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!
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?!
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.
Heading north again but with a new campervan. Our old one died of rust from the inside out which was a shame as her engine had plenty of life in it yet.
In a rash moment back in September, I saw an advert for the Bay of Island Music Festival in Kerikeri which just happened to be on Nigel’s birthday and I bought tickets without really thinking about the logistics. It meant that we pretty much had to head back north for our summer holiday. At the time I didn’t know for sure that the old van was terminal and also didn’t factor in that every tourist place in Aotearoa would be full because every Kiwi would be travelling to see their own backyard! Then the van died and there was a certain imperative to replace it with another one or go back to the tent.
After spending a few weeks looking on Trademe and visiting car yards, we took the plunge and decided to buy a newer, empty van and have it kitted out exactly how we wanted it! Exciting! We picked it up on Christmas Eve morning, spent a few days packing it up and sorting it out. We went for a wee test drive to Whaingaroa on Boxing Day and a stressful following day at the Boxing Day sales to get some essentials to help keep everything well-organised in the cupboards and then we were off.
So, little in the way of a plan – head north was pretty much it! I am sure Nigel has guessed what his birthday surprise is by now, although he is tactfully keeping quiet and playing the game!
I had arranged with my friend Tania to be able to park at their house in Pātaua North for a couple of nights. It’s a beautiful spot just 40 minutes east of Whangarei. We arrived late afternoon just in time for early evening drinks. There are a crowd of other people who we quickly got to know. Nigel was invited to play a game which involves chucking sticks around to knock other sticks over – it’s a good spectator sport and the competitor comes out in all of them! Delicious freshly caught fish and steak on the barbecue for tea – (Halloumi for Nigel) and the boys were despatched on their bikes to collect chips from the shop on the south side of the estuary.
We went for an evening stroll along the road to the lookout where it is much calmer – no wind on the sheltered side! It was a beautiful full moonlit night.
Morning dawned and we decided to walk across the bridge and to the other side of the wee maunga to where there is a sheltered bay. We walked all the way to the quiet end of the bay to sit under the rocks where there is some shade and I jumped into the ocean for a swim. Delicious!
I had hoped to be able to climb the maunga but it has been put under a rāhui. According to the story, and confirmed by the wahine that came with her whanau to sit at the same end of the beach to us, Pātaua Pā was inhabited by the local iwi until Captain Cook came. The iwi greeted the visiting ship with their traditional haka which was misinterpreted by Cook who thought it was an aggressive gesture and he ordered his crew to attack. Which they did using the ships cannon and muskets. This brought down some of the cliff and most of the Māori who died on the beach below. Local iwi apparently don’t eat on the beach because their ancestors died there. Our storyteller (I have to admit to eavesdropping on her story to her whanau, she wasn’t actually talking to us) suggested that half the maunga was destroyed by the attack and it is true that it looks like there is only half a maunga. On the northern side the slope is terraced and whilst steep, has a more gradual profile. On the south side, there is a cliff and pretty much a sheer drop. I am not sure though that that is the result of Captain Cook’s bombardment – the current formation of the cliff came about much longer ago and by more natural means! However, her version certainly had an impact on her listeners!
For a long time the path to the top has been walked by locals and visitors but in recent years, iwi have quite rightly become upset at people entering the caves on the maunga which would have been used as burial chambers and may still contain bones of their ancestors. So recently, in consultation with DoC and until more information can be provided to support visitors’ understanding of the history of the area and the significance of the site, the path has been closed. We have to be content with looking at the maunga and imagining the vantage point iwi would have had up there and how until the British came with their superior fire power it would have been pretty much an impregnable stronghold.
Hungry tums and growing heat spurred us to walk back to get some lunch and find some shade for the afternoon. It was a lazy rest of the day reading and dozing. Perfect holiday activities! Later in the afternoon, Tania and I went to the ‘drop off’ where we dropped into the deep channel of water created as the tide goes out and we just floated round to the bay we had visited last night. It was still windy at the house but here was sheltered and I spent too long on the beach chatting and ended up with sunburned shoulders! But it was lovely to chat and just sit in the warmth of the sun.
