Monday, April 16, 2018

Explore NZ - Day 5 - 12 April - Te Kao to Whangarei

The stay in Te Kao Lodge was decent; the toilet could be provided with a lock. Even though it had rained in the night and early morning it was bright when the luggage was loaded into the car. After a simple breakfast of croissants, muesli and milk we set off on the second day of the New Zealand tour. The itinerary set for the day was Cape Reinga-Topatupatu Bay-Waitangi Treaty Grounds-Paihia-Whangarei. Bright weather accompanied us all the way to Paihia, where we experienced the first drops of rain. Once we were in the rooms of the Continental Motel in Whangarei, after a round of grocery shopping in Countdown, the rains came down heavily. Monica told us at the reception that the morrow may see better weather conditions. We hoped so too.

Back to the activities of the day. Cape Reinga is only 40 plus km away from the Lodge. But, it took us nearly an hour to get there. Verdant hills, thick forested land, cattle and sheep grazing peacefully in vast fields, snaking roads and summits, brilliant views of the coast and ocean, framed against a blue sky, spotless at times, made us stop to enjoy them almost every few km. The distance to be covered in the day was not high and so we could afford the leisurely, almost lazy, morning. More so because the weather was holding.

Cape Reinga is the northern-most tip of the North Island. The Maoris believe that Cape Reinga is the place from where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. From the Cape can be seen a clear separation marker of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The meeting of the two seas creates a clash and unsettled waters is the result. Many whirlpools form in this area. The Maoris believe that it is a symbolic union of the male and female. The Cape Reinga headland, the Three Kings Islands and a spring in the hillside are closely interwoven into the Maori mythological belief of the return of dead spirits to their traditional homeland, Hawaiki. Opening the area to increased tourist inflows met with Maori protest as they deemed it to be an intrusion into their sacred areas.

We parked at the relocated car parking lot and walked on a glorious walkway to the lighthouse on the Cape. The present lighthouse was built in 1941 to replace another in one of the islands. The fully automated lighthouse has a solar powered beacon. A signpost on the Cape indicates distances to various places such as the South Pole, London, Sydney, Equator, Los Angeles and many other important cities of the world. The photo op situations are so numerous that one does not keep track of time. We walked back to the car park over a hillock that lent better views of the seas, coast and island faces. From Cape Reinga we retraced our steps back towards Te Kao and came to a signboard pointing in the direction of the Topatupatu Bay. It is a short distance of unsealed road from the main road. It has a lovely sandy beach to walk on and soak in the sunshine. Many campers were already cooking food setting off signals in the brain for a hot meal. Gannets and seagulls lazed on the beach foraging for their ‘daily bread’. The shallow shoreline is very inviting; I felt like wading into the turquoise green waters that had receded from the broad beach front.

The next invitation to explore was only a few km away, where a signboard points to sand dunes about 5 km away. We were really curious to know how there could be sand dunes in such a vast area of verdant hills and grazing pastures. The diversion initially took us to a few sheep pens. We saw the unbelievable sight of trained dogs shepherding sheep into their pens. Straying animals were ‘rudely told’ by the dogs to fall in line with others, or else! 2200 heads were herded into an enclosure on the side of the road and it was an experience that will not be forgotten easily. One of the guys there told me that wool will be sheared in the next three weeks.

The Te Paki sand dunes is a wonder. From the car park the desert like sand dunes looked awesome and unbelievable. Sand boarders borrow kits at nominal rates and go up the high dunes to do their stuff. Some of them do adventure stunts to capture them on camera. We had to take off footwear, hide them in the tall grass and wade across a shallow rivulet to get to the sand dunes. Warning signs have been put at many locations to warn those who wished to drive on the sand of the 90-mile beach. It said that many vehicles have been lost in such foolish adventures. The walk up the dunes was not tiresome as the sand was moist underneath, gave good grip and did not slip away under the feet. The sand dunes are constantly moving and creating new designs with the assistance of the strong winds that sweep the landscape. I was amazed to see remnants of shells atop the sand dunes. The views are stunning and the experience unparalleled. Blue skies, green forested and, flowing rivulet and a moist sand dune – a fantasy? Later I came to know that the sand dunes are part of the Ninety Mile Beach which runs north from the town of Kaitaia. This explained why the sand was moist and sea shells were found on top of the desert like dunes. Fabulous experience, all the way.

The exploration of Cape Reinga and its neighborhood was over for the time being. It was time to head to the next destination of Waitangi, which housed the treaty grounds. In 1840 was signed a historic treaty between the Maori people and the British Crown, which gave them protection from French forces as British citizens. This treaty is historically deemed to be the defining moment in the formation of the country, the basis of its constitution and preservation of Maori rights. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a protected heritage site and located in the small quaint town with the same name. The helpful lady at the reception told not to ‘waste’ money if we were short on time. She said that it would require at least three hours to cover it in haste and two days if one were to do justice to the visit. We got back on the road after getting some more information on what the site was significant for. 

Paihai, Archana had told me, is a coastal town not to be missed. When we reached there we knew what she had meant. The stunning views across the waterfront of the quiet town with lovely houses and small gardens in front of them, the undulating landscape and a host of cafes and restaurants make it truly the Jewel of the Bay of Islands. People were engaged in kayaking, swimming and fitness regimes when we entered the Alfresco’s waterfront family run café for a snack and coffee. The crunchy garlic loaf and Tuscan veg salad were extremely tasty. Raj, from Kurukshetra who served us, told us that summer is when the crowds overflow in the café.

The distance from Paihia to Whangarei is normally covered in 45 minutes. However, the direct road has been closed, Raj told us, for over two months. This meant a diversion of over 40 km to our destination for night halt. The drive was smooth and without any hassle. When we reached the Continental Motel, where we were booked to stay, Monica, who runs the establishment, heaved a sigh of relief. She said that she was unable to get details of my card that had expired! It was fortunate that she had kept the reservation and what happened in Sydney did not repeat. After check in and payment Monica showed us to the comfortable rooms and told us that retail stores and restaurants were within walking distance of the motel. We made a quick visit to the Countdown store for milk, bread and fruits. Rain had begun and it was getting heavy by the time we got back to the room. It was Carlsberg beer and a dinner of rice and Thai Green Curry before bed.

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