The last stop on our roadtrip. Why? That’s easy… beer! McLeods Brewery to be precise! We have driven past here on many occasions on our way to hockey tournaments with Gus, we even stopped briefly once to have a look around. And the refrain “Waipū? Because you have to…?” is one that is chorused whenever the name of the town its mentioned! (Long story involving a van load of young male teenage hockey players!)
Since we have been avid followers of the NZ craft beer scene though, we have looked for opportunities to cost Waipū as it is the home of McLeod’s Brewery. Last time we came through it was winter and it was closed. Since then we had met Geoff in Kirikiriroa at Craft Hamilton and he had said to contact him next time we were in the rohe and make sure we called in. The pizza barn is very popular… I guess it was the height of the summer season but we had to wait to be seated even just for a drink! We ended up eating there too. Good pub grub but not a huge variety for vegetarians. Could do better on that score but the beer makes up for it! Disappointingly, when we went back the next day to get our carry out bottles filled we found that although they now have an “off” licence, they still don’t have the right gear to dispense so we went away empty-handed!
While we were there we decided to explore Waipū Cave. It is just a few miles out of Waipū, along a gravel road that climbs up inland. We weren’t expecting how busy it was! It was great to see so many families there, kids barefoot and intrepid as they waded through the steam or picked a path over the stepping stones. Tourists of all nationalities venturing in with phone torches to light their way. Pockets of people switching off their lights and sitting quietly in awe at the glow worms.
Being intrepid, (and knowing caves!) we carried on through the stream as the roof lowered when everyone else stopped. We waded through the water which at its deepest reached our mid-thighs and soon lost the shrieks and chatter of families and found peace and quiet. After climbing over some breakdown boulders we arrived at a pool. There was a small passage leading on but it seemed a bit squalid and we really weren’t equipped to push on further! There had already been a few avens that were full of glow worms.
We carried on exploring, climbed up to a higher level passage above the boulders and circled back round through rift passage to the main . chamber. We met a guy who had brought a group in and was playing hide and seek with them. He said he came in regularly with groups.
On our way back out we noticed that to the right as you enter the cave there is another passage. Wide and lower than the passage to the left and full of water but with reasonable airspace. We thought we could see light coming in somewhere and had a quick explore to see if there was an aven that connected but couldn’t see anything, We went back to the van and saw a couple of groups coming back to the carpark who had clearly been swimming. Intriguing.
We headed off up the hill on a walk – just a wee walk but there was a good climb and great views from the top. We went past a heap of limestone outcrops which we explored on the way back down.
Once we got down we headed across past the main cave entrance and round to where we had seen people coming from. There was another entrance (or exit!) – looking back neither Nigel or I can work out if there was any flow and if there was, which way it was going! We could hear the voices of tourists at the other end and I decided that it was too tempting not to swim through. Since it was only a few metres to the car and dry clothes, I took my shoes and socks off and headed in. I waded the first few metres until I reached waist deep and then swam. Slowly, steadily into the sem-darkness. The ceiling was just a half metre above me at the lowest point but there was mud and flood debris so it clearly sumps in wet weather. For a few metres, there is peace and quiet. I float on my back looking up at the ceiling just contemplating and remembering times when I sat at the bottoms of cave pitches deep underground. That absolute sense of being. Connected with the whenua. At one with but also ephemerally disconnected to nature. Then I turned over and swam on out to the noise of tourists happily exploring this natural playground. Part of me wanted to stay there and relish the oneness, I also love that so many people are experiencing a space that for so long was my life. It makes me want to get back and explore underground again. Maybe.
Back again! Ready for the next instalment? It was lovely to have space around us, room for the boys to play with a ball, we managed to appropriate one of the picnic tables as we don’t have a camping table any more, the windbreak provided us with some shade and privacy and we were set! The camping ground was bounded on one side by the river which was wide at this point as it opened up to enter the sea. The first night as Nigel and I sat and played Backgammon we kept hearing a sort of plopping noise which we guessed was air bubbles from the Mangroves as they rose to the surface, quite curious but strangely peaceful! Later on, when we went for a walk from Hararu Falls along the river and through the Mangroves we heard more of a popping noise, but then the tide was out so the mud was exposed. We found out that the popping noise was from the Snapping Shrimps which live in holes in the mud. When we looked closer we could also see the little Mud Crabs scurrying in and out of their holes – what an amazing community! Maybe the plopping noise in the evening was the air bubbles from the Snapping Shrimps or the Mud Crabs or maybe they were other creatures, there were certainly all sorts of noises along the edge of the river. We enjoyed the peace and time to be able to sit and listen and cogitate!
We spent the first morning in Paihia at the Information Centre, charging my phone and collecting a huge array of brochures about all the fun things you can do in the area. Aonghas ran backwards and forwards excitedly – “Hey, look at this!” “Mum, can we do this, it looks awesome?” “Wow, I want to go here!” “Can we, can we, can we…?” Over a coffee and an ice cream we studied the literature – actually we didn’t, the boys decided they needed a beach and some waves, Lachlan had asked where the best beaches were and so we decided to go over to Russell on the car ferry and check out Long Beach. Just as well we took the car, as the walk from Russell over the hill to the other side of the island, carrying beach stuff would have been hot, sticky and painful! What a beautiful beach, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon there just relaxing. The waves were a little tame for the boys’ liking but they had fun nonetheless. Gus punctuated spells in the sea with doing what Gus does best – digging, whilst Lachlan opted for the more teenage past time of sleeping, or just looking cool! Nigel and Gus went for a walk along to the rocks and explored the rock pools, I went too but didn’t take any footwear so had to stop when the sand ran out – the rocks were just too pointy! The sea was deliciously warm, and I spent a lot of time just floating on my back with my eyes closed, letting the waves wash over me and listening to the sound of the sea!
