Friday 6th November
Woke early today to the sound of surf and with the sun rising behind a group of Norfolk pines.
Beautiful golden green dawn light was filling the van through the opened blind. Then we saw the sign... 'No overnight camping in this reserve'.
Humph. The camper mate app had been pretty reliable on 'freedom camping' sites so far but we had heard tell of people receiving on-the-spot fines for parking in the wrong place or leaving too late etc.
We wondered whether to take a chance, to open all the blinds go down to the beach and tell the ranger we had only just arrived, and decided not to.
Dressed and packed by 6.15 we started to drive out of the parking area when we saw another sign. It IS ok to camp overnight as long as you park in the area marked on the map with a star. Exactly where we had been parked....
Back to plan A.
We re-parked in our beautiful spot overlooking Papamoa beach, a popular spot for surfers. Some were already out on the water. The only slight fly in the ointment was the overloaded rubbish bin - full of left over firework cases from last night's show.
As we set off for the beach, a council worker in a high vis jacket arrived on his bicycle to start tidying up!....
We ran south into the rising sun for about 20 minutes and then back again for a quick and invigorating swim in the surf.
Our first stop today was to head south to Rotorua to a geo-thermal park at Wai-o-Tapu, and in particular the Lady Knox Geyser. It sounds bizarre, but the geyser erupts at 10.15 every morning thanks to the addition of a surfactant powder.
We arrived with minutes to spare - the theory we have been told is that Kiwi road makers are paid by the kilometre and not by the hour, hence the incredibly long and windy roads!
The man on the gate is clearly used to this phenomenon as he dispensed with formalities and advised to head on into the park and pay for the ticket later.
On arrival we were rather taken aback to see the geyser centre stage and row upon row of tourists in tiered seats waiting for the spectacle. There was a sea of selfie sticks held aloft over brightly coloured down jackets and baseball caps, intermingled with an ocean of beige trekking shirts and trousers topped by beanie hats and compact camera held at arms length.
A Maori called Dave stepped up to the geyser ('gizer' not 'geezer') to make an informative introduction using his Mike. Lady Knox was sending little puffs of steam into the air as he spoke.
A kilometre or so below his feet was a reservoir of steam. This was sitting below a layer of water at 65 degrees. (sounds highly improbable to this scientist but anyway...). A century ago, inmates from the local prison were doing their laundry nearby when they were surprised to find that the addition of soap to the hot water in the geothermal river suddenly caused an eruption of water that sent their clothes many feet up into the air( or so the story goes...) The soap had acted as a surfactant to break the surface tension within the reservoir and allowed the geyser to erupt.
Dave then poured the (environmentally friendly) soap surfactant into the geyser and the selfie sticks trembled in anticipation.
As he continued to tell talk stories about prisoners and hot water Dave casually watched as the geyser started to produce a few bubbles. After a few more minutes, there was a stream of froth pouring out and Dave sauntered off out of sight. Then suddenly there was the most impressive jet of water that erupted and shot about 4 metres into the air. Clouds of steam surrounded it. No one could help but be amazed and impressed.
At this point 90% of the audience applauded, stood up and hurried out.
We didn't. A few of us moved fine to the front and quietly watched the geyser gradually get higher and more impressive as the stream if boiling water and steam continued on and on. After 30 minutes, We were the only ones left and Lady Knox continued to erupt, the droplets of water sparkling in the sunshine, looking rather like an enormous, very long lasting white Roman candle. It was beautiful.
We had parked our van at the top of the car park in a patch of forest. We went back there and cooked our breakfast and sat and ate it in the sun. When we had finished the previously jam packed car park was completely empty.
We drive down to the main park, worryingly called 'Thermal Wonderland'....
We paid our dues and, delighted by the lack of crowds, started the circular walk with a few reservations about the rather gimmicky name.
Well the cynical among us were proved wrong again. It was great. There were lakes of boiling mud, sulphur caves, pools of bubbling water coloured orange or green due to the presence of arsenic, antimony, and bridges and walkways around the whole lot. The park was set in amongst dense forest and this I turn was full of Fantails , bellbirds, pied stilts and Tuis.
Thoroughly impressed we had a picnic lunch and headed on to our next destination - Kerosene Creek.
By contrast to the commercialised 'Wonderland', the creek is just a natural bit of river in a small forest. You just drive down a gravel track, park, grab your swimmies and follow the locals as they walk along the the riverbank to find a place to swim.
The difference is hat the river is hot. Like a hot bath. We wandered along the path until we found a small cascade about two feet high, with water flowing down over a smooth rocky platform. We climbed into the water, just the two of us in our own little pool and lay back in the hot water, the cascade rushing over our shoulders and backs as we lay in the afternoon sunshine and looked up at the forest.
After a while we were a bit too hot. Whilst removed his rash vest, Bill managed to lose his sunglasses, which turned up miraculously on s patch of sand just where we climbed out of the river. Back at the motor home we showered and made plans for the evening.
We had heard good things about the Whirinaki Forest, a remote reserve of dense bush on steep volcanic slopes, full of birds and trees.
We set off, calling at the town of Murupara for fuel and water from the friendly but over priced gas station, and 'something for supper' from the 'Four Square' supermarket. Having viewed the selection of meat and vegetables, we settled on tinned tuna and coleslaw in a wrap with tomato and spinach salad. And very delicious it was too! We made several friends in Murupara, all of them amazed that we had arrived there from England!
The road was good until we turned off towards Minginui, and then became a narrow rutted track. Our destination was another 'freedom camping' site at Sanctuary camping ground, In the heart of the Whirinaki forest. This proved to be a beautiful spot in a grassy clearing, by a river, the only other campers being in a small tent on the other side of a copse of trees. Having parked, and had tea and toast, we crossed the small bridge and set off to explore the forest. No board walks here - just cleared paths between the trees, ferns and podocarps. We followed a nature trail loop walk, the emphasis bring on listening to the sounds of the forest. We heard an awful lot of birdsong, and heard many birds fluttering in the tree tops, but the canopy was so thick, it was too dark to reliably identify any. The walk comprised s straight section followed by a 2km loop. We set off up hill, aware of the reflective triangles on the trees designed to facilitate a night walk. What we had not appreciated was that these markers only followed the outward leg of the loop ( the night walk is there-and-back to a kiwi listening spot). We were partway round the return loop when darkness fell and we suddenly realised that there were no markers to follow. In the twilight we could just about make out the pale shadow of the path. With head torches on, we could just see tree trunks,bushes and under growth.
We stumbled home, very aware that to get lost in the forest, even in my one kilometre from the camp, would be a bad thing...
In the event we found our way ok despite stumbling over tree toots and fallen branches.
Later after supper and a couple of glasses of 'Flying Sheep' Hawke's Bay Pinot Gris, for courage, we set off again to hunt for kiwis. Red torches and warm clothes on, we retraced our earlier steps to the top of the hill and sat on the bench to listen out for kiwi. We saw loads of pretty glow worm and heard a couple of morepork owls call, but did not hear or see a kiwi. Nevertheless it was still pretty amazing and slightly scary to be out in the depths of the Whirinaki Forest in the middle of night and we happily toddled back to the motor home for hot mugs of tea and bed.