Category: leisure

Summer 2020 – 2021: Heading South

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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!

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A pristine beach – Tangaroa has done his stuff!

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!

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Half way – the speedwork done, now to jog back the way!

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”.

06/365 6th January 2021
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Looking down to Mangonui

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!

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Looking down the coast to Cooper’s Beach and then beyond from where we have travelled.

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;

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Taumarumaru Pā looking towards Otanenui Pā

“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.”

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Looking across to Te Homumu Pā

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.

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Standing on Te Homumu Pā looking back towards Otanenui Pā (the hidden headland beyond the one in the photo!)

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.

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Cooper’s Beach looking towards the coastline. Te Homumu Pā is around te next wee headland.
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Looking at Cooper’s Beach from my vantage point in the water!

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!

Summer 2020 – 2021 Tokerau Bay

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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. 

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Rarawa Beach

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. 

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The seagull which had been feeding on a fish on the beach – it flew away as we approached then went back to the fish once we passed by.

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.

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Aforementioned fish

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.

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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!

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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!  

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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?!

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The sun going down on another day

Summer 2020 – 2021 Pandora Bay

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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. 

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Mangroves in the river that flows into Tapotupotu Bay

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! 

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Looking down to Tapotupotu Bay from the top of the first climb
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Nigel trugging up one of the hills

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.

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Manuka avenues – provided brief respites from the sun

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.

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Looking down to the ridge we have just walked along. The track to Pandora goes off to the right a bit lower down. I climbed up to get the view.

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. 

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This track hugged the contours of the hill and eventually branched off down to Pandora Bay.

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.

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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.

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View from in the water….
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A welcome dip in the ocean

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!

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This way!

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.

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View out to Sand Dunes from the ridge

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!

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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. 

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Super Sunday Adventure

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Pukekōhatu via Pylon Track

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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.

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River Crossing
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Boulder Hopping

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!

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Climbing steadily

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. 

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View of Te Aroha
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Looking out at the Waikato
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Remnants of the pylons

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.

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256/366 12 o Mahuru 2020
Spot a snowy Ruapehu in the distance!
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Looking to the left at the Kaimai Range
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Looking right to Te Aroha

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!

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Somewhere in there is a Jo!

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. 

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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.

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Waterfall
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Tunnel

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.

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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. 

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Waikato Pasture and Kaimai Range

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’!

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“Nanny Goats”

Day 12: Waipū

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Caves and Beer

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Waipū Cave

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!

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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.

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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.

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glow worms
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Day 11: A bit of Northland history

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R and R

It was probably time for a bit of R and R. We’ve done a few kms over the last week or so! 78.43km to be exact and 4,068m of elevation. Pretty impressive! So the next two days were pretty cruisy and since it was Nigel’s birthday, I thought I should cut him some slack!

We started by catching up with our old friends Chris and Ross who are currently living on their boat in Opua. They have bought some land in Kerikeri and have spent the last 6 months clearing it and exposing what is beneath the overgrown mass of weeds. They plan to build a house on it in the next couple of years. It was lovely to see them, catch up on all their news and see where they are living. Isn’t it funny how you can not see someone for years but pick up where you left off as if no time has passed at all?

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Kerikeri basin

They dropped us back of at our van at around 3pm and we decided to catch the ferry over to Korokororāreka (Russell) and walk up Flagstaff Hill. The flagstaff at the top is the one that was cut down 4 times either by or on the instruction of Hone Heke in protest against British sovereignty. It was a beautiful afternoon and we sat for a while at the top- another 100m of climbing! We were sat for a while just enjoying the views and the peace and quiet.

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Looking down at Korokororāreka from Flagstaff Hill

It did seem like an opportune place for a handstand….

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Then we walked up to the trig point and the information boards. I have read about the history of Korokororāreka before but actually being there makes it so much easier to understand and give meaning to the stories. Like any stories, it takes time and many readings and listenings for all the details to embed themselves and to triangulate the different perspectives. So, I will need to read more to gain a deeper understanding of the history.

But a trigpoint calls for a handstand….

