I found myself ordering a long flat white ☕ 😕 with Anne and discussing where next to visit in our remaining time here.
Due to time constraints and changing weather, we determined not to spend time in the South Island, as we had yet to explore the south of the North Island. But then we thought we might venture across the Cook Straight anyway, and see just a little of the South Island – the north bit … As always, it’s the journey that’s the thing.
While pondering our plans, Auckland got hit by a raging storm with heavy rain, 140km winds, falling trees and fences, flying bins and power cuts. A friend told us that kids at a local school were pleased to find three extra trampolines had landed in their playground overnight😂. Time to get moving ourselves.
We decided to take the train, the Northern Explorer, down to Wellington and left Auckland early on a clear sunny day. The late summer had returned.
We’ve always loved traveling by train, and with its panoramic windows, detailed commentary and observation carriage, the Northern Explorer is a great way to go. And of course you travel through the farmlands of Waikato, up to the volcanic peaks of the Central Plateau, through Tongariro National Park and then down to Wellington on the Kapiti coast, a stunning journey.
We stayed overnight in the Wellington YHA, (very comfortable) and then got the early Interislander Ferry to Picton, traveling across the Cook Straight and through the Malborough Sounds. We were lucky enough to get perfect sailing conditions, both there and back, slowly navigating the breathtaking scenery.
Although the scenic Marlborough Sounds was reason enough for the trip, we made the most of our time in Picton, staying in the Tombstone Hostel and hiring a car to drive along the peninsula of Totaranui – the Queen Charlotte Sounds. We stopped at viewpoints as we drove and walked through beautiful forests, rivers, bays and shorelines.
Back on the North Island, we spent time in hilly, Windy Welli (though a lovely town, it lived up to its name), exploring the city and meeting up with friends of many years.
The coast south of Wellington, down by Owhiro Bay, was typically blustery and dramatic as we walked down to Red Rock point with Shona and Alistair
We also had a lovely afternoon walking through Zealandia, where we saw a range of native birds including Tui, Takahē and Kaka.
From Wellington, we drove with our friends Shona and Alistair to stay up in Ohakune by the Tongariro National Park. Friends kindly lent us their holiday home and we used it as a base to walk and explore the area. Having travelled through by train already, ‘tramping’ through the forests and hills gave us a different perspective, and we really appreciated how difficult it must have been for early settlers to survive in such a tough environment – including constructing a railroad right through it.
Walking through the valleys we came across farmland, native forests and the industrial architecture of the railway.
Heading back toward Auckland, we spent the afternoon at Orakei Korako Geo-Thermal Park. Run by Māori, it is a typical, surreal landscape of hot springs, mud-pools and geysers.
And, somewhat suddenly it seemed, our time in Aotearoa/New Zealand was over.
Fond goodbyes, followed by a flight back to Melbourne for more catch ups/farewells and soon we’ll be off to Western Australia (a flight that’s further from Melbourne than Auckland), a part of this massive country we have yet to visit.
We will be taking time out, and planning ‘where next’ in the final quarter of our big adventure.
The exact meaning, origin or translation of Aotearoaseems to be a matter of dispute, but the everyday consensus for the translation of the Māori name for New Zealand will serve as the title for this blog. Certainly the name evokes the natural beauty of this land, and the first two pictures, one of the Tasman Sea rolling onto 90 mile beach, the other, mineral deposits from geothermal springs in Orakei Korako give a flavour of this distinctive landscape.
As with our time in Australia, we have not travelled the typical backpacker route. Our
journey is guided by the desire to catch up with friends, to visit new places, and importantly to not repeat the mistake of our last time here, when we dashed around trying to cover every remote corner. Of course the pictures and stories in this public blog miss out the catch ups, the laughter and tales over dinner, wine and a beer. They also miss out the generosity and hospitality of friends, for which we are extremely grateful, and look forward to repaying one day back in London town.
Our time here started in Auckland in mid March, where we had the excruciating pleasure of watching the English Cricket team annihilated over four days in a day night test match, as well as exploring the city and its surrounds.
As we’d arrived at the end of the New Zealand summer, we needed to sort out a greater variety of clothing than the shorts and t shirts we’d relied upon for over a year. We also used rainy days to explore the city and its cultural highlights, but in truth the North Island was very kind to us, with mostly balmy days in the mid 20’s and warm evenings.
Auckland also marked the start of our exploration of the complex and historically troubled relationship between Māori and Pākehā (a New Zealander of non-Maori and non-Polynesian heritage). Though this is way too big a subject to be dealt with in this blog, it should be said it is a topic that we saw addressed wherever we went, and great care was taken to acknowledge historical wrongs and to give different viewpoints a voice.
