Sunday, 11 November 2018

Whangarei to Russell & Back

We're about to head off into the wilds of the coastal Far North so I'm thinking that internet reception may be a little intermittent over the next few weeks....though probably just as intermittent as my blog posts have been lately. So if you don't see me for awhile you'll know I'm out there making memories....and shooting photos for you! 

After leaving the DOC camp at Uretiti it was just a short trip up the road to Whangarei where my sister, Gaelyn and family live; not too far from the beautiful Whangarei Falls.

The last time we visited, back in 2013, we were able to park the rig in their driveway but it's not just the trees that have grown, the kids have too and there are now extra vehicles in the drive.

'No worries', my sister said, 'there's plenty of space at their 'do-up' just down the road' (which had been 'done-up' and was for sale).  'I'm sure you'll be able to pull off the narrow road' she said 'get through the gate and up the slope without dragging your bum, and before a passing car doing 70kph comes around the bend and collects you!'. Not too mention the overhanging trees and the sodden ground.....and the approaching storm.

We do choose some difficult sites but David did a grand job getting into this one. No lawns were harmed while turning the rig either....well hardly any lawn. Not only was it a challenge to get backed in between the garage & the house without damaging any corners, there was a torrential rain and thunderstorm raging overhead while we were doing it! 

Luckily 'Out There' fitted perfectly onto the only flat section of concrete there was, although the front legs had to be extended quite a way. And for only the 2nd time in 6 years I was able to walk under the nose without ducking. For the first couple of nights I had visions of us careening off down the slope, busting through the fence, clearing the road and landing in the river! 

It turned out to be the perfect place for us though; we had our own space, it was just a short walk to the family and it was lovely to have a large garden to enjoy along with the amazing bird life and dawn chorus, not to mention the constant cluck, cluck, clucking of the neighbours chooks as they laid their daily eggs. We could have very nearly got sucked into the suburban bricks & mortar lifestyle again....I did say 'very nearly'    

Gae and David (her husband is also David) and a group of their friends head to Russell for the weekend every year to attend the Paihia Wine & Food Festival. We joined them for brunch on the Sunday, leaving Whangarei early in the morning and travelling 65km to Opua to catch the car ferry across to Russell. Fog lay thick over the Hikurangi Swamp and through the valleys for much of the way.

We still made good time and only had a few minutes wait for the next ferry once we reached Opua.

We know Opua very well, it was like visiting an old friend. Back in another life we rented a berth at the Opua Marina and used it as a base for summer after we motored our launch up from Tauranga. We spent the summer exploring the Bay of Islands and further north, usually anchoring overnight in a quiet bay somewhere and only returning to the marina when bad weather was imminent or we needed marine supplies.

Some of these photos were taken on the return crossing later in the day (hence the cloud change). Here's some useless information for you, can you see the boat garage in the bottom left photo? That's Okaito Point and the 'mansion' that the garage belongs to was built using drug money by Terry Clark of  'Mr Asia' fame (or infamy as the case may be). Apparently a hatch door inside a wardrobe in the house led to an escape passage under the house that exited near the water and would have been ideal for a quick getaway by boat.

It was just a short drive to Russell from the ferry and it didn't take us long to locate the house the group had rented for the weekend; there aren't too many houses along the waterfront in this lovely tiny sheltered bay (except when a westerly is blowing). The views were fabulous, the Russell wharf framed by pohutukawas in one direction...

and Paihia across the water in another.

Amongst the boats anchored out in front of us was this cute little boat who we nicknamed 'Little Toot' until we managed to see her name  'Little Effort'.

After a leisurely champagne brunch I left the others relaxing on the deck while I wandered along the waterfront.

For a usually very busy little tourist town, the beach and bay were uncharacteristically deserted...

Russell was one of New Zealand's first European settlements and the original street plan and names from 1843 are still in place today. The town also features some of New Zealand’s oldest and most significant historic buildings. Russell/Kororareka was developed initially as a shore station for shipping (click the photos to enlarge). 

The Old Customs House 1870
I love the warning at the end!
As the European population grew, with a mixture of deserting seamen, runaway convicts, and grog sellers, as well as settlers and traders, the township gained a reputation as a lawless and rowdy port and the unflattering nickname “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. 

After New Zealand became a colony in 1840 all hotels selling alcohol had to have liquor licences and the very first license was granted to the owner of the Duke of Marlborough Hotel. This very popular hotel is the fourth on the site.

The Duke of Marlborough
The tranquil morning was about to disappear...

... as numerous fast and slow passenger ferries and tour boats began arriving at the wharf. And from the wharf I could see why; a cruise liner was in town, it's passengers being ferried in tenders across to Paihia where those that wanted to, caught ferries across to Russell.

The Russell Four Square building (built in the 1880s) is a Historic Places Category 2 building (Category 2 stands for a significant place). It is the only surviving 19th Century trading store still fulfilling it's original purpose on the Russell waterfront. The exterior of the building is corrugated iron and forms the main bracing for the building. If the corrugated iron were removed, the building would fall down. 

