Bay of Islands

We arrive in Paihia about teatime, we have a contact here (Gavin a fellow Spada owner) who has offered us a place to stay for a few days so we can have a base to explore the area and some local knowledge.
Our brief ride through the town confirms there will be plenty to do here, the area is beautiful dominated by the bay speckled with little islands some inhabitated some not. We surprise Gavin by turning up a day early not intentionally I might add. We had a lateish start and were not on the road until 11am but the distances in the Northland are short and the roads are good so at 4.30pm when spotting a sign that says glow worm caves we discover we are further up than we thought and we might as well push on to Paihia.
The last tour round the caves was at 4pm anyway but we can pop back another day as its not far away.
We find Gavin and he turns out to be a mine of information as he is the sixth generation of his family to live in this area and can trace his forefathers back to literally some of the the first Europeans to settle here. He knows where they landed, where they spent their first nights and where they eventually settled. He helps us plan a ride around the peninsula for tomorrow and tells us some good places to go, the plan is to go on the car ferry over to Russell and then a scenic ride hugging the coast until we join back up with highway1 to return to Paihia. First we meet his girlfriend Mel who is from Alaska, she was travelling around NZ met Gav and the rest is history. She is an absolute scream and we all get along well. Next day after a quick coffee and breakfast we get going on our motorcycle tour, its a short hop from Opua just down the coast to Russell but I think it always makes you feel like you are going somewhere different putting your bike on a boat. Russell is an old colonial town and has a sleepy old world charm about it. This wasn’t always the case it was a stopping off point for whalers and tall ships in the old days and was a notorious hellhole full of bars and brothels. Heading out of town we detour via “long beach” (can you guess what it is yet ?) and have a sunbathe and snorkel around the rocks. We also have lunch on the beach before continuing around the headland via 7km of gravel roads to Rawhiti. At the end of the beach is a tiny path leading up on to the headland, the views are spectacular you can look across the next bay and the coastline is rugged and dramatic, we take loads of pictures and enjoy feeling like we are on top of the world. After lazing in the long springy grass on the top of the cliffs for a while we retrace our steps and continue around the peninsula, this section is just bend after bend after bend, seemingly forever. The road bucks and weaves through forest and farmland and I am almost at the point of crying enough when highway 1 appears. Karens bum is aching due to the small back seat and my stomach muscles are complaining due to the high bars and foward controls, so we swap and she gets a chance to have a blast up the main road which she enjoys. When we get to Kawakawa we swap again but before we head back we stop off in the town to have a look at some famous toilets. Yes you read that correctly Kawakawa’s most famous tourist attraction is it’s public toilets designed by Heinrich Hundertwasser. He was an Austrian architect and ecologist and his work can be found all over the world. He retired in New Zealand and this was his last work before he died in 2000, it is certainly quirky and there are more people in it taking photographs than actually “using’ it so much so that rumour has it that the local council are considering building another public toilet because none of the locals can ever get in this one.
Back ‘home’ we have dinner with Gavin and Mel and recount our day and together plan tomorrows adventure. They have a sea kayak each and kindly offer to let us use them, we jump at the chance as we have both kayaked and canoed a fair bit in the past and we have missed it. Gavin drops us off at a river inlet so we can get used to the rudders and practice before we head out to sea. We head up stream surrounded by mangroves, these are an amazing plant and are now protected by law such is their importance. When we were launching Gavin picked up one of their abundant seeds which was floating by and demonstrated that they are not really a seed but a propagul. They have an outer jacket which is buoyant allowing them to float for many miles, then after a few days or weeks the jacket sheds allowing the propagul to sink. Inside the jacket is a mini tree encapsulated in its first leaves with a root ready to anchor it in the mud. Mangroves are also unusual in that their roots absorb nutrients and seawater(which they desalinate internally) when the tide is in and ‘breathe’ air when its out through specially adapted holes in the roots. We spend a half hour or so paddling up river before turning around and heading out to sea. The bay of islands is usually a very safe place to kayak as it is so sheltered but not today, as soon as we get out on the ocean it gets really choppy. There is a stiff breeze also so our planned tour of 3 or4 islands is swiftly reduced to getting to the first one, as Karen is struggling slightly. Fair play to her though she keeps going despite the conditions and we land on the sandy beach for lunch and a well earned rest. To give lunch chance to go down we have a walk around our ‘own private’ island, half way round the rocks run out Karen turns back the other way but I keep going inching my way around the rock face practising my rock climbing. It’s good fun some parts get easier and then it’s a challenge to get across the next part. Eventually Karen and I meet and it’s time to paddle back, the sea has calmed considerably so we take a meandering route back exploring some of the creeks and inlets on the way. Gavin picks us up in his van and we head back to the ranch, we have a fun evening watching episodes of ‘red dwarf’ and comparing notes on comedy and music we like over a beer or two.
Next day (our last with Gavin and Mel) we have a productive morning catching up with our blogs/emails etc before Gav drops us off so we can take in the Waitangi treaty house and a walk to Hararu falls, It was at Waitangi in 1840 that the treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori chiefs and the British crown this ensured the nation became a British colony, Gavin’s ancestors were present at this treaty. Although the history is interesting to us and we would like to go in we feel the $25 each in entry fees is a bit too steep especially as NZ residents get in free perhaps, $5 for Resi’s and 10 or $15 for everyone else would result in more bodies through the door, we were not the only people to turn around and change our minds.
It’s a great walk with a mixture of riverside, mangrove board walk and bush and our reward at the end is the horseshoe shaped falls. It’s not the most spectacular we have ever seen partly because there has been no rain for over three  months but it’s a nice spot, the walk brings you out at the top of the falls and you can hop from pool to pool over the rocks watching all the tiny fish dive for cover.
We spend another nice evening with Gav and Mel before saying our goodbyes and thank you’s in the morning. We are heading North again, Gavin gives  us a heap of good suggestions for places to go and a good route which means we will see different places on the way back. Thanks Gavin and Mel you were a big help and good company !
We are headed for the far north to an area called Far North (I am not making this up)

  1. #1 by Jane on December 20, 2010 - 10:59 am

    Wow, mega catch up of photos!! All looks brilliant, especially ‘green’ of the sunshine as we sit here with yet more snow, as usual the country is grinding to a halt, just pleased I mainly work from home now. Enjoy yourselves. Love Jane x

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