We went for evening drinks with the friends who we met yesterday and then ate again with Tania and Scott and Kezia and Greg. We tried to make a contribution but didn’t really have much to offer. I know that were we the hosts we wouldn’t expect anything from our guests but it still feels weird not be able to contribute. Fortunately, we had stopped in Waipu on the way to get some beer from McLeods Brewery (that was a failed mission!) But I had bought a couple of hand painted pot stands/wall art in a wee art shop and so was able to leave one of them for Tania as a thank you gift when we left.
It was a stunning blue sky Spring day and the need to get up high and look down on the world was strong in me! So, I persuaded my running buddy Jo to go on an adventure. Gnarly, technical, non-runnable tracks are not really her jam but I took the gamble that there was enough runnable down on the return route to keep her happy!! It was a new route for us and it turned out to be the perfect day for it so I thought I’d share it.
Note: The Pylon Track is not marked on the Information Board in the car park nor is it on NZ Topo map. It is described on the DoC site. It was built to replace the Kauri Loop Tracks which have been closed to protect the Kauri.
From the Wairongomai car park take the Low Level Loop Track. About 200 metres in there is a signpost directing you down to the right to the Pylon Track. Very quickly you arrive at the river. It is easy enough to boulder hop and keep your dry feet on a good day but after heavy rain, it may be impassable as it’s quite wide.
The path continues up through the forest on the other side. You climb steadily and at times steeply through varied vegetation. Tall Rata trees are a feature of the forest and we were chatting to a DoC worker who goes up to monitor them. He was also part of the team that constructed the Pylon Track in 2015. The path is reasonably obvious and well-marked but keep an eye out for the orange markers as it isn’t a well-walked path and fallen leaves had formed a thick blanket. There were also a few fallen trees that provided interesting diversions and obstacles!
All part of the adventure. As you climb there are a few ‘vegetation windows’ that give you views of the Waikato Plain and Te Aroha. The path follows a ridgeline and the last 200m of climbing is quite steep. According to our friendly DoC guy it was one of the steepest pack pony routes. There are still a few remains of the steel power pylons which were used for the power line linking the Horahora hydro-electric power station with the Waihi gold mine and Victoria Battery in the Karangahake Gorge.
At about 4km in (and roughly 600m ascent), you reach the bushline and emerge into the open to an amazing view of the Waikato in front, the Kaimais stretching out to your left and Te Aroha to your right. The climb is definitely worth it! It was such a clear day that we could see the snowy peaks of Ruapehu and Ngarauhoe in the distance. It is quite exposed so probably not a great trail to do on a cold, windy day. We quickly cooled down in the breeze – the sun was warm but the air temperature with additional wind chill factor was bitter.
Continue to climb for a few more metres over more scrambly terrain to a rocky outcrop. This is apparently known as Pylon Peak. On the map there is a summit called Pahiko marked off to the right as you climb. There is an old sign and a path leading off to the right which is not marked on the map which I suspect takes you to the Pahiko summit but this description suggests there are no views from it. We carried on to the left heading towards Te Aroha. This is the Old North-South Route and it is pretty slow going to the junction. You do need to keep an eye on the markers but the path is mostly obvious just not very well-used so quite overgrown.
You are following the contours now on the ridge so apart from a few undulations it is pretty flat. There were a few muddy patches to negotiate which could be challenging after heavy or prolonged rain. At this point I started to lose a little bit of confidence in my map reading skills and route planning – surely we should have got to the junction by now? We stooped to check the map – I had the NZTopo paper map and also brought it up on my phone so I could zoom in. I reckoned we had a little bit further to go but not far so we continued on. After about 5 minutes we rounded a corner and I spotted the green DoC sign up ahead. Phew!
