Friday, 7 December 2018

Dolphin Stranding- Tokerau Beach, Far North


Oh hi there, remember me? Once again I have been remiss (though I have a good excuse) in keeping up to date with blogs but so much has happened since my last post, things you'd find hard to believe. Like a flying visit to the Ida Valley. Yes, that Ida Valley, the one in the Maniototo in Central Otago. Can't tell you any more yet but hopefully there'll be a blog in due course. 

But for now, we're still up in the Far North and slowly making our way to the top of the island but I wanted to post this one while it's hot news. 

We're parked at the NZMCA Park at Tokerau Beach on the Karikari Peninsula at the moment. Early this morning a small pod of Common Dolphins stranded on the beach just in front of the park. Quite a few people, locals & DOC rangers managed to refloat them and herd them back out to sea. Apparently a pod of larger Bottle-nosed Dolphins had chased them into the shallows. They are arch enemies.

Unfortunately I missed all the action, I got up at 5:30am to check the sunrise but it was a clear blue sky and not very picturesque so I went back to bed! Bad move. If I'd looked out the otherside of the van I'd have seen quite a number of vehicles at the boat ramp carpark in the corner of the bay and then I'd have wondered why they were there....well I hoped I would have.

Once we learnt that there had been a stranding we headed down to the beach to check it out. The dolphins had all been refloated and all we saw were people milling around vehicles and others with binoculars standing knee deep in the waves, scanning the horizon. The dolphins long gone. Nothing to see there.

We headed off for a day's exploring but thought on our way home about 3pm, we'd drop into the beach and check that there was nothing untoward happening. ominous sigh; a whole group of people and vehicles on the beach...

...and there in the shallows, a small pod of Common Dolphins milling around, swimming along just behind the breakers (small as they were).

Several broke away and headed further along the bay...

 ...others headed straight into the shallows, where people tried shooing them away...

...and herd them back out into deeper water.

The dolphins seemed to be very tired and were not wanting to head back out, those that could swim, swimming up and down the wave line. 

Once they got into the shallows and bellied out on the sand, they started being rolled by the waves as people stepped in to keep them upright and try and get them to head back out into the bay. All the while they kept calling to each other, it was quite sad hearing there whistles and squeaks (see video link at the end of the blog)

Many more people arrived in the water to try and herd them back out. The pod had broken into four or five groups and they were coming into shore over a couple of hundred metres. 

These dolphins were kept upright and pointed out into the bay but they were still reluctant to swim off. It's thought that they were very tired and possibly had a few injuries after being chased by the bottle-nosed dolphins, probably several times during the day.

The pod included a few tiny babies...

 ...and unfortunately, people being people, everyone also wanted to touch and pat the dolphins. A couple of people even lifting one of the babies out of the water! I had something to say about that.

DOC Rangers tried to explain the harm petting them could do- sunscreen, body oils etc- but not too many took notice.

Thankfully, there weren't too many people and to be fair most had good intentions and of course were worried for the dolphins. The local Surf Lifesavers had their IRB which they launched and headed out into the bay, I overheard the DOC guys saying they were off to take the Bottle-nose dolphins away. Apparently they led them across the bay and they were last seen in the Mangonui Estuary.

Then TV One arrived... 

And finally it was a blessing when a rain storm could be seen heading our way across Doubtless Bay...

People headed back to their vehicles, leaving just a few keeping the dolphins afloat. We headed back to the park and when I walked back to the beach just 30 minutes later there wasn't a person or vehicle, and most importantly, a dolphin to be seen. 

Although I wonder what the morning will bring...

Here's the video I took, excuse the quality, I haven't done any editing- Common Dolphin Stranding- Tokerau Beach

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Footbridges and Fine Sands- Part 2

Continued on from Part 1

I did the next road trip by myself, David had had enough of winding roads and sandy beaches. I wanted to visit the Pataua footbridge, this one is a lot shorter across the water than the Whananaki bridge but the distance by road to the opposite side is much longer at 50kms compared with 13kms.

It was once again a 20km long winding narrow road out to the coast to visit Pataua North and I had a bit of a laugh when I pulled into the boat ramp carpark; a lovely new ramp and carpark too.

A white Ford Ranger pulled in right alongside me; I had seen it following me in the mirror for much of the way, catching up and then dropping away and disappearing out of sight. I kept thinking, when it caught me up, that I must pull over and let it pass but then it would drop away again. And there were very few places to pull over too.

It turned out to be my niece & her boyfriend, they'd decided to take the dog for a run at the beach, a beach they hadn't visited in years. I must have lit a spark when I told her mother earlier in the day where I was going. They headed off to the beach but I decided to check out the bridge first.

The holiday settlement of Pataua North is located on a golden sand beach of Ngunguru Bay while Pataua South is across the footbridge on the edge of the sheltered waters of the Pataua River & estuary. Pataua South can be reached by road via the Whangarei Heads but the footbridge gives residents and holiday makers access to the best of both worlds. 

On the south side of the estuary outlet into the bay is the cone shaped Pataua Island known locally as Pataua Mountain, only it's not really a mountain or an island just a small hill which was once a Maori pa site.

I walked across the bridge, through the small reserve and along the edge of the estuary past a few of the holiday homes...

...including this one with these stunning metal sculptures in the front garden...

...and then back to the bridge...

...where I crossed back over...