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We wandered back down the hill into Korokororāreka and found a bar that served some decent beer and sated our thirst before getting the ferry back over to Paihia. A dinner worthy of a birthday was in order. We tried the Indian and Thai place that Ross had recommended but unfortunately it was absolutely chocker and incredibly noisy. We ended up going to Zane Grey’s – a pleasant meal that we ate sitting next to a large aquarium with fish swimming round in circles which was a little disconcerting! We have had better meals that were less expensive but we did discover a very nice wine that we have since found in our local wine shop for a third of the price!

Kawakawa

We had a lazy start to the day but were in no hurry. Our destination was Waipu and we had planned in stopping in Kawakawa to meet a friend for coffee. Unfortunately, she messaged to say that a kaumatua had passed and she would no longer be able to meet me. We decided to stop in Kawakawa anyway and have a wander and whilst there I remembered that Ruapekapeka wasn’t far away. I like Kawakawa, it has a real charm, not least of which is the railway that runs down the middle of the main street.

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Train on its way down the main street

It is also home to the Hundertwasser toilets which are fascinating but as a local said to me, ‘unnerving when you actually want to use them, and they’re full of tourists taking photos’! I did limit myself to a photo of the inside of the toilet cubicle whilst I was using the toilet. Although, I have been guilty of more than that in the past!

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Glass tile in the Hundertwasser toilet

We spent some time in the library/art gallery which had some beautiful pieces all well outside our price range! The children’s mural was delightful and I bought a bright summer dress in a recycle shop for $20 that I have since “upcycled”.

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We were tempted to go into the museum purely out of interest after seeing the advertising but decided that for a $10 entrance fee we weren’t that tempted!

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Ruapekapeka

Words cannot do this special wahi justice. You can listen to this RadioNZ or watch this documentary to hear the story. I plan to watch again now that I have visited the wahi and have a picture in my head so I might visualise more easily what happened. Māori dug an intricate maze of tunnels and trenches in which they sheltered as an army of British and other Māori iwi bombarded them for ten days. Then when it was clear they could withstand no more without losing men they withdrew into the forest behind. You can still see the remnants of the tunnels and look out at where the British had their base. On a hot, still summer’s day it is hard to imagine the violence, noise, fear and tension that must have reigned in this wāhi a century and a half ago. It was the last battle in the north.

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Depressions marking trenches or tunnels
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Pou at the far end of the pā where Māori would have escaped into the forest
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Old pou with new one in the background. The ground in between is riddled with afm intricate maze of tunnels and trenches.

We spent a good hour wandering around, getting a feel for the place, trying to understand the layout and how the battle must have played out. It’s incredible how nature reclaims places, reinstates peace and order, honours the lives of those who died and how somehow there is calm and serenity where once there was bloodshed and mayhem.

We walked back to the van retracing or steps over the British advance position on which you can still see indentations that marked battle positions. Then we headed southward to Waipū.

Day 10: Islands and Orca

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We were so incredibly lucky today! A friend from work picked us up at 9.00am from Rawhiti beach where we had stayed the night after our adventure yesterday. The Kaingahoa Camping ground is a great place to stay. It is clean and well-maintained. Margaret, who runs it is a bit brusque but once you get her talking, she doesn’t stop. Full of information about the history of the rohe. I emailed to book a place but it was never responded to, so I would recommend phoning. Fortunately, there was plenty of space on the day we wanted to stay! From reading the information on this website, it seems that the main building which is not accessible to campers, was the old Te Rawhiti schoolhouse but was used in the 1960s during renovations of te Rawhiti Marae as a replacement wharekai. The campsite revenue goes to the maintenance of the marae.

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Sun going down at Rawhiti

So, back to today! Tania and Scott picked us up and took us for a wee tiki tour around the islands. We stopped in at Otehi Bay on Urupukapuka Island for coffee and then we walked over the hill to Urupukapuka Bay campsite where they were staying with a bunch of friends.

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Walking over from Otehi Bay to Urupukapuka Bay

The plan was to find a sheltered bay where the kids could swim, while the boys went fishing. They plumped for Moturua Island and we cruised off over there in a selection of boats. Once on the island, we had a picnic, then the men went fishing and we stayed and went for a walk around the island before jumping in the sea for a swim. At Mangahawea Bay there is an archaeological dig going on. Evidence suggests that this place was inhabited more than 700 years ago.