When we were in the north we visited Waitangi, site of the 1840 treaty between (some) Māori leaders and the British Queen. As happened elsewhere in the world (notably with Native Americans), Perfidious Albion ensured that the Māori treaty translation differed significantly from the English, claiming a sovereignty over the country that was never countenanced by Māori. Although the subsequent lands wars demonstrated the determined fighting skills of the Māori, including the formidable Pā fortresses that proved difficult to overcome, eventually colonial might prevailed, promises were broken and land seized. But since the mid 1970s onward a Māori campaign for justice and reparation has had a significant effect on New Zealand society, and the cultural impact of Māori is visible everywhere.
Auckland remains one of those cities that is easy to escape from, for a tramp in the wilderness or a sail on a boat. We spent a lovely day walking through forest on the ecology trail at Tawharanui Regional Park, where strict controls over invasive species like possum and rats mean the trees are alive with native birdsong.
The North Island Robin, the Fantail and the distinctive Tui prosper. We also saw many majestic Karearea (NZ hawk) soaring in the currents or feeding on roadkill. We failed to find the blue penguin or the elusive Kiwi though.
For our day ‘tramping’ Waiheke Island – a quick ferry from Auckland, we decided on one of the less popular walls along the north coast and were soon entirely alone, wandering down into beautiful bays along a path that often disappeared, with occasional views of Auckland city in the distance.
We hired a car from Rent-A-Dent, and headed north, up towards the Bay of Islands and stopped off en route at Mangawhai Heads for another day of walking, this time along the cliff tops.
The glorious weather – sun, mid-twenties temperature and a sea breeze meant walking was a joy. It was a sign of what was to come in Paihia and the Bay of Islands.
We checked in to the YHA in Paihia, which was a good base to explore from, and seemed to have more going on than in Russell across the Bay. After the usual shopping/laundry/ sussing out the area, we booked a flight in a small plane to the far north – Cape Reinga and 90 mile beach. The seven-seater plane took off as the sun rose over the bay and we had a fabulous journey in the early morning light, with a low mist and the clouds above reflected in the water below
The mist soon cleared and we had a beautiful journey watching the surf from the Tasman rolling on to the beach.
After a bit of sandboarding, it was back to the plane for an even more spectacular return flight.
We spotted a pod of Dolphins in the surf below
We also did a fair bit of exploring in the Paihia area (walking and driving) and our Rent-A-Dent did let us down once on a remote dirt road, but luckily we were able to do a few running repairs and keep going. One trip recommended to us by a German couple in the hostel was a day trip on a sailing boat, and we had a fabulous time on the water in ‘She’s a Lady’ tacking across the bay in perfect conditions – with a bit of kayaking, snorkelling and swimming thrown in.
Again, there was a low mist as we headed out in to the bay, but the sun soon burned through for a great day.
In our last day in Paihia, we finally got to Russell on the ferry and had a lovely time walking around the town and the hills around, before a sunset dinner in Duke of Marlborough and a moonlit journey back to Paihia.
Leaving Paihia, we headed along the coast to Aroha Island in search of wild Kiwis, but without success and then stopped for a few nights in the historical, and beautiful town of Mangonui and the nearby Coopers Beach.
We headed further down the west coast of the far north with the aim of visiting the majestic Kauri trees in Waipoua Forest. We based ourselves for a few nights in an adapted shipping container perched up on a hill near Donnelly’s Crossing, surrounded only by stillness and birdsong. It’s been the nearest we’ve got to glamping, though we didn’t try the outside bath!
There really is something magical about Kauri trees. Some, still growing today, were mature trees before any humanset foot on the North Island. They grow tall and straight and were used by Māori for war canoes and then felled in their tens of thousands when Pākehā arrived. It is estimated the 4,600 square miles of Kauri trees were cut down and transported down the mountains – with loggers coming from around the world to fell these giants of the forest.
Cutting down these giant trees, using only saws and axes in remote, mountainous forest was a remarkable feat. As was moving them down using oxen and specially built rail tracks. Damns were also constructed high in the mountains and then the water released sending hundred and thousands of these enormous logs crashing down the hillsides to the sawmills below. The resulting devastation of the forests for a timber that was prized around the world continued until 1970s, despite many years of protest to protect this unique area.
One other historical episode in the Pākehā exploitation of the Kauri is that the sap produced by the tree was a valued component for quality paints and varnishes. As a result ‘gum-diggers’ arrived from around the world, digging down in to prehistoric forests to mine the fossilized gum. Their story, and the story of the communities that survived in this area is brilliantly told in the Kauri Museum in Matakhoe.
The remaining trees are now protected and many are of particular spiritual significance to Māori who manage the Waipoua Forest reserve.
The rest of our NewZealand journey took us back to Auckland, and then south, by train car and boat, we’ll cover that in the second part of this blog …. coming very soon 😊.