Bay of Islands – 2010

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Bay of Islands – 2010

Arriving at Auckland airport I collect my bag and make the long walk to the International terminal.  Christine has just arrived from her flight and we meet with remarkable synchronicity.  In the morning Christine and I decide to walk to the Auckland Domain where the ANZAC day ceremony is being held and we find ourselves taking the lover’s walk through the park and speculating about the lovers who might have worked and walked in the park.  It is a hot day and we need to stop for a refreshing milkshake before continuing.  Christine is fatigued and needs to sit in the shade near the pillars while the ceremony continues.

There are subtle differences to the ceremonies conducted in Australia.  Rather than marching and parades there is more ritual.  At the end a Corp of Islanders, dressed in traditional garb leads the exit of assembled soldiers from the memorial area.  A guard of honour forms to allow the soldiers and dignitaries to enter the museum and after they have passed we are allowed through.

Through the miracles of mobile phone we finally locate Christine's friends Chris and Igor and after wandering around the museum for a while get lunch at the cafeteria while an Andrews Sisters tribute group runs through their entertaining repertoire.  After this we meet up to take a tour of the upper decks of the museum that service as an observatory and a decent viewing point of the city.  After this we part with Igor and Chris and spend time wrestling on the grass in the park.

Christine wants to visit a cafe in Newmarket that she is familiar with from a previous visit.  We buy apple ciders from a bottle shop and walk in a circuitous fashion to Mt Eden.  The ramble allows us to talk and experience the city together.  Slowly we hone in on the extinct volcano and finally enter the large parklands that surround it.  A flying fox offers thrills for very young children who fly through the air, hanging on precariously as they rocket to the bottom.  I’m impressed by the lack of concern shown by their mother to this thrilling activity.

We climb the outer hill, cutting across roads and ignoring the graded approach for something more direct.  When we reach the lip we barely pause before hurtling into the steeply sided crater.  At the bottom I fetch one of the ciders and we enjoy the cleansing ale and contemplate that we’ll have to exert ourselves to reach the top.  I recall laughter and skylarking.  Some kids who have joined us in the pit provide the pacing for the ascent and the effort becomes a romp to make it out first.

There are excellent views of the city and Rangitoto Island.  We pause for portraits and Christine vetos what she deems to be bogan portraits.  It is now late in the afternoon and the shadows cut deeply into the crater.  We wend our way down the sharp sides of the volcano, taking care not to slip, before finally meeting the road and opting for the steady descent to a gate that takes us through a suburban late.  We divert at Oaklands Road and I show Christine the backpackers I stayed at in 1991.  I was in a state of flux when I stayed here, unsure of what I wanted to do.  With little effort I can evoke the carefree mood of the place and the loose clan that formed ever so briefly at this time.

We visit a book shop on Mt Eden Road and chat with the American who is taking care of the shop.  He has lived in Auckland for a few months and enjoyed himself.  He recommends a compilation of American science writing and I oblige with a purchase.  Although I’d lived at the Mt Eden Backpackers for several months I’d never bought fish and chips from the main street.  To do so with Christine and to sit on a nearby bench as the sun sets is a small joy.  We bus it back to the city and get off near the Ferry terminal where we buy ice creams.  Again we encounter an American shopkeep, who is delightfully fussy as she instructs her colleague on how to assist with the plethora of customers.

On our way back to the hotel room we divert to a sidestreet at which there is the hint of steep climbing directly to the next tier of streets.  There are also to solid looking youths lingering near this deadest of dead ends.  I nudge Christine and suggest that we stick to Queen Street.  She asks me why and finally catches on.

In the morning we need to get up early to catch the bus.  It is leaving from the bus terminal but I haven’t established where this is even though it bears the name of the monolithic casino building that is located nearby.  Rather than ask at reception we wander down to the weir only to be forced to ask a wandering passenger where to go.  We catch a free bus that will take us to the Casino.  It goes everywhere else in the city before finally dropping us off at the Casino.  The bus has left five minutes before we arrive; a fine start to the holiday.

It costs over a hundred dollars to buy new tickets to catch another bus in two hours.  I tell myself it is only money but it does nag at me.  This gives us time to have a big breakfast at a nearby cafe and take in the start of the working week in New Zealand’s biggest city.  It’s 246 kms from Auckland to Bay of Islands and I doze much of the way.  Christine takes a strange photo of plants in a flower bed at the road side cafe that serves as a “comfort” stop.

