Ninety Mile Beach is, in fact, about 55 miles long. Stockmen reckoned they drove their animals about 30 miles in a day. As it took them three days to drive the stock along Ninety Mile Beach, by definition (they calculated) the beach must be 90 miles long.
Kupe, the earliest known voyager from Hawaiiki, the homeland of the Maori people, named Cape Reinga Te Rerenga Wairua, the path of the spirits. After the death of a Maori person, the spirit leaves from Cape Reinga, the northern most point of New Zealand. As it reaches the Three Kings Islands, the spirit turns to wave a final farewell and returns to distant Hawaiiki.
Daniel, our driver, instilled in us a respect for the deeply spiritual nature of the area. He made it clear that no food or drink was to be taken beyond the carpark and all rubbish was to be brought back to the coach. To discourage picnicking, there are no rubbish bins. There is something special about a spot like this – a dynamic vista, beautiful plantings, immaculate pathways, tourists galore – and not a pay and display machine, ice-cream vendor, coffee van or merchandise shop in sight. The magnificence of the place was all we needed.
When you look out from Cape Reinga, you can see the waves coming from two opposing directions – from the Tasman Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Sometimes, there is a distinct line where the two oceans meet.
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!)
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?
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.
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.
Just a couple of minutes from Club Paihia is a wonderful variety of scenic treats – historic buildings, the sea, and some peculiarly Paihia features.
We weren’t in Paihia to shop – so it was something of a sad relief when a gloriously hued jacket made of handwoven fabrics and felt, displayed in an art gallery window, proved to be the wrong size. Go to Creative Get Up to see Sandra Thompson’s finely handcrafted wearable art.
We were happy to fend for ourselves food-wise. However, an advertisement for seafood chowder lured us back to The Pier one evening. The chowder was packed with seafood and served with crispy garlic bread and a generous bowl of steamed fresh mussels. Washed down with a large glass of the house red, it was a most satisfying and economic dinner out (less than $30 for us both for food and drink).
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.
It is a flat, scenic and easy walk around the lake – about one hour. There is free parking at and beyond the Verandah Restaurant.
Weekend scheduled cruises on Waikato Explorer leave Hamilton Gardens at 12.30pm and 2.30pm every Saturday and Sunday. Charter options can be arranged any day of the week on request. The boat is licensed to take up to 87 passengers and has the capacity for up to 50 seated diners. With a fully-licensed bar and a range of menu items, the Waikato Explorer is well set up as a venue for all kinds of events, from club outings to specialty cruises to major events such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. It was certainly an enjoyable and novel venue for our BNI business networking meeting. With the river filling a little since the autumn rain came to the Waikato, Darren is able to venture further afield these days. He mentioned Narrows Landing today. Looks like we’ll have to explore our beautiful Waikato River again soon!
Skipper Luke welcomed us aboard at the marina in Tutukaka, delivering the funniest safety briefing I have ever heard – so clever that I can still tell you exactly how the life-jacket goes on (both sides labelled “front”). It was somewhat less amusing when, within minutes, we were thumping through the four-five metre swell. Usually the first to become sea-sick, I did myself proud, eyes fixed on the horizon, gulping in the fresh air and moving with the boat’s rise-and-crash-rise-and-crash for the one hour “cruise”.
The crew helped us into wetsuits and issued fins, masks and snorkels, so that we could jump in off the back of the boat and discover the secrets of the reserve for ourselves. Getting up close and personal with a school of electric blue fish and following a large snapper just below us was magic. Because no-one is allowed to catch fish in the reserve, the fish are plentiful and fairly tame.
Our memories of the New Zealand summer are of day after day of baking in the glorious sun. After such a non-event summer last year, our spirits were uplifted when there were forecasts of a real Kiwi summer this year – and it is joyful to wake to blue skies on a warm morning. However, the effects of the long dry are now affecting every one of us – hand-held hoses only for watering the garden and the threat of expensive produce in the year ahead as production costs soar with the extreme summer temperatures. It is years since we have seen such sun-bleached landscape, with plants going to seed and turning brown ahead of autumn. Yesterday there was 1mm of drizzle – the first “rain” in many weeks. Farmers report that they need 150 times this much rain over a seven day period to regenerate their pastures.