Cape Reinga was amazing! Although the weather turned rainy/misty and the wind blustered our van, we were not deterred and drove all the way up to the car park closest to the lighthouse. From there it was another twenty minutes or so to walk out to the lighthouse. Cape Reinga, besides being the northernmost point in New Zealand, is also of high religious importance to the Maori people. This meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean is where the male sea and the female sea meet; and where the spirits of the Maori dead come before journeying home. Two springs are present in the hillside. One purifies the spirits of the Maori, and the other is drunk by the spirits only if they want to continue on to the spiritual realm, otherwise they believe they are reborn.
It was mesmerizing, to stand on the edge of the parapet and look out at the waves rolling in at an angle before crashing against each other. There are supposed to be whirlpools present, but we didn’t see any. What we did notice though was parts of the sea/ocean almost constantly white and foamy and it was fun to anticipate the bigger waves rolling towards each other. Some of the resulting sprays were huge!
We drove back down from the point on the West coast, using the directions that Kevin and Jane had given us. The Northland is very quite for the most part and mostly what you hear are the cattle mooing and the occasional sheep. Desolate is a very apt word for the area. Miles and miles of pastureland with the occasional tree for contrast. This landscape is very different from what the early Europeans found when they arrived. At that time the North was all forest with huge Kauri trees. These trees were harvested by the Europeans and the Maoris for use in shipbuilding, home construction and anything else that could be made of wood. Today, it is very difficult to cut down Kauri trees either dead or alive. There are however, swamp Kauri trees that have been preserved in peat bogs for upwards of forty-five thousand years before being hauled to the surface and used for furniture, artwork and the like. We stopped at a place called The Ancient Kauri Kingdom to check out their showroom and a staircase we had heard about. It goes from the first to the second floor and is made out of a swamp Kauri tree. It kinda felt like being in The Hobbit as we walked up the winding staircase before emerging upstairs in the art gallery. The showroom itself had some wild pieces on display, but it’s not inexpensive. Of course what would you expect for such old wood,eh?
Ninety Mile beach was our next destination. Tour buses drive on this beach every day as well as the locals, but in a camper van? Not for us. It truly is a beautiful beach and we enjoyed the sun peaking through and the surfers catching waves. Had we stayed longer, I would have thrown on the suit and grabbed the boogie board. As it was, we had so much still to see.
We continued on to our next destination to see some live Kauri trees. Waipoua Forest probably has the most old growth Kauri’s left in the New Zealand. Our first introduction was Tane Mahuta. He is reputed to be around two thousand years old and is the biggest tree alive. He is one hundred and sixty-one feet tall and has a diameter of forty-five feet. The DOC keeps the bush cut back around him so that people can get an unobstructed view and the track to see him was a short elevated walkway.What a massive tree! He makes all the normal trees seem dwarfs by comparison, and people are Thumbelina tiny.
Up the road a bit was another bit of the park with more celebrity trees. We saw them all. We started with Te Matua Ngahere, the father of the forest. He (they all seem like he to me) stands ninety-eight feet tall with a diameter of fifty-three feet. He almost seemed more impressive than Tane because he’s a bit fatter.
The Four Sisters are on one of two side trails from Te Matua Ngahere. The track took about fifteen minutes to walk and we passed several massive unnamed Kauri trees on our way. The Four Sisters are four Kauri trees of similar size and age that grow extremely close to each other. This is unusual because usually Kauris are fairly spread out because of their massive size and shallow feeding roots.
Our last tramp of the day was to see the Cathedral Grove and Yakas. This tramp took about half an hour each way and of course we had to hang out with the trees too. The track is a really nice raised walkway that is kept up nicely, but also serves another purpose besides an easy walk. You see, the remaining Kauri trees are in danger of dying due to Kauri dieback disease. Thus, the raised boardwalk and stations at the entrances and exits for folks to spray and scrape their shoes helps prevent it from spreading. It’s easy to do, and assists in preserving these beautiful trees.
Cathedral Grove was beautiful! Off to the left of the track nearer to the end is a stand of twelve or more gigantic Kauri trees. The range about the platform from close in to farther out and the atmosphere is hushed. I think the name is quite apt really. Standing there I got the feeling that it was like being in an open air church and I could see the space being quite nice for ceremonial activities. I believe others have had the same idea, which is why they don’t allow camper vans to overnight there. Bummer!
Yakas is the seventh largest Kauri tree in New Zealand and the only one we were allowed to touch. The walkway runs right up to his trunk and wraps around it so that we could hug him, sit on his toes and lay back on his trunk. Yakas was named for a Dalmatian gumdigger and Bushman who had found him earlier in his life and kept the location quiet. Only when asked by the founders of the Kauri museum in 1966 did he reveal it’s location. The tree was subsequently named in his honor. Yakas stands one hundred and forty-one feet tall and has a diameter of approximately forty feet. We both spent some time with Yakas just hanging out and marveling over him.
Our next highlight was The Kauri Museum in Matakohe. We had parked overnight in their parking lot so we could spend as much time as we wanted there the next day. This museum is incredible. It tells the story of the early pioneers in New Zealand and their relationship to the Kauri trees. Different wings inside house a boardinghouse, a sawmill, engines used in the harvesting of the wood, and a plethora of things made from Kauri. From wood paneling, to carvings, furniture to boats, this place has it all. We stayed all day and only took a break for lunch in our camper. Personally, the thing I marveled over the most was a 1929 Caterpillar 60 that took the place of one hundred and sixteen bullocks and sixteen men in the bush. I also loved one room where they have rings painted on the wall to show the circumferences of the biggest known Kauri trees. This is probably one if the best museums I’ve ever been to and I would highly recommend it to anyone coming to New Zealand.
Next up was Kaiiwi Lakes. These are three freshwater lakes with stunning beachfronts and crystal clear water. I read somewhere that it looks like the Caribbean and it certainly does. Boating, fishing and camping are all allowed and we spent a few hours there relaxing on the beach. I went for a bit of a hike up the hill and took a few shots overlooking the lake. Nice, eh?
The last spot before returning to Auckland was Paraki Springs. Geothermal waters provide a natural warmth to the water park. We camped here for two nights and enjoyed the water park our second day there. Very cool to go down the waterslides/ tubes and the water was so warm. We mainly stuck to the relaxation pool where we could read or we’d go do a couple of slides. It was so quite there as it was a Friday and no lines. They keep the park open till ten at night and we made sure to get in some pool time before they closed. Incredible to float under the stars and a great way to end our Northern trip. We drove back to Auckland and Drury for a week of visiting friends before taking off again, but THAT’S another story.