Saturday, 18 May 2019

Pink & White.... Beaches


From Tapotupotu Bay at the top of the North Island there's only one direction you can travel and that's south, back down Aupouri Peninsula towards Kaitaia, 110km away.

Ngataki Stream, Rarawa Beach DOC Camp
When we headed up the peninsula we'd decided to travel to the top and then do any exploring on our way back down. Unfortunately (for me who likes to explore to the end of every road we come across) we decided not to check out the DOC Camp at Spirits Bay (16km of gravel) or the vast Parengarenga Harbour. David wasn't feeling the best (harbinger of things to come perhaps?) and it was hot & dusty everywhere we went. We'll just have to leave those places for another time. 

Ngataki Stream
We were also aware that we needed to be set up somewhere ready for the Christmas & New Year influx of holidaymakers (yes I know, Christmas, I'm that far behind!)

The New Zealand Christmas Tree- Pohutukawa flower
Our next stop was 60km south, on the east side of the peninsula at the Rarawa Beach DOC camp. The camp is a large site tucked in behind the sand dunes. There are several areas sectioned off by large pohutukawa trees, pines and native plantings. Many of the pohutukawa trees were in full bloom which made for a spectacular display.

The languidly flowing Ngataki Stream forms the southern boundary of the camp as it wends its way in a big lazy curve around the outside edge of the camp. With only 2-3 campers, we had the pick of sites. 

We parked on a slight rise atop the stream bank, with our slide-out overlooking the water where we could watch the bird life from behind our tinted windows. There was a small colony of Pied Shags/Kawau nesting in the overhanging pohutukawa trees alongside us, some of the chicks had already fledged, the ones still there spent the day exploring the branches around their nests.  

An adult (top right) took some time out resting on a branch right in front of our window. A pheasant pair (top left) cautiously came out of the flax bushes each morning to feed on the grass. A male Yellowhammer watched proceedings from a nearby fence post.

Rarawa is a beautiful camp and is now firmly one of my favourite DOC camps in the North Island. The sunsets were stunning and even better I didn't have to move far from the van to catch them...

... or the beautiful golden hour hue on the flowering pohutukawa trees.

But wait there's more! It wasn't just the camp that received my favourite award, Rarawa Beach has to be right up there alongside Puheke (or just ahead by a whisker) as the most spectacular beach we've seen up north.

From the camp located behind the pine trees (below), it's just a short walk along a soft, sandy track  beside the stream... the beach. The colour of the sand on the track and the stream bed prepares you for what's in store once you are over the sand dunes and onto the beach.

A stunningly beautiful, glaringly white, silica sand beach (and don't forget your sunglasses).

The beautiful white sand beach (that squeaks as you walk) stretches for miles in a northerly direction...

...and down to a small sandspit at the south end where the stream exits into the sea.

As is the case with many of the sandspits along our coastline, it's been roped off and signposted to warn of nesting shorebirds, in particular our endangered endemic New Zealand Dotterel/tuturiwhatu. 

Of course the birds can't read and don't know when humans are trying to do them a good turn. We're alerted to several nests outside the large roped off area when we spot a Variable Oystercatcher/Torea Pango doing the broken wing act to draw us away from it's nest.

And then a dotterel darts past us doing a mad dash for who knows where, but keen for us to follow.

That's when we stand very still, and then gradually step our way after it, as it leads us towards the water. We look ahead carefully before each footfall, making sure there isn't an egg waiting to be crushed by a careless step. David is our egg spotter extraordinaire and as he scans the surrounding sand he spots a lone egg in a shallow depression in the middle of a small piece of dune grass (centre left).

At least the grass offers a tiny bit of protection, many nests are just open scrapes of sand with perhaps a bit of seaweed or small piece of driftwood nearby. Looking just like any other bit of sandy beach. Which works well for camouflage against natural predators but it's no protection at all from humans, dogs & vehicles that pass.

We didn't try to locate the oystercatchers nest, it ran down to the high tide mark and settled in some seaweed. It's trying to trick us into thinking it's nest is down there.

Rather than disturb any other birds nesting outside the ropes we move to the high tide line and follow it down to the stream outlet where once again there are huge pohutukawa trees overhanging the water.  One is smothered in red and the others just about to burst into flower. 

December is a great time to visit the beaches of the top half of the North Island, nothing speaks of summer more than a stunning display of our iconic pohutukawa trees.

We walk back along the waterline and see that a group of young guys have come down to the beach from the camp.