Finally we arrive at the winding hills above Paihia and begin the heightened game of wondering where our accommodation might be.  We stay on the bus until it arrives at the centre of town and visit the i-site that is located on the water.  We have a few trips in mind while in the area and this provides an opportunity to find out what we need to do.  The backpackers I’ve booked for two nights accommodation is only two short streets away.  One of those is what passes for the main street so in effect the backpackers is a block off the water.

We have scored a largish room with a viewing table, a television, a fridge and an ensuite.  The double bed is comfortable and we rest up for a couple of hours.  We take a walk back to the i-site and visit a nearby lookout that overlooks the harbour.

For dinner we visit a small gourmet pizza restaurant that offers a reasonable wine list.  The following morning it is raining heavily but we eventually rouse ourselves and think about what we’re going to do.  It isn’t the right kind of day to go out on the water which means we’ll need to stay an extra day in Pahia.  We like our room and opt to book for Wednesday night as well.

One of the selling points of the hostel is its access to free kayaks and bikes.  We opt for the biking option only to discover that the cycles on offer are rusty, barely have brakes and come with tyres so flat it’s like riding through treacle.  We ride along the foreshore to Te Tiriti O Waitangi then turn around and visit the nearby supermarket.  Just as we pull in rain begins, cascading in swelling sweeps.  We pause to contemplate our good fortune, that we are here under cover just as the deluge commences.  Other shoppers are not so fortunate so there are many minor dramas unfolding around us.  Inside we assemble goods for a picnic, including salmon and wine.

We turn onto the highway and begin the short trek to a trail that leads to an impressive waterfall.  Unfortunately my bike is so sluggish that even on the downhill sections it barely gets beyond a slow roll.  Christine is waiting for me at a well placed bench near some mangroves and I suggest that this might be an excellent spot for lunch.  It is.  The thought of riding up the hill is too much to me to contemplate so I suggest we turn around.  Even the retreat involves a humiliating section where I walk the bike over the crest.

Not long after we return to our room the deluge commences once more.  We’ve had some luck with our first outing and we celebrate by planning our next dinner.  We opt for kebabs from the shop on the waterfront.

The following day we’ve booked a sailing tour that will take us out to one of the islands outside the harbour.  The selling points of the trip are the opportunity to see dolphins, go kayaking and engage in basic sailing.  There are three other groups on the boat, an older couple who are originally from England, two younger English girls who are on the backpacking trail and a German couple who we pick up at Russell.  They have a young child, a toddler or baby.  I guess we’re the Australian couple.

I always find outings on boats to be diminished by the possibility of sea sickness but here the bay part of “Bay of Islands” comes in handy.  It is a relatively still day and there is a minimal swell running.  We learn of the history of the bay, that it is only recently that the area has been flooded, creating the current shoreline.  The skipper is relatively young and engaging.  He does his best to find marine life but there is none to be found so we have to settle for circling a few seabirds.  The advertising had suggested swimming with dolphins might be one of the activities.

At the designated time the ludicrous Shack – Attack jet boat pounds by on its daily incursion to the Hole in the Rock.  It creates waves but no lasting impression as it disappears into the distance.  There are numerous islands in the bay, let’s call the one we are heading to Motuarohia Island and leave it at that.  Before we get there we pass other islands, some of them privately owned.  We’re informed that one works in TV, as if this bestows significance.

After circumnavigating the island we come into the sheltered twin lagoon and drop anchor fifty metres off shore.  The others are shepherded onto the beach by dinghy while Christine and I wait on the yacht for the kayaks to be released.  We immediately set off for the next bay, Cooks Cove, a supposedly private beach where we thread our way through the pylons of the jetty before beginning the long paddle back to the home bay.  Previous landing parties have included Captain Cook so we are in a long line of notable explorers.  We sweep to the opposite side of the bay, find another jetty and, finally sated, land the kayaks on the beach.  These are immediately set upon by the next set of keen kayakers.

One of the English girls is feeling under the weather and is sprawled out like a beached whale.  Rather than stay with her we set off into the forest and begin the short climb to the lookout that is perched above the opposite side of the island.  As this is the only immediately accessible highpoint on the island we cannot expect too much privacy and our time is cut short by the arrival of the next party.

Christine and I are ready for lunch and join the captain on the beach.  He has prepared fresh sandwiches and has cordial and fruit.  It is a touchingly simple meal, a throwback to an earlier time and I enjoy it immensely.  We chat a little about New Zealand and find out that the captain comes from the West Coast of the South Island.  He has made Bay of Islands his home and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

The other attraction of the island is a rockpool that is supposedly mapped out so that one can follow it like a maze.  We find few signposts but a diverted by the water lapping at our thighs.  It is time to leave and we paddle the kayaks out to the yacht and assist with getting them back onto the deck.