The Gables (1847) is one of the oldest buildings in Russell, and is also a listed Historic Places Trust building. Over the years it has been a bordello, bakery, shop, Salvation Army boys’ home and even a hiding place for sailors who had jumped ship. Now it looks to be a great restaurant.

The pièce de résistance (IMHO) is at the far end of the street; Pompallier Mission. Built in 1842, the building originally housed a printery where Church texts were translated from Latin to te reo Maori. Today the printery stands as New Zealand's oldest industrial building as well as the oldest of rammed-earth construction.

It was great to revisit Russell and have a some time to explore. Our previous visits were to the wharf on the boat, and back then there was no time for exploring. While David held fort at the casual berth fending off dozens of holiday makers arriving on their boats for the same purpose, I'd race down the gangway to the 4Square where I'd grab supplies left, right and centre, hoping I didn't miss anything important (like wine) and being careful not to grab too much as I wouldn't be able to man-handle them back down the crowded wharf and back onto the boat by myself. It was not an enjoyable experience I can tell you. 

On our way home we stopped for fuel in Kawakawa, home of the world famous Hundertwasser toilets. It's just about impossible to photograph them without anybody in the frame, especially when you only have a few minutes...

...and need to go yourself! This is one toilet where it's not unusual to take your camera in with you and take photos!

This colourful public toilet was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He first visited NZ in the 1970s for an exhibition of his work and then decided to make the country his second home, living not far from Kawakawa. In 1998 with the help of the community he transformed the town’s public toilets into a work of art, and the rest, as they say, is history!

There are a couple of buildings opposite the toilets that have their own take on Hundertwasser design.

With a cruise ship in nearby Paihia and smaller tours visiting the town, the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway had trains running between Kawakawa and Taumarere, they do also run most weekends throughout the year.

I was also able to bag a number of churches in Russell and on the way home; 

Top left, clockwise- 
Christ Church (1835), Russell- the oldest existing church in NZ, there are musket ball holes in the wetherboards left from the 1845 Battle of Kororareka.
Former Methodist Church (circa 1917), Russell 
Historic Kaurihohore Church (1861)- branch of the Waipu Church & the oldest Presbyterian Church in Northland.
St Michaels and All Angels Church, Towai, built in 1914 & relocated to present site in 2009
Kaurihohore cemetery
St Andrews Church, Taumarere- erected in Paihia in 1874 and barged to this site in 1926

Monday, 5 November 2018

Rainbow Falls NZMCA Park, Kerikeri


I'm jumping the queue with this blog but don't worry I'll be back to doing them in order once this one is posted. We're now at the Rainbow Falls NZMCA Park in Kerikeri and I just wanted to do this blog while it's fresh in my mind; it's such a great site with lovely gardens, fruit trees and this cute 'lighthouse' kiosk where members sign in.

It's a lovely peaceful place to stay and I'd like to pass on a big thankyou to all the Far North NZMCA members and volunteers who have developed and look after this lovely site for all of us to enjoy. It's very much appreciated!

There's not too many NZMCA Parks where you'll find beautiful orchids flowering along the fence line near the entrance gate. We're definitely in the sub-tropical north now.

It's a large triangle shaped park with plenty of space although there are a couple of minor parking restrictions to watch out for; a shallow ditch runs through the centre of the park. Vans can be backed up to the ditch from both sides...

...and there's a section along the planted boundary- between the signs- where only caravans can park. This is to protect the neighbours from the rumble of engines and diesel fumes when visitors arrive and/or charge their batteries. There seems to be very few caravans on the road at the moment...

...which is why we've found ourselves all on our lonesome at the far end of park and on what we now think is the best site.

There's lots of birdsong, no neighbours, it's sunny and we overlook the lovely gardens over the boundary fence.  

Not to mention the citrus trees that are planted all along our side of the fence! It's a pity the mandarins & feijoas aren't ready, the only ones with fruit at the moment are the grapefruit. Along with plenty of ripe fruit, there's a beautiful scent (and lots of buzzing bees) coming from the flowers that are smothering the trees.

Blackbirds and silvereyes are feeding off some of the dropped fruit, I cut a few of them open so they didn't have to struggle to break through the skin. I also brought a few inside and prepared them for breakfast with a little too much brown sugar! Not. I knew I'd put that grapefruit knife to use one day; I don't know why though because I'm not really a fan of grapefruit and David's not allowed it due to medication he is taking. One won't hurt him I'm sure. 

There's also another gem near the park. We're just a short 20 metres from a magnificent waterfall; Rainbow Falls.

Over the style and a few steps away is a large platform that overlooks the top of the falls. I can hear the rumble through my open bedroom window at night.

A track, part of the Kerikeri River Track leads down to the bottom of the spectacular 27 metre falls. You can see the top platform at the top right in this photo. 

The 4km track (no dogs allowed) continues on down the river to the Kerikeri Basin Reserve and the historic Stone Store & Kemp House.

