Exploring the Northland and making your Footprint!

February 5, 6, and 7, 2014

So I started my next leg at 4am.  I had a flight for 6:50am to get to Auckland but the shuttle was scheduled for 5am so it was a very early morning start for me.  Christchurch airport is a very nice airport as far as airports are concerned.  There really isn’t too much to say about it.  The flight was smooth.  And it was nice to see the sun high above the clouds.

I flew with Air New Zealand.  I love them.  I can’t imagine flying with anyone else.  The flight was an hour and twenty minutes long.  I was in Auckland by 8:05am and on the road by 9:30am.  The Apex Shuttlebus driver suggested a few things that I should see and do while up there and he also told me what to avoid.  But it took me an hour to get out of Auckland.  The rush hour traffic was horrible, just like Laurence said it would be.  Oh dear.  But I made it to my little Omapere Studio Retreat by 5pm.  It was a very long day.  But it wasn’t all driving.  I did manage to squeeze in a little something extra to do besides drive.  In the small township of Matakohe, I stopped at the Kauri Museum.  The cost was $25 NZD for one adult.  Yikes!  But don’t let that deter you from going.  It is a very good museum with lots to see.  And it’s a good starting point before you go and visit Waipoua Forest to see all the magnificent, stunning, awe-inspiring Kauri trees.  The Kauri Museum is also a good rest stop between Auckland and Omapere.  There is a little cafe right across from the museum that serves a very tasty eggs benedict.  Or you could wait till you get to Dargaville for a lunch stop.  Anyway after visiting the Kauri trees I had to brave the 18+ km drive through the Waipoua Forest Scenic Reserve.  Thank goodness I took a motion sickness pill for the plane.  All the curves on this road would have made even the most steeliest of stomachs queasy.  When I got to my little retreat, I discovered I had no cellphone coverage.  A first for this trip.  And then I also realized that there was no wi-fi.  Michael, the person I was renting the place from offered me his 3G stick but really, with my track record, it didn’t matter if I was a few days behind in my postings, since I was already a few days behind in my postings.  But I really wanted to get my photos up.  However I wasn’t willing to give up a day or even a few hours just to sit and upload so I passed.  Then I discovered that I had no TV.  The satellite dish was not working.  Good thing I have my fall back plan.  Doctor Who episodes.  I have a lot of episodes to catch up on!  I’m just starting on Season 6.  I know.  There’s already a new Doctor.  And I have to be careful of ‘Spoilers!’  I might have to live with any potential ‘Spoilers’ when I get to the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular in Wellington later on this month.  Anyway, Michael did his best to try to get me TV but to no avail.  And really I wasn’t going to be spending an inordinate amount of time in the retreat.  I just wanted something to be playing in the background as I was researching my next day of stuff to do.  Michael was also great with telling me about things to do.  I told him of my plans to go to Cape Reinga and then to head off to the East Coast.  He said that going to Cape Reinga would be an all day affair.  Well I hope the weather is nice.  That first night I turned in early.  I was asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.  Which was fine since the next day I was planning on going to Cape Reinga way up north.

So the next day, I woke up to sunshine and cloud and lots of wind.  February 6 was Waitangi day.  The Apex Shuttlebus driver told me to avoid Waitangi and anything else on the East Coast since there would be protesters and politicians.  So because of him, I chose to head up to the second most northerly point of New Zealand.  It was windy last evening but I didn’t give it much thought since I was so used to the wind down in Christchurch.  As I made my way up to the Northland, I was tempted to stop by the little township of Rawene.  Michael said that there was a really nice cafe that served a tasty breakfast.  But I had already had my Sultana Bran and Rawene was only 30 minutes from Omapere.  So it was too soon for a coffee break.  The other reason to go to Rawene was if you wanted to take the car ferry that was located there.  It runs hourly on the half hour.  I had already missed it.  So I kept on going and encountered another lovely stretch of road through the Mangamuka Gorge Scenic Reserve.  This section of road was curvier than the section in Waipoua Forest.  Crazy!  I really wish I had taken a motion sickness pill that morning.  Because I was getting slightly nauseous.  Thank goodness I was following a mini camper van.  This way if something bad happens, it will happen to the camper van first.  I don’t know why anyone would make the roads this twisty and curvy.  Anyway after suffering through that section on the map, I was on my way again up to the tip of the North Island.  The wind was picking up and so were the showers.  The drive was uneventful.  I did see a few protester signs along the way near some tourist sights but other than that nothing was in the way for me to get to the Cape.  Craig the bus driver from Red Carpet Tours had suggested that I take a tour up there.  The tour bus would’ve taken me to Ninety Mile Beach as well as all the way to Cape Reinga.  However due to my location, it just would not have worked out.  But if you are in to riding sand dunes, that may be an option for you as well.  However since I had discovered that the road to Cape Reinga was now paved, I was not too worried about the drive.  As I drove the last section, I was also very thankful that it was paved.  It was a bit on the steep side.  And it was crazy windy the further up you go.  When I got to the top, the end of SH1 or the beginning, however you want to look at it, I stepped out of the car and was practically blown off my feet.  Holy Crow!  I don’t think I’ve ever experience any wind quite like this.  There was no rain, but the wind was bringing the ocean spray up and across.  And it was also blowing the sand at you as well.  Shield your eyes!  And your fancy cameras.  Fancy cameras do not like sand.  I had to hide my camera within my waterproof jacket.  But I could not protect my legs from the biting sand.  Man that hurt when the wind blew the sand at you.  Well, when you get out there, you see a fantastic view.  Follow the path down to the lighthouse.  You’ll see everyone else headed in that direction.  If you’re lucky the tour groups will be leaving as you are arriving.  If not, then expect lots of crowds.  Either way, make sure you go.  And even though the weather was terrible, it was still worth it to go.  With the terrible weather, it’s actually easier to see where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.  I also suggest you stop and read the information placards along the path.

