The mine tour at Thames was run by a crusty old codger who provided a lot more information than most of us had planned on hearing ...but it was interesting. It surprised me how many people showed up for the tour. Most of them were young, early twenties. Wouldn’t have thought there’d be that much interest in an old mine.
The first level of the mineshaft was dark and damp and claustrophobically narrow. The guide led us through, explaining how miners would bang away at the stone, raising the dust that was drawn into their lungs. They were dead by their mid thirties ...a grim life below ground and a grim life above ground.
On top again, he cranked up the crusher machine, grinding the rock into a fine sand, then shaking it out, gold panning on a large, mechanized scale. The grinding and shaking process is deafening. During the heyday of mining in this region, there would have been dozens of these machines going constantly. No peace in this valley.
Made me wonder how it was decided that this bright yellow metal should have such enormous value to human beings. Reminded me of the opal mines at Coober Peddy ...a grim life for miners hunting pretty rocks to adorn the bodies of rich women far away.
The next day found us in Auckland, checking out the weekend markets.
The Otara Market is billed as the Polynesian market and it certainly is. Not very many white people walking around there, but there was no sense of discomfort. No sense of welcome either ...it’s just a big weekend market for locals of Polynesian descent. Lots of CDs and t-shirts and veggies and fruit and jewellery. There were bark paintings for sale but these were so assembly-line in appearance that I am sure they were Indonesian imports.
The “hot donuts” being peddled by the old grannies looked good, so we gave one a try – a pleasantly warm, cakey donut with a gently sweetened flavour. We were also tempted by the pineapple meringue pies. These are just like a lemon meringue, but use pineapple. Tempted, but didn’t bite. We’ve been gaining weight lately!
From Otara we carried on to a market in the CBD ...just off Queens. This was a poor excuse for a market. There were stalls set up under matching umbrellas – everything very organized and upmarket looking. Lots of lovely pottery and jewellery and silk scarves and woollen products ...very expensive and boutiquey. Very few customers. There is little street parking in the Auckland CBD so it is not a people-friendly town.
Next up was
is the old market
under the bridge,
Park. For the
most part these
shops that just
I miss the
out on a weekend
There is always
Hands down, it's
Auckland is an attractive city, on the water as it is. On this blue-sky day it looked like there were hundreds of boats out. Maybe that’s where the soul of the city is, because I certainly couldn’t feel it in the markets or the downtown core. It seems a city of such disparate parts, a place with no centre. This is no doubt unfair, considering how little time I spent there. But in contrast, I felt like I did connect to the soul of cities like Christchurch and Perth and Sydney. But not Auckland.
We spent our second Auckland day at the Museum in the Auckland Domain. The Domain is the BIG park where people congregate on Sundays. The museum is technically free, although the grim docent at the gate makes it clear that you are expected to “donate” $5 a head.
The second floor of the museum is devoted to natural history – shells, crabs, fish, butterflies, birds, animals, volcanoes, land movement, etc. In the “Volcano House” you feel the earth shake as a vent erupts under Auckland Harbour. Very dramatic.
The coolest thing though, was a “walkover” aquarium. Crabs and starfish and lobster are directly under the clear Plexiglas panels you walk over. It’s eery.
The first floor is about two things – a special exhibit area (a traveling Leonardo da Vinci show while we were there) and an extensive exhibition of Polynesian artefacts and information about the migration of different South Pacific islanders to New Zealand. I had never realized how many different islands there are. The gallery traces the migratory routes of the various islanders from there homelands to New Zealand. This would be a fascinating gallery for anyone with Polynesian ancestry. There is also an excellent Maori exhibit.
The third floor is the war memorial to their “glorious dead.” I’ve seen that term, “glorious dead” inscribed quite often on war memorials. I always have trouble with it ...wondering how glorious those boys felt, dying in the mud. Or how glorious their mothers felt reading the cable.
There is also a small room, easy to miss, that is devoted to the personal stories of the Holocaust. Survivors, their photos in front of you, narrate the history of their family and friends. It’s a powerful place.
