The Christmas trees...Pohutukawa...are blooming in New Zealand. We first noticed these beautiful blossoms just starting to come out in Auckland and the further north we've come, the more prolific they are.
Up in the far north, the more idiosyncratic the mail boxes have become!
Our first stop Saturday morning was Tane Mahute, the largest Kauri tree in NZ, standing proudly in the Waipoua Forest, protected since 1952. This tree is over 50 metres tall and almost 14 metes around, and somewhere between 1200 and 2000 years old. You can just barely make out Lloyd standing on the platform in front.
Continuing north, we stopped just above Hokianga Harbour to walk out onto the headlands above the entrance.
Our destination Saturday night was the Whatuwhiwhi Top 10 Holiday Park in Doubtless Bay (so named by Captain Cook in his log when he sailed by..."doubtless a bay") for two nights. We contemplated driving all the way to the top, Cape Reinga, to see where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific, but this would have been a long 90km drive there and the same back. Another option would have been to take a "Dune Rider" coach but the attraction seemed to be sliding down sand dunes on boogie boards at the cape. Instead we opted for a leisurely visit to Gumdiggers Park (www.gumdiggerspark.co.nz). This is an authentic preserved gum field, over 100 years old, still belonging to the descendants of the man who bought the land in the early 1900s, intending to farm but discovering instead the wealth of gum underground from an ancient Kauri forest. These massive trees appear to have died all at once from some cataclysmic event such as a Tsunami (larger than the one to hit Thailand and Sri Lanka most recently) and then were buried in peat under sandstone for thousands of years. When damaged, the Kauri produces great amounts of sap. This conceals into hard lumps and falls off. After thousands of years this sap is hard and fossilized. It is also known as New Zealand amber. The older gum can be carved, while the younger gum was used by the Maori as fire-starter. When the Europeans arrived, they started mining the gum for use in varnishes and paint. The living conditions for these miners were very similar to those of the gold miners In the Cariboo. They were almost constantly in water up over their knees, and their boots (originally leather and then rubber) appropriately were called "gum boots" as opposed to Wellingtons. Interesting that Canadians also call them gum boots... The owners have chosen to leave this park as it is rather than excavating it for more trees (the wood is still commercially viable) however they have excavated one pit to show off a huge tree in situ.
Yesterday we explored the historic town of Mangonui, a safe harbour for whaling vessels since the late 1700s and settled by Europeans in the 1830s. There are many attractive wooden buildings, possibly still standing because they're made predominantly of Kauri timber. We had delicious fish and chips at the "world famous" Mangonui Fish Shop, before going to the Whaling Museum across the harbour at Butler Point (www.whalingmuseumbutlerpoint.com) for our appointed time of 2 pm. We were given a fabulous tour by Jan Ferguson whose parents bought the property in 1970. Whaling, like gum digging and gold mining, was sure a dangerous way to make a living.
We are now in Russell at another Top 10 park for a couple of nights. We have been renting cabins at these places so as to cook either in the larger communal kitchen or in the simple kitchenette in the cabin. Each park has a "bed for every budget" whether that is a place to pitch a tent, park a camper van, or stay in a cabin. There are even more deluxe choices, e.g. motel units with ensuite bathrooms and full kitchens.
Today we are taking the foot passenger ferry across the inlet to Paihia to visit the historic Waitangi Treaty Gounds. More on that in the next post!