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The archaeological dig at Mangahawea Bay

It was a lovely day out, meeting friends and generally just relaxing. The walk around Moturua takes about an hour at a leisurely pace in jandals! It is quite hilly though! The sea was delicious and it was nice to be able to swim with other people rather than on my own! The boys struggled with the wind on their fishing trip and Nigel was the only one who caught a legal fish so that’s what I had for my tea.

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Snapper for tea!

But the big excitement of the day was seeing orca. We first spotted a mother and her calf, and then a large male on our way over from Rawhiti.

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A mother orca and her calf

The male swam right under the boat and then surfaced on the other side. they cruised on along the way, two close together and the other just off to the side. Then when we were sitting on the beach in Urupukapuka Bay, they came into the bay itself. We spotted some splashing off to our left and then saw them swimming on out and around the headland through a gap in the rocks. Tania said that there had been stingrays and plenty of piper fish in that area the day before and so they had possibly come in to feed.

When we went out to Moturua we saw them again. Scott cut the engines and we bobbed about for a good 10 minutes just watching. They swam quite close but seemed to be happily cruising. They carried on out to sea and picked up a few more on the way. At one point we counted 7 fins in the water. Such a special and humbling experience to be in the presence of these beautiful creatures.

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Orca spouting

Day 6: Boulders, swimming but no tourist stuff!

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Handstand at Magic Rock

We awoke late. So peaceful here. After a leisurely breakfast, we wandered up the hill for second breakfast of Raglan Roast coffee and freshly made scones and cinnamon koru. Luxury! (Graham and Paula lived in Raglan before they made the move north and bought Wairere Boulders. It was awesome to have a taste of our rohe up here!) We made the most of a good WIFI connection to checkout accommodation around Paihia and found that there was none until tomorrow so decided to stay here another night.  It was already 11.30 so we decided we’d finish off the bits of the walk we didn’t do last night, drive down to Horeke and check it out, go to the Mangungu Mission House then come back and decide whether to kayak through the mangroves to the harbour or not. The tide times meant that this couldn’t be done until 4.30pm. 

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We rebelliously went the wrong way round the walk to get straight up to the Magic Rock rather than going all the way round the Loop Track. It is a steady climb from the stile and although it was overcast, it was very humid and hot. You can see the Magic Rock from the campsite and it seems a long way off, but it took us about 25 minutes to climb the 185m hill. It is a BIG rock! The view of the harbour and the rolling scenery is beautiful although there is no view of the boulders – the best place to see them from is the Lookout.  After a handstand at the top (not the top of the boulder although I reckon it could be scaled – just not by me on a windy day with no backup!)

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We headed down to the swimming hole. When we had looked at this yesterday, I was a little unsure about it – the water is a peaty brown and you can’t see the bottom. We found out later that it is stained by the bush tannins and is perfectly clean. As I couldn’t see the bottom, I poked my feet down until I could feel a rock, and then a bit more to find the shingly bed before I launched in. It was deliciously refreshing.  I splashed around for a bit, swam out to the middle and found a rock to stand on before coming back and getting out. A quick dry while Nigel practised his weaving on the Nikau Palms and then we headed back. 

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Swimming in brown water!
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Next stop Horeke. Or maybe not. Horeke is a reasonable size settlement. It has the oldest pub in New Zealand and the oldest Post Office. There is a school, a church, a community centre, a sports centre and a medical centre. The pub is closed. The Post Office has been moved and is now a resource shed.  But it is busy with cyclists as it is the endpoint of the Twin Coast Cycle Way. The ice cream van in front of the Sports Centre is doing the roaring trade the pub could have been doing had it been open. There are well to do looking houses and along the Horeke Road there is also evidence of the poverty of the rohe. A place of haves and have nots. As I wrote this blog I came across this article from Stuff.co.nz written earlier this year.

