Russell and Waitangi.
What a difference a day makes! Yesterday a remote windswept beach, today a quiet harbour with a millpond-smooth ocean sparkling in the early morning sunlight.
Outside our bus mallards and wekas pottered about looking for friends.
We had a 10am check out today so needed to look sharp and headed off early to run up Flagstaff Hill via the Kororareka Nature Reserve on Maiki headland.
It was already pretty warm in the sunshine at the harbour front, and we were glad to be running up through cool shady woodland full of giant ferns to the top. At the flagstaff there was a spectacular 270 degree view of the Bay of Islands and a plaque explaining its history. The pole was erected in the 19th century as a conciliatory gesture after several years of conflict between the Maoris and British. The first three flagpoles were all felled by the Maoris but the fourth remains.
We ran back down, unable to complete the beach portion of the run due to the high tide, but enjoyed the view along the shore before retracing our steps.
There were lots of signs declaring this to be 'kiwi country' (hence no dogs allowed in the reserve) and although kiwis are nocturnal we stopped from time to time, hoping to hear a squeak or snuffling sound from a kiwi scurrying through the undergrowth.
We decided that if we were to live in NZ, Russell would be a pretty good place. A lovely town, nice beaches, great views, friendly people and easy access to a multitude of water based activities (and the house called 'Waterside Theatre' is on the market...)
Anyway.... dream over we ran back, showered, organised and left the site before the deadline. Along the road at Long Beach we stopped to cook breakfast and sat and watched bottle nosed dolphins swimming across the bay.
We then set off to retrace our route along the forest track, back to Paihia.
We rumbled along, following the sat nav but suddenly realised we were following a dead end toad down to the ferry terminal. Oops. We were executing a three point turn in the narrow road when a marine engineer in a pick up truck stopped and asked where we were trying to go. We explained and he described three options. The five minute ferry crossing, a two hour scenic coastal drive or a 'dangerous gravel track' through the forest. Despite living in Russell for 25 years he said he had only driven it three times... We took the ferry and didn't mention our journey the previous evening!
Within moments we were setting sail on the ferry as a 'medium sized' vehicle for $17. Bargain.
Then for a bit of culture - The Treaty House and Gardens at Waitangi. Much praised in the guide books, it was an expensive business at $25 each to get in. It was truly excellent but still seemed expensive. You could make a day of it - we really enjoyed three hours.
We learned lots of information we didn't know about how the Maoris initially welcomed the arrival of the British as they brought opportunities for trade, new skills and firearms, however conflict soon arose over land ownership and government. The Treaty of Waitangi was mainly the work of James Busby in 1840 and essentially it agreed that the Maoris land and rights would be honoured and protected. The trouble was that the Maori version and the English version of the document said slightly different things and so after an initial celebration, there were further disputes which continued into the 20th century and only really settled relatively recently when HRH the Queen signed a letter of apology to the Maoris.
After seeing the introductory film we walked in the woods and gardens which were full of birds. Of particular interest to us was the Tui, a melodious bird the size of a blackbird, but green with a white throat ruff and a striking call that was something like 'Boink-boink! Warkwayo! Aarrk!' (The Boink-boink sound bore a striking resemblance to the mobile phone text alert sound!)
We watched and listened to them overhead in the trees, and then stopped for coffee which turned into lunch (freshly baked brioche with basil, pine nuts, peppers, feta and sun-dried tomatoes - topped with butter...). As we ate, a pair of them perched on a Strelizia plant nearby.
The Treaty House itself was very impressive, with beautiful cottage gardens dotted with acrobatic Fantails flitting about like butterflies, and lawns leading over to the flagpole and down to the sea. The war canoe Ngatokimatawhaoura was made from two giant Kauri trees and was paddled by 80 Maori warriors. It is launched each year on Waitangi Day in February.
Feeling much more cultured and having spent a very peaceful few hours we returned into Paihia for provisions and postcards. I joined the lines of tourists sitting on benches in the park outside Paihia Library taking advantage of the free Wifi. What a crazy world we live in.
That done, we set off for the west coast, for Hokianga Harbour and Waipoua Forest.
In contrast to yesterday this journey flew by as we drove along good roads. We arrived at Rawene mid afternoon. The guide book described a scenic headland. We arrived at low tide to extensive mud flats. I made tea whilst Bill found a silver lining in numerous birds to watch, most notably a white-faced heron and a New Zealand Kingfisher. We drove on to our target destination for tonight, Opinoni. We chose this town as it had an 'I-site' information centre where we would be able to obtain walking maps and guides for Waipoua forest and because it appeared to be the only place near Hokianga Harbour that had a 'lively bar' near to a campsite. Why a bar? Well with the All-Blacks playing The Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup Final tomorrow, we wanted to be able to watch - even if kick off was to be at 4.30am....
As predicted, the Opononi Hotel (in NZ a hotel is what we would call a pub, and a motel is what we would call an hotel) was planning to open at 4.30am to screen the match and serve breakfast in their main bar which could hold up to 120 people....
We dropped in for a beer and to make friends with the landlord and a few locals, many of whom were bizarrely dressed in anticipation of the evening's Hallowe'en party...
After this we scooted off to find our camp site and watch the sunset over the Hokianga Harbour.
The Opononi Beach Holiday Park would not normally strike us as a premium holiday location. It was rather shabby in appearance and our first encounter with the owner, Harry, was to find him grovelling under a desk cursing his faulty electrical wiring. Furthermore he insisted that the sun had already set (it hadn't) and why would we want to go and look at the view tonight when we could see it tomorrow? We persevered with our booking, and returned after viewing sunset when he gruffly drove his quad bike to our pitch and ultimately made us very welcome with inch-by-inch guidance into camping pitch.
An evening walk on the beach was rewarded with beautiful skies and scenery. On the way back in the dark we heard a soft rustle and squeaking noise near our feet. Kiwis?! We stopped. Listened again. Nothing. We walked on and there it was again. Humph.... Bills boots squeaking as he trampled through the dried seaweed!
She we got back to the motor home we could see a faint glow in the cab. The poor lady in the sat nav was still imploring us to 'when possible, make a U-turn'.... We silenced her, feeling slightly guilty.
Bill fixed dinner whilst I blogged and we set the alarms for a very bizarre and early start tomorrow.