Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Zealand North Island adventures-the final days

Tide Pools at the Bay of Islands
So, what else did I do during my North Island week?
At Tongariro, I spent quite a bit of time carefully planning out an itinerary would get me back in Auckland on Sunday.  I was feeling sort of burned out on driving, and decided that I would do no more than 250k per day.

Carvings at the Maori meeting house in Waitangi
I set out from Tongariro with no booked lodging, and it really paid off this time.  When I got to my initially planned destination, the city didn't really grab me. I had a quick lunch by the beach there, and drove on. And on and on.  I stopped at several towns along the way, and ended up at Thames on the Coromandel peninsula.  The guidebook isn't crash hot on Thames, but it turned out to be a nice place for me to regroup after my day of (mostly) scenic driving.  I walked on the beach, and got very good vegetarian food at a cafe in town (the only vegetarian restaurant I'd seen in New Zealand).  And as an aside, the peninsula is pretty scenic- there is a small mountain ridge running down the middle, with farm land and beaches around the perimeter.  It looks like a nice place to ride.

My massive day of driving (wayy more than my 250k goal) set me up get up to the Northland, something I'd wanted to do but had dismissed as way too much driving. I headed north to the Bay of Islands.  I got to Paihia by 2 pm (slowed by a traffic snarl in Auckland), and headed over to Waitaingi to visit the site where the eponymous treaty between England and Maori tribes was signed in the 1800s.  This was pretty interesting and I particularly liked the carvings in the meeting house.  There was also a giant Maori canoe made out of the trunks of three giant kauri trees and some other historical stuff.

After a relaxing night at the bed and breakfast that I'd booked through a last minute bookings site (it was really nice, by far the nicest place I stayed on the trip), I headed on towards the Waipoua Kauri forest, the largest tract of native old-growth forest in the Northland, home to giant, ancient trees.  This had really grabbed my attention. A lot of the north island that I'd seen is covered with grassland created years ago by the removal of the native bush.  I was excited to see what old-growth native forest looked like (at least in this area of the country).

Kauri old-growth forest. Actually, the kauri tree in this picture is kind of subtle- you can only see the canopy- but I like the shot because it captures the ferny density of the bush
This was my most scenic day of driving in the north island.  So scenic, that I missed my turn onto highway 12 and drove 30k out of my way, adding about an hour to my trip since it was very twisty driving.  Oh well!  I really enjoyed the remote, rural feeling of this part of the country.

Tane Mahuta, stated to be the country's oldest kauri tree at around 1200 years old. It is very big!
For reference, an average sized adult barely pokes out above the foliage at the base
Red bark
Anyhow, it was cool to see the forest and the drive through the park area was itself highly scenic and twisty driving.  The park itself was highly low-key. Just a couple of pull-offs from HW12, with a couple of well-groomed walking trails leaing out to the bigger trees. I looked for an information center on Kauri biology, but didn't find anything beyond a few informational placards at the Tane pullout.
The next morning, I spent a bit of time at the Kauri museum in Matakohe, which is an extremely interesting heritage museum chock full of historical photos, historical equipment for kauri harvest (including a sawmill, which was turned on and running while I was there), kauris and kauri stuff (furniture, ships, you name it), and a lot of info on the lives of the bushmen, which is what they called the guys who were out there harvesting the forests. There were also modern collections, including a rather large chainsaw collection.  It was one of the best museums of this type that I have been to, though I came away from it feeling a little sad that most of the Kauris have been cut down. Then, I drove onto Auckland, about which I will post separately.