Friday, 16 November 2018

Northern New Zealand Road Trip, part 2 - Kauri trees and pristine blue lakes

The beauty of going on a road trip, with no set plans, is that you can wake up in the morning and decide to go  wherever takes your fancy.  Doing it solo is no great hard ship, the downside is there is no one to share it with, the upside is the delicious  feeling of freedom that comes with having no one else to consider.

The mighty kauri tree
Bright and early in the morning I was back on the road again and this time heading to Trounson Kauri Park, 38ks north of Dargaville.  The kauri tree is a remarkable New Zealand native hardwood which can live for thousands of years.  They are precious to New Zealanders and although there were once a great many across the country, clearing of the land by settlers in the early days meant that there are few remaining now and those that do remain are mainly in bush reserves.  Like the Californian redwood they are an awe inspiring tree.  The most famous kauri in New Zealand is called Tane Mahuta it is located further north in the Waipoua Forest and is estimated to be between 1250 and 2500 years old. It is stunningly impressive with a girth of 15.44 metres and a height of 45 metres (148 feet)  Sadly many kauri are being attacked by a bacterial disease so preservation of them is more important than ever.  At the entrance to Trounson Kauri Park there is a shoe washing station to ensure no spread of disease and then once into the park there is an elevated boardwalk which takes you on a 1.7k walk through idyllic native bush and past magnificent kauri trees.  The boardwalk is in place to ensure the tree roots are not damaged or infected. I love being in New Zealand bush and must have looked a bit idiotic strolling through with a grin on my face enjoying the silence save for the calls of native birds, the sound of trickling streams and dappled by the sunlight shafting down through the trees and feathery ferns.

Trounson Kauri of my happy places
Unless you take a guided night tour through the park you are unlikely to see any of the 200 kiwi which make their home there.  I remember, years ago, a famous New Zealand pilot saying that being in a forest of tall trees was like being in a cathedral.  I agree, I always have the same feeling of awe and admiration for their splendour.  Going into an isolated forest park alone was probably not the wisest of decisions but there were no cars in the car park so I took the risk that it was unlikely I would meet anyone with ill intent and I also kept a watchful eye out. Fortunately, once again, there was not a soul around.

A spooky looking swamp near the Kai Iwi Lakes...I expected a monster to rise up!
Back in the car and off to my next destination, the Kai Iwi Lakes, 35ks from Dargaville and another new destination for me. The 3 lakes are famous for their crystal clear fresh water and their pure white sands and they are stunning. Long a popular camping holiday spot for New Zealand families the lakes are isolated and the perfect place for a get-away-from-it-all holiday where you can enjoy all types of water sports. I drove around the lakes, stopping at various spots to admire the view and take photos  The only people I saw were a young couple in a camper van who were leaving just as I arrived. Coming from New Zealand's largest city it had been really refreshing to visit so many places and have them all to myself.

Kai Iwi Lakes
It was overcast and breezy but beautiful all the same

Golden kauri gum with a centipede encased in it
Left: This kauri was germinated in the year 1100, Maori arrived in New Zealand in 1200, Abel Tasman discovered New Zealand in 1642. The tree was cut down in 1960

Day three of my road trip completed so next morning it was time to head back home to Auckland but first I had to complete my plan and visit the Kauri Museum at Matakohe on the way. I had heard this was a great museum and it certainly is, a couple of hours there just flew by.  The museum, as its name suggests, is mainly focused on the kauri tree, its milling, its uses and the collection of kauri gum which was a vital ingredient in the preparation of varnish and linoleum in years gone by.  There is also a focus on the social history of the area, the lives of the gum diggers and tree fellers and an impressive replica of a saw mill.  The museum displays the world's largest collection of kauri gum, a glorious honey coloured amber like substance, and some very fine examples of kauri furniture. You can also wander through a full sized, two storied boarding house built from kauri. I was so pleased I had finally got there, it was well worth the trip.
The replica saw mill at the Kauri Museum, Matakohe

