Sunday 31 March 2019

Sand, Sea & Sunrises- Tokerau Beach


From Maitai Bay we moved back down the Karikari Peninsula to Tokerau Beach where the sunrises are spectacular.

We decided we'd stay at the Tokerau Beach NZMCA Park rather than the freedom camping area further down at Ramp Rd; we did take a look but found it was quite busy with all the relatively flat areas in amongst the sand dunes taken. And the track in was also very uneven with large dips and holes full of water. There were a couple of places we may have squeezed into but we didn't feel like upsetting the neighbours. 

The NZMCA Park is a large site, with access to Tokerau Beach down a short grassy track between a horse paddock and an orchard. We parked near the back fence which will soon be a lovely green natural fence; a great way to soften the boundary between neighbours. I did have a chuckle to myself though when I saw that the native climber Tecomanthe/Three Kings Vine has been planted.

There's no holding them back once they stop sulking about being disturbed, it'll be like the day of the triffids when their strong vines head out. I had several vines growing on my pergolas in Tauranga and I very nearly had to take a chainsaw to them to keep them contained.

The Tecomathe is not so rare now that it has come to suburbia but once there was only one lone plant in existence. It was discovered on Three Kings Islands, 55 km off the northern tip of New Zealand during a scientific survey in 1945. No other specimens have ever been found in the wild and all existing vines have come about after the original plant was propagated.

They do have beautiful pale green creamy white flowers that hang like bunches of grapes from the underneath of the vines, they burst directly out of the branches at odd spots along the length (even though it's known as a vine, it's actually a tree with vine like branches). The flowers have a very faint perfume during the evenings.

I loved the Gumdiggers Hut that the local NZMCA Branch have made for the sign-in kiosk; it's great to see some creative flair in our parks. And like other parks there was a lovely little herb & flower garden growing behind the shed, always a welcome treat to those of us that live on the road full-time.

When we arrived at the Park there was just one other caravan on site. As we stopped to decide where to park, a couple came out of the caravan towards us waving. We didn't recognise them but they obvious knew who we were, they have been following our travels for quite some time. 'We knew our paths would cross one day' they said.

Ken & Sandra are David's nephew's in-laws and we'd last seen them at the nephew's wedding 25 years ago even though they travel regularly around New Zealand and holidayed alongside David's sister & husband in their motorhome for a number of years. We had a great time catching up over the following week or so, enjoying a few happy hours and comparing fishing & travel stories.

Some of you will recognise this stunning sunset photo over the Tokerau Beach Park, it appears as the opening page photo on my latest article in the April/May NZMCA Motor Caravanner magazine which has just been released. 

Tokerau Beach itself is a beautiful wide sandy beach that stretches for miles in a large curve around the western side of Doubtless Bay. 

Other than the seaside settlement of Tokerau Beach at the top of the bay...

 ....the rest of the coastline is deserted; just waves, sand and dunes for as far as the eye can see. Vehicles are allowed to drive along the beach and at low tide there's a steady stream of cars, utes, boats on trailers, motorbikes, quad bikes and even a few motorhomes driving up and down the beach (motorhomes are actually not allowed but that didn't stop a few hire vans from trying it out).

I didn't have to wait long for a subject to enter my frame anytime I visited the beach, sometimes it was like Piccadilly Station! You'll remember Coca-cola Lake from my last post and its tannin stained water, well this is a tannin stained stream which flows out to sea in front of the NZMCA Park. And yes it's naturally stained and yes, it's safe to swim in (if it was deep enough).

While at Tokerau Beach we drove over to the otherside of the  Karikari Peninsula to check out another 'secret' freedom camping area.

Once through the small settlement of Rangiputa, the road ends at a DOC reserve, a track continues on through the reserve to a small sandy point. Rangiputa forms one side of the entrance to the huge & shallow Rangaunu Harbour. Apparently there is good fishing off this point and along the nearby shoreline. 

It is a very pretty spot and I can see it's appeal in the off season when there might be one or two vans parked up. But I've seen photos of vans packed higgledy-piggledy into this tiny space which has very few level areas; I'm afraid that has no appeal to us at all. I also wonder at the sign at the entrance to the DOC reserve, a sign with a a line through a tent which means 'No Camping'. Now, does that mean tents only or all camping? I'm sure everyone who stays here would suggest it's for tents only....

On our way home we came across the Tokerau version of a traffic jam, sheep from Rangiputa Station being shifted.

I had spotted a church out at Merita near Maitai Bay when we were staying there, so I went on my own tikitour back out to check it out. I decided, after speaking to a couple we'd met at Maitai and who were also parked up at Rangiputa when we visited, to take the Whatuwhiwhi Road around the outside of the peninsula. They had driven the road in their motorhome, in the opposite direction, most of it had been through a pine plantation. 

I had read that it was a private road but they said they got through, there were a couple of gates to open which weren't locked. Unfortunately I didn't turn off when I should have and found myself driving down into a private little settlement at the end of the road. Uh-oh, I went to back up and found a car behind me. I smiled sweetly and said I was looking for a church I'd seen, he told me I'd have to drive back to the main road and go the usual way round. I spotted the sign saying 'Private Road' a mile or so back and passed the pine forest road the others had taken- private also!

