter walking.
The junction to Pandora comes at roughly 7km. Nigel had already said he’d make a call there about whether to continue on or head back. The sign said 2km and 1 hour. We’d just done 7km in 2 hours but it had been steep and hot.
We decided to continue along a red sandy track which seemed to hug the contours of a slope until we found a shady spot for lunch. A few 100m further on there was a small stand of Kanuka trees which provided perfect shade for a picnic.
After lunch we carried on. Nigel decided he’d continue as long as the path was relatively flat. We soon came to a junction where the path looked like it was going to descend more steeply. There was also a path continuing on but very much upwards along another headland. It may have gone to a view point but we decided we didn’t need to go there! I continued on down. By our reckoning and Garmin’s navigation, and DoC signs (all considering any of those were accurate) it was another 1500m to Pandora. Nigel headed back.
The path now descended steadily through forest, cool and leafy, a few wooden bridges crossed dried up stream beds, and it was a bit more uneven underfoot. I soon came out at the junction with the 4WD track that comes from SH1. Almost there! On my left as I went down the track there was a set of stairs which I had to investigate. They led to a rocky mostly dried up stream. There was a pool full of murky water…probably a good wee swimming hole when there is more water and also a dangerous swirly thing in flood! It looked like there would also be a decent waterfall dropping off from there in wetter weather.
Quick exploration over, I headed back to the main track and soon found myself at the Pandora Microcamp. This would be a cool wee place to stay; a grassy area with a shelter, a sink and water which presumably was fed from the stream I saw higher up, and long drop loos. There were also a few trees where you could pitch your tent to get some shelter and a great view of Pandora Bay.
It was another few 100 metres to the beach so I scooted down there to have a swim. It was going to be a decent climb back up so I didn’t really want to do that either commando or with wet knickers. But…the beach was deserted apart from a wee fishing boat right at the other end ….There is something deliciously freeing and a bit naughty about swimming naked on an (almost) deserted beach! I swam out enough to see round the corner of the bay and then let the waves take me back to the shore.
Body temperature suitably down, I sat on a rock for a few minutes to dry off then I got dressed. I almost lost my shoe in my attempt to wash my feet before putting them into my socks when the rock I had put my shoe on was washed over by a wave. Hopping on one foot (already with one sock and shoe on) I scrabbled to grab aforesaid shoe before it was washed away. In the process the other foot ended up fully under water too! Never mind, wet shoes and socks are all part of trail running and at least I still had two shoes!
Re-energised and nice and cool, I set back off up the hill wondering when I would catch Nigel up. The return journey was simply a backwards version of the first 10km so little to report really except that it was now mid afternoon and stifling hot. The terrain provided little respite from the sun so in the patches where the path goes through the manuka trees it was hard not to dawdle and make the most of the shade.
I ran out of water about 6km from home but still had a few 100ml of electrolyte which I rationed! I bumped into the young couple from yesterday who once again expressed their admiration at my speed! They had parked their car at Spirit’s Bay, got the shuttle to Te Paki then tramped with full packs and tents over three days stopping in Tapotupotu and Pandora before finishing back at Spirit’s Bay. I reckon their effort was greater than mine! I caught Nigel up only a km from the van. He was just crossing the bridge over the river.
Annoyingly, I was going to end up on just under 20km so I had to ‘tidy up’ – past the van to the end of the beach and back again!
When I got back to the van Nigel had made a cold drink for me – delicious! I persuaded him to walk down to the sea to plant his legs in the water, I planned to swim but when we got there we were told that there had been a couple of sharks spotted quite close into the beach so everyone had got out of the water. We stood knee-deep and let the waves wash over us whilst scanning the sea for shark fins for half an hour at which point I decided to submerge myself in the shallows anyway!
A good day out which ended up with more running and effort expended than I had expected. It’s interesting how the trails have been graded by DoC as neither yesterday’s trail nor today’s really seemed to fig the ‘Advanced Tramping Track’ label they have. I completed the 10km to Pandora in well under 3 hours, Nigel would have taken just over 3 hours, yet it is signposted as taking 5 and a half hours! Go figure!
After a G & T, dinner and wine we ventured out to watch the sun cast its pink glow on the beach and the waves. Later on we sat on just looked at the night sky. So many stars and a such a bright Milky Way – I wish we could see it more often but in Kirikiriroa there is just too much light pollution.