Russell and the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is New Zealand’s largest marine park, with 144 islands. It’s a gorgeous, semi-tropical area with average summer temps of 24 degrees. Even in the winter the average temp is only 16 degrees.
We met a Canadian family from Yellowknife, which is in Canada’s far north. The parents are both teachers, their three sons in their early teens. Mom and Dad are doing a three-year teacher exchange, with their posting being a school in the Bay of Islands area. The father described how they arrived in New Zealand’s “winter.” To the amazement of locals, the boys jumped into the ocean or a swim, and continue to do so every day. After living their whole lives in a place where “winter” means 30 degrees below, 16 degrees above will never be winter to them.
We cruised the islands with the Fuller Cruise people. It was a largish boat, packed with too many people. We were in despair at first because the only place left to sit was in the bottom of the boat, staring out through tinted windows. Instead we chose to stand at the stern. On the way back we hustled ourselves to the front of the line and managed to get seats up on top, riding home in the sun.
The big whoop is Motukokako Island and the famous “Hole in the Rock.” This is literally a hole in a big rock through which the sea surges. About 75% of the time the boat can make it through the hole, but today’s surges were too great.
On the way back we stopped at Urupukapuka Island for tea. There was a $10 additional option to go out on glass bottomed/windowed “nautilus explorer” to see the fish (there are no hard corals here) but we’ve done enough of that already. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the sunshine, working on our Suduko puzzles, an obsession we picked up from our friend Dave in Christchurch.
We are staying
in Russell, a
town. Lots of
We noticed that
fish and chips
at the restaurant
were $20 per
serving so we
checked out the
could have the
same dinner for
$6 per serving.
They tasted much
better back at
our cabin. We
have a sundeck
with a stunning
view of the bay
Breakfast is our favourite meal “out” at home, but we’ve not indulged on this trip because the prices are so steep. It’s been common to see breakfast on the menu at $20+ per person. But on our walk through town we saw it advertised for $11.50 and decide to treat ourselves the next morning. Shouldn’t have bothered. Seems $11.50 was an “old” price and the real price is now $13.50. By this time our cooking gear is already packed away and are ready for breakfast, so we go ahead and order. The bacon is skimpy, they only do fried eggs, the hash browns are actually a MacDonald’s-style deep-fried patty, and there is only one piece of toast and no jam.
We are so ready for the $4.99 Denny’s Grand Slam ...must be time to go home.
We are heading north now, toward the northern tip of New Zealand. As accommodations up there are scant, we have made a reservation at the Kauri Lodge in Kaitia. Except for one thing, this would be a highly recommended place to stay. It is old, certainly, but that lends itself to a real 1950’s era charm. The units are huge – a living room with two couches, two chairs, a TV, and room to dance. There is a good-sized bedroom and a full kitchen. There is a toilet room and a shower/wash-up room. There are large airy windows and lots of personal touches. The owner is obviously as old fashioned as the chrome kitchen chairs because there are lace doilies on everything. In fact, this appears to be where all the doilies of the world have come to their final resting place.
Everything is spotlessly clean ...except for the living room carpet which is beige and is as filthy looking as you would expect a carpet to look after a zillion people walked over it with their dirty shoes on ...just filthy. So even though the price is cheap at $80 and the location puts everything within walking distance, I cannot recommend it. The carpet just grosses me out.
But, we were lucky to get it because Kaitaia is the last town before Ninety Mile Beach and there is a huge fishing derby on with a $50,000 grand prize and a $3,000 daily prize. There are no rooms to be had anywhere.
The derby is all about catching snapper from the shoreline using long, heavy poles. Several of the fisher people are staying at the motel and we’ve enjoyed talking to them.
The couple in the unit next to us are from the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, of all places. They are our age more or less. He is a native Indian and she is a New Zealand Maori. Their six kids are all grown now, three of them living in New Zealand and three in British Columbia So they come to visit and while here, indulge their passion for fishing.
