Well it’s nearly time to head to the airport and bid goodbye to this fabulous country and people. She has touched our hearts again with the beauty of the mountains and coastline, the fresh produce that can be brought at roadside stalls, the cooling breezes that even on a hot day provide a tingle of freshness.
Leaving Omokoroa was hard. We feel priveldged to have watched the sun set over the hills there so many times. To watch the clouds swirling round the peaks of the Kaimai Range in in the distance as we sat on the patio and chatted with Richard and Sue. To watch the flocks of godwits as the tide changes make their daily flight back and forward to their preferred feeding grounds, never failing to make us “ooh and ahhh”. To stand on the beach and breathe in that air that is so fresh and clean it makes your nose tingle. These are the memories we will store away.
We once again have experienced the kindness of people as we travel. Yesterday was such a great example of that. Collected from our hotel, we were whisked out to a friend’s house in the posh end of Auckland’s coastal suburbs. It was a day we will always remember.
The lively conversation with the whole family engaged. The fabulously long lunch down on the water. The sharing of stories, music and jokes. Suddenly 10 hours had passed in a blink, but the deeper friendship forged will last I think a lifetime. This surely is what life should be about if you have managed to carve yourself some space from the day to day pressure of earning a crust.
The sad fact of travel though is that you do have to say goodbye a lot, and we’ve said a few over the last days. However, we look forward to seeing the Sydney mob again. Fasten your seat belts we’re incoming!
Location: Omokoroa, Kaimai Range, Waihi Beach, New Zealand
Monday: The Kaimai Range watches moodily over the Bay of Plenty, its dark craggy peaks regularly obscured in thundery clouds. We keep looking up at them from our haven down by the beach in Omokoroa and are inspired to keep reaching for the hiking shoes and driving up for a wander around.
It’s really hard to remember a more beautiful spot we have ever based ourselves, a huge thanks to Catherine’s dad Richard and wife Sue, who have shared their lovely home with us all these weeks. It’s a tough choice whether to head out on the water, paddling around the seemingly endless sheltered bays, or stride up into the hills. I know…life’s tough.
It literally poured with rain on Monday morning, so we dressed up in our waterproofs and took a short walk over to Omokoroa Beach.
Tuesday: With a break in the rain, we headed up to the Kaimais to try out a walk on the Tuahu Track, one of the many that crosses the range a short drive from us.
After an innocent enough start along a well formed track, the path headed almost vertically upwards, in the time honoured Kiwi fashion! We came across the all too rare remnants of the Kauri forest that once dominated the landscape before settlers realised their value as timber. The oldest specimen remaining has watched over the forest for 1200 years. Just writing that gave me goose bumps! What a timescale. Finally they are being protected and efforts to restore the forests are making some slow progress. In 1987 all the remaining tracts of Kauri forest came under government protection…it’s a nasty disease spread by walkers which is threatening the remaining trees now (Kauri dieback) – we made sure to brush and spray our shoes before starting or finishing any walks.
With a lot of huffing and puffing we finally reached our lookout, and I got the stove on for a brew.
Almost immediately thunder started rumbling around the peaks, and it was a quick gulp or two before we donned rain jackets and slithered and stumbled our way back down. Thankfully the storm ebbed away and moved past us to the coast. I can’t imagine how tricky it would have been to get get down that path when it was even more slippery in the rain.
Wednesday: The rain returned again the next day so took a nostalgic drive out to where Richard and Sue used to live at Waihi Beach. Dramatic skies shed an eerie light over this glorious place.
Thursday: The next day dawned fresh and bright, so we headed off down the road to a volunteer maintained park, the Te Puna Quarry Park, with a lovely network of paths running around an old quarry. The views from the lookouts were spectacular.
Mount Maunganui as usual dominates the scene, cruise ships clustered around the docks, and the endless channels and bays glistened in the afternoon light. Monarch butterflies flitted through the forest, and Catherine was in her element with her lens snapping away. It’s lovely to see her so happy, and breathing well at the moment (touching my head, ie wood!).
Oh what a relief to be here in these temperatures and not back in Australia (currently experiencing temperatures over 40 degrees centigrade in some areas!)! For New Zealand it is exceptionally warm, with the mercury going over 30 some days. But there always seems to be a cooling breeze that kicks in, and we have never felt too hot to stop us heading off on a jaunt. It’s really making us wonder about the future of Autralia for us, to be living there in the summer in a caravan. Not so good. Maybe a Plan B is called for? Let’s see.
On the way home we stopped off to top up with avocados from one of the many roadside stalls. They taste incredible freshly picked of course, so creamy and exploding with flavour. Then we got chatting to a couple who had just pulled up in their motorhome for the night in the most beautiful spot at Plummers Point, right on the edge of a well kept reserve, looking out over the bay towards Omokoroa.
Apparently their club has 80,000 members in New Zealand, and you can see why it’s so popular with so many awesome places to pull up (free!) as long as you have a self contained motorhome.
We bid them a good night and wandered back for yet another fantastic meal of fresh local produce whisked up by Richard. Oh…and a decent bottle of Cote du Rhone to wash it down of course! The local pinots come rather pricey for our everyday quaffing budget!
