Category Archives: environment

The start of a day on an Explore NZ tour bus

Daniel the driver picked us up from Club Paihia in Dune Rider at an hour of the morning when I am more usually opening one eyelid at a time. Dune Rider is a specially converted vehicle with a truck front and a coach body, purpose built for the day's travels that were ahead of us. The coach seating is sloped to allow all passengers to see out the panoramic front window.

Daniel our driver picked us up from Club Paihia in Dune Rider at a time when I am more usually still snoozing. Dune Rider is a specially converted vehicle with a truck front and a coach body, purpose-built for the Northland tour. 

Before we embark on our travellers’ tales, let me introduce Daniel. I am a generally a bit apprehensive about being a coach passenger – vivid memories of Auckland bus drivers running red lights and jolting to a halt when I was a regular bus passenger commuter. Daniel’s calm and considerate driving quickly quelled any fears. Also, I can be tetchy about tour commentaries – especially about those sparse on fact and overloaded with wisecracks and cheap shots. Daniel, however, provided a most eloquent commentary – knowledgeable, interesting and friendly. His deep spiritual connection with the land added a rich dimension to the tour. We were in the best possible hands for an 11 hour journey.
First stop Taipa. Ahhh! coffee! We picked up our packed lunches and were on our way.

First stop Taipa. Ahhh! coffee!

Our packed lunches were ready to be picked up at Taipa. Once again, Explore NZ got it right – grainy bread sandwich with lots of meat and salad filling, bottled water, a piece of fruit and some slice – pretty much exactly what I would have chosen for myself. (I promise, I have no personal connection in any way with Explore NZ. I am just a happy customer!)

Next stop - the Gumdiggers Park.

Next stop – the Gumdiggers Park.

The English call them Wellingtons or wellies – and we call them gumboots. Why? Because these were the boots that gum diggers wore, of course! How did I reach this age without knowing that before?

Through the manuka bush ...

Through the manuka bush …

...to an ancient kauri log, estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000 years old. The log has a girth of around nine metres.

…to an ancient kauri log, estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000 years old. The log has a girth of around nine metres.

Apparently, in all the buried forests in this area, the trees have fallen in the same direction. Mysterious. The most popular theory is that the kauri forests were felled by tsunami or meteorite strikes. The chemistry of the peat swamps has preserved rather than fossilised the fallen trees.

When kauri trees lose their branches, the sap drips to the ground and hardens, becoming the prized amber coloured kauri gum. The English immigrants dug the peat swamps for buried kauri gum and exported it back their homeland as it was used to make varnish, linoleum and perfumes. The images below show the well ventilated shelters where the gum diggers would have lived.

4 Gumdiggers hut

6 Gumdiggers

The sieves used for washing the peat off the pieces of kauri gum found by the gum diggers.

The sieves used for washing the peat off the pieces of kauri gum found by the gum diggers.

The walk through the trees and past the gum diggers' accommodation comes out at a clearing where there are native kauri, manuka and ferns.

The walk through the trees and past the gum diggers’ accommodation came out at a clearing where there are young kauri, manuka and ferns.

I had not previously heard of Gumdiggers Park. When I asked others on the tour what was the highlight of their day, Gumdiggers Park rated the top mention.

Our next stop was a better known New Zealand landmark – the northern most tip of the country, Cape Reinga.

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Washed ashore

A first for Kiwicommunicator – reblogging. I thought this post on Travelling with Ana was fascinating – the art that is created from found objects. Wouldn’t it be a thrill to see a project like this go global? Click on Washed ashore to read more.

Reusing materials appeals to me. The Waikato Times Business Section had an article on a tyre company making rubber matting from tyres that can no longer be used on vehicles. The company has recovered its initial investment and is beginning to make a profit. Good news all around.

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Hamilton Lake in autumn

Hamilton has a reputation for being foggy – a comment that is made as if by way of criticism. I love the way the fog tosses its gauzy throw over the landscape – a flattering soft focus. There will be a post one day soon on Hamilton in the fog, but not today. Today was clear – a soft light where the stillness and reflections were pure and the spirits received a top up to carry them through the bleaker days to come.

reflected reeds

lake 1

walkway

in the distance

autumn colours

It is a flat, scenic and easy walk around the lake – about one hour. There is free parking at and beyond the Verandah Restaurant.

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Karangahake Gorge railway tunnel

Fully replenished after our lunch at Falls Retreat Bistro, we embarked on part two of our Karangahake Gorge expedition.

Out of the carpark, across the two suspension bridges (we were getting good at these by now) and along the river path we walked.