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We had read that the Mangungu Mission House was open 10am to 3pm from December to February. It was now 1.45pm so we headed off to have a look.  Only a few kms down the road but we found it too was closed. We looked around the grounds, wandered through the cemetery, read the information boards and then decided that we might as well come back to the campsite and have lunch there. 

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The afternoon has been spent writing this blog, generally relaxing. We decided not to kayak though it does sound interesting and I sort of had FOMO when another group were getting kitted up to go. 

Time for a hill!

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Day 3: Hauturu Highpoint via Six Foot Track

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We woke to a clearing sky which was good news as we had planned on walking up the Six Foot Track to Frampton’s Hut and then to Hauturu Highpoint. According to DoC and the TramperNZ blog the views northwards across the Hokianga and southwards to Waipoua are stunning, so we needed a clear day. 

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The track goes from the end of Mountain Road, which is about 3km north of Opononi. It is metalled but well-maintained and Vera made it easily.  Just before the sign that says the road is no longer maintained past this point, there was a place that offered space to camp (Okopako Lodge) – looked like an amazing spot so one to bank for another time we are here. We continued to climb up the windy road for probably about 3km until we went past a few habitations – I hesitate to say houses as most of them seemed to be old caravans or sheds grouped together. Off to the left down a driveway did seem to be a real house – very grand it looked too.  Just a bit further on the road widened and it was clear it was the end of the road. We could see the DoC sign ahead.  There is space for possibly one or two vehicles if you tuck in but it is also the turning space for the people that live in the houses here. 

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We spoke briefly to a man and his two children who were there and checked it was OK to park. 

The trail climbs gradually as it traverses along the slope through the forest. It was pleasantly cool, easy underfoot though there were some boggy sections as the path crossed streams. I suddenly realised that the sound I could hear was cicadas. Summer is here! My first cicadas of the summer – such a heart warming moment! The track is an old bridleway and you can see that it is slightly raised with clear edges for the most part but there are areas where erosion has narrowed the trail and the drop off to the edges is quite steep. 

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We soon arrived at a gate that marked the junction where the 4WD track to Frampton’s Hut veered off from the main trail up to the Waima Main Range Track and Hauturu Highpoint. Another ten minutes on along a narrower path and we were at the next junction. Right to Hauturu and straight on to follow the main track. 

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Now we started to climb! Steep and rugged in places, we made good use of trees, branches and roots to help us navigate the muddy, Rooty slopes. The forest changed as we climbed. I really need to learn my trees and plants better so I can know what I am walking through!  Suffice it to say that the light through the trees dappled the way and whether it was Nikau, Manuka, Rimu, Totara and any number of ferns and mosses, it was beautiful. 

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Vegetation Window

The steep ground levelled off a bit and although we were still climbing it was a bit easier. We emerged into a clearing where there was a meadow of Oxeye daisies, buttercups and grasses. A sign warned to keep dogs on a lead because of sheep grazing though we saw none. It was tempting to stop and have our picnic but we decided to continue to the top.  From here we climbed to a ridgeline and walked along it for a while, steep drops on either side of us. I thought that if this were Scotland or the Lake District, we would be feeling decidedly exposed.  Ridgelines in forests are not nearly so intimidating but nor do you get the thrill of feeling high up and being able to see all around you. I am not sure if the glimpses you get through ‘vegetation windows’ are more tantalising or just frustrating! 

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Meadow

Then we started to descend – quite a long way – and I was unsure if we should be going down so far. However, the time and distance we had travelled didn’t fit with having reached a summit and neither did any signs. Surely there would have been a sign!? I peered myopically at the map and thought I could see that the track did cross some contour lines down to s stream and then climb again. From memory that was what we had decided when we had looked at the map with glasses on! But I wasn’t sure so I turned around to climb back up to Nigel. He had also questioned his memory and was unsure. Nigel had the brainwave to take a photo of the part of the map we needed and then enlarge it so we could actually see the contours and confirm that we were indeed in the right place! 

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The climb up from the stream was again very gnarly and steep but not very long and we were soon at the sign (there was a sign!) that marked the way on over the hill to Waiotemarama and the dogleg off to the Hauturu Highpoint. It was almost a disappointing summit.