So after that rigmarole when I finally did get to the church, I couldn't decide if the rough gravel track up to it was private or not, there were no signs. Having come this far there was no turning back....until I found myself in the front garden of a house, and the church in a paddock further on! Uh-oh again, I did a quick 20 point turn and headed back down where I decided a long shot of the church was the best I was going to get today! 

At the top of the peninsula near the turnoff into the Maitai Bay DOC Camp, the road carries on straight ahead, this one really is private and there are large signs saying so. Instead I took a nearby side track which I bumped and slid along until I reached an area that resembled a carpark.  This is on the west side of the peninsula overlooking Karikari Beach and all the way along to Puheke Beach beyond the hill which in turn is actually not too far as the crow flies from Rangaputa. This is the beach that the Carrington Resort overlooks (see previous blog). There's a short sandy track down to the beach but it's blowing a gale today so I'll only stop to take in the views.

I drove back down the peninsula and decided while I was out exploring I needed to visit another beach I'd read about.  I did take a short-cut but decided that discretion was the better part of valour and turned around when I found a large deep bog in front of me while trying to get around the edge of a large swamp (I'd also heard about the short-cut from the couple in the motorhome, they had tried to drive it too but the track had become too rugged for them). 

So I took the long way round- actually the same road that takes you to Rangiputa but I turned off a few kilometres beforehand and eight kilometres of gravel later...

...I found myself on the most stunning beach I've seen so far on our travels. 

This is beautiful Puheke Beach and I had it all to myself! Squeaky white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters, it's looked like a tropical paradise. I wasn't brave enough to go for a swim, it wasn't quite warm enough. but the sand was lovely and warm so I sat down near the top of a dune for awhile, watching the clouds as they rolled and tumbled past overhead, chased by a squall I could see coming from Mt Camel's direction.

And what are the chances of this? Only in New Zealand. On the way home I came across the same traffic jam as the other day.

Of course a visit to the Far North wouldn't be complete without a stop at the 'famous in New Zealand'  fish and chip shop at Mangonui. I say 'famous in New Zealand' but in fact from the cross section of people lined up to buy lunch this place is now world famous and on many tourists 'must do' list, such is the hype generated by social media and review sites (she says ironically).

The restaurant's location adds to the character & atmosphere of the place- perched on poles over the harbour with a covered deck where you can have your meal watching fishing boats come and go from the nearby wharf.  Fishing boats that bring the restaurant it's daily supply of fresh fish and in particular Bluenose, the Mangonui's Fish Shop's specialty.

Can you see David patiently waiting....for his lunch! 
The meal was excellent, fresh thick fillets of fish and crispy hot chips- although I would say a little on the small size for a serving of an iconic Kiwi dish. And because I was missing our Puriri Bay freshly caught snapper, I also bought a large tub of kokoda (raw fish salad) to take home. Rather expensive but well worth it and nearly as nice as my own home-made salad!

After lunch we took a leisurely stroll around the charming historic harbourside settlement of Mangonui. We didn't know it yet, but we returned to Mangonui later on in our travels, during the New Year holiday season. What a transformation! The queue for fish 'n chips was at least 20 deep and trailed off down the footpath, there wasn't a carpark to be found, traffic was bumper to bumper in and out of the village, every other cafe & eatery was bursting at the seams and there were people everywhere! It's times like this that I am thankful that we can visit these popular places outside of the holiday season.

Tokerau Beach sunrises really were worth getting out of bed for... 

...although I think much of the population had the same idea which was fine as they made great subjects as they passed by...

...although I had to pan fast to catch this guy. It never fails to amaze me what I get to see in the golden gloom of sunrise.

You may recall the post I did in real-time on the dolphin stranding at Tokerau Beach, I took the fire truck photo the morning after and I'm pretty sure they were driving the length of the beach to check that there had been no further strandings overnight.

Before this post gets any longer than it already is, here's one final photo from beautiful Tokerau Beach; sunrise on the pohutukawa trees that were just starting to bloom along the beach.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Magnificent Maitai Bay- Karikari Peninsula


From Mahinepua we headed north by-passing Taupo Bay (we'll save that for another time) and Mangonui (we'll be back for their famous fish and chips), passing through Doubtless Bay's beautiful beach settlements of  Coopers Beach & Cable Bay, through a busy Taipa before turning right up the Karikari Peninsula. The Inland Road up the middle of the peninsula reminded me of the Mahia Peninsula; a dry landscape of  rolling sand dunes, dune grass and scrub, pine trees and sparsely populated barren farmland.

Tokerau Beach from Ramp Road Reserve
We stopped at the public reserve at the end of Ramp Road for lunch, just a few hundred metres south, and accessed by a rough sand track, is the Ramp Road freedom camping area (click on the photo, you can see some vans by the pine trees). We may come back here to stay but for now we're heading to the top of the peninsula.

There are a couple of rare yellow pohutukawa flowering in amongst the red flowering trees planted along the edge of the beach in the reserve. Yellow pohutukawa descend from a pair of trees discovered in 1840 on Motiti Island in the Bay of Plenty. The yellow species is a taonga (treasure) to Maori.

