A Triumphant Week in Whangarei

Trip Start Apr 02, 2012
Trip End Jul 26, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Saturday, May 26, 2012

There comes a time in any intrepid traveller's life that he/she arrives at a destination that either surprises them, allows them to see life in a different way, re-affirms existing values/beliefs or marks a new beginning in their own journey through life be it by car or imaginative thought.
This very enlightenment happened to me during a most wonderful week in Whangarei.
BUT! enough of this hippie-like mumbo-jumbo! I did a load of stuff in the day's journey from Kaitaia to Whangarei, so the above will have to wait till later (as usual). So read-on as there is a lot to get through!
On the advice of the driver of the Cape Reinga bus, I decided to head down the west coast towards Dargaville on my way to Whangarei on the east coast. He convinced me to go this route as it involved a car ferry (yeah right!) from Hokianga to Rawene and a pleasant drive through the Waipoua forest to visit old Tane Mahuta (more soon).
This route would take about 6 hours instead of about 2 but ever the car junky I decided to give it a go.
As I am doing all of my travelling in my trusty old bird the Honda Odyssey I am really enjoying all the driving I'm doing as the scenery is truely stunning and I can stop and start as I please, especially good for photographs. This journey was no exception and I was in for a great drive.
On long journey's such as this, I have my ever-faithful sat-nav woman (you've already met her) sitting comfortably on the windscreen and she guides me almost perfectly up and down the rolling hills and through the incredibly windy roads (NZ is full of them). It's funny when she tells me to go left or right when it's only a windy bend, but she's not got a lot of brains (no, I haven't named her - that would be just silly!). What I don't have is a good radio or more importantly a CD/mp3 player. This means I have to sing my way through 6 hours of driving. There used to be a time when I could sing pretty well but these days I can't hit the high notes, but in a car no-one can hear you sing! It's odd though that Elton John's We all fall in love sometimes comes into my head at times like this, which is odd also as I haven't and I can't reach the high note! However, it's a beautiful tune and I suppose that's enough.
This journey takes me through a wonderful and beautiful gorge to Opononi. Now, whilst in Kaitaia, the iSite suckered me into booking a motel here for 3 nights later on. But lo and behold I found myself there 3 days early! Well, it consisted of a motel and a pub and a nice view, so while I was downing a pint for lunch I promptly cancelled the booking and moved on! The iSite lost their whatchamacallit - serves them right for underestimating me!!!
I arrived at Hokianga harbour to catch the car ferry (or vehicular ferry as they call it) to Rowene. This was really good as I've not done this before, apart from the Cook Strait (so really I have), but this was very quaint and much much more Hicksville than commercialville like the Interislander.
This only took 15 minutes and I didn't hang about in Rawene as it was yet another pretty cafe-filled, minor attraction-typical tourist town and sped on to the Waipoua forest.
I actually couldn't believe the old girl (Ms sat-nav) had heard of it, but she did and she got me there safely. It was really good to drive through the forest as it was a very different winding road but I felt I was in a very different setting than I was used to and this was a welcome change. I had set the sat-nav to find Tane Mahuta and find it she did! (there were plenty of signs - but I'll gloss over that)
Tane Mahuta is the largest Kauri tree to stand today. It's about 1,250 - 2,500 years old and is frickin' enormous!! I must say I was impressed! I had to walk a few metres off the highway on a boardwalk to get to it. There was no mistaking it from the others.
On I forwarded to my interim destination of Dargaville. I was told that this was a great place to visit. Either I was feeling tired (late afternoon) or it really was nothing to write about, and it really is nothing to write about! I only stopped off at New World to get my next two days supply of white wine and moved ever onwards.
I arrived in Whangarei at about 5pm. I only chose this city as I had run out of places to go in the run-up to my return to Auckland and was not expecting much.
I had booked 3 nights at the YHA. This has to be the best one I've stayed in (my 6th). They gave me a private double room in a lodge separate from the plebs sharing in the main hostel and as there were no others in the lodge rooms I even had the separate lounge/kitchen room to myself which i didn't use (that's not the point!). As it was dark I had a quick walk around the town centre, liked what I saw and on the return to the YHA promptly booked another 2 nights!
