Tour groups have never really been my thing. Whenever I'm at a beach or attraction and a tour bus turns up I generally roll my eyes and curse the oncoming camera-wielding crowd. Well, today's tour was nothing like those other tours. For a start, we weren't in a bus, we were in the back of a kitted out truck- so much cooler! We started this trip thinking that today was just going to be about dune boarding, after all, that's what's on the brochure, but today was so much more.
Our first main stop was at the Gumdiggers site to see where the pioneers came to first fell the Kauri tree, and then mine the sap. It's much more interesting than it sounds. The Kauri tree, being the second largest species of tree on Earth, quickly came to be a popular export in NZ early years, so popular in fact that there is only 3% of the original population left in existence today. The sap of the tree was also incredibly useful, in healthcare as an anti-biotic, and also as a good quality wood varnish. The sap was so popular that one the trees had all but disappeared the locals started mining ancient 100,000 year old preserved trees, up to 20 feet underground. On the gumdiggers site there is an entire ancient forest buried underground, left behind after an enormous tsunami wiped over the land. There is only one Kauri tree remaining on the site, and at only about ten feet tall, a bittersweet reminder of what once stood on that land. The sap is still mined today and is for sale in almost every souvenir shop- if you're lucky (or have enough cash) you might get a piece with a spider or fly trapped inside- how Jurassic Park is that?!
Our next stop was the northern most point in NZ- Cape Regina, where you can stand looking due north and see the meeting points of the Tasman and the Pacific. It's a great lookout and very scenic, with giant sand dunes in the distance to the west, and regular whale sightings to the east. It is also of great significance to the Maori people who believe the tree growing on the rocky tip of the country is the gateway to the after-life and is used my all Maori spirits as they depart this life. We had a great day for it and could clearly see the curvature of the earth when we stared out to sea.
W stopped for lunch at a beach just a few minutes south of the cape. As we were walking along a small inlet towards the ocean realised that every time I sunk my foot into the sand a huge burst of bubbles would erupt from beneath my feet. It was so odd, and kept us so entertained that we stopped paying attention to where we were going and I found myself suddenly knee deep in quicksand and sinking rapidly. My primal survival instincts quickly came o the fore and in a heroic effort to save myself loudly squealed 'help me!' to Stell who looked over and, realising the trouble I was in, fell about laughing, leaving me to my sandy fate that was actually very easy to get out of once I'd calmed down. So, feeling rather humbled and very sandy I reboarded the bus, hoping to regain some face at the sand dunes. .
The honest truth is when I first was the dunes close up I thought 'give me quicksand any day'. They were ENORMOUS! I hadn't quite realised the scale of these things, at over 150 metres tall, by the time you dragged yourself to the top the people at the base looked no bigger than sand-flies. The decent however is the most fun you can have on a body board. Forget waves, you just sit around waiting for the right one. You can't go wrong on a dune- up, down, fun. The whole experience would have been a bit more fun if there had been chair lifts to the top, but you can't argue with the smiles on peoples faces as they rocket back down, the more adventurous getting up to speeds of over 80kmph.
After we had all be sand-duned out we reboarded the truck and spent the next forty minutes driving down the 90 Mile Beach, stopping a couple of times to have a look around. You see some really random things driving along a beach. A whole school of foot-long fish that had washed themselves ashore. A father and his daughter running away from a five-foot long shark that I don't think they meant to catch. A massive black octopus slowly making it's way back to the surf. Overall, a very interesting experience. After meeting back up with proper paved roads we wound our way back to Paihia, with a quick stop at a fish and chip shop on the way. It was a long day made up of really varied activities and a lot of local information, and it's totally exhausting. We got back to the hostel around 6:30, brewed a cup of tea and have just finished another episode of Black Books. We say goodbye to Paihia tomorrow but to be honest I can't think that far ahead. Sleep, that's what I'm looking forward to.