We left Te Pua camp at Paua after a leisurely breakfast looking out over the estuary as the tide came in. I went for an ‘early’ morning swim aka 9am which was a lovely start to the day. And then we watched the rays come in again and feed as we ate breakfast. Fascinating. I should probably have waited longer for my swim as the water was much deeper and more accessible by the time we left at 10.30ish. I was tempted to jump back in but since we were heading to Tapotupotu Bay, I decided to wait.
As we left the campsite we spotted two seagulls sitting on the fence – were they the same two we had seen yesterday?! Funnily enough, when we looked back on our photos from this place a few years ago, there were two seagulls sitting on the same bit of fence!
We pulled in on the way at Radar Bush. It looks over to the east at the ridge line that runs from Tapotupotu Bay to Pandora Bay and is apparently where there were radar stations set up during WW2 to listen out for Japanese attacks. To the west and seemingly immediately in front of the pull in is where a pā once stood. You can see the depressions that would have been kūmara pits in the field. Across the valley, two obvious hills mark where other pā would have been. The sign says there are terraces that would have been where produce was farmed but they were difficult to make out. At the far end of the field there was a carved stone which looked a bit like a gravestone but one side of it was damaged and there was no indication of what it might be. Curious.
Anyway, onwards to Tapotupotu with an abortive coffee stop at the coffee cart on the hill – the coffee machine was ‘playing up’!
The sign at the road end for Tapotupotu said there were no vacancies at the campsite. We decided to drive down anyway and see. There was space after all and we set up camp with a view of the sea. Our awning provided us with some decent shade and we had lunch. I might also have donned my togs and run into the waves! Delicious! (kai and moana!) We had a wee wander along the path into the mangroves just to remind ourselves of the place. It was lovely to wade back across the river to keep cool.
As the afternoon wore on, my legs got itchy! I read my book, did some of my Māori puzzles, went in the sea again and then decided to see if the 5km walk (10km return) to Cape Reinga was really going to take 6 hours. We can normally reckon on halving the times on DoC walking tracks. But this was billed as an Advanced Tramping track and they are a generally a bit more accurate. Even so 6 hours for 10km!? It was 3pm so I decided to give it 3 hours, I’d run out for 90 mins and see how far I got then turn around.
Nigel accompanied me across the beach to where the track starts up the hill. It climbs steadily, then steeply for 1km before descending for 2km to the first bay. The trail is really runnable after the first ascent. Easy gradient through Manuka trees then steps wind down more steeply snaking along the ridge. There are a couple of diversions to viewpoints, one of which I went to, the other seemed a bit further so I decided to leave it for the way back if I had the energy.
I arrived at Sandy Bay (3km) after 30 minutes took a little while to find the route onwards – this is the only place where the signage is lacking. I had spotted some people walking down what looked like a steep descent but wasn’t sure that it looked right, so I made my way to the back of the beach to where the vegetation met the beach. No way on there! I came back to where I could hear voices and came across the couple who I had seen descending. That was the way on and the track climbed quite steeply! At first it was quite rocky and loose but that soon gave way to a grassy slope and then gravelly trail. I emerged onto the Cape Reinga tourist track with still 400m to go to make 5km. So I headed down the path to the lighthouse, took a couple of selfies then set off back up! 56 minutes!
Give me a target and I’ll go for it! By my reckoning, I had 3kms of down and 2kms of up on the return journey so that should be quicker, right? I promised myself a swim at Sandy Bay before the 2km climb. What a treat! I think I have set myself a new target – a swim in every new bay!
Suitably cooled, I set off up the hill. Steady away, my legs were tired but I know how to plod! On the way down the last km I overtook a couple who I had met at the bottom of Sandy Bay on my way out. They were amazed that I’d gone there and back and was overtaking them.
I arrived back at the van 1hr 43 minutes after leaving it! Boom!
Nigel wasn’t there – I presumed he’d gone for a wander so I dumped my stuff and headed for a swim to cool off. He arrived back after I’d come back and got changed a little bit worried because he had gone to wait for me at the end of the track and hadn’t seen me come down. Somehow we missed each other but all good in the end.
