Notes from North Island: Part One – Northland

Today we have been in NZ for a week. This morning we arrived on the South Island. My story of our first week up north will be in four parts – this is the first part.

Bay of Islands and Waipoua Forest

My Lonely Planet told me that Northland is well known for three things – beaches, forest and history. Thankfully we were able to squeeze in all three on our first couple of days in NZ.

Our first night was spent in a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite just south of the Bay of Islands. It was a basic camp with toilets and cold showers but what it lacked in amenities it made up for in scenery. It backed on to a glorious beach with soft pale sand and aqua blue sea. On the other side were the green rolling hills we have come to recognise as NZ farm land. We have an enjoyable first dinner cooked, very slowly, on our lacklustre camp stove and enjoyed moon watching from our “moonroof” before bed.

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After breakfast on the beach we made our way to the Bay of Islands. Somewhat reminiscent of places we had visited in Vietnam and China, the Bay is full of little islands and great beaches. We chose not to take the boat trip out around the bay but rather to enjoy it from the main land as we visited seaside towns up the coast.

We stopped for awhile just outside Paihia to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Unbeknownst to us our first bit of Kiwi history education would turn out to be at a place where a hugely significant part of the nation’s history took place. Waitangi is the location where 500 Maori chiefs and many British subjects signed a treaty to make NZ a British sovereign nation. Of course, we learnt that, as with many similar Treaties across the globe, not all ended well and the land wars that played out after the 1840 event are still now being righted. However, as a Brit and an ex-patriot, I found it a particularly interesting place to visit. Many of the British involved in signing the Treaty were global travellers, miles from home, seemly doing what they thought was best for their new homeland. Likewise the Maori did not seem to be in servitude but actually wanted the prestige associated with “white people”. Of the many exhibits related to Maori culture and heritage the pieces that struck me the most were the beautiful paintings of the many Maori chiefs who signed the treaty. In particular the painting of a female chief who’s strong regal features indicated a woman of great strength and courage really stood out to me. One can only imagine what she felt like on that day nearly 200 years ago.

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After enjoying our history lesson our final foray into Northland took us to the Kauri coast. First we stayed at Trounson Kauri Park and took a night walk hoping to see a kiwi (none spotted yet) followed by a short hike into the Waipoua Forest to see the Kauri trees the next day. We saw Tane Mahuta, the largest of these trees alive and estimated to be 2000 years old. Like the Maori legend he is named after Tane Mahuta keeps the earth from the sky. Quite true as when you stand beneath his sturdy truck and huge whorl of branches the sky seems very far away. Like the Giant Redwoods and Sequoias we are familiar with in California, these trees tower above the rest of the forest and are a breathtaking sight. Unlike the redwoods however, Kauris are moist and green as they are covered in ferns and other epiphytes clinging with moisture. It was quite surprising to see a rainforest after all the pastures and coastal lands we had seen but something I very much enjoyed.

More please NZ. Thanks.

Kiwis: 0
Coasts: 2
Kauris: A few

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