A slight breeze has picked up on the harbour ensuring that it will be worthwhile to make an attempt to sail the boat.  For twenty minutes or so we enjoy the illusion that we are powering along under sail.  We are travelling slow enough to come to the attention of a pod of dolphins who make their way to the back of the boat and begin their graceful game full of dives and breathtaking airborne rolls.  Both of us have forgotten to bring our cameras so we must make to with taking it in as it happens.  The others snap away but I doubt it would be possible to capture the force and majesty of these animals in the frame of a camera.

The dolphins eventually peel off to find entertainment elsewhere and they gradually fade away as breaches in the waves and fins cutting through the water’s surface. It caps the day and we are fully satisfied with our activities.  The German couple are dropped off at Russell and we are soon berthing at Paihia. Niceties are exchanged by most and we go our separate ways.

Christine is keen to try a restaurant in the other section of town and we find a nice one where we can dine al fresco.  For Thursday we opt for a ferry ride to Russell where we can explore the peninsula.  It is the sunny day we’ve been waiting for and the radiant blue of the water is a striking contrast to the deep greens of the forest canopy.

We set out on Long Beach Road towards Oneroa Bay.

When we arrive at the beach I’m not sure how it is going to play out.  Will we walk along the beach or go for swim.  Christine sets off along the beach.  I sit and watch. The waves in this protected beach are mild but there is a swell running and it is possible to be propelled along if timed correctly.  The tide is running out and as the water recedes we are surprised to discover that where we are swimming is dotted with jagged rocks that would tears us asunder should we land on them.  Both of us eventually walk out with abrasions.

In the meantime a large group of English backpackers has arrived to set up camp on the grassy bank overlooking the beach.  They look like they’ve just got up and they don’t appear to have any intention of swimming. Christine and I play wrestle in the water and feel like the power couple on the beach.

We have brought lunch with us and proceed to eat it on the beach, tuna and crackers.  One of the English girls comments that she wish she’d thought of that.  We have the advantage of being older and smarter.  Christine suggests that we skirt the coast towards Tapeka Pt.  Apparently Chris had done it when she was in Russell and this appears to be imprimatur enough.  The route is straightforward enough though the lack of water means that it is hard going in the hot air.  Part of the time we walk along beaches, while the rest involves rock scrambles on abrasive and jagged surfaces.

Within half an hour we encounter another tramper who warns us that we will need to scramble nimbly if we are to avoid getting wet in the next section.  There are numerous sections involving careful hand holds and downclimbs above the swirling sea.  We come to a deep two pronged channel through which the surf rhythmically surges.  The formation is like a horseshoe though there is a large broken boulder in the middle of the pool.  It looks like a dubious crossing that will require care and precise timing.  Christine leaps into the channel and as the waves race towards her she scrambles onto the boulder.  The wave smashes into the rock and surges over it.  The force of the water knocks Christine’s feet from below her and she tumbles hard onto the boulder.  She begins to slide into the water and lunges desperately for rocky handholds.  She latches on and as her legs dangle in the surging surf she painfully hauls herself onto the top of the boulder.  There she stands, looking panicked and shocked.  I yell out to her to stay where she is and when the wave recedes she quickly jumps off the rock and scrambles back to where I’m standing.

We share an embrace, her clothes sodden and her skin scratched.  Fortunately the damage is relatively minor for what was a hard fall, a few bloody abrasions to her leg and arm.  It could have been much worse.

Fortunately Christine is still recovering from the accident so this gives us time to assess the wave sequence, the interaction of the predictable and the rogue.  Satisfied we re-enter the channel as the waves recede and scramble to a safe foothold above the wave line.  By the time I wait out the wave and make it out Christine had long cleared out and is onto the next sequence of shoreline.  I press hard to keep up.

Ahead we could see the peninsula lookout.  After a final high rock scramble we were onto the final section of gravelly beach.  Here we discovered an incongruously manicured lawn and picnic table.  The views of the outlying islands of the bay were picturesque and the presence of the occasional yacht emphasised the idyllic tourist postcard aspect of the region.

If I thought the unpredictable part of the day was over I was sadly mistaken.  The climb to the top of the lookout involved a steep walk along a narrow ridge with a sharp drop to the beach on the west side and the jagged rocks on the eastern shore-line.