It’s been a fabulous week with family and friends, meeting neighbours and getting tips and hints for future travels. We have also managed to catch up with friends from Sydney into the bargain, with a couple of lunches enjoyed.
Mr A and I have done some more paddling and hiking throughout the last week, making the most of the weather, which has been typical New Zealand (rain-sun-rain-sun!).
We had a great paddle up the nearby Waipapa River, timing it perfectly with the tides helping us in and out on our trip.
Christmas Day was glorious, with a delicious family dinner and an afternoon walk to work it off.
On Boxing Day we caught up with friends in the morning, and spent an afternoon walking in the Kaimai Range, not far from Omokoroa:
On Thursday, stepbrother Simon, Sue’s eldest son, came to visit, bringing wine and gifts. A delicious family brunch was followed by a short walk.
Friday saw us heading about an hour’s drive north up to Karangahake Gorge to catch up with friends Sara and Barny who were passing through on their Christmas holiday. After a pub lunch we went for a short walk to some waterfalls, and then a circuit walk through the gorge:
We’ve really enjoyed exploring this area, but will be ready to head off a little further afield next week, packing up our tent (and hopefully no punctured mattresses!) to explore some more.
We hope you had a lovely week, whether you celebrate Christmas or whether you just took the opportunity to spend some quality time with friends and family. Seasons greetings from us both!
Thursday morning reminded us why New Zealand is so lush and green, with the heavens opening as we awoke. Fortunately we were prepared for inclement weather and had planned a day that didn’t require sunshine. It began with a pedicure for me, while Mr A did a little shopping, and then we headed to Mount Manganui.
Driving around this area is a slow process, with one main road heading down the coast and an ever increasing population as people move out of Auckland to the coast. We’re getting used to Google Maps telling us there is a ‘6-15 minute delay’ on every route we take!
We enjoyed lunch in Mount Manganui, one of the more civilised areas nearby, with a choice of shops and eateries. It’s one of the ports cruise ships call into when travelling down the coast. It’s such a shame more has not been made of the waterways in terms of public transport – we’d love to just jump on a passenger ferry across from Omokoroa to here, but no, the only access is via road.
The rain disappeared once we returned back to dad’s and we headed back down to the bay for a walk. Sorry if we are repeating ourselves photographically but the scenery is so lovely!
We finished off the day with a dinner of delicious New Zealand green-lipped mussels, always a favourite when we visit these parts, and well worth the effort of cleaning and scraping.
Friday was another showery day, but Mr A and I were determined to head off into the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park for a decent walk.
We had only walked 50 metres and we found the sign we didn’t want to see ‘Track Closed’!
Fortunately we knew this particular walk was a circuit, so we thought we would attempt a return hike from the other end – into the Waitawheta Valley and up to Waitawheta Gorge.
The path wound its way through farmland, bordered by a beautiful babbling river which we followed the whole way. We climbed over styles and through gates, the experience feeling very English!
As we entered the forest park the scenery changed, with lush tree ferns, red and silver beech, kamahi and kauri trees.
The Waitawheta River was ever our companion, tumbling over rocks and carving its way through the gorge. We followed the route via which early settlers transported the Kauri tree wood, chopping down magnificent giant trees, often over 2000 years old, and shipping them around the world for building.
We crossed the river several times via swing bridges, evidence of the logging history visible in the rusty rail tracks and old struts from former bridges. A replica of a bogie, a rolling contraption which ran on tracks to carry tree trunks, helped demonstrate the area’s historic past.
At 10km but predominantly flat walking, this was not a challenging hike, but it was definitely picturesque, and the wet weather only added to the atmospheric ambience. Highly recommended if you’re in this area.
Saturday: Three days before Christmas, we were determined to not head out in the car today, assuming the roads would be even busier than usual. Instead we took off on the short 5km circuit walk from the bottom of dad and Sue’s garden.
It’s just ridiculously pretty, this friendly local community all pooling together to take care of the pathways, raising money for new steps down to the water after storms destroyed old ones, and one lady telling us we were sat on a bench her husband had constructed ‘just to hide an eyesore there’! No eyesores on our walk…just gorgeous views.
We had lunch at a waterside cafe mid way around, before returning to dad’s for a relaxing afternoon. What a little slice of paradise this is!
Saturday: Another spectacular morning welcomed us, the water glistening just metres from the end of the garden. Of course this meant we were again tempted out for a paddle. This time we packed up our boats into backpacks and walked across to the other side of the peninsular to launch. As we reached the other side we noticed the sky darkening, and a quick look at the weather radar showed a major storm heading our way.
We decided the water might not be the best place to be if this hit, and changed our plans to a hike, following the coastal path around Omokoroa’s headland. That’s the great thing about these boats you can carry – they’re so light that it doesn’t really matter if your plans change, it was not too arduous to take them with us.
We tracked around a beautiful walkway, following steps and grassy pathways, all the way around and back to home – around 7km all up. The storm didn’t eventuate fortunately, instead changing direction and heading out to sea.