Up on the beach, the fisher people march out into the considerable surf and cast their lines which are heavily weighted. The rods look to be about ten feet tall. The fishers sit in their chairs in the water, or just at the water’s edge and wait for the big one.
Last year a fellow caught a very small snapper in the morning, decided it was far too small to be a winner, so fried it up for lunch. Since that was the only snapper caught that day, it turns out he had a $3,000 lunch.
The far northern tip of New Zealand is called Cape Reinga. You get there by an inland route or by driving along the sand of 90 Mile Beach. You can certainly drive up to Cape Reinga yourself if you have a 4WD but we don’t, so we are taking a Sand Safari tour.
The bus picks us up at 9 am and we make our first stop at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom. This is basically the old “curio shop” routine we got to know so well in Africa. The tour operators disgorge the tourists at the souvenir shops in exchange for the shop operators maintaining clean bathrooms.
In the guide books and brochures, The Ancient Kauri Kingdom is presented as if it were a museum and while it has a lot of ancient kauri trees you can climb around on, it is just a shop that manufactures furnishings and wood-turned items like bowls and vases and such out of ancient kauri stumps.
Many eons ago there was a huge forest of kauri trees here. The trees are not as tall as some other species in the world, but their girth is amazing, up to 20 metres around, with no tapering towards the top. The story is that a long time ago a meteorite fell into the Tasman Sea, causing a huge tsunami that knocked all the trees over. They believe this because the trees were all laid out on their sides, with something like 85% of them facing in the same direction. And there is salt and sand deposited around them.
The people at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom dig out these old tree stumps and manufacture beautiful things, like $28,000 dining room tables and $40 pate boards. The dining room table actually looks like it might be worth $28,000, but the pate board is just a 6” x 8” hunk of wood. For $40, I think not.
We enter 90 Mile Beach from the south end at Waipapakauri Ramp. The driver, Denis, makes a big deal about it ...about how people drive out here and their cars get swamped because they don’t know what they are doing. But honestly, we’ve done a fair bit of driving on beaches and this looks no different. Yes, you have to be aware of the tides and get yourself off the beach in time, but the sand is nice and hard.
Helluva lot harder than Fraser Island, that’s for sure.
So we tear down the beach at what seems to be 100 kph. It is absolutely lovely ...the sand and the surf just go on and on and on. Apparently the beach is not a full 90 miles, more like 64 miles, but no matter, it seems endless.
And this is where the torture of the tour comes in because we would have liked to have stopped and enjoyed walking here and there, but there were very few stops and at each one we were made aware that time was very limited and this was a stop for a quick-snap photo op, not for a walk.
In fact, when we made a stop where fellows were fishing, the tour leader actually told us, several times, not to annoy the fisher people by talking to them. Huh? I’ve never met a fisher person who doesn’t want to talk and why would we annoy them?
So we continued on to the Te Paki stream, a shallow rivulet of fresh water, running through massive sand dunes. Here the sand toboggans came out and many of us enjoyed tobogganing down the dunes. We were warned that we should expect to come away with ten pounds of sand in our shorts. Look at the photo of Steve screeching to a stop and you’ll see why.
Onward, we arrived at Cape Reinga and the lighthouse. This is a breathtaking spot, where the Tasman sea and the Pacific Ocean crash together at the very top of New Zealand. It was also, our first toilet stop all morning!
After a good look around, we carried on to Tapotupotu Bay where we had the provided lunch – a ham and cheese roll and a muffin. It is such a perfect blue sky day, the sun warming us as we picnic on this exquisite bay. It is February too in Vancouver, a month most foul and I am starting to feel sad that this trip is nearly over. On the upside, the far north end of the North Island of New Zealand is a most lovely way to conclude an extraordinary trip.
But it’s not over yet. Returning to Kaitaia, the bus makes a stop at Gumdiggers Park and the Ancient Buried Kauri Forest. This is an old gumdiggers “farm” if you will, that has been maintained by the family that own it. Where most of the gumdigger sites have been filled in and converted to grazing pastures, this particular farm has been kept and has now been made into a tourist attraction.