Out of the carpark, across the two suspension bridges (we were getting good at these by now) and along the river path we walked…

...past more intriguing rock colours and formations ...

…past more intriguing rock colours and formations …

...and through the disused railway tunnel.

…and through the disused railway tunnel.

As we emerged from the tunnel, Spence told us he had been through this tunnel before – on a steam train in the 1950s, when he was a primary school-aged child.

Spence tells the story: “The Taneatua Express ran from Auckland via Hamilton, Paeroa and Tauranga, therefore through the Karangahake tunnel. It left Auckland in the morning. I was travelling alone with lunch provided by Mum. I recall that somewhere after Tauranga (I can remember that the rail line was close to the coast on the left), people on the train gave me chocolate, and at about dusk the guard took me to ride in the Guards Van (I’m guessing that after Te Puke there would be few passengers left on the train, and perhaps there were no lights working in the old wooden carriage). I remember that the train arrived at Taneatua well after dark – I was met of course. So although I have no specific memory of the Karangahake tunnel, I must have gone through it, there and back, because that was the only rail route in those days. Kaimai tunnel didn’t replace this rail route till 1978.”

Those were the days!

 

 

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Karangahake Gorge walk

It is worth putting aside a full day to visit the old gold mine and tunnels at Karangahake Gorge, between Paeroa and Waihi. When you park your car, you step out to a view of the Ohinemuri River.

It is worth putting aside a full day to visit the old gold mine and tunnels at Karangahake Gorge, between Paeroa and Waihi. When you park your car, you step out to a view of the Ohinemuri River.

Walk across two suspension bridges to reach the ruins of old buildings.

Walk across two suspension bridges to reach the ruins of old buildings.

 

The rock walls offer an ever-changing colour palette.

The rock walls offer an ever-changing colour palette.

The walk along the disused narrow guage railway tracks is comfortable.

The walk along the disused narrow gauge railway tracks is comfortable.

Before long, we were looking back towards the road, far below.

Before long, we were looking back towards the road, far below.

Original wire rope hung down the hillside.

Original wire rope hung down the hillside.

New Zealand's national emblem, the silver fern, so named because of the colour of the underside of the fern.

New Zealand’s national emblem, the silver fern, so named because of the colour of the underside of the fern.

We all wished that the light at the end of the tunnel was always as clear as this!

We all wished that the light at the end of the tunnel was always as clear as this!

Looking towards the suspension bridge further up the river. Previously we crossed the bridge and returned down the other side of the river to the carpark. However, a rock fall meant that on this trip, the pathway was closed.

Looking towards the suspension bridge further up the river. Previously we crossed the bridge and returned down the other side of the river to the carpark. However, a rock fall meant that on this trip, the pathway was closed.

So this is where we would have walked if we could have.

So this is where we would have walked if we could have.

From time to time we encountered abandoned machinery. I wonder what this was used for.

From time to time we encountered abandoned machinery. I wonder what this was used for.

It was hard to imagine the thriving mining establishment that had once existed along the pathways we had just walked.

It was hard to imagine the thriving mining establishment that had once existed along the pathways we had just walked.

It took maybe an hour and a half to walk this part of the Karangahake Gorge tracks. That included multitudinous breaks for taking photos. We returned to this view of Ohinemuri River, beside the carpark ready for lunch and a walk through a disused railway tunnel - but those will have to be the subject of future blogs.

It took maybe an hour and a half to walk this part of the Karangahake Gorge tracks. That included multitudinous breaks for taking photos. We returned to this view of Ohinemuri River, beside the carpark ready for lunch and a walk through a disused railway tunnel – but those will have to be the subject of future blogs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pohutukawa – the New Zealand Christmas tree

Rotoroa Pohutukawa

pohutukawa on beach Rotoroa+

Every year the pohutukawa shines out along our coastline right on time to celebrate Christmas. The pohutukawa at Maimai Bay, Rotoroa Island, was thick with blossom. The ancient tree clung tenaciously to the soil, its weary limbs resting on the sand below.

Maori legend has it that a young warrior, Tawhaki, tried to find heaven with the hope of avenging the death of his father. He fell back to earth. The pohutukawa flowers represent his blood.

An especially significant pohutukawa tree grows at the tip of the North Island where Maori believe the spirits of the dead depart from the land.

My childhood memories of pohutukawa centre on playing on the North Shore’s Thornes Bay beach in the 1950s and reading Avis Acre’s stories of Hutu and Kawa, the pohutukawa fairies. This image from one of the Hutu and Kawa books was downloaded from the internet.

An illustration from a Hutu and Kawa book.

An illustration from a Hutu and Kawa book.