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View from the summit

A large wooden trig in an almost clearing reminiscent of Maungatautari. Trees had clearly been felled to provide a lookout to Hokianga but they had grown again and partly obscured the view. I climbed up the trig to get a view but still had to crop it to get rid of the tree that had grown and was in the way! I spotted another orange marker pointing on past the trig. Leaving Nigel at the trig I followed the trail.

There was the view! This is when those tantalising glimpses that build a bit of a picture in your mind are worthwhile … the surprise of a full view is all the more spectacular. I ran back to Nigel and he followed me out to the lookout. We could see the Waima Range heading off to our left, the Waipoua Forest in front of us and to our right glimpses of white sandy beaches. Beautiful. 

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The view south to Waipoua Forest

There was a trig – and trigs need handstands!

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The trip back was, well the trip back. All that we had done, but in reverse. The downs didn’t seem so extreme as we had thought they might be when going up them and we were soon down to the meadow where we had thought we would have lunch. Too hot and too exposed so we continued on to Frampton’s Hut.

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What a wee gem! Nestled in a clearing in the forest, the hut is an old farmstead with a verandah and a chimney and a pot-bellied stove.  We explored than had a leisurely lunch on the verandah before finishing off the last section down to the van. 12km (I did a bit extra going backwards and forwards to Nigel) about 3 hours moving time but about 5 hours all up including stops and meanderings! 

We treated ourselves to an Affogato in a cafe in Rawene – new since we were last here – and looked at the artwork then wandered around the village before heading back to Opononi. 

Hogmanay here we come! 

Pootling

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Day 2: Heading further north

Sunday evening Dargaville is a ghost town, but on Monday morning it awakes with a bang. By 9.00am the carpark was filling up, the main street was abuzz, cafes were chattering with late breakfasters and those of us getting our caffeine hit.  BlahBlahBlah was our choice of cafe and that of most others by the looks of it. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the rohe. The weather seems to have taken a wee turn for the worse and it is cloudy. The sun tries to break through at times during the day but the rain is always threatening and brings with it a bit of a chill. 

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Kauri Bark and fern

We stopped at Trounson Kauri Park on the way to Hokianga. We stayed here once before and sat out in the bush on a star-studded night on the lookout for kiwi which we heard but didn’t see. It is a beautiful bit of forest where kauri trees tower without dominating and provide space for other trees and bushes to thrive. We meandered our way along the boardwalk enjoying the cool freshness under the canopy of trees. The boardwalk has been installed since we were last here presumably in response to the growing threat of Kauri Dieback Disease which is decimating kauri trees throughout the forests of North Island.  The process for getting people to clean their footwear before entering the forests is much more streamlined and efficient. There is some question as to whether human foot traffic is to blame and whether going to the effort of cleaning our shoes will do any good at all when forest animals wander at will spreading the spores. However, we reflected that at least it raises awareness of this important issue for New Zealand biodiversity and the protection of a tree that is iconic in Aotearoa.  Several other footpaths in forests in the region are closed indefinitely due to the disease, so at least we still have the opportunity to see these majestic trees at the moment. If the measures in place enable us to continue to enjoy them then that;’s all good. 

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Fern
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Giant Kauri Trunks
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Bush Lawyer

The clouds darkened and it turned colder. Rain was on its way. We were ready for lunch but decided to carry on rather than stop for more walks. We pulled into the layby that looked out over the Hokianga Harbour and Opononi and had lunch while we decided what to do about where to stay the next few nights. The lookout at the headland was a possibility if freedom camping was allowed, otherwise we needed to see if any of the holiday camps had spaces.  

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Lunch with a view over Hokianga Harbour

We drove along to the headland to find that we couldn’t camp there so turned back and stopped in at Opononi where there was space. A bird in the hand is worth holding onto so rather than carrying on we booked in. It’s a family-friendly campsite overlooking the harbour. Everyone seems friendly and it is clean and orderly.  It will be interesting to see what happens on Hogmanay!

The rain and cloud blew in in waves up the harbour from the sea and so apart from a wander down the road to the pub for a beer, we stayed at the van, made tea and settled in for the night.

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Opononi Beach

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