The track is also part of the Te Araroa Trail (The Long Pathway) but it was still a surprise to see two walkers had set up camp across the weir at the top of the falls. I bet they got a surprise too, to see so many people staring back at them from the other side. It was the weekend so there were many visitors.

I've been waiting for a decent sunset so I could capture the falls as the sun went down but each time thick grey cloud has rolled in just as the sun disappeared.

The best shot so far was from another viewing area near the top platform, no blazing colours though just a subtle dusky hue.

Now, back to catching up....

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Living on the Edge


While we were at Uretiti DOC camp we did a tiki-tour south along the coast stopping at many of the beautiful east coast beaches along the way.

First up was Waipu Cove...

...which was also where I received a few strange looks as I walked slowly around the toilet block photographing the very detailed artwork on the building, which included the history of Waipu and pointed out local attractions including the Hen & Chicken Islands which seemed to be at their closest to coast here at Waipu Cove.

Next up and just over the hill from Waipu Cove was Langs Beach, a small seaside holiday settlement that looks to be filling up fast with permanent houses and larger holiday homes.

We stopped for lunch on the edge of the estuary and harbour at Mangawhai...

...and then drove around to the beautiful surf beach at Mangawhai Heads, the promontory you can see in the centre of the photo above.

It was a beautiful sunny day but with a chilly breeze blowing there weren't too many brave people in swimming. Taranga Island (the Hen) sits on the horizon with tiny Sail Rock silhouetted at the right hand end.

Out in front of the surf club and below the lookout is Sentinel Rock and the breakwater that forms the northern entrance to the Mangawhai Harbour.

I walked along in front of the surf club to a spot where I was able to see across the harbour entrance to the beautiful white sand dunes that form Mangawhai Spit.

At another lookout point near the carpark we were able to watch several boats fight their way home over the swift waters of an out-going tide.

From Mangawhai we drove inland a short distance before heading back towards the coast where there were some magnificent views out over the farmland to Bream Bay.

 Next stop is Te Arai Point and another stunning sparkling white sand surf beach...

...with the added benefit of a camping area. Te Arai Point is the most northerly of the Auckland Regional Parks and camping here is under the same terms & similar conditions to all of their parks. Book and pay and you'll then receive the gate padlock combination to gain access.

There's also the bonus of a dump station beside the park, although it would take a bit of careful manoeuvring to access it during wet weather and, with a bank on one side, bigger rigs may struggle depending on what side their outlet is located.

From the carpark a short track leads walkers to a tiny cove tucked in between two rocky points. This would be an ideal and safe swimming pool on a calm day at high tide.

David walked to one side of the cove...

...while I walked to the other. From my position I was also able to scan the beach to the south. There were several groups of fishermen trying their luck out on the rocky reef.

With one last look at this stunning beach we headed off back up the road and back to the main highway, crossing the Brynderwyns once again and forming a loop back to Uretiti.

We did stop in Kaiwaka so I could photograph St Pauls Church again. This was one of the first churches I photographed when we came north to see the family not long after we hit the road.

I was hoping for a better shot than my previous one; the church is in an awkward spot sitting up on a small plateau, surrounded by houses and with wires crisscrossing the air space around it.

But wait I have more! A very special sighting.

We stopped several times along the coast, checking estuaries and tidal streams for birdlife.  We saw the usual suspects; quite a number of New Zealand Dotterels/Tuturiwhatu in their rusty breasted breeding colours; including this one finding a tasty morsel to snack on.

A few dozen Bar-tailed Godwits/Kuaka, just home from an epic 13,000km journey from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra.

'It was a long flight, I'd just like to rest awhile...'
And in amongst the godwits, far out across the mudflats and in the middle of a channel there were three smaller waders. It wasn't until I processed my photos that I identified another long distance flyer and another first sighting to add to our virtual bird list; the Ruddy Turnstone.

This stocky little bird also flies to the Arctic tundra to breed before returning to the Southern Hemisphere in the summer. Most birds stop in Australia with only 1000-3000 continuing on to New Zealand. But, while this was a special sighting, it wasn't the special, SPECIAL sighting.

It was then that we had an OMG 'is it/isn't it, maybe, yes it is' moment. There, not too far ahead of us resting on the mudflats, were two tiny birds.

Two tiny birds living on the edge. These are Fairy Terns/Tara iti and with a population of around 45 individuals and just 12 breeding pairs, these are our most critically endangered endemic bird. Fairy terns are around 250mm long and weigh in at a mere 70gms, hence their name. In 1983 there were only 3-4 breeding pairs and the birds were headed for extinction. There are just 4 breeding sites in the upper North Island and the population has increased slowly with pest control, nest site monitoring and full time volunteer wardens looking out for the birds while they're nesting. 

We are thrilled to be able to say we saw Fairy Terns, and the best bit? We weren't even looking for them.

Nailed! Another one off the virtual list, and a very special little bird at that.