After taking my photos, it was time to head back to my little retreat.  Oh Dear.  There was no avoiding going through Mangamuka Gorge again.  And this time the wind was blowing like crazy!  I will use the word ‘Gale Force Winds’ because you could feel the car shake.  It was crazy windy!  But I survived and made it back to Oponini, which is 5 minutes from Omapere.  I stopped at the local grocery store, 4 Square, which just happened to be in the same building as the Hokianga i-Site.  The i-Site was closed for the night but I saw something that signalled something was “meant to be”.  When I was talking about my trip to Raewyn James, Julie’s mom, the night before the start of the Red-Carpet Tours, Raewyn had strongly encouraged me to take the Footprints Waipoua Forest tour.  And I was planning on booking it when I got to Omapere.  But when I discovered that I had no internet and no cellphone coverage, I figured that my ability to book this tour was done and over with, but there it was.  A large sign on the lawn in front of the i-Site building and another sign plastered on the building itself.  I asked the sales clerk at the grocery store what time the i-Site would be open the next day and she said at 8:30am.  Which was perfect since that was when I would be headed out for my next little excursion, this time to the East Coast.


So the day after Waitangi day, I woke up to even more sunshine.  There was still a little bit of cloud but no worries.  It was beautiful just above Omapere.  And as I drove along the road towards Oponini, I saw the most perfect and complete rainbow just over the water and the island across the harbour.

Now, I have to admit, that ever since my little piece of heaven in Lake Pukaki, I have been a little disappointed with my retreat.  It wasn’t as private as I had hoped.  It certainly was near the beach.  It had a lovely view out the window but my problem was I was comparing it to heaven.

DSC_5962But when the sun was shining and I saw the perfect rainbow I thought to myself that things would turn around.  Even though it had been stormy yesterday at Cape Reinga, it was still impressive to go and see.  And now with the perfect rainbow, the day was starting on a good note.  My second stop, after shooting my perfect rainbow, Hokianga i-Site.  Norma who assisted me, had me signed up for the Footprints tour as soon as possible and what was really nice about the tour is they can pick you up and drop you off at your own place.  So I didn’t have to drive in the dark!  Bonus.  Norma also suggested I bring a waterproof jacket and a warm layer just incase but the weather report said that the weather was supposed to get even better this afternoon and evening.  Hurray!  Things were picking up!  So I had to be ready to go and back to my place by quarter to six.  I asked Norma about times and locations.  And thank goodness that I did because the Apex Shuttlebus driver gave me some misinformation.  My first stop on my little excursion, Rainbow Falls in Waipu.  But Wait one minute!  What that heck is this!  Why is it all cloudy and rainy?  As soon as I left Opononi, I could see the dark clouds.  DARK clouds.  These were storm clouds.  Hmmm.  Well, rain plus waterfalls equals spectacular waterfalls.  And I was not disappointed.  There was no rainbow but the rush of the water and the spray from the waterfall was very refreshing!  It is only 27m high but it was still spectacular.