Rush hour- Tokerau Beach. 

Once again proving that we're just 2 degrees removed here in New Zealand, I posted the photo above on a motorhome Facebook page I belong to and the guy on the bike responded, "Hey, that's me!" He also mentioned that it was 9.2km to the top of the beach (below), he was heading back to the Ramp Road camp when I captured him.

There's a large dune lake at the end of Ramp Road- in fact it's beside the track to the freedom camping area- it's colloquially known as Coca Cola Lake because of it's tannin stained water. Dune Lakes don't have rivers or streams flowing in or out of them, the water seeps through the sands over hundreds of years, darkened by peat and tannins from the Manuka scrub and other leaf litter around them. Apparently the locals extol the beauty and health properties of the water but you wouldn't get me swimming in there; the water's too dark to see if anything is on the bottom! Like big fat eels.

We stopped at Lake Rotopokaka (it's official name) later in our stay but unfortunately the colour wasn't as easy to see on a cloudy day. Roto= lake, pokaka= native tree, and kaka is our bronze/brown coloured parrot.

We bypassed the seaside settlement of Tokerau Beach for now and carried on to the top of the Karikari Peninsula, passing through the middle of the 1200 hectare luxury Carrington Estate on the way. The estate includes top-end accommodation, the Karikari Estate Winery & cafe and a championship standard 18 hole golf course. I'm not so sure I'd want to stay here though if I didn't have my own transport, it's a pretty isolated area.

The views from the villas out over the protected wetlands to the white silica sands of Karikari Beach are spectacular. That's Mt Camel/Tohoraha you can see in the middle picture on the left. Mt Camel forms the north head of the Houhora Harbour way across the bay and on the way to the top of the North Island.

The last four kilometres of road are gravel and then with a sharp right turn we finally reached our destination, Maitai Bay DOC Camp, and while it looks like that's Maitai Bay ahead of us as we drive down into the camp, it's not. There are two small bays side by side and this one is Waikato Bay.

There are also two sections to the camp; the top camp and the bottom, we take the road to the lower level and find a site in a large grassy bay very close to the day car park with walking access to Maitai Bay. The camp is a large one and is very popular with families and boaties during the holiday season. Although being early December we have the whole place to ourselves until evening when a few tourist vans arrive for the night.

A little further on from our camp site the road ends at a small boat ramp into Waikato Bay.

Disappointingly for us, and in the way we do it, it's a little bit too far to tow the Takacat inflatable, so we reluctantly make the decision that there'll be no fishing for us here.

Waikato Bay, Karikari Peninsula, Far North
The decision is actually made easier by the fact that there is a rahui (fishing & seafood collection ban) on until March 2020 to allow fish & seafood stocks to recover from being overfished. The rahui covers most of Waikato Bay & all of Maitai Bay. While David could head out and fish up and down the coastline on either side of the bays he's not that comfortable going so far out and especially in rougher seas away from the sheltered bays.

Located between the bays and up on a rise, these two pou (carved wooden poles) were unveiled  to mark the start of the rahui. The pou represent Kahutianui and her husband Te Parata, tupuna (ancestor) of Te Whanau Moana and Te Rorohuri. The other side of the pou, facing the water, represent Hinemoana and Tangaroa, the female and male atua (gods or spirits) of the sea. 

With plenty of camping bays and shelter belts of trees around each bay, the bird life was prolific. I watched a cock pheasant strut around our bay and in and out of the trees for much of the day. Then when I heard a commotion and saw a flurry of action as he chased another cock around and around the grass before disappearing into the next bay, I carefully crept up on them to see that they were having a stand-off...

...before once again engaging in a full out war on each other! They weren't in any hurry to call it quits either chasing each other through the trees and into another bay before disappearing down a bank, each one still keen to get the upper hand. The photos are in order as they happened, left to right, click on the photo story to enlarge. 

I later saw the object of their affections and the cause of the fight sneaking past the van; female pheasants are very, very shy, and while they may come across as drab in comparison to their male counterpart, in my opinion their markings are superb. 

I did see my male pheasant the next day limping past the van, but still on the warpath.

A pukeko family also spent much of their day pulling grass clumps out of the nearby soft ground and stripping off the tender shoots. 

What a lovely sleek juvenile this one is, he (or she) was very wary of me as I stalked them along the bush line. 

'Mum, help Mum, she's after me!!'
And by now you're probably saying to yourselves 'So where is Maitai Bay?"
Well, this is beautiful, stunning Maitai Bay...

Of course I had to leave the best for last...

Maitai Bay is a perfectly shaped horseshoe bay with turquoise water and bordered by a golden sand beach.

A sheltered bay for safe swimming, rock pools for snorkeling, a large campground with new amenity blocks, bush walks, a handy boat ramp, blue skies and hot weather; I can see why families make the long trip to the Far North for their summer holidays. 

I can imagine the beach would be very busy over the holidays but for now there are just a handful of people enjoying the early summer sunshine. I took this photo with my wide angle lens to capture the whole bay in the one shot. 

 And this one is a panoramic capture of the bay; four photos stitched together.