Some are swimming while others are sunbathing on the side of the sand dunes. Most of them are lily-white and I wonder if they know anything about how harsh our sun is and how much more they can burn when the sun is reflected off such white sand. I think there will be several sore bodies about tomorrow.

As we near the track entrance another dotterel darts away from us just ahead and David quickly locates another nest, this one beside a strand of seaweed and very vulnerable as it's right in the middle of the beach with wheel-tracks very near and footprints all around. Dotterels usually have 2 or 3 eggs so the ones we've seen are still works in progress.

We decide to drag two pieces of driftwood (they are quite small, there's nothing much available) and place them a couple of metres away from the nest on either side. This will at least stop a quad bike from tearing through the middle of the nest (which is on the far side of the wood in the photo below).

We then give it a wide berth and watch as the dotterel quickly returns and settles back down. In this blistering heat it's important the egg is shaded and the temperature kept regulated. I have my doubts that this nest would have survived until hatching.

You're probably wondering about the heading for this blog- Pink & White....Beaches. For those that don't know, that's a play on our famous Pink & White Terraces (considered to be the 8th wonder of the world), coloured terraces formed by silica deposits in a our famous geothermal area in and around Rotorua. The Terraces were destroyed in the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption.

Well, you've seen the white beach but where is the pink one?

Just 12kms south by road but only just around the headland at the southern end of Rarawa Beach is another stunning beach; Henderson Bay.

It's hard to believe that these two beaches are side by side and yet are so different. Henderson Bay has a beautiful pink hue to it, the colour showing more on the wetter sand below the high tide line. I've caught it mid-tide here.

It's not until you get down close to the sand that you can see the pink is made up by heavier grains of sand that are sitting on top of the white silica sand beneath. The pink sand is crushed coral, although I have no idea where it's come from as I'm sure we don't have any coral nearby (and googling it doesn't provide any answers either). It's certainly a freak of nature that there are two beaches right next door to each other with different coloured sand.

While I was taking photos down on the beach, I spotted a person off in the distance through my viewfinder. He was laying face down in the sand, I wondered if he was getting up close & personal with a pink grain of sand (click on the photo to enlarge). And then I saw him raise himself up, he was doing press-ups. Sometimes I see the strangest things while out exploring. With no other car in the carpark I have no idea where he came from either. 

Henderson Bay is a true hidden gem, not too many people visit it. In fact both beaches wouldn't have too many visitors as most people are on day tours with trips to the Te Paki Giant Dunes & Cape Reinga. Both beaches are just a few kilometres off the main highway and are well worth a visit if you have your own transport.

Obviously the beach does get some unwanted attention though, this signpost alongside the track down to the beach.

The sun sets on Rarawa Beach. Next stop Houhora Heads.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Te Paki Coastal Track- Cape Reinga


The Te Paki Coastal Track is a 48km rugged & scenic coastal track around the top of the North Island. The track leaves from Spirits Bay on the north eastern coast, passes through Tapotupotu Bay where we're camped, on around Cape Reinga, down along Te Werahi Beach, past Cape Maria van Dieman, along Twilight Beach and on to the giant sand dunes at Te Paki. And if you really want to make a walk of it you can continue on all the way to Ahipara at the south end of 90 Mile Beach.

There are several sections of the track that can be day walked, some are just a couple of hours, others are 9-10hrs and have entry points off the main highway. I decide to walk the 5km Tapotupotu Bay to Cape Reinga section but in reverse, getting David to drop me off at the Cape carpark so I can then walk back to camp from there. This proves to be fortuitous as in this direction I have two downhill sections and only one uphill!

The track starts twenty or so metres along the walkway to the lighthouse, it descends sharply off the manicured scoria track where visitors are leisurely strolling along. Some peer over the edge to see where I'm heading as I disappear out of sight. 

The track levels out for a short distance as it cuts around the edge of the bush-clad slope that finishes at the blue ocean far below. 

Once I round the bend the views along the coast are spectacular. From here it's straight down a small ridge, across another short shallow gully and then all the way down the next much longer ridge...

...the track & I, making a bee-line for a beautiful little bay tucked into the coastal cliffs ahead.

This is Sandy Bay, the bay I'd seen from the lookout up on the main highway a few days earlier.

From the lookout up on the main highway

And just in case you're thinking the track doesn't look that steep, this is looking back up towards Cape Reinga. It's probably about here that I'm patting myself on the back for deciding to walk in the direction I am.