To back up though
a resin which
fossilized when the trees died.
resin came to
be known as gum
and became exceedingly
valuable as the
basis for many
is a beautiful
that when polished
up is a collectible,
when it entombs
Heading for Home
We are truly heading for home now, following Hwy 12 down the west coast. We make a stop at Kohukohu for a coffee while we waiting for the vehicle ferry to take us across to Rawene. A gaggle of restored Bentley autos ...and their equally restored owners arrive.
This is a club of Bentley owners from Britain who choose a different location each year, then have their cars shipped over from England so they can spend a month touring around in them. A few of them are hardtops, but most are convertibles, so the posh Brits ride around making merry in their hats and goggles. I shouldn’t sound so snarky. Immense wealth just brings it out in me.
A few km down the road at Omapere there was an excellent lookout over the Tasman Sea. Here we ran into a group of elderly trampers who, judging from their eccentric get-ups, live at the other end of the income tax scale. They too seemed to be having a very good time.
A little further down the road, we came on the Waipoua Forest, the highlight of which is the oldest Kauri Tree in New Zealand, Tane Mahuta. They have no way of knowing for certain but they estimate its age at over 2,000 years. It’s not that tall, but what is different about this tree is that there is no tapering of the trunk. It is massive in terms of girth - 13.8 metres.
Continuing on, we stop at Baylys Beach for a late lunch at the Funky Fish and a good walk on the beach. Another stunning vista and perfect afternoon tucked into the memory bank.
We arrive at Matakohe for the night. We must be quite high up because it is bitterly cold once night falls.
The morning brings an extraordinary treat, the highly recommended Kauri Museum in Matakohe. After six months of traveling I was convinced I was thoroughly "museum’d out” but the Kauri Museum was special indeed.
It features a completely recreated sawmill, as it would have looked during all those years they were processing the giant kauri trees. A giant steam engine powers a roomful of saws, each doing something different. What is really cool though, are the cast of “characters” running the saws and other equipment. Each mannequin is modelled after a real person so that their faces and bodies are exceedingly realistic.
Each character tells the story of a real person who worked in the mill. You press a button and their actual voices come on and tell you their story and how their particular machinery was operated. In many cases, this is the real voice of the character, albeit he is now an old man telling the story of his working years.
There is a section on farming in New Zealand with an actual milking shed. A mechanical cow is hooked up to a milking machine and the milk is coming out of the cow and up the pipes and into the bucket. Apparently a local old fellow in his 70s built it, modelled the cow on the heifer he was given to raise as a youngster. He used a windshield wiper motor to keep the cows tail swinging back and forth as it was being milked. Absolutely charming.
There were many other displays and exhibits ...just an extraordinary natural history museum tucked away in small town New Zealand.
Carrying on south, we arrived in Helensville and the annual agricultural show. There were was a midway and a petting zoo for the kids. There were displays of sheep and alpaca and calves and big bulls. There were contests, for needlework and knitting and pumpkin growing.
There were several
baking contests – for
and for jam-filled
sponge, no icing.
That last gave
me quite a kick
because in my
a sponge” was
one of the benchmarks
of home making.
know there was
the world that
by the quality
of a lady’s “sponge”.
Our final three days were spent in Auckland with friends, old and newer. The old friend was actually a workmate of Steve’s from his sojourn here 39 years ago! We had a wonderful time with him and his wife and particularly enjoyed the barbeque he organized with mates from the good old days of their youth.
The newer friend was a workmate of mine, newly arrived in Auckland to begin a five week holiday with her husband and baby. We enjoyed tearing around Auckland together, hopelessly lost for much of the time. But we did find the aquarium and eventually, a great place for lunch on the waterfront.
And so the moment finally came to pack up the bags, turn in the car, and claim our seats in the big bird flying home.
It was an easy flight. Leaving as it did at 10:30 pm, we pulled down our eyeshades, stuck in our ear plugs, pulled up the blanket and slept for most of the flight.
At home, the
house was still
dog was still
grumpy, and the
to be home ...and
the next adventure.