In the morning I had a very nice stroll around the city centre again. There are some main drags that I never feel at home in but this one was great with good shopping and a really nice feel, probably because there were a lot of smiling faces about. In the afternoon I drove up to the Whangarei Falls. These were really good as it is very big and powerful. It was late afternoon so the sun was going down and very few people so I was able to use my tripod and take a lot of time trying to get the shot! Unfortunately when I was on my way up from the falls, 3 German tourists (students I think) asked me to take their picture with the falls behind them which I was glad to do (as I am the consummate professional, you know). During the second snap I waved my hands about to get them in the prime position and dropped their camera and broke it! They were very nice in a German kinda way and waved away my offers to contribute to the repairs - which I later did anyway. Safely secure in the thought that I did the right thing, I went on my merry way back to the hostel (many dollars short!) I didn't pay for all of it cos they shouldn't have asked me in the first place! So there!
The next day I took a harbour boat trip to Limestone Island. Yet another amateur/enthusiast operation in an old wooden chest. This was pretty good especially as I am reading Longitude at the moment and asked loads of questions about the charts and time and degrees etc - I really learned a lot about maritime navigation that day! I also met a very nice lady called Emmeline (the second Emmeline in my life) who was from Kaikohe and fancied a day out. We really got on which made the time more enjoyable. We arrived at Limestone after about an hour and then just walked around taking pics for an hour. The island which is not in the open ocean was a mining location but now just ruins - it was all very pleasantly so-so in the end.
When we got back into town Emmeline and I had coffee on the waterfront watching a welcome-home ceremony for a Maori lady with cancer who had walked 150K for charity. This was very enjoyable except for the extremely boring speeches but for us, we were waiting for the Maori Elvis! (yes, you read right) who we spotted hovering at the edge of preceedings. But he never sang! Though we waited 2 hours for him cos I was hoping he would sing Jailhouse Rock or something in maori! (what a laff!)
The next day I went to the Tutukaka Heads to climb to the lookout and the lighthouse there. This was a really enjoyable climb through small beaches and bush with amazing views of the harbour at Tutukaka. I met a lovely group of young Kiwis up there and we had a great chat about travelling etc. They even asked if I'd take their photo........which I did without any damage. I really enjoyed that afternoon. The lighthouse is devoid of description though.
Before setting for home, I had a beer at the Oceans hotel nearby. What was meant to be just a half hour stop turned into 3 hours cos I got chatting with a lovely couple in their 60s about life in general, NZ politics and everything else under the sun. They even gave me another idea for a new career. Their names were Carol and Paul. Hat's off to them!
At this point I should mention that I had been toying with the idea of booking a day's snorkelling at Poor Knights Island. As you know, I hate wobbly boats, deep water and things that have edges! However, I have been travelling nearly 2 months and I have done nothing really adventurous. Well this is the last thing you'd have thought I'd do! There comes a time when even I have to understand that in order to do things I really really want to do, I have to stop the negative waves and the devil's voices in my head, kick out the demons and get the frickin' hell on with it! So! at the coffee table and with Emmeline as my witness, I phoned the dive company and booked the trip to Poor Knights for two days' time. After that, I refused to entertain negative thoughts about the dangers of snorkelling in deep deep water in the middle of the Pacific Ocean off a small boat edge and had a (fairly) good nights sleep!
The next day (Monday) I visited the clock museum in town. They have a huge collection of all sorts of clocks, old and new. The sounds of ticking, tocking and cuckoos was blissful! That's where I bought Longitude of course. (yes I know I have my days mixed up, but its the quality of the prose that's important).
Poor Knights Island is apparently in the top 5 best dive sites in the world. As it happened a girl who was staying at the hostel was also going on the trip but was diving, so we got picked up by shuttle and whisked to the the Tutukaka Heads and to the dive shop to pay and get kitted up in our wet suits and snorkels etc.
The day started at 8am from the Tutukaka harbour. There 5 snorkelers and 2 divers plus 2 male crew, the skipper and the diving expert. Would you believe, Emmeline was there and insisted she wasn't stalking me but I had inspired her to rethink her day and join us.
I have to say, the weather was beautiful and the sea was dead calm. The hour trip in the small dive boat was great (no wobbling) and the crew were funny and re-assuring. I had to tell them that I was worried about getting off the boat and into the water but they were brilliant and said I had al the time in the world. I wasn't really nervous because I was absolutely determined to get in the water. When we arrived at the incredible islands in the middle of no-where, us snorkelers 
and the skipper went on the roof of the boat to learn about the islands and the fish we might see while the 3 divers got ready on the deck. Then it was our turn. Unfortunately I sat on the platform for maybe 5 minutes before I could get off, talking to myself and exorcizing those wretched demons but get off I did! I was then stuck like glue to the railing banishing the last of the buggers in my head............and then I let go!