Next stop…was supposed to be the ‘Million Dollar Drive’ in Whangaroa.  Everyone I spoke to, including the NZ Frenzy book said that there was this fantastic drive along this area so I was headed there but I was also driving through pea soup!  So change of plans, I headed up to Mangonui.  I was told that this little town had the very best and freshest Fish and Chips.  And they were right.  Mangonui is definitely a place to go.  You may think it’s awfully far to go for fish and chips, but seriously, these were really good.  Go and find Mangonui Fish Shop.  That is the place you want to eat at.  I suggest you just get the fish and add extra stuff.  Don’t fill up unnecessarily on chips.  That’s like going to an all-you-can eat sushi restaurant and filling up on the rice.  My fresh fish of the day was Gurand, a white fish and I added an oyster and a scallop.  Next time I will skip the scallop and add prawns or calamari or double the oysters.

After stuffing my face, I wandered around Mangonui for a little bit to check out the touristy stores.  I was hoping the weather would get better.  And perhaps it was wishful thinking but I thought it had.  But maybe it only got better in Mangonui.IMG_2323As I headed back to the ‘Million Dollar Drive’, the weather was turning even worse.  I was now driving through pea soup!  But there was the sign, Tourist Drive.  So I turned down the road and followed all the other suckers.  This is a ‘Million Dollar Drive’ in GOOD weather.  In stormy weather like this, you cannot see anything.  Where there were scenic lookouts, you look out and discover what a marshmallow looks like.  The only time I saw anything was when I got to a section of one bay where it was right on the waters edge.

But as soon as you get any altitude, say hello to pea soup!  That was pretty much 40 km of pea soup.  Needless to say I was very disappointed.  But my day wasn’t over yet.  If I wasn’t going to get a chance to admire the Bay of Islands, then I would admire the next best thing.  In Kawakawa, there are public toilets that were designed by Frederick Hundertwasser, a very famous Austrian artist.  Since this town was along the way home I decided I would join all these other tourists to admire these toilets and perhaps even make use of them.  And with this kind of weather, why not.  And I actually have to say that I was impressed with the building design.  I drove right by them, not even realizing that they were toilets.IMG_2326I had to stop and ask someone and that’s when I noticed that he had also designed a shop that was just across the street from the toilets.IMG_2328The other interesting thing about Kawakawa, there is a working train track that runs right through the town.  Now when I was there, there was no train, but people actually hang out to wait for the train to run through the town.IMG_2324However since I was on a time crunch to get back to my retreat, I could not wait for the train.  And funny enough, as soon as I made it to Oponini, the weather was nice.  I made it back to my place with 30 minutes to spare, just in time for me to eat a quick dinner.  The Footprints guides were knocking on my door just as I was opening the door.

Nataleah and Mere were my guides for that evening.  Including the guides, there were 10 of us in the “Silver Surfer”.  They named their van.  Isn’t that cute?  Anyway I’m not going to tell you exactly what we did because I want you to experience it for yourself.  But it was a wonderful evening.  You will truly enjoy it.  I highly recommend it.  I did not know what to expect on this tour, only that Raewyn said I had to go on this tour.  And I am so glad I did.  I learned a little about the Maori culture.  I heard their songs.  I heard their prayers.  I heard their language.  I felt their respect and passion for the land and the trees.  It was just an amazing experience.  And when you are standing before these Gigantic Trees and listening to the guides tell their stories, it is almost a mystical if not a spiritual experience, one that I will never forget.  And you will learn.  You will learn so much about the Kauri trees and about the Kiwi birds and other birds of the forest.  Never mind science and evolution.  When you hear the Maori story about why the Kiwi bird cannot fly, and why the other birds are they way they are, you will love their explanation so much more.  One of the first things you should learn as well is how to pronounce the name of the trees.  The way it’s spelt it looks like it should be pronounced ‘cow-ree’ but really it is pronounced ‘cody’ and just an additional lesson, Omapere is pronounced ‘o-MA-pear-ree’.  The emphasis is on the second syllable.  But back to the trees.  If you have ever seen Avatar and their Tree of Souls, that is just what the Kauri tree reminds me of.  These trees are so big, that it supports their own little ecosystem at the tops.  It is just amazing to see and hear.  And bonus!  I saw a few Lancewood trees growing near Te Matua Ngahere (the Father of the Forest), the worlds second largest living Kauri tree, which also happens to be the oldest known kauri tree at 3000 years of age.  And an even bigger bonus, we heard Tui birds but best of all, we heard a kiwi bird.  And as the light disappeared, and the flashlights came out, we saw an abandoned kiwi burrow and the worlds largest Kauri tree at night, Tane Mahuta (the Lord of the Forest).  It was really cool.  You have to trust me on this.  You must go on this tour with Footprints and see the Kauri Trees of Waipoua with them.  And then the next morning, you can go and see these trees on your own and it will be a totally different experience.  I kid you not!

I wish you could’ve seen the Kauri trees with me! Luv, Aunty!


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