Christine discovers that she’s lost her wallet,  The only things in her wallet is some money and the key from the apartment so the loss is more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe.  Nonetheless we retrace our steps to see if we can find the wallet along the walkway.  Halfway down the hill we are passed by another couple, so if the wallet had been dropped on the lower part of the pathway they would have more than likely found it.  More out of hope than expectation we begin the walk back to the picnic area and are much surprised to discover the wallet in the carpark.  An end to the adventures?  Hardly.

There was one road leading out from Russell to the peninsula, Tapeka Road.  Rather than take this uneventful route we gravitate to the western beach and re-commence our shore traverse.  Initially the route is made up of picturesque sandy beaches but these give way to rocky headlands.  Steep cliffs demarcate land and sea so that we are compelled to continue with our course even as the route becomes more technical.  At last we are forced to sidle along a cliff ledge with the tide surging beneath us.  I’m calculating the risks of a fall and tasking as many precautions as I can.  Christine has disappeared around the shoreline, having dismissed the dangers as best dealt with quickly.

At last we encounter the scrubland of Koorareka Point Scenic Reserve and complete the final section to the suburban streets.  The afternoon is so far advanced that we can take photos of long shadows and a setting sun.  We wander through Russell looking for a place to get a drink and eventually settle for the Fish and Chips shop.  We share our dinner with boisterous seagulls on the shore and enjoy the spectacular ambience of a dying sun flaming the bay.  Christine has a photographer’s eye and captures the moment perfectly.

The ferry trip over the dark waters has a magical ambience.  It has been a day fraught with tension and adventure.  We dream of further escapades.

Our last day in the Bay of Islands will involve staying closer to our home base.  Our first activity involves dragging out the two man kayak and hauling it to the bay.  The owner is more interested in doing his rowing exercises than providing any services so the wheels that would make getting the kayak to the water an easier task remain unavailable.  Christine demonstrates admirable strength in getting the cumbersome craft onto the water.  Once on the water our goal is relatively modest, to reach the island that is just offshore and claim it on behalf of Australia.  Once we land we christen the unnamed rock as Lisa Curry Island and begin to survey the virgin soil.

There are some indications of a previous civilization, long disappeared, having once inhabiting the island.  After satisfying ourselves with the habitability of the main beach we cast off and commence our quest to circumnavigate and fully chart Lisa Curry Island.  The tide is running high and white caps mean that we have to be careful to stay out of harm’s way.  Curling around the island we spot the a small beach and aim our craft in its direction, using the modest swell to run the bow up onto the beach.  Safely back on shore we explore the caves and channels of this part of the island.  We examine the alternate passages to the west.  There is a small break in the island that suggests we’ll be able to use a canal to cut out the need for a much longer paddle out into the bay.  Backing out into the swell we carefully thread through the canal and slowly manoeuvre through shallow rocks until we are amongst seabirds and kelp.

Emboldened by our successes we peer into the distance towards the Waitangi Treaty grounds and speculate about paddling all the way.  It is the lack of sunscreen that curtails our ambitions and we opt to return to Paihia.  Without kayak wheels manhandling the craft out of the water and along the footpath is an activity requiring strength and perseverance.  Once again Christine is a sturdy companion and we finally lumber back into the backyard with our prize.  Magically, the kayak wheels have appeared, as if to mock us.

After showering we ready ourselves for our next exploration, a trip to the Waitangi Treaty grounds.  Using the horrible backpacker bikes we struggle with the short ride, eventually arriving at the historic location.  Moz has advised us that it is possible to enter for free if one is prepared to scout around but we have limited patience for this as we have unlocked bikes to take care of.  The option of paying to see the grounds is clearly out, they charge $30 per person.

The falls we had hoped to reach several days ago can also be reached by taking a 5km walk through a mangrove reserve.  After hidng the bikes in the bush we set off.  The walk is impressive, cutting through dense forest, tracing the coastal outline and utilising a raised boardwalk to negotiate the mangroves.  Along the way are lookouts that provide views of the riverbanks and unspoilt ecology.  The unmistakable sound of tourist’s voices alarms us to the need to temper our exhibitionist tendencies.

Along the way we encounter birds nesting in the gnarled branches of the trees lining the mangroves.  These are large, long necked fowls who have built homes of twig and bracken.  When we observe more closely it is to discover that there are chicks in the twiggy bowls and that they are imploring for food.  It is an enchanting scene.