I always knew that I would be ok once I was was swimming (I am a very good swimmer). Once I got used to breathing with the snorkel and had relaxed, I was away with the fishes, literally. It was a most wonderful experience. The water was crystal clear and the sun shining it's rays through the water. I was swimming with large schools of beautiful, amazing fish and being accompanied by large and small individuals alike. These included snapper, blue mao mao and many others. I got the hang of it quickly and swam through caves and arches. The best time of my life!! (ish)
After an hour we got back to the anchored boat for a rest and for the supplied lunch. The skipper and the others said that they heard me get very excited when I spotted an amazing fish (it was very echoey in the cove). He also said when they saw me swim away through the caves, that "they had created a monster" I was very happy!
After lunch, we moved to another dive site on the other side of the islands. This time there was no faffing about from yours truely and I went (almost) straight off the platform and into the sea! My demons had been banished!!!!
After an hour we returned to the boat and after a brief tour of the islands' other caves set sail for home. The sea and the weather stayed fantastic and we arrived back in port at 5pm. I and everyone else had a wonderful day. My best individual day so far!
In the evening, Emmeline, Claire (the diver from YHA) and I went for an Indian meal back in Whangarei which was great. As Emmeline drove and I didn't, I could drink! Well that made a change! We had a lovely evening.
As you can imagine, I was quite knackered the next day and decided to have a quiet stroll to the lookout on Mount Parihaka overlooking Whangarei itself. I spoke to various walkers along the way and they told me to take the Dobbie track to the summit which was only 45mins and not too taxing. I did and the views of the city were great. I made my way back down and enjoyed a rest by the river at the bottom. However, I was tired from yesterday and I was listening to my ipod when I took the wrong track back to town and to cut a very long arduous story short, kept on going up and up and up right to the the bleedin' summit again!!! I thought it was a long way home and that I was ascending a long time and was in quite bad shape. Oh well! I bit my lip, strutted my stuff and went all the way back down again! I was absolutely shattered! That was the day finished there and then.
By now you may have gathered that I added a further 2 days to my stay in Whangarei as I was having a great time. So the next day I really did decide to take it easy and have a stroll to Mount Manaia on the Whangarei Heads. When I got there the mount looked very inviting and the weather again great. I put on my walking shoes again and started the hour long trek upwards. I met a few old people with poles and asked them why the notice at the beginning said it was dangerous in places, they said cos there were a lot of steps that go up n' up n' up!. They weren't frickin' kidding! Oh My God!!! that was another tough climb! Why do I put myself through this!!!! There were so many steps it was really hard on my legs. However, when I finally reached the top it was a really small outcrop of rock to stand on but the views were spectacular. What was even better than the views were a couple who sitting on there (no one else there) eating their lunch. Russel, a helicopter pilot from Auckland (who incidently, woke me up every night ferrying patients to Auckland hospital over the road when I lived there) and Claire (a nurse from the Whangarei hospital) We got talking and you'd think we had known each other for years - they were so friendly! Then! another couple came up, a female doctor from Whangarei and Alex, a young Englishman (who was cycling around NZ!) We all got on incredibly well. After ages we all went back down the track together having a great laugh as we went. At the bottom I suggested we go for a drink together, so we went in convoy to a lovely pub in a place I can't remember with a lovely view of yet another harbour. We had a great evening. This was another wonderful day for me on my travels. Of course we all vowed to stay in touch. A couple said they would come to see my pics at the Auckland exhibition next week - hope so.
On Thursday, I was ready to leave Whangarei. I said goodbye to the YHA manager and drove tearfully (not really) away from Whangarei and the most magical time.........
My next destination was south towards Auckland to fill the final 5 days of Part One of my travels. I made straight for Goat Island at Leigh Marine Reserve for (you guessed it) more snorkelling!
My opening paragraph I think, says it all in terms of the people I met in Whangarei and the decisions I ended up making.
My next blog on my continued battles to defeat those nasty devils is coming tomorrow.
See you then!

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