Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Piha, NZ: An Ending Grace Note

In an effort to avoid Highway 1 on our southerly trip back to Auckland, we crossed over from the West Coast to the East at Wellsford, and then continued on Highway 16. Definitely a scenic route, but as the local we talked to said, not used much because it is curvy and hilly and slow. Coupled with warm and humid weather, we were used up by the time we reached the East Coast town of Helensville.

Recharged overnight, the next day had its odd shower, and it was still warm as we climbed and climbed into the Waitakere Ranges. The North Island is at its narrowest here, and the distance from Auckland to the West Coast is just 50 kilometers or so. But the topography gods managed to fit in an impressive ridge, where Auckland's elite could build their view homes and bike tourists could challenge themselves. When we saw the cell phone tower on top, we knew we had summited, and we dropped down the west side to our destination, the beach town of Piha.

Looking east from the high point of the Waitakere Range towards the Auckland metropolitan area.

Not knowing what to expect, we found a jewel of a place at Piha. A bay to itself, it is a favorite surf spot as laid back as any California beach town. No liquor store and just a couple of cafes and takeaway shops, the main town area is dominated by the domain campground. The managers are committed to keeping the prices low and the atmosphere quiet, so Kiwi families could still spend a holiday at the beach. Decidedly mellow, they burned incense in the reception area and there was a list of instructions to live by penned by the Dalai Lama hanging in the kitchen.  My favorite -- "Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon".

The manager just also happened to be the town medic. John stepped on a bee on his way back from the shower, and within 15 minutes it was swollen and red. He limped over to the office, and as she searched her bag for some medication, another camper came up. He happened to be a doctor from British Columbia, and within minutes John as administered a shot of antihistamine. Dumb luck turned into good fortune!

We spent a lovely day resting and walking on the black volcanic sand beach, postponing one more day our return to Auckland and the inevitable return home.

View of Piha from the high point just before the steep three kilometer drop ibnto the bay.

A Pukeko, a native flightless bird with enormous feet.

Low tide on the black sand beach.

Volcanic flows right on the beach trap the incoming surf.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kerikeri, NZ: Dear Ladds

Dear Sandy, Josh, and Roger,

We brought only greetings from John's sister Diana, your friend and colleague when you lived in California nearly 20 years ago. Oh, and a bottle of wine, too, which went well with the lovely salmon dinner and your Mum's desserts and your good company, don't you think? Small tokens, really, for a couple of nights of warm Kiwi hospitality. Thank you!

You have a good life in your bright house with open land all around. It was so quiet the day we rested while you were at work -- the ocean breezes filtered nicely through the doors and windows of your house. After four months of travel, it was nice to have a couple of days away from holiday parks and the queries of other travelers.  We were sorry that we could not meet your daughter kelly, but tell her we enjoyed sleeping in her room with the pink walls and butterflies.

A warm little house with lots of open space -- our dream.

Give those trees the same care as your son, and they will grow tall and strong just like him!  What an achievement for him to be a member of the National inline hockey team.  Safe travels as you criss-cross the country for the games.

Several generations of trees to supply many a future Christmas.

And can we adopt Kelly's mum as our Kiwi mother? Not one, but TWO desserts! What a special lady -- we were so glad to meet her.

Sandy and her Mum

Ollie the dog cried when we left in the morning. He made us feel like part of the family, too.  Thanks for giving us two days of your very busy lives.  And when you come back to California to visit, someday soon we hope, we will see each other again!

Sandy, Josh, and Roger

Love, John and Doris


Monday, March 7, 2011

Northlands, NZ: A Gallery of Images

At Bayleys Beach on the West Coast of the North Island, fisherman can drive on the beach for long stretches.

Ferns of the Waipoua Kauri Park rainforest.

Typical rolling pastoral land of the Northland.

After a hard climb at the end of the day, a sweeping view of Hokianga Harbour near Opononi and approaching rain clouds was our reward.

Roadside art.

Ninety Mile Beach from the southern end.  You could drive your car to Cape Reinga at the northernmost tip of New Zealand along this beach.  Heavy rain and skinny tires discouraged us from trying.

"Reduce, Recycle, Reuse"

Mangrove lines many of the waterways at this latitude.

We followed an uphill gravel road for 15 kilometers in search of a DOC campground, and we found this unexpected path through the Kauri trees in Puketi Forest.

Sunset in Puketi Forest, an island of native rainforest in a sea of farmland.

Curious cows in the hills above Kerikeri.

Stellar ocean views in the Bay of Islands.

Oh, to be back in the Shire again!

A divine opportunity along the highway into Whangarei.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Waipoua Forest, NZ: Botanical Wonders

There is not many a vegetable that we do not like. At home we have the thing called the sweet potato, and its cousin the yam, both of which we do savor. But here in new Zealand there is the kumara, a purple-skinned variety that makes me get more than normally excited for dinner. And here in the Northland we went through the otherwise drab town of Dargaville. Not worthy of note, other than the fact that this is the kumara capital of New Zealand, where 70% of the country's crop is grown.

One jolly kumara on the side of the road.

Kumara fields forever!

And just to the north there is another botanical wonder. At one time, before the arrival of European settlers in the mid-19th century, the hills of the Northland were covered with thick forests. Immense Kauri trees grew here, some thousands of years old and tens of meters in height and girth. The trees grew tall and straight, and made good ship masts in the grand era of sailing ships. This native wood was used to make many things -- mail boxes, furniture -- but also was a major commodity for export for this young and developing country. The forest was stripped for pasture, and all that remains are a few pockets of this once great forest. Visiting the Waipoua Forest was the primary reason we came here to the Northland.

The feeling of seeing these trees was the same as standing next to the great Sequoia or Bristlecone Pine -- how insignificnt our time on is Earth in comparison to a tree that is two thousand years old.

Fungus growing on the bark of this Kauri tree.
Passing trough a section of one-lane road, narrowed to fit between two towering Kauri trees.
A grouping of trees known as the "Four Sisters".
The canopy of the trees support a whole ecosystem of other plants.
Te Matua Ngahere -- "Father of the Forest"  -- the second largest remaining Kauri with a girth of 16.4 meters and height of 29.9 meters. 

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