It was roughly 2kms to that T-Junction and then we headed left towards Te Aroha mountain. The track is now much more runnable; there have been a couple of landslips which have been cleared which provide a clear view down to the valley. Pukekōhatu was my goal summit at 799m is to the right off the track as you run but sadly there didn’t seem to be a path leading to it and after spending longer than expected in the gnarly stuff we were keen to get running.
We were running along the ridge still and there were some cool views between the trees. It didn’t take long to get down to Wairongomai Saddle junction running along more formed trails. For a longer walk you could turn right and climb the track Te Aroha but then you either come back the way you came or head down to Te Aroha domain and then another 7km or so along the road back to the carpark.
We went left to go down the tracks back to Wairongomai Road. This is the main Wairongomai Valley and you will start to see signs of the old rail tracks that are part of the network that fed the goldmines in the 1800s. A phone torch is sufficient to light the way through a short tunnel and then you can pick whichever route you like to get back to the car park.
We went down the side of the May Queen Incline, past the top of Butler’s Incline onto the High Level Pack Track and then on the Cadman Track and straight down to the car park. If you haven’t been this way before there are plenty of remnants of the goldmines and the tramways built to carry the gold to explore and wonder at.
It took us around 3 and a half hours to the do the 15km circuit but we didn’t really stop except for photos and a bit of route finding as described above and we did run the 8kms from Pukekohatu summit down to the car park. The sign at the start of the Pylon track suggests 4 and a half hours to get to the North South Track junction and our friendly DoC guy was pretty surprised that we did the whole circuit in less than 4 hours. He reckons most people would take the 4 hours to get to the top and take a full day to do the full circuit. Having said that we’re pretty swift for a couple of ‘old nannies’!
The last stop on our roadtrip. Why? That’s easy… beer! McLeods Brewery to be precise! We have driven past here on many occasions on our way to hockey tournaments with Gus, we even stopped briefly once to have a look around. And the refrain “Waipū? Because you have to…?” is one that is chorused whenever the name of the town its mentioned! (Long story involving a van load of young male teenage hockey players!)
Since we have been avid followers of the NZ craft beer scene though, we have looked for opportunities to cost Waipū as it is the home of McLeod’s Brewery. Last time we came through it was winter and it was closed. Since then we had met Geoff in Kirikiriroa at Craft Hamilton and he had said to contact him next time we were in the rohe and make sure we called in. The pizza barn is very popular… I guess it was the height of the summer season but we had to wait to be seated even just for a drink! We ended up eating there too. Good pub grub but not a huge variety for vegetarians. Could do better on that score but the beer makes up for it! Disappointingly, when we went back the next day to get our carry out bottles filled we found that although they now have an “off” licence, they still don’t have the right gear to dispense so we went away empty-handed!
While we were there we decided to explore Waipū Cave. It is just a few miles out of Waipū, along a gravel road that climbs up inland. We weren’t expecting how busy it was! It was great to see so many families there, kids barefoot and intrepid as they waded through the steam or picked a path over the stepping stones. Tourists of all nationalities venturing in with phone torches to light their way. Pockets of people switching off their lights and sitting quietly in awe at the glow worms.
Being intrepid, (and knowing caves!) we carried on through the stream as the roof lowered when everyone else stopped. We waded through the water which at its deepest reached our mid-thighs and soon lost the shrieks and chatter of families and found peace and quiet. After climbing over some breakdown boulders we arrived at a pool. There was a small passage leading on but it seemed a bit squalid and we really weren’t equipped to push on further! There had already been a few avens that were full of glow worms.
We carried on exploring, climbed up to a higher level passage above the boulders and circled back round through rift passage to the main . chamber. We met a guy who had brought a group in and was playing hide and seek with them. He said he came in regularly with groups.
On our way back out we noticed that to the right as you enter the cave there is another passage. Wide and lower than the passage to the left and full of water but with reasonable airspace. We thought we could see light coming in somewhere and had a quick explore to see if there was an aven that connected but couldn’t see anything, We went back to the van and saw a couple of groups coming back to the carpark who had clearly been swimming. Intriguing.