Next day it was grey and overcast! Well, nothing lasts for ever! We decided that a day at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds would be a good thing to do, but obviously so had the rest of the world! Change of plan – a trip to Kawakawa to see the Hundertwasser toilets. Years ago, when we were planning our holiday to NZ the Hundertwasser toilets were on our list of things to see. We never got there so I was quite excited when I realised that they were close by – little things….! Kawakawa is a strange little town; shabby and run down, it has the feeling that past glory is hanging on by its finger tips, but there is also just a suggestion that re-growth is on its way. The colourful contributions, either Hundertwasser originals or cheerful creations inspired by him, are dotted about and add a sort of Bohemian touch to an otherwise typical, humdrum, colonial town. (According to my Maori dictionary, Kawakawa means pepper tree – a small densely branched tree with heart-shaped leaves. Used for ceremonies, including removing tapu, for medicinal purposes and as a symbol of death.) I don’t really know what I had expected – we had seen pictures of the famous/infamous Hundertwasser toilets, but hadn’t realised until we arrived that they are indeed, the town’s public toilets. Slotted neatly in between other buildings on the town’s main street, they are the main focus of attention and there must be a constant queue – probably the only place there is ever a queue for the Gents! I found myself in the curious position of sitting on the loo with my camera taking pictures of the colourful array of tiles and cornucopia that Hundertwasser embedded in the concrete to create his masterpiece! Knowing there was a line of similarly interested people outside I hurriedly snapped away before emerging to take more photos of the rest of the place. Hundertwasser clearly embodies the ideals of the environmentalist – recycling just about anything to incorporate into art and creating beauty out of it. I love it! Which reminds me, I bought some postcards to frame – must look them out and do it! Another job for a rainy day!
As we drove through the town we noticed that there was a railway track down the middle of the street which we thought was strange, maybe the vestiges of the old railway line long discontinued. But Aonghas became excited shouting that he could see steam and could we go on the steam train, please, please, Mum? Sure enough, a small team of steam enthusiasts have got together to restore the old line and slowly but surely are raising the funds and extending it with the intentions of getting it right back to Opua. You buy a ticket that lasts all day so you can go backwards and forwards as often as you want. A round trip lasts about 45 mins, with a stop at the furthest point which is the end of an impressive but very rickety bridge that spans the river and marshlands. The funds to restore this bridge to its former glory, I think, will be long in coming but the whole thing reminds me of the Embsay Railway from Skipton to Bolton Abbey. A similarly determined group of aging boys, playing with life size toys and reliving the dreams of childhood! To be fair, though, I love steam engines too, I spent a lot of my childhood with Dad at steam rallies, model railway exhibitions, restored railway stations, and the thrill of riding on a train pulled by a steam engine never goes away! I find the memorabilia and the musty shabbiness of it all strangely comforting and familiar. The old railway station has been converted into the predictable Railway cafe and we duly sat in the old waiting room, its walls decorated with faded old posters advertising long forgotten, rail journeys, photos of the steam engines in all their former glory, and rail paraphernalia hanging from large hooks in the ceiling all knitted together with draping, dusty cobwebs. Our food was long in coming, (they were pretty busy) and Gus ended up having to take his pancakes on the train with him, but it was good and tasty. There are three carriages which make up the train, a closed, 1st class where in the evenings you can have meals, an open, 3rd class carriage and, the 2nd class which has open sides but is covered. On the outward journey we alternated between standing directly behind the engine where you could just about see through the driver’s little circular window, and hanging out the side of the open carriage. The train chugs gently along, and we had plenty of time to take in the surrounding countryside and, despite the sooty smell of the steam, we could also appreciate the sweet perfumes of the tree blossoms and flowers. At the end of the line we all had to get off so the engine can be put on to the other end of the train, no turntable so we travelled back with the engine going in reverse. Aonghas and I went for a little wander on to the bridge, taking care not to step through the holes but admiring the view as the dense bush gives way to marshy vegetation and a lazy meandering river. We spent most of the time on the return journey on the platform at the front of the train looking at the engine which was great fun, the wind and the oily specks of soot tangling our hair and blowing in our faces!
Our action packed day continued with a trip to Kawiti Glow Worm Caves in Waiomio just south of Kawakawa – as we drove up on Saturday we had spotted the change in landscape and noticed the karst features and a signpost to a Glow Worm Cave. It is a beautifully decorated little cave – a high ceilinged rift passage for the main part with that deep-throated echoey trickle of a stream running beneath the walkway. Tell-tale signs of flood debris litter the rock ledges at eye-level, remind us of the perfidy of water and caves, and the guides tell of times when the walkway we are standing on was washed away with the force of the rising water. We ask about the existence of other caves in the area convinced that given the landscape and the significant development in the cave there must be others, but our guides know of none or are not forthcoming with any information. They thought that the owner of the cave may well know of some but he was not around when we came out. The short bush walk back to the entrance is pleasant but generally unremarkable except for the karst formations – great lumps of eroded limestone are dotted about, providing a wonderful playground for boys. The cave has been used by Maori for generations, and we are told the story of local villagers who noticed tawa berries missing from the trees and food going missing, then saw smoke coming from the cave. Following the trail of squashed berries they found that a young woman was living in the cave, she had run away and had found shelter in the cave. Over the years the iwi have used the cave to store kumara and other vegetables and there are signs of some exploration. We have been in lots of caves and seen a whole array of stals and cave decoration, we have also seen glow worms in caves and in the bush since we have been in NZ but the “Milky Way” of Glow Worms in Kawiti was just stunning. It was just like looking up at the night sky – it would have been lovely to have been able to spend some time on my own, sitting in that all embracing silence and darkness that you can only get in a cave and perusing the “stars”. One day…