I had a treat of some freshly caught (and cooked) mussels from the people next to us who had too many – they even gave me a dressing to go with them which was yummy!
We had a wander on the beach in the evening as the sun went down and marvelled again at the night sky. Paradise!
I started the day with a swim – the tide was in right up to the rocks so I scrambled down the wee cliff and waded in. It is surprising how clear the water is – it’s only shallow, about mid-thigh deep but enough to immerse and swim along the shore.
Cape Reinga – the northernmost point of Aotearoa, where the spirits of the dead set off from Aotearoa to Hawaii. Strictly speaking they set off from a little rocky outcrop that has an ancient Pohutakawa tree clinging to it. It never flowers apparently but it’s where the spirits leave Papatuanuku and rise up to Ranginui. At Matariki, they are swept up by the waka as the star Pohutakawa rises – she is the star that carries those who died throughout the year onto their onward journey. I wonder now about the significance of the Pohutakawa star and the tree on the outcrop which is called Te Rerenga Wairua (where the spirits fly)
We have been here before but wanted to visit again. The sky was overcast and it started raining as we drove north. The place was packed – vans and cars parked all along the grass verges because the car parks were full. Luckily we found a spot next to a very badly parked hire car on our 2nd turn around the car park and managed to squeeze into it. We joined the masses walking down the track. The information boards are well done and I was pleased that I could read the Maori language ones and get most of the information before checking my understanding by reading the English. It was also interesting noting the translations and how ideas were interpreted in the two languages.
The clouds swirled around and we decided that we would stick to our plan of walking from the Cape Reinga to Cape Maria van Diemen – well, getting as far as we could. It looked like it would be a bit too far as a first walk of the holiday and it was already late morning. We packed up some sandwiches and snacks to have on the way and set off.
The track leaves the main Cape Reinga Tourist track about 500m down. It’s a well-formed trail that winds its way along the ridge after dropping down some stairs. There are a couple of wee side routes that take you to little summits with good views along the coast. You come out on Te Wērahi Beach after 2kms. The route from there is 3kms straight across the beach. At high tide it may be difficult to get around the first part.
We had set off from the top in mist and a light swirling wind and I made the mistake of not putting on sun cream and wearing a sleeveless tee shirt. I also forgot my hat! By the time we reached the beach we could see that the top of the hill was still in cloud but we were in full sun and exposed! I ran across the beach whilst Nigel walked across. At the other end, I waited for a bit then decided to run back towards him.
The track from the beach winds up on vegetated sand dunes until it drops down into the bay on the other side which is really just a continuation of Te Wērahi Beach. From here you climb up over hard packed sand formations – quite the lunar landscape. We climbed up to a high point at about 6km. It looked like it was going to be another 3km to traverse then skirt around the back of the hill to access Cape Maria van Diemen. We were hot, didn’t have enough water, and so decided to make that our turn around point. It seemed like a good handstand spot so I duly obliged and we headed down to the rocks at the end of the wee jutty out bit to have lunch by the rock pools.
Suitably sated, we set off back along aforesaid exposed beach. I ran again, Nigel walked which gave me time at the far end to have a swim before he got there. It was so good to immerse myself in cold water and reduce my body temperature. I decided to wade through the water back towards him – great resistance training!
Then the 2km climb back to the van. I had been doing my maths (Jo would be proud of me! ) and realised that to get 16km I needed to run back down the track for 750m then turn around. Madness, I know! I met Nigel about 500m down, but caught him up again halfway back up the tourist trail. Also bumped into Anahera and Alex…so lovely to see friends and colleagues out of context!
What did we learn (again!) today? Always put sunscreen on, always take more water than you think you’ll need. I ran the last 7km wearing my spare long sleeved thermal top that is part of my emergency gear to protect my shoulders from the sun. So emergency gear is always useful!
The landscape is amazing on this walk and we’ll definitely go back someday to do the rest of the route.
Back at Te Pua, I jumped in the water for another swim – it was still quite shallow as the tide was not fully in so I really just lay in the warm water and floated. Bliss! Later on we sat and watched the Rays feeding – I was tempted to go out and have a closer look but was too comfortable with glass of wine in hand! We watched the sun go down on the first day of 2021 and then marvelled at the stars and the Milky Way in a sky untainted by the glow of city lights.