Category: NZ

Summer Holiday 2020 – 2021: Heading Home

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We made a couple of stops on the way home just to break the drive up a bit. The first was literally just a few miles down the road at Kawakawa to see the new Hundertwasser building. It really is beautiful and is worth a stop if you are up in the area. Te Hononga which means the joining of cultures is ‘a joining place, a meeting place, a coming together. This is symbolic of the joining together of our Kawakawa community and Hundertwasser, Maori and Pakeha, visitors and residents, our past and future, our places (east, west), of man and the environment.’

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We spent some time talking to one of the locals who happily shared her kōrero about the place and how it was a real boon for the community. It’s a living, breathing building that is well-used but is also beautifully designed from the inside out. We didn’t do the tour of the inside as we had already dallied long enough and wanted to get home but maybe next time. Shee also commented how it had opened up a space in the street so that they could now see the whenua beyond and light came in so they felt more connected. It certainly seemed that way on a hot summer day!

We stopped for lunch at Ruakaka. It was probably my last chance for a swim in the sea but by the time we got there, it was bit grey and the wind had got up and I decided not to. I must be getting old or soft! There were plenty of folk in the water though.

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It’s an interesting place – quite a nice beach but the view of the Marsdon Point is a bit of a spoiler!

We had our going home heads on now so pointed south and headed home. It turned into a lovely evening and as we came down past Huntly onto the new road, I suggested to Nigel that we stop at the Scientific Reserve. I’ve driven past a few ties in the way home from work or concerts but never had the time to stop. It intrigues me that there is a Scientific Reserve on the side of the motorway!

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There is a wee walk that takes an hour or so to wander around. Natives and harakeke have been replanted and there is some wetland and a small lake – Te Iringa Lagoon. A short walk takes you to an information board which explains the meaning of the pou (Te Tihi) which stand high above the motorway on the right-hand side as you drive north. Unfortunately, there is no access to them and I have wondered as I have driven north what they represent.

Te Kaahui Hakuturi” eight massive pou standing 20m above the ground look down on travellers at the summit of Taupiri Range. The pou acknowledge the path once travelled by the fabled Patupaiarehe and the creatures of the forest. The pou are carved from treated radiata pine and painted white with black detailing to acknowledge the spiritual connection which the Patupaiarehe have to the land. Each pou looks in a different direction across the landscape, guarding over all that drive through this whenua (land). This site was lowered by a 57m deep cutting and removal of 1.3 million cubic metres of earth.

At Te Iringa Lagoon there are 4 waka standing on their ends;

Four waka-maumahara (canoe cenotaphs) are an impressive sight. The
waka-maumahara acknowledge the four winds, which blow through
the valley and are a reference to the oral histories of Te Iringa. As with
all oral history there are versions of events told by victor and
vanquished alike, so no two are the same. The two mokomoko (lizards)
are symbolic of the two brothers Tapaue and Wharetipeti who held
domain over this site.

10/365 10th January 2021
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It was well worth stopping and having a wander to learn about the place and the pou. Next time when I’m driving north, I’ll stop in Huntley to visit Whakataki. It also looks like there are some Pā to explore close to Gordonton.

Summer 2020 – 2021: Swallows and Amazons

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Kerikeri & Russell

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Sailing out in the bay

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

09/365 9th January 2021
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Looking over to Moturoa and Cape Brett

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!

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Back in Russell, we had dinner on the boat and then dinghied over to the Yacht Club to party into the night!

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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!

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Summer 2020-2021: Puketi Forest

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We had decided that a change of scenery might be good for us. Never let it be said that I had tired of beaches and the sea but my poor skin was bearing the brunt of my penchant for the sea and coast. So, into the forest we went.

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In the Kauri Forest

The ngahere is one of my happy places, the coolness and the trees and the sounds of the birds and insects. “Puketi Forest is an ancient kauri (Agathis australis) forest located in the heart of New Zealand’s Northland. Along with Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland.” We have been here before to see the Kauri Trees on one of Nigel’s birthdays – we bought cakes from a bakery and the four of us sat and ate them under the majesty of these mighty trees.

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Off we go!

