Caroline kept her friends and family updated with a blog as she travelled through NZ and by the end of three kiwi-style hiking trips she was part of the Hiking NZ family so has kindly shared her story. This is the first leg of her travel on the majestic Far North:
It’s been a wet and windy adventure, but what a trip! We were a small group, guided by one of the most interesting and enthusiastic people I have ever met.
So much has happened that I can only give highlights. On our long drive up into the Northlands we stopped off at Waipu Caves, underground water caves which we wadded through barefoot after Cath, our guide, sang an old Maori song to the Tanawha – a river creature or sprit which lives in these types of waters and best to offer some kind of gift to so that you pass safely. Once deep within the caves, head torches off and the walls light up with glow worms. It felt like I was looking at a clear starry sky, but one which was only a few meters away and within reach… I could stretch out my hand and touch a star… but then remembered that it was in fact a worm, and that I’d rather not touch it.
Camping in beautiful beach side spots the whole time, though the weather was often against us. We took a walk on the morning of the second day to Whangamumu – an old whaling station, 5 hrs into the woods and cliffs. The old concrete baths they used to boil up the whale blubber into oil were still sitting there. These guys were hero’s of their days! With most of the oil going back to London to light the streets.
We spent the rest of the day in Bay of Islands – as the name suggests, there are many islands in a bay, and very scenic. Though, we walked high and far in the rain and cold to finish with a white-out view as the clouds were so low lying. Shame, but have now decided that I need to come back to sail this part of the coast, (of course, I’ll have to learn to sail first, and get me a boat!)
Some mild improvement for a short while in the weather the next day luckily coincided with the time we spent on the 90-mile beach: a stunning stretch of sandy beach taking you out to the furthest northern tip of NZ. A bright red retro coffee van at the entrance, so perfect! Everyone takes their cars and blasts it down the beach. We played my whole collection of ‘surf music’ – which basically consists of The Beach Boys, Jack Johnson and Xavier Rudd, whilst waving our bikinis out the window to dry (much to the amusement of a passing van.) We had lunch in the wind which blew sand across the beach in long ribbons of changing patterns, and took a walk out to where the beach was densely paved in shells. Dug in the sand to supplement our dinner with shell fish called Tuatua – kind of like mussels, but white and found just under the surface of the sand. Very yummy. Ran up some sand dunes at the end of the 90-miles and played around sand-boarding down into the almost dried out river, just before the rain started again.
Later in the afternoon we made it out to Cape Reinga – a very sacred spot for the Maori and (almost) the most north you can get (the Northern Tip was I think was 2 fingers of land mass jutting out further up). Cape Reinga is where the spirits from across NZ pass to drink of the water and journey into the next life. It is also the meeting point of the Tasmen Sea and Pacific Ocean, with a rather pretty lighthouse. Majestic is just too small a word to describe this point. It was somehow grounding and ground breaking at the same time. Utterly beautiful. We took several walks along the tops of the costal ridges, wind blasting around us, and the satisfaction and contentment growing with each step. Again, the small breaks in the rain were here painted with transient rainbows, melting into the path ahead as we approached.
Almost at the end – we went sea kayaking with an old American guy who originally got his visa for NZ by claiming to be a Macadamia Nut Expert (the system was a bit more lax in the 80’s). He was of the old sailor/surfer type with amazing smile lines wrapping all around his face from the corner of his eyes to the corner of his smile, and had spent the last number of years building his own stunningly wood crafted house on the coast line, filled with sea kayaks and an all encompassing view. We paddled out into the Pacific, with a wave hitting me smack in the face right on launching. Water slashed down the neck line and chilled the whole of my belly. Still – easily forgotten as we paddled through bigger and bigger waves to get out to a bay to walk around, and then later to our lunch spot which was the oldest piece of rock in NZ. Called ‘The Arrow’ it was stunningly striated dark rock which, I was informed, took 1000 years per 1mm to form. It belonged originally to the Antarctic land mass, and has travelled far to reach this shore. Rather extraordinary place to sit down with a sandwich and cup of tea.
Making our way back to Auckland now, we drive close to some thermal hot springs and decided to make an unscheduled stop. Clearly, four women after having been camping in rain for 5 days needed some TLC. So we go to Ngawha Hot Springs – one of the quirkiest places I’ve ever seen! The changing rooms were like old sheep shearing sheds (and not renovated, I might add) and the hot springs were these natural water pools which had been sectioned in, like wooden boxes sunk into the ground. Different colours and temperatures, with the smell of sulphur bubbling up to the surface. These were naturally forming bubbles, just coming straight out from the sand. We all soaked about in multiple pools, dipping ourselves in the different temperatures, but always keeping mouth and nose well clear of the water as it can contain amoebic meningitis which enters through the sinuses. Wonderful New Zealand – even your relaxation activities are like mini-adventures and full of risk taking.
Another last stop along the route home was in Opononi – rated the 2nd best fish and chips in NZ. (We missed ‘the best’ as the rain changed our schedule somewhat.) No choice of fish – it was just whatever the catch was. The experience I think was more for the ‘culture’ than for the taste.
We spent our last night camped out by the mighty Waipoua forest, home of the aged and massive Kauri Trees. The most famous (forgotten his name) is estimated to be 2000 years old. The traditional stories say that he was the son of Mother Earth and Father Sky, when they collided, allowing the world to be opened up to life. I felt him to have a very stoic air about him. At night fall we took a walk around the forest by camp with red sweet wrappers over our lights. Softly, softly we took to the board walk, occasionally shining our lights up into the eerie heights of the trees. We lay down on the path, backs to the ground and eyes to the sky, looking through the black silhouette of the canopy to the royal blue sky behind when, what’s that I hear?... yes – we caught a glimpse of the back of a wild Kiwi bird!