Sandy Bay's shallow jade green waters look perfect for swimming, I'm sure many walkers have stopped to cool off here during the heat of summer. Uh-oh.... and I can also see the track rising sharply up the ridge on the otherside!

There are plenty of dramatic sea cliffs on the ocean side of the track...

...but all my attention is taken by the view down into Sandy Bay on the inside. What a stunning little cove.

The track narrows as it reaches the point and just as I take a photo I see a movement in my viewfinder. Another walker coming from the other direction has just popped up over the top of the point. He tells me he's walking there and back to the Cape from Tapotupotu Bay. I guess this the only option if you're by yourself and staying at the camp, it'll be at least a 6hr walk for him.

I reach the edge of the bay and clamber down a steep section of the track to the beach below.

While I'm taking photos, I get overtaken by a couple on a mission. They scare the living daylights out of me as I don't hear them approach and they don't say hello as they pass. They stride off towards the other side of the bay past a rocky area where it can be difficult to pass at high tide.

Once they reach the other side they cross the small stream and carry on around the beach towards the rocks and the overhanging pohutukawa trees where they settle down to have some lunch in the shade. I am sure they thought I was headed there too hence their hurry. I leave them to it and locate the entrance to the track, which isn't an easy as it sounds. There's no marker pole and others have worn a track up the edge of the stream either for a look or looking for the track start as well. 

I stop to take photos of the flax flowers along the edge of the track. Did you know that there are yellow, orange & red flax flowers? I've taken dozens of flax flower photos over the years and it has never registered that there were three colours until I was asked for a photo of a red flower for a study an organisation were doing on whether the colours were area specific. I never heard the outcome, I suppose with so many cultivars it would be hard to know which ones were natural. 

The views over Sandy Bay are just as spectacular as I climb higher...

...and higher. I'm also now racing ahead of a cloud bank I can see rolling in from the west.

The climb ahead is very steep, there are stairs some of the way and as much as I appreciate them, they make the climb twice as long as I have to do two steps for each one, as my stride isn't quite big enough to take them one at a time (although perhaps it's my legs complaining too much). 

There are several flights of stairs and as I zig-zag up the side of the hill, I stop often to take photos looking back over the bay.

The stairs give way to a narrow track that follows along the top of the cliff. I can now also see the Cape Reinga lighthouse on the far side and the track coming down the other ridge (click on the photo to enlarge).

It pays to keep alert and not look over the side if you have vertigo!

Finally I reach the top where the track heads off across a wide plateau through scrubby manuka and flax bushes. Across the water I can see the long white sandy beach of Spirits Bay, there's another DOC camp at the far left of the beach and that is also where the Te Paki Coastal Walk starts.

In the other direction I zoom in on a motorhome heading along the main highway to visit the Cape...

...and another one heading down into Tapotupotu Bay. 

Once through the scrub, the track opens up and turns towards the coast again and out to another point...

...above another beautiful bay; Tapotupotu Bay...

...with the DOC camp and home far below.

It's still a long way to the bottom and once again I am grateful I decided to walk in this direction. There would have been two very steep and long uphill sections coming the other way.

I'm walking along the edge of a cliff again and this time when I look over the side I see a flock of gannets playing follow the leader across the water far below.

The track follows the contours of the cliff edge all the way to a point just above the bay.

When I look back up the cliff I can see the couple who stopped for lunch have finally caught me up.

This time they don't give me a fright but they still pass me without saying hello. I call out hello to them instead and they answer with a wave & couple of grunts. It's a strange one that, I think foreign tourists do get a surprise at how friendly walkers are on our tracks, some do look at me in surprise when I say hello and they then offer a quick friendly response when they realise I'm talking to them. It's the Kiwi way afterall, isn't it? 

As the couple cross the sand I spot David walking along the beach towards me...

...he tells me I've been quicker than he thought, he was just going to climb up the track to meet me. Yeah right.

Footnote- I wonder who can guess what this blurry photo is of? Yes, I know, two piles of pebbles. But what do they represent? I took them out of my pockets at the end of the walk.

They're my new way of counting the flights of stairs, 11 flights up and 3 down this time. Remember my leaf numbers from the walk at Whangaruru where there were 45 flights up, I decided picking a pebble up at the top of each flight was quicker than making a number up each time out of leaf litter and then stopping to take a photo (hmm...I guess 45 pebbles would have weighed me down a bit though)

Zoom in at the top of the map & look for the green waypoints to track the walk.