Hello from Rotorua for a backdated blog on Paihia, Bay of Islands. I am now well in to my new tour, which hasn't been totally what I was expecting. A mere 13 of us were picked up in Auckland for the Bay of Islands leg of the journey and 3 of them were on the last 2 days of their full New Zealand tour, so have now left us. We did however pick up a further 11 people on our way back through Auckland after visiting Paihia, but this still leaves us with much less than the 36 people I was expecting. Still, this is no bad thing - I only have to share with 2 other guys in our quad share motel rooms, which so far have been very spacious and nice.
The first leg of our journey involved crossing the Auckland harbour bridge, where we witnessed some of the bad traffic congestion which is one reason why Auckland is such an unpopular city with New Zealanders who don't live there. We journeyed up through lovely green hills high into New Zealand's northland, stopping briefly to partake in the ironic kiwi tradition of hugging of a kauri tree. Ironic because there are merely 8,000 of these trees left because hundreds of thousands of the specimens were chopped down for timber over a century ago. The wood from the kauri tree contains very few knots so is very valuable for timber merchants, but nowadays the only kauri trees they farm come from swamps and those above ground are protected.
On arrival to the small seaside town of Paihia we were rewarded with a very small fish and chips from the local takeaway. Amusingly they looked at me bemused when I asked for vinegar - apparently its viewed as repulsive round here. The sun had come out by now so we ate these on the beach overlooking a beautiful view of the Bay of Islands. It was a very peaceful little town, but surprisingly we were warned to be wary of the place at night. They have a real problem with anti-social behaviour in Paihia and a Connections driver was seriously assaulted not long ago. I think it stems from there being relatively little wealth in the region, which is somewhat isolated, and the young people have little to do. Still, I did not expect this from a peaceful town on the Bay of Islands.
In the evening I opted to go to a Maori cultural show performance on the Waitangi Marae, which is where the Waitangi treaty was signed in 1840 - a document laying out terms of agreement between the Maori's and the British which is seen as the founding document of New Zealand. The village of Russell, New Zealand's first city and capital, is just over the bay from Waitangi Marae, so it is a very historical part of New Zealand. Maori people are still very prevelant in New Zealand, especially on the North Island, and I learned a great deal about their history from the 1.5 hour performance. Merely entering the Marae was an experience, and we had to go through a ritual of being screamed at by a load of mental Maori costumed warriors before being allowed in. The show then told the story of the Maori in New Zealand and involved all kinds of traditional dancing, including the famous Haka as performed by the All Blacks rugby team.
The next day I joined a tour north to the very tip of New Zealand - Cape Reinga. We visited another kauri tree on route, and then had a drive in our coach up 90 mile beach, which is a public highway bizarrely. Even more bizarre is the fact the beach is only 67 miles long, as those who discovered it miscaculated its length. The weather was cloudy so the beach didn't look that alluring, but we had some entertainment in getting out to push a stranded car out of the sand. At the north tip of the beach were some large sand dunes which we got the opportunity to sand board down a couple of times. The sand was a lot bumpier than in Peru and it the board had no handles to hold on to, but it was still fun and I managed to make it all the way to the stream at the bottom of the hill which many people didn't manage to do.
After lunch on the beach in a nice bay we headed up to the cape itself. Although not the most northerly point in New Zealand (that honour belongs to the nearby and hard to access north cape) it is only 3km south and much more accessible, and as the north east point it is viewed as the tip of the country. The sun had come out by now and the coastal scenery was absolutely stunning, with towering cliffs and beautiful beaches visible from the hilltop. The cape itself was somewhat reminiscent of Land's End in Cornwall with a lighthouse and a rocky outcrop marking the tip. It is a sacred place to the Maori as it is allegedly where spirits leave the homeland to make their way to the spirit world after death. Not a bad place to depart. On the way back to Paihia we stopped at a kauri timber factory and then at the Doubtless Bay for yet more small fish and chips.
I would liked to have spent longer at the Bay of Islands and had the opportunity to visit the Bay itself as well as the nearby Haruru Falls. But the next day was rainy so I didn't feel so bad about our departure. I have a feeling I will find this tour much more rushed than my South America trip, but it should still be good.