Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bay of Islands and Kauri Coast

We woke up on the beach and peeked out the windows hoping to get in another surf session before moving on for the day. Unfortunately, the swell had dropped considerably, and there wasn't much left to ride. In lieu of waves, we cooked up some eggs and sat outside in the grass enjoying the morning ocean scene. After we cleaned up, we left Sandy Bay to head north to the Bay of Islands.

We arrived in the touristy, but cute, town of Paihia, right on the Bay. It was a gorgeous view, although overcast, of the blue waters and as the name clearly states, the bay full of islands. Sailboats were out in abundance, cruising past islands on their way towards the ocean. We walked around town poking into the small shops that lined the main street, and some really good gelato.

The Waitangi Treaty grounds we visited next we interesting, but disappointing at the same time. We had heard they were a must-do sight here, but they didn't provide much historical information at all. The signs and graphics were limited to the same information over and over and the majority was about the house that was restored on the property. The 20-minute movie we watched at the beginning was all told from a Maori perspective and they actually called the Europeans the "white goblins." To me, this isn't even history, it's just a skewed and one-sided viewpoint of what actually happened. I wanted to know why the Maori were still fighting each other, instead of teaming up to fight the Europeans? What changed after the Treaty was signed? What happened with the tribunal that came along much later and why was there a need for this? NONE of these questions were answered or even mentioned in the video, much less the entire complex. When we left, I felt like I had learned nothing new from my guide book, and had hoped for a much more detailed recount of the events that led up to, and followed, the signing of the treaty.

The Kauri trees we saw next were unreal. They were massive and easily the size of our giant Sequoia trees in California. Unlike the Sequoias, which are more open and spread out with space in between, these trees are packed into a dense, lush rain forest environment, with so many plants crowding for light. The biggest tree was impressive, but we also enjoyed the (rainy) hike through Trounson Forest. This area had many more Kauri trees, including the famous "four sisters." This tree had a twin truck, which happened to grow up against a Kauri with a twin truck as well. The two merged, and now the tree looks like one massive base with four trunks emerging. It's sad to think these are the last remains of the giant Kauri trees, but we're lucky we even got to see these, as they could have all been completely wiped out.


One of the highlights of our guide books in this area was the Waitangi Treaty House which is where the Maori and British formed an agreement over on-going disputes. Although we were slapped with a hefty entrance fee of $20/adult to see this "sight," we have had many burning questions as to how the Maori assimilated into the British culture to become New Zealand.

The visit was very historically informative, but we still don't quite understand what those Maori tribes that wanted nothing to do with signing the treaty did over the coming years to deal with the impending takeover of their lands and way of life.

The most interesting part of the treaty grounds had to be the meeting house and its ornate Maori carvings covering every inch of the ceiling and walls.

Our next destination was the Kauri Coast on the West side of the Northland District peninsula. It started to rain not long after departing the Bay of Islands Area and the visibility started to get low. Mostly the area was rolling sheep paddocks so there probably was not too much to miss from the roadway.

The West side is very much a rain forest in these parts, and the level of moisture that was coming out of they sky was an obvious fact of where the plants obtained all their water. In the Waipoua Forest there are the Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) Kauri tree which is said to be the oldest (estimated at 2000 years) and largest tree in the world. After driving the windy road thru the forest we finally reach the tree and it was massive. The Kauri trees are just one of those tree species that make you speechless when you stand next to them and are in complete awe of their sheer girth (of 45 feet around).

Of course like all great things in nature, the Kauri tree were nearly wiped to extinction by the early settlers of New Zealand and many other Europeans, Americans, and Australians. The Kauri tree is so tall it is perfect for use as ship masts so it was heavily sought after in the 1800's.

On down the road we went to another section of the forest that contained many more Kauri trees along the well-maintained hike in the woods. None of these were quite as big and old as the first we had seen, but many were well past 1500 years and just as amazing to look at.

The rest of the evening was spent heading South again towards Auckland as we had many kilometers to cover to make up for the previous days of heading North. We pulled back in to one of our favorite campsites at Wenderholm regional park just before the closed the gates at 9pm.

Tonight is our final night in New Zealand and we could not ask for a nicer campsite next to the ocean with huge Pohutakawa (NZ Christmas trees) towering overhead.

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