After a hour we arrive at the waterfall coursing into the river.  The millennia have gouged an impressive gorge into the rock and the level drop is surprising.  As a popular tourist spot we need to share with others but this doesn’t stop Chris sprawling out on the rock and resting, the scratches and bruises on her arm still visible from yesterday’s wilderness encounter.

On the walk back we encounter some of the trampers we passed on the way out, girls with thick German accents.  There hasn’t really been any drinking water available on the walkway so it is a relief to finally haul our way out of the mangroves and forest and collect our bikes.  On the way back we pause to contemplate the majesty of Lisa Curry Island and the other unspoilt features of the Bay.

In the evening we walk along the esplanade and admire the oversized moon as it looms as large as a dinner plate in the otherwise dark sky.  We examine the menus of the expensive restaurants pocking the footpath and settle for a mediocre platter of seafood at a nightclub with a view of the inky darkness.  This is our last evening in Paihia and we make sure we enjoy it.

Saturday morning is a bustle with breakfast preparations and packing.  We haul on our packs and venture down to the terminal near the main jetty.  Rain streams down for much of the journey south, Christine shares her ipod with me and the time passes pleasantly enough.

Paihia to Auckland is a four hour bus ride so when we arrive there is still most of the afternoon available to us after we’ve checked in to the hotel.   Where do I want to show Christine?  It’s easy enough, I want to take her to St Heliers and show her the beach I used to come to when I lived in Auckland twenty years ago.  It is completely unchanged.  On the walkway next to the beach I take her photo with Rangitoto Island in the background.  A passing jogger offers to take our photo.

We duck into an eatery and get lunch, including jam filled pastries that spill out at the sides.  Afterwards we walk to Mission Bay where we’ve seen a cinema.  We line up and get tickets to “Boy”, a New Zealand comedy that was made by the director who made “Eagle Vs Shark”, a fish out of water story much liked by Christine.  We enjoy the film very much, particularly the soundtrack that is performed by pop group Phoenix Foundation.  We  hope to see this group in concert the following night but we discover that the performance is in a couple of weeks.

After the film we share a pizza on the beach, feed oversized seagulls and then begin to walk towards the city.  In the morning we need to get up early in order to catch the Ferry to Waiheke Island.  This has long been an ambition of ours and we are about to find the fulfilment that only island travel can bring.

Ferries leave every hour and we make the nine o’clock with about five minutes to spare.  It is a resplendent day, bright, warm, sparkly.  The infrastructure of Auckland gleams splendidly as the boat pulls out from the weir and begins to find the power necessary to reach the island in good time.

Upon disembarking we have to decide how we are to get around the island.  There are about 100 kilometres of road and I’m thinking cycling might be an option.  Not far from the boat an American is offering mopeds.  Christine is keen so we sign on, are issued with our instructions and provided with helmets.  Wearing shorts I’m not really protected against a crash.

Christine has ridden these sorts of bikes before and is generally a good driver.  Our first destination is Onetangi, an attractive, kilometre long beach.  We park the bike and walk from one end of the beach to the other.  Christine is absorbed in her world, observing found objects, taking photographs, enjoying the thrill of manoeuvring the moped.  I’m her passenger, a passive role that I don’t enjoy.  I write her a message in the sand of the beach but before she can see it is swept away by the incoming tide.  I photograph it for posterity.

From Onetangi we head out to the remote outpost of Orapiu.  The road is steep, narrow, winding.  From the back of a moped it is unnerving and my mood frays with every blind corner and swerve onto the wrong side of the road.  From above the bay we pause for lunch, possibly tuna sandwiches.  We are joined by two Czech men.  Christine strikes up a conversation with them in Czech and they hit it off, telling her the story of their travels.  They seem to enjoy very much meeting a non European who speaks their language.

We venture down to Orapiu but stay only briefly as the best views are seen from the ridges of the hills rather than from the water level.  We cruise the beaches below Oneroa and visit Palm Beach.  Christine takes some lovely photos of the beaches on the north side of the island, pristine bays with considerable charm.

We return to the ferry terminal arriving far earlier than we need to and have to wait forty minutes before the boat’s departure.  The wind coming off the water is icy and by the time the ferry arrives I’m shivering.  An hour later we are back in Auckland.  Christine lends me her jacket for the final walk back to the hotel, such is the chill that is running through me.  We have an early flight the next morning.  I spend the evening writing postcards while Christine does yoga.

The next morning we rise early and Christine is good to go almost immediately.  The plane flight is uneventful and we part at the airport, both of us due back at work that morning.

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