We headed off up the hill on a walk – just a wee walk but there was a good climb and great views from the top. We went past a heap of limestone outcrops which we explored on the way back down.
Once we got down we headed across past the main cave entrance and round to where we had seen people coming from. There was another entrance (or exit!) – looking back neither Nigel or I can work out if there was any flow and if there was, which way it was going! We could hear the voices of tourists at the other end and I decided that it was too tempting not to swim through. Since it was only a few metres to the car and dry clothes, I took my shoes and socks off and headed in. I waded the first few metres until I reached waist deep and then swam. Slowly, steadily into the sem-darkness. The ceiling was just a half metre above me at the lowest point but there was mud and flood debris so it clearly sumps in wet weather. For a few metres, there is peace and quiet. I float on my back looking up at the ceiling just contemplating and remembering times when I sat at the bottoms of cave pitches deep underground. That absolute sense of being. Connected with the whenua. At one with but also ephemerally disconnected to nature. Then I turned over and swam on out to the noise of tourists happily exploring this natural playground. Part of me wanted to stay there and relish the oneness, I also love that so many people are experiencing a space that for so long was my life. It makes me want to get back and explore underground again. Maybe.
We hatched a plan sometime back in the winter when we were craving sunshine and adventure. Not that we don’t always have adventures but this one was special. We wanted to do the Heaphy Track but thought that once we had paid to get down there we might as well also fit in the Abel Tasman and get our plane flight money’s worth! The way the hut availability went meant that we needed to do Abel Tasman first and then Heaphy. The way that the flights worked out meant that we needed to travel down on a Saturday morning and come back the following Friday. A bit of a squeeze but we thought we could do it. We are fit and used to walking/running long distances.
Sunday morning saw us waiting for the HeaphyBus to take us to Marahau and the start of the Abel Tasman. It was a beautiful day, we were ready to rumble. We had decided to get a good 10km under our belts before stopping for ‘Hobbit’s Breakfast’. This was going to be a long day as our destination was the Awaroa Hut 35km away.
Apple Tree Bay proved to be a beautiful spot to break for food. A cheeky seagull seemed to think that he needed some too! We found some shade and whilst the sea beckoned, I resisted as I didn’t want to get sandy and salty so early on in our walk! The weather was due to turn to rain by the evening so a swim was definitely planned for later in the day! Unfortunately, Amie already had a blister on her wee pinkie. This was unexpected as she is used to walking in her boots and doesn’t usually get blisters. She dressed it and we carried on.
On we went, tummies and hearts full. What a beautiful place to be! Stunning views at every bend, birdsong, sweet smells of blossoms and great companions. Between Anchorage and Bark Bay we took a wee side trip up to Cleopatra’s Pool. Another inviting swimming spot in freshwater but pretty chilly. We wished we had more time to linger but we decided it was better to get a few more kms done before stopping for lunch.
We crossed the Falls River by way of the 47m long swingbridge and carried on through lush forest. We were entertained on the way by quail and weka as well as fantails, tūī and other birds.
Onwards to Torrent Bay where we aimed to have lunch. It was teeming with flies when we went down to the boat ramp to get water from the toilets and look for a lunch spot. So we carried on and came around to another bit of beach that was much more pleasant. We put the stove on to make coffee to go with lunch. Couscous and salami for me with nuts and raisins for dessert. Our friendly seagull seemed to have followed us!
From Torrent Bay to Bark Bay the track climbs up and over headlands, leaving the coast for a while. We could see down into the turquoise blue of the ocean, along the coastline and out to sea. It was so inviting as we sweated it out up those hills. Soon, I promised myself, just a little bit further until we are within striking distance of the hut. I didn’t want to slow everyone down by taking a break to swim. Cheeky weka popped up all over and kept us company.