This time we were just two and we had bikes – I had insisted we bring them and so we were damn well going to use them! The Pirau Ridge Track is an ‘easy 11 km walking track, with walking and mountain biking opportunities’. Sounded good and it connected with the Pukatea Ridge track that goes through a beautiful regenerating Kauri forest. So ‘we’ thought it would be good to cycle to the junction, stash the bikes in the forest, go for a walk in the forest and then cycle back again. Easy peasy!

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Nigel on a down!

It pays to look at a proper map before believing Doc information. If we had have done so we would have seen that the track crossed lots of contour lines! In itself that’s not bad – we’d done plenty of hill-climbing after all! But hilly metalled road with 2 inch grade gravel is not the best terrain for rolling bike wheels over either up or down! The first km was flatish but then it started to climb and when we got to the top of the first hill, it went down again. What goes up must come down and that’s pretty much what happens for the next 8km! Thankfully the gravel reduced in size somewhat after 4km and was easier to navigate. Being in the forest might have been pleasant enough, we heard some birds and the forest kept most of the sun off us but there are no views and it isn’t really very pretty. But the killer was that every 200m or so there was a possum trap, and pretty much every trap had a possum in it and some of them were positively minging! They were the humane traps that drive a spike through the possum’s brain and kill it instantly as it tries to climb the tree. The smell of death was at times overpowering – and just try not breathing deeply as you’re trying to get up a steep hill!

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Kauri Bark entangled in an epiphyte

So, we we were glad when we got to the junction. We stashed our bikes as planned in the bush and set off on the walking track to find a pleasant place to have lunch. Our plan to go for a sizeable walk was tempered by the thought of retracing our wheels back the way we had come. The forest really is beautiful though. We quickly came to stands of Kauri that went deep on either side of the track. Although it is is another ridge track, at this point, it seems quite wide and there is a boardwalk on some of the path. There were Kauri of varying ages, some quite tall and wide, others still small but plenty of them. We wandered through appreciating the majesty and beauty of the forest especially after such a grind to get there!

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07/365 7th January 2021
A knot!
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The Kauri and the broadness of the ridge peters out after about a km and the path starts to descend. At this point, the path is less well defined and we decided that we should head back and find a spot on the boardwalk to have lunch.

The return journey was less of a challenge than we had expected – maybe we were just inured to the smell and the grind of gravel!? – and we were soon back at the van. Time to head to Kerikeri and the relative civilisation of Chris and Ross’ section which was to be our campsite for the next few nights.

I was tempted to stop and take a photo of one of the many dead possum but couldn’t quite make myself get off the bike and get close enough! But I found this tiny skull in the undergrowth – it wasn’t neatly arranged like this! I found the pieces and put them together. Not sure what it is – too big for a mouse – could be a stoat …?

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Summer 2020 – 2021 Maitai Bay

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Olives

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.

Cicadas

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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.

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Welcome coolness in this shady avenue of Manuka

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

(Translation:

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.

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Looking down the left hand branch – looked promising but it didn’t go anywhere!

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.

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It was a bit of a scramble after this point…
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Looking back towards where Nigel waited

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.

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Salt crystals in rock pools
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Looking towards where the other track might have once descended to.

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.

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Looking left to Maitai Bay from the highpoint by the pou.

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.

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Kahutianui and Te Parata
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Hinemoa and Tangaroa

Winery

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!

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View from Karikari winery

Tokerau Bay

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?

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Evening at Tokerau Beach

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. 

04/365 4th January 2021
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.

03/365 3rd January 2021
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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Summer 2020 – 2021 Tapotupotu Bay

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Tapotupotu Bay

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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!

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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.

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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.

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View from the van
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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. 

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Looking down at Tapotupotu Bay

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. 

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Sandy Bay

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!

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At the meeting of the oceans

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! 

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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!

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We had a wander on the beach in the evening as the sun went down and marvelled again at the night sky. Paradise!

Summer 2020 – 2021 Cape Reinga

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New Year’s Day

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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.

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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) 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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! 

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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! 

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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. 

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Summer 2020-2021 Pātaua North

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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.

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On the road #campervanlife

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!

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The ‘stick 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. 

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Evening at Pātaua North

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! 

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Pātaua Maunga

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! 

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The ocean was just sublime!

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. 

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Just chilling!

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. 

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Grey heron watching

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. 

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Early morning swim before we left

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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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”

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