The trip back to Auckland was through steady drizzle. The bad weather had waited until my trip was nearly over, lucky me! I had had a marvelous time and was fizzing with excitement about the places I'd been and the things I'd seen.  Road trips, with no set schedule, are so much fun, I am already wondering where  I can go for my next one.  I highly recommend them.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Road Trip Adventures in Northern New Zealand

It's great fun  to head off on a solo road trip, bubbling with that delicious feeling of freedom and filled with the anticipation of finding new places to explore.  Last week I was free of all my normal commitments so grabbed the opportunity and took to the road. I had an idea of where I was heading but was mainly just going to go with the flow and see where opportunities took me.  One place I had wanted to visit for years was the Kauri Museum, at Matakohe, so that was my only definite destination.

My first day was spent having a lovely long catch up and chat with my sister in law at the beautiful seaside town of Mangawhai Heads. Late afternoon I drove across country to the small town of Dargaville, stopping briefly at the village of Paparoa to admire a beautifully restored villa which the proud owner showed me through, the old country store and the grandiose bank building, now no longer in use. Banks were pretty important to small town life in years gone by.
The Paparoa Store, established in 1884

Those were the days, when banks were banks!  It seems very grand for a tiny village but would once have serviced farms and villages for miles around

 This was my first visit to Dargaville which lies on the Kaipara River, a fairly muddy looking river it has to be said, and the town is probably not the most exciting of places to visit.  Like many small towns in New Zealand it has a rather dismal main street with many empty shops and an air of decline about it. Nevertheless it has some pleasant residential areas, some lovely old villas and makes a perfect base to visit some beautiful places nearby.

Looking along the Kaipara River and the town of Dargaville

And looking south along the river from the Dargaville Museum
Verdant rolling countryside surrounds the town so on my first morning I went for a drive to explore it, getting quite lost but, in the spirit of going with the flow, loving it all the same.  I am not a fan of driving on unsealed roads however I soon found myself on one and decided to stay  on it for quite some time. Absolute bliss to be alone on the road entranced by the stunning views out to sea and the peaceful isolation of the farms along the way, a total contrast to life in the city.

A replica gum diggers hut at the Dargaville Museum
In the afternoon I visited  Dargaville Museum, a surprisingly good museum for such a small town. It is not well sign posted and can be hard to find but keep looking, it is worth the effort.  Located on a hill just outside the town it has commanding views over both the town and the river and is crammed with  plenty of items of interest, well displayed.  I highly recommend it.   The displays cover  the history and people of the area, stories of the gum diggers, ship wrecks and collections of all manner of things from thimbles, to bottles, to piano accordions.  Apart from the museum staff, I was alone, spending a good couple of hours there, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to linger for as long as I liked. As it started to drizzle I headed back to my motel to relax and cook some dinner.  Note: There are very few places to eat out in Dargaville.

Kiwi on display at the museum

The next morning dawned fine and sunny, perfect weather to explore.  My first stop was at Bayly's Beach, ....north of Dargaville.  Bayly's Beach is part of the spectacular Ripiro Beach, an unbroken  107 kms, or 66 miles long, running down the west coast of the north island.  It is longer than the more famous, but incorrectly named, 90 Mile Beach. The beach is a designated road so 4 wheel drive vehicles are permitted to drive on it but must observe the usual road rules. You need to be careful, though, since many a car has become bogged in the damp sand. I don't have a 4 wheel drive so just parked near the beach and walked.  With high cliffs of lignite behind me, long breakers curling onto the shore, the wind blowing sand into eddys around me and nobody else on the beach as far as I could see, it was wild and wonderful. I sat in the dunes for quite some time mesmerised by the surf,  the sea, and the sea birds squabbling and calling to each other until it was time to go and explore some more of Northland which I will write about in my next post. So far it had been the perfect day on the road.

Above and below: The glorious Bayly's Beach...not a soul around, just me and the birds, paradise!