...stopping to watch a kayaker battled the out going tide and a windy chop as he paddled his way under the bridge and back to the boat ramp.

I should have headed over to the beach to see my niece but the cacophony of  screeches, squawks and other bird chatter coming from a flock of Red Billed Gulls/Tarapunga grabbed my attention. 

Three rocks, right alongside the new boat ramp were covered in nesting, resting, fighting and copulating gulls! 

I wonder if the locals knew these rocks were a rookery for gulls when they planned the ramp, which was now also a resting spot for gulls and covered in poop.

I spent ages watching the goings on, checking for eggs and chicks and locating some of the odd places that birds had decided to nest.

Some had been relegated to the stalls, teetering on the side of the rock, just above the tide and fighting to retain their nest material....not only from falling over the edge but from being stolen by other birds.

This gull had the right idea, hidden away from all the fighting and activity. I even saw one bird drop into the middle of the astelia where I'm sure there were more nests.

It took me awhile to locate some chicks, it seemed that most of the nests still held eggs. It was a hot day and this gull stood over the chicks keeping them in the shade but letting the light breeze cool them down.

The parent then climbed off and fed a thin liquid to both chicks, they looked to have only recently hatched, the egg shells were pushed over the nest edge and still largely intact (don't forget to click on the photos to enlarge them).

I finally managed to pull myself away from the life & times of Gull City and drove around to the beach to find my niece loading the dog into the ute and about to head home, oops! 

The beach was deserted except for a family surfing near the mouth of the estuary. 

I walked around the point and back into the estuary and followed a sailor as he tacked back and forward up the estuary... 

...and then walked back through the holiday houses to the ute, spotting this letterbox on the way. A new take on the old microwave letterbox!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Footbridges and Fine Sands- Part 1


While in Whangarei we drove a loop out to and up the coast exploring all the little bays and beaches along the way. It was a good 20kms of narrow winding road before we caught a glimpse of the sea and our first stop was at a lookout. A misnomer if ever there was one because the trees were blocking most of the view. There was nothing for it but to carefully climb the steel ladder up onto the tiny platform of a crows nest where the view was slightly better; here looking south towards Whangarei Heads. An older couple who stopped behind us had no way of seeing the view and drove off very disappointed.

The Tutukaka Marina was the next port of call, and a very quite place that was, not a soul in sight nor a boat on the move. The last time we were here we came in from the sea to refuel. 

Next came the first jewel in the crown of the golden sand beaches heading up the Northland coast; Matapouri Bay...

...where, being school holidays, there were several families enjoying the beach and swimming. I had wanted to walk around to the 'famous' Mermaid Pool, out on the reef behind the headland but the tides were wrong and I wasn't too sure how long I had. Next time maybe...

We carried on up the coast stopping beside a picnic table at Sandy Bay for lunch just as the sun disappeared behind the clouds and a chilly wind forced us to wrap up. A surf school kept us entertained while we ate our lunch.

We headed inland from Sandy Bay, the road winding uphill and very narrow in places until we reached the Whananaki South Road where we turned right and headed down and back out towards the coast. I was thrilled to catch sight of a seventy or so endangered Pateke/Brown Teal resting on the edge of a tidal stream as we neared the Whananaki Estuary. Pateke are restricted to several Northland & Coromandel sites where predator control is active.

The road finished at an overgrown gravel turnaround and I'm sure David wondered why on earth we were here.

At 395 metres this is the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere; we're on the south side of the bridge and it's 13kms of narrow gravel road to the north side. 

The bridge is also part of the Te Araroa Trail, we keep criss-crossing the trail as we move north.

Of course I have to walk the bridge there and back just to say I've done it so I leave David bird-watching. This is looking south back towards David. The house on the left belongs to one of the 'famous in New Zealand' Peters families; Whananaki South is Winston Peters childhood home, he and his 10 siblings were bought up on a farm in the district and still have homes and baches in the settlement.

Not far now as I approach Whananaki North and cross over the river, it would have been good to have seen the estuary at high tide with water covering all the mudflats.

Looking back to the south...

...and down-stream, across to the beach side settlement of Whananaki South...

...which I took from the high point on the bridge. A young mother and her son followed me over, he told me Mum was showing him where she grew up and how she had to walk to school over the bridge each day. He was more keen on going to the beach for a swim.

The bridge in it's entirety....well nearly, I've missed the north end.

Just a short way back up the road we took a side road out to the Whananaki Recreation Reserve where there's another beautiful white sand beach.

Here's a great tip for the campers amongst my readers; freedom camping is allowed in the DOC run reserve for self contained vehicles...

...and the best bit is that the site doesn't appear on any camping apps! So you're likely to have the place to yourself. Out of the high season of course, I suspect that this would be a traditional family camping spot for the locals over the summer holidays.

We had afternoon tea sitting on the tailgate in the warm sun and then spent half an hour retracing our steps and re-driving the last few kilometres when I realised my lens cap was missing. It wasn't until after about the sixth stop and search, including the mudflats in front of the Whananaki South baches, that I found it. In my pocket! I'm sure I double checked that before the call went out.

We headed off back to the main highway and home to complete the loop.

Here are the two churches I added to my collection; this one was way back at the beginning of the trip, just out of Whangarei; the Pehiaweri Maori Church near Glenbervie...

...and this one, the Holy Name of Mary Church in Hikurangi; I love the shadow the Phoenix palm fronds cast across the front of it.

To be continued... Part 2