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February 09, 2007

Northern NZ

We left Russell and the Bay of Isles on Sunday the 4th and drove across the top of New Zealand to the Top 10 park at the bottom of 90 Mile Beach. On the way we stopped at Waitagai where the treaty between many of the Maori tribes and the British was signed in 1840 thus creating the Country of New Zealand. Interestingly enough, this treaty was proposed and pushed by the Maoris who had a good relationship with the British Crown to avoid the possibility of the French trying to claim the country. This treaty has formed the basis of the relationship between the Maori people and the British and other European countries ever since. One of the many aspects of the treaty is that it grants religious freedom to all New Zealanders and thus protected the traditional Maori religious beliefs.
At the treaty grounds there is a Maori theater, a traditional Maori war canoe, a Maori meetinghouse, and the home of James Busby, the British Resident of that time, who was instrumental in getting most of the Maori tribes to sign the treaty.
New Zealand Independence Day was the following Tuesday February 6th and there is always a big crowd at the treaty grounds for the celebration of NZ Independence Day. We didn’t want to be there for the crowd so seeing it and moving north worked out OK for us.
The tip of New Zealand ends at Cape Reinga where there is a lighthouse. We signed up for the bust trip to the lighthouse and then back down 90 Mile Beach. It is a full day trip with several stops along the way. This western part of the peninsula is very sandy and at the north end of the beach there are very large and high sand dunes. The bus tour provides sand toboggans and if you have the energy to climb up the dune, you can toboggan down – and get a face full of sand in the process! We each had a go at it but the climb up in the steep sand is not easy and it was windy so the sand was blowing!
The bus then follows the bed of s shallow creek to the beach where the sand is very hard packed and it drives the 90 miles back down the beach at the edge of the water. The first few miles are interesting and fun but 90 miles of it are a bit much.
Yesterday we drove down the west coast of the north island and stopped to see the “oldest” Kauri tree I NZ. It is estimated to be about 2,000 years old and is massive. Kauri’s are interesting trees with very large straight trunks about 150 feet tall when full grown and then are topped with a short tangle of branches like a wild hair do! Their wood was prized for lumber and for making the masts for sailing ships. They were extensively logged in the late 1700’s and 1800 almost to the point of extinction. They are protected now where they still exist in the national parks.
It rained most of yesterday but if you are in a rain forest I guess that’s OK.
We ended up last night in Matakohe, north and west of Auckland in another Top 10 park. It was really windy and it rained all nightlong and a god part of this morning. We are still getting used to weather that includes rain after the dry conditions in Australia!
On Wednesday we drove back to Auckland and picked up the FedEx package with our prescriptions at Aspen House where we stayed when we arrived here 10 days ago. We are now back on our meds. We continued south from Auckland to the south end of the Firth of Thames named by Cook when he landed here in 1769 because it reminded him of the Thames River in England. We are booked in here in a Family Park NZ that has a thermal hot spa swimming pool.
Yesterday we drove up and around the Cormandel Peninsula. It is very scenic and rugged with sharp mountains and many protected bays and harbors. The town of Cormandel is a quaint sleepy tourist place. We stopped for lunch at a small café and then drove to the hot water beach where there is hot thermal water just below the sand. It was high tide and we couldn’t get to the thermal area but it is another beautiful place so the stop was still worthwhile. We got back to the park and took a dip in the thermal swimming pool where we met a couple from Holland. We enjoyed talking with them and ended up having dinner together in the camp dining room. They are on a similar itinerary to us so we will probably see them again along our way to the south island.

Posted by Dick at 08:54 PM

February 02, 2007

New Zealand - north island

Driving around the explore the area near our Holiday Park, we stumbled on to an old coal fired steam powered tug names the William C. Daldy at the Devonport harbor dock. She was built in Scotland in 1935 for the Auckland Harbor Authority and was in active service until 1977 when she was retired. A preservation society took her over and now maintains and runs her. We joined her for the annual Tugboat and wooden boat race on Monday, Auckland anniversary day and had a great day on the water. The preservation society is all volunteers and they let you go all over the tug and you can even shovel coal to “stoke the boilers” if you are so inclined – we passed on the hot job!
Our next stop was the city of Whangarei and another Top 10 Holiday Park. We explored the area and I signed up for a scuba dive on the “Poor Knights” islands while Sue went for a snorkel trip on a different boat with the same company. The Poor Knights were rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world and it was very good. The Poor Knights are the remains of the rim of a long extinct volcano. It is wall diving with the sides of the islands dropping off to very deep water. The wall is covered with short kelp, soft corals and sponges and there is a lot of fish life, including short and long tail stingrays that feed in the areas. We were equipped with full heavy wet suits with hoods and boots because the water temperature below the surface is cool – high 60’s. The ocean was almost flat and it was sunny and pleasantly warm on the surface so conditions were ideal. The trip from the marina to the dive site was less than an hour and the dive operator was excellent. I went with a guide and group of three other divers. Part of the dive was into an arch that was filled with a variety of fish, soft corals and sponges. The rays were everywhere and if you stayed still, they would glide right by you as they passed along the face of the wall feeding. As we were finishing our second dive with most of us back on board, a pod of four Orcas (killer whales) came around the corner of Sugarloaf where we were diving. The largest was a good 20 feet long! They were feeding on the rays and made four circles around Sugarloaf. The divers that were still in the water got to see them up close in the water and I had a great view from the flying bridge of the boat. While they are common in these waters, it is rare to see them up close in the water and the dive crew was as excited as we were. A real bonus attraction to the day. I can now say that I have been whale watching and saw whales!
At the end of our dive and snorkel trip, we drove north to Paihia and took the car ferry to Russell and checked into the Top 10 park. The park is beautiful and sits up on the hillside overlooking the Russell harbor and our cabin has a great view. Russell (Kororareka or “sweet penguin” in Maori) was the first European settlement in New Zealand and was the capital of New Zealand from 1840 to 1841 before the capital was moved to Wellington. Russell was a whaling port and a notorious – the "hell hole” of the Pacific with “ships women”, drinking, and “all forms of debauchery”. It is a quiet retirement and tourist town today with astronomical real estate prices.
Yesterday we signed up for a day sail on the sloop “Phantom”. She is a 50’ C&C run by Rick and Robin Blomfield. They are great hosts and we have a nice time on the water with them are really sailed. I got to take the helm for most of the trip out to our lunch anchorage. We had a nice breeze and the Bay of Islands lived up to its reputation as a great sailing area. Once anchored, Rick took four of us ashore in the dinghy and we climbed to the top of the nearby hill for the view over the anchorage and east across the Pacific. On the way back, a Nassau, Bahamas registered cruise ship came over the horizon and into harbor. It is always exciting to see a ship come over the horizon from a foreign port.
I have signed up for unlimited Wi Fi access at the local Computer/Internet shop here in Russell so I will be able to upload the latest photos and this edition of the log today. The service is good and reasonably fast but the shop is closed on the weekend (the owner went sailing!) so we have to sit outside near the shop to get the signal. Our prescriptions finally were delivered to the Auckland hotel where we stayed last week after customs delay, the need to pay $64NZ duty and some confusion on the address. We will pick them up next week as we pass through Auckland on our way to the south part of the north island.
Tomorrow we will head further north to the 90 mile beach and Cape Reinga, the northern tip of NZ where you can watch the South Pacific collide with the Tasman Sea.

Posted by Dick at 05:26 PM