More recently, I have enjoyed Rod Slater’s sculpture in Auckland where the Southern and North Western Motorways converge at Nelson Street. The sculpture has 105 fibre glass wands as stamens, each five metres long. This image was also downloaded from the internet.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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Sailing in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf

We have just returned from the quintessential Auckland experience – going away on a yacht for a few nights with friends on their Lagoon 38 catamaran. Over the next few posts I will share some of the highlights of exploring Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.

To meet up with our friends on Waiheke Island, we took a ferry from Devonport Wharf. We looked back across the harbour at Auckland City as we waited to board our ferry.

To meet up with our friends on Waiheke Island, we took a ferry from Devonport Wharf. We looked back across the harbour at Auckland City as we waited to board our ferry.

Heather gave us a wave from the catamaran as we disembarked from the ferry. David was waiting for us in the rubber duckie to take us across to the yacht.

Our friend gave us a wave from the catamaran as we disembarked from the ferry at Matiatia Wharf on Waiheke Island. Her husband was waiting for us in the rubber duckie to take us across to the yacht.

The interior of the yacht was beautifully appointed. Our hosts had their berth and facilities in one hull and we had a full-sized double berth and our own facilities in the other hull.

The interior of the yacht was generously proportioned and elegantly appointed. Our hosts had their berth and facilities in one hull and we had a full-sized double berth and our own facilities in the other hull. There was a remaining berth where we could store our gear. Luxurious.

Iggy took the helm as we set off across the Firth of Thames to a bay just north of Coromandel.

Iggy took the helm as we set off across the Firth of Thames to a bay just north of Coromandel. He was impressed with the state of the art navigation suite and autopilot.

I took in the coastline ...

I took in the coastline …

...and viewed the landscape from a new perspective.

…and viewed the landscape from a new perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tiritirimatangi

On my wish list was a ferry trip across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour to Tiritirimatangi. I was so thrilled when VJ told me she had a spare ticket and would like me to join her on a visit to the island.

The island is a native bird sanctuary. Volunteers helped eradicate all the mammals which were predators for New Zealand native birds, they planted over a quarter of a million native trees and plants, and they introduced the endangered takahe. You really are surrounded by birds there. Even when you can’t see the birds, you can hear their song, ringing out loud and clear.

As we passed Rangitoto Island on our way over to Tiritirimatangi on the ferry, the weather looked moody.

We were caught in a shower of rain soon after we stepped ashore – but before long, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

The takahe were easy to spot – and so tame and unworried by our presence that we managed to get quite close to them.

With the kowhai in flower, the tui were making the most of feeding on the yellow flower’s nectar.

VJ managed to catch this photo of a parakeet.

We also saw the  cute little “white heads”.  You had to be quick to photograph them!

Manuka is in flower at this time of year.

I was pleased that OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) doesn’t seem to have found Tiritirimatangi, or they would have managed to erect barriers and ugly signs around this spectacular drop from the top of the island straight down into the sea.

The coastline is rugged. We especially liked the turquoise pool at the base of this cliff.

The time between being dropped off by the ferry and being picked up mid-afternoon is enough to take you pretty much around the island – and I am no Speedy Gonzales. The tracks are clear and easy to manage. Here is VJ on one of the constructed walkways, which leads to a bridge across a little stream.

We were ready for lunch when we stopped on a breezy knoll. No food is available on the island, so we enjoyed the picnic we took with us.

Our final stop before returning to the ferry was at the lighthouse – and, of course, the shop. The shop stocked some of the most exquisite souvenirs I have seen anywhere. They are well priced as the shop is run by a team of friendly and helpful volunteers – the best service we have had anywhere. I can hardly wait for Christmas to wear the new earrings…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ongaroto Road, State Highway 43, near Whakamaru

When Iggy starts suggesting new routes for our journey home, I draw a deep breath. We have driven on some spectacularly long and windy roads in the name of a new route. This time, Iggy got it right in a big way.

We parked at the foot of a flight of over 100 steps.

Near the top, we could look back at the dam.

This was how it looked from on top of the world. Can you spot the wee car on the roadway below? Awesome!

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Huka Falls

The Huka Falls, just five minutes drive  north of Taupo, is the most visited natural tourist attraction in New Zealand.

It’s mesmerising to watch the waters of the Waikato River, usually about 1oo metres wide, being compressed into a 20 metre wide gorge and fall over a 20 metre drop.

Within a short distance of the surging foam (the word “huka” is Maori for foam) the waters level off and become calm once more.

There is a viewing platform beside the road. Travel a little further and head down towards the large, free car park and you can walk across a bridge to get up close and personal with the waterfall.