Sunday afternoon we decided to attempt the backpack-paddle adventure again, with dad and Sue joining us to walk over to Cooney Reserve, where we inflated the boats on a white sand beach and launched off.
The water was shallow and so warm – easily around 30 degrees centigrade – and the local children were having a great time playing in the water and jumping off the wharves.
The Kokopelli boats are so easy to paddle, more so even than our last packrafts – they’re slightly narrower so not quite so susceptible to the breeze on flat water. As we rounded the headland the nor-easterly was quite brisk, but we made it around without too much effort.
This is such a picturesque time of year to visit New Zealand. The Pohutukawa trees (known as the native Christmas tree) are all in bloom, filled with nectar loving birds such as the native Tui and the introduced rosellas. Ever swooping in front of us were a pair of sacred kingfishers, entertaining us with their antics as they caught little fish in the shallows. Apparently kingfish and snapper are common around here.
Our day concluded with drinks and nibbles, as is the civilised way!
Monday dawned and Mr A and I attempted some shopping in Tauranga. The town is looking a little scruffy and sad, with most of the bigger shops having moved out of the town to a big estate. We managed to get a few bits and pieces for our upcoming camping trips, then returned to Omokoroa for the afternoon.
Dad and Sue spent their afternoon in the garden, making their already stunning display even prettier with pruning, feeding and mowing. It is definitely a hobby which displays its rewards. It is hard to believe they have only been moved in since the beginning of May this year, the garden at that stage being more of a building site. Many of these plants started off as little cuttings brought from their old home or gifts from friends and neighbours. It looks amazing today, with much potential ahead too.
Mr A and I decided to walk down to the harbour and explore the bay on foot, picking our way along the beach alongside the golf course.
There’s plenty of bird life here – with literally hundreds of black swans in the bay, white faced herons, flocks of bar-tailed godwits (flown here all the way from Alaska, over 11,000km away) and red-legged pied stilts. All this is surrounded by the stunning Kaimai ranges, making for a very unique location.
We sat a while on the edge of the water, watching the birds circle around nervously before deciding we weren’t too big of a threat and settling a short way away on the sand.
Location: Sydney, Australia, Auckland & Omokoroa, New Zealand
We said goodbye to Sydney in traditional fashion with lots of lovely catch ups with friends who we won’t see for a while. Breakfast at The Boathouse in La Peruse reminded us of how little of Sydney we really know. What an awesome spot, and a very lardy breakfast helped blow away the cobwebs from the night before.
Then in the evening it was a home cooked curry from friends Aisha and Clive. I won’t attempt to describe how Pakistani food is different to Indian, all I know is the former has now found an equally tasty place in our culinary heart as the latter! Yummy..who knew something called ‘balls of happiness’ would be so tasty…?
Then it was time to say goodbye to Miss Tasmania and drop her off with her Christmas hosts, Rosemary and Richard. Another fab meal appeared and was tackled with gusto. We are so lucky to have friends who we know will love her staying and exploiting their warm laps during the festive season.
Finally the day we had long prepared for arrived, and we were off to the airport. We wanted to do a long trip to New Zealand, managing three weeks on a couple of occasions just left us hungry for more. So this will be a six week extravaganza, thanks to the generous hosting from Catherine’s dad Richard and his wife Sue.
After a laborious check in and truly awful food on the plane, a decision was made that LATAM airlines wont be on our Christmas list! Very ordinary…but we arrived in one piece and our 60kg of checked luggage (containing inflatable packrafts, camping gear and the many types of clothes suitable for the land of the long white cloud) didn’t carry on to Santiago, so that was a bonus.
We arrived at Sue and Richard’s house full of curiosity to see how it looked, since the last time we saw it was in the construction phase. Wow….what a home. Just check out the location, the views, the garden. I think we will manage here!
It was up bright and early to try out our new packrafts. A short stroll across the reserve at the end of the garden and then across the tidal flats and we were on our way. This was their first time in the water, but all went well and we think we will get a lot of good use from these lightweight (less than 2kg each) that pack up into a day pack.
We headed out hugging the shore and immediately fell back in love with the Bay of Plenty. The scenery is just so magnificent, with all the winding waterways framed by the Kinea Mountains. The vegetation is so lush, the air so fresh…and no flies! The bird life was prolific, and we just pootled along, as you do in a packraft on flat water (they are not a fast boat in these conditions). But we weren’t in a rush and just loved drinking in the beauty of this place. We consider making a dash across the open water to Matacama Island, but with no life jackets and little idea of the current played it safe and headed back to our launch point.
We were invited over to a Christmas party at the neighbours’ house and watched a massive electrical storm play out over the bay. Just as we headed back to Richard and Sue’s house, the heavens opened, and I mean opened! This was an incredible downpour, locals saying they had never seen anything like it in their lifetime. I think that phrase is going to be used a lot as our weather patterns continue to change. We have seen our fair share of rain on our trips here, but this was extreme.
Anyway, we are prepared with all the gear and (in my case a least)…no idea :).
Onwards to our next phase of adventures down under!