The Northland

Trip Start Dec 02, 2008
Trip End Feb 27, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We rented a car for a week and traveled north of Auckland to the Bay of Islands for some rural R&R. We found an "eco-lodge" in a guidebook that tries to use sustainable methods whenever possible, including compost bins in the kitchenettes. Nice to have our own cottage with a kitchen to do more cooking. The family running the place has had the land for three generations. Our host Tania's grandfather used to grow citrus fruit (what Keri Keri is famous for). Now she runs the property as tourist accomodations, with an on-site Thai restaurant, sub-tropical gardens, and her partner's non-toxic print making studio. Keri Keri is pretty darn laid-back. We hiked to the famous Stone Store, NZ's first stone building built for the missionaries (by ex-convicts) in 1836. Next door is the country's first wooden house, even older (1822). It was in the same family for generations until they donated it to the National Trust in 1974. We wanted to continue on to Rainbow Falls but the government recently removed the bridge across the river due to recent flooding. So we rolled up the pants, took off our shoes, and joined the local teens crossing the river by foot. Then hiked the rest of the way through some nice wooded paths to the waterfall and then back into town. Another day was spent north of Keri Keri at Matauri Beach, where we hung out with locals -- no other tourists from what we could tell! We also ferried over to the even smaller town of Russell for dinner, which back in the 1800s was THE booming town on the North Island, full of sailors and the typical unsavories and debauchery that came with them.We were expecting something more, but it's teeny tiny with most things closed by the time we got there at about 7:30 p.m. Reminded me a little of Friday Harbor. Nearby Russell is the historical site of Waitangi -- the "birthplace" of today's NZ (not the birthplace of Maori culture). On Feb. 6, 1840 most of the local Maori tribes signed the Waitangi treaty with the British. It is treated somewhat like our Constitution, but it has been quite contested over the years because the two sides interpret it differently (mostly related to land rights).

KeriKeri is a nice town full of retirees and hospice workers.  The summer population ballons due to everyone wanting out of Auckland for a holiday.  The beaches north of here are full of amazing white sand and cystal clear blue waters.  The only difference from countries closer to the equator is that the water is somewhat cold.  On Matauri Beach I missed a few spots with the sunscreen and my feet and arms paid the price.  My feet are getting pretty tan while the rest of my legs are still the same old Pacific Northwest white some of us are afflicted with.  Just off Matauri Bay is the remains of an old Greenpeace boat -- the Rainbow Warrior. Back in the early 90's Greenpeace was protesting France testing nuclear weapons in the south pacific.  The Greenpeacers had a boat they were harassing the french with and the boat was then bombed by French spies.  this was a pivotal moment in NZ history.  NZ has been strongly nuclear free ever since.  France did end up testing a nuclear weapon in turn blowing a nice big hole in the ozone.  So if you're caucasian and dont want to come home with skin cancer then wear sunscreen while in NZ cause you'll get burned in about 5-10 minutes on a sunny day.  I already have a nice farmers tan going on.  Can't wait to show everyone:)

We went up to KeriKeri to get away from the city for a little while and embrace the slower pace of life.  Hokianga harbor is also one of those places only it's on the Northland's west coast (KK is on the east coast).  This is where the kauri (cow-ree) forests remain.  Its a small stretch of land that has been conserved to save these giants.  They are impressive and quite different from anything i have seen in the states.  They have a massive trunk with all its branches at the top.  Up at the top there looks to be a whole other ecosystem with ferns and birds chirping.  the trees are significant to the Maori's and feature strongly in their mythology.  The biggest kauri left is called 'Tane Mahuta' by the Maori and brought peace to land when his parents were arguing (that is the cliff notes version).  The forest is very tropical with its fern and palm trees.  you's think you're in hawaii or thailand.  

Amanda again:
So instead of relaying exactly what we did every day and where we went (some days it wasn't much!) I thought I'd offer some observations about NZ so far. Today's observation: Birds. Some of you may know that there were originally no mammals on NZ apart from a couple of bat species. At least until the Maori arrived around 800 to 1,000 years ago (actually not that long ago compared to other Polynesian settlers). They brought some mammals with them and so did the European settlers when they began arriving. Until those pesky mammals arrived, including humans, the birds ruled the roost, so to speak. With no major predators, some very odd bird species developed, many of them flightless -- from the Kiwi (now endangered, more on them later) to the giant Moa, twice as large as an ostrich (now extinct). Right away when we arrived at our first Auckland hostel I could hear different bird calls than I was used to, like some crazy trumpeting calls that sounded at least three syllables. And we've been noticing alot of birds around us everywhere we go. Some we've never seen before, with really long orange beaks or crested heads. others are probably imports from Europe or North America and look more familiar. I'm getting used to waking up to the sound of birds chirping. It's way more noticeable than back home so I'm trying to adjust since normally I find birds very annoying between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.! But when in NZ....

Public Transit: we didn't take any transit while in the Northland. I think it's hard to come by up there but there were tons of tour buses taking travelers to and fro.

Best meal: the first in Keri Keri at the Thai place on our property. It had actually only been open two weeks, but Amanda had this BBQ pork belly over rice that was awesome! Most of the food in the place was organic and/or locally sourced. Although John would say his best meal was his fried fish burger on the Hokianga (see photo).

Best experience: the funniest one was when we accidentally left our sliding deck door open while cooking dinner one night and realized the place had become infested with mosquitoes (or "mozzies"). Amanda "Lightning" Wright and John "High Jump" Chestnut killed at least 30 of the suckers (ha ha), running around the cottage like a couple of mad assassins. But the best experience was walking along the Hokianga Harbour and then dropping down into the Kauri forest to see the giants up close.

Worst experience: Probably attempting to drive all the way up to the very northern tip of the island at Cape Reinga to see the lighthouse on our last day up North but turning back about half way there due to really bad weather. Amanda got carsick from the winding road on the way back, which was unusual for her. We went three hours out of way but made the right call since as it was we didn't pull into our next town until almost 7 p.m. and luckily found a motel room lickety-split.

Phrase of the Week:
We've had a couple guesses so far as to what the last word meant but won't reveal the answer until we post the next entry to give people more time.

This week's phrase is: Slip Slap Slop
A) to get really drunk (aka at your bachelor party)
B) to put on sunscreen
C) the intimidating posturing that competing rugby teams perform before a game

Next entry: Rotorua, in the North Island's Bay of Plenty -- a Maori cultural and geo-thermal hotspot

PS: John hasn't had a chance to download his photos from Keri Keri so be sure to check back later for more pics!
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