We descended into Bark Bay and along the beach. Hot and awkward on our feet and Amie was really starting to feel it. Her feet were sore. The weather was starting to close in, the wind came up and the sky darkened. The threatened rain seemed to be on its way earlier than expected. Selfishly, I decided that swim time was going to have to be Tonga Quarry or never! As our pace grew slower, I said to Jo that I’d run on ahead and have my swim while the others came on behind. Jo came with me and then Paula and Amie carried on over to Awaroa as I got changed. It was a wee bit chilly as the wind was quite strong by now but once in the water it was lovely. I splashed about for a bit and then went to the freshwater stream to rinse off and get dressed. The beach at Tonga Quarry has shifted a bit since that fateful Christmas Day when Aonghas was helicoptered out after scalding himself. The stream was very low and may well have not been enough to cool his burns now as we did then.
Paula and Amie had about a 20 minute headstart on us so Jo and I set off at a good pace to try to get to Awaroa Lodge not too long after them. We were still looking forward to beer and pizza! Up and over from Tonga Quarry to Onetahuti Beach was not as far as I remember but that trudge along the beach seemed to go on forever! Somehow the relentless climb up from the beach and over to Awaroa had been erased completely from my memory but maybe that’s because I’ve only ever been down it!
Finally, we made it but sadly too late for pizza! We went into the luxurious Awaroa Lodge to look at the menu but decided the food was a bit rich for us after a day’s walking. We found a space outside in what ended up being the last of the sun for the day. Beer and bread and dips with chips went down well though!
It was hard getting moving again but it had to be done. Only 3km to go but it was slow going and we’d forgotten that we would have to cross the stream. We spent some time trying to find the narrowest part to avoid getting our feet wet but by now the rain had set in and it really made little difference! Those last few kms were done with heads down, one foot in front of the other at snail pace!
It was good to see the hut and walk through the doors! We were the last to arrive and had to find 4 beds in amongst the bodies already collapsed on the bunks; we slotted in where we could, Paula joined the collapsed ones and the three of us set to tending blisters then making tea!
Up and out early as we have to be at Wainui by 1.30pm for the shuttle. The tide times fell nicely for us as it was at its lowest at 6.45. We opted to wade across in jandals which was ok apart from the muddy sections when jandals stuck and the pull between my toes added to the grittiness was a tad painful! I remember last time I crossed the estuary I wore my walking sandals which was much better!
We took the time to clean and dry our feet carefully and thoroughly on the other side before continuing. We made steady progress and were soon at Goats Bay. We had already shed our rain jackets as there wasn’t enough rain and it was quite warm. Now the sun was trying to sneak through the clouds. We were aiming to get to Anapai Bay before stopping for second breakfast which was about 10km. Amie trooped on at a reasonable click despite her sore feet and on the whole our spirits were high. We were, however, starting to wonder whether we were going to be able to do the Heaphy given the state of Amie’s feet and the impending weather conditions. Totaranui was our first gauge of the progress we were making – well under the 2h20 suggested by DoC and on target for shuttle pick up.
The section from Tõtaranui to Anapai provides a change of scenery and flora and the grey started to lighten. The lower level bush is softer but also more dense and despite the sun trying to break through, it was quite chilly.
The track over to Mutton Cove and then onwards to Whariwharangi where we had scheduled our last stop rose up again and we had beautiful views down to the places we had left and glimpses of places we were yet to arrive at!
Whariwharangi is a beautiful beach with huge pines behind it. The hut here is an old homestead with an interesting chimney. We stopped briefly for a snack but decided that we’d rather just push on. One more hill – the biggest on the trail – and then it was all down hill to Wainui. Just 5.7km to go! We had built this climb up to be more than it was! In the end it didn’t seem so bad and we found ourselves looking down at Wainui before we knew it!
The problem with being able to see your destination is that it seems a long time coming. And so it was! But eventually we saw the waharoa marking the start and the end of the walk. We made it but not without sacrifice; Amie’s feet were a mess and there was a severe weather warning out for the next two days so later that evening we reluctantly made the decision to review our plan to walk the Heaphy Track. Plan B was put into operation!