One year on from our wedding — and we’re only just on our honeymoon. Typical of us, isn’t it? We woke up and opened our anniversary cards (thanks to all who sent ours in advance — a particuarly lovely note from Jean and Gordon) even though technically we had another 26 hours until our actual anniversary. We went purely on the date though — not 365*24 hours on! We had breakfast (cereal), took a stroll around the waterfall (the Haruru Falls) and then set off to Waitangi.
Waitangi was an easy drive away. In the car park we met a couple who had just given up their jobs to spend six months in New Zealand! We were so jealous of them; already we’re having to trim down our plans as we realise what’s actually feasible in the time we have. Anyway, into the Treaty Grounds we went. The grounds are the area around the Treaty House; where the first British resident lived, and where the Treaty which signed New Zealand over to British rule was signed. Expecting tales of typical British colonial brutality and land- stealing, I was shocked to see how forward-thinking James Busby (the ‘resident’) was. In the treaty he gave the Maoris full ownership of their land and the protection of the Crown. In return all he wanted was them to be British subjects and subject to British law. Some issues in the translation to Maori have caused problems however, with the ongoing legal cases of Maoris getting compensation for lost lands still going through the courts. In general though, one gets the feeling that everyone did quite well out of the agreement.
The grounds themselves are fantastic. You look out from beautiful gardens and lawns onto the Bay of Islands, many little island oases in a large bay. Also at the grounds is the world’s largest Maori battle canoe — it can hold 150 men and takes 80 just to row it! Truly amazing Maori carvings along its side, it must look amazing when on the water. In fact the carvings are everywhere; in the Meeting House in the same grounds there are some truly staggering pieces of art in the fabric of the building itself.
We took lunch at the cafe there looking out onto the bay. Then it was time to get back into the van and head off back to Paihia to explore the Bay of Islands properly. By properly I mean from a boat; there’s only so much of the beautiful cluster of islands you can see from land. We booked ourselves on the ‘Excitor’ — a 1600bhp, 45-knot, 54-seater monster of a power boat. Properly attired, we clambered aboard and were sent zooming off into the bay.
The islands are truly gorgeous. (I’m aware I’m starting to run low on superlatives already, so apologies for starting to use the same ones over and over again!) Again a fantastic reminder of how good life is at hanging on; even the tiniest rock outcrop was burgeoning with boundless diverse plants and trees. Quite humbling — I think I’m getting rather sentimental about such things in my old age; though I’m blaming it on reading Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” which is a right consciousness-raiser to these things.
The ultimate destination of the boat ride was one of the outermost islands which has a large hole running through it. Named ‘Pearson Island’ by Captain Cook (a nod in the direction to his boss and ‘pierced’ through), the pilot carefully steered the boat through the hole. Inside we saw a baby seal playing — charming! (ooh a new superlative!)
Once we’d finished our tour in and out of the island we started heading back — until the pilot spotted some bottle-nose dolphins playing nearby. Skilfully she steered over to them and we saw our first wild dolphins in New Zealand. A fleeting visit, but amazing nonetheless; they were frolicking about and around the boat for a couple of minutes before disappearing off. Such agile creatures! We’re hoping to see more of them on some other planned tours of ours in the South Island, but this was an unexpected bonus.
On the way back it started to rain. Hitting the rain at 45 knots stings pretty hard; so we all had to hunker down in the protective suits. It wasn’t too bad thankfully, but we were glad to pull back into Paihia docks.
Finally, we drove off out of Paihia towards the base of the northernmost tip of New Zealand, ostensibly to drive up the beach there (90 mile beach, which is nowhere near 90 miles long). Along the way we stopped at a guidebook- recommended fish shop. Wow — what a nice bit of fresh fish, lightly battered and deep fried but not dripping in lard like fish & chips at home so often is. Plus we could have a glass of red wine too — try getting that in the UK!
After dinner we drove on to a nearby camp site. Having just parked up in a camp site and done the maths, we’re realising that we don’t really have time; so instead tomorrow we’re going to get up early (hahah!) and head for the Kaupu tree forest south of here before makng a move to the other side of Auckland. Hopefully we’ll be ok to then visit the glow worm caves there on the day after that; and then…well, we have plans but in the interest of not being seen to be making lots of changes to our plan all the time I’ll stop there!
One last note before I put the laptop to bed — we learnt a valuable lesson on the outdoors lifestyle today: When opening the campervan door at night to work out where to plug in the power leads outside; do not leave the door to the van open with the internal lights on. You end up with a van full of flies attracted to the light; and in the absence of any insect repellent we had to shoo them out in darkness; with me holding a lighter on outside in an attempt to attract them back out. There are still some of the bastards flying around inside but we’ve given up on them now. Live and learn!