All journeys start with a single step and so it was for us on Sunday when we left our hotel for the short walk to collect our hire car. However some things are never that simple and due to some obscure administration processes put in place by our car hire company, it took us over 90 mins to complete a task that should have taken 15 at most.We were eventually under way to our first stop on our 50 day road trip of New Zealand.
Our destination, Whangarei, is in the region north of Auckland called inevitably Northland, and is regarded by many as the cradle of the nation.
A quick history lesson:
Northland is where Abel Tasman first arrived in 1642 and named this forested island Niew Zeeland after an area of Holland (Tasman was Dutch after all!). The indigenous Maori quickly took against Tasman and through various violent actions sent him on his way, his stay lasting less than four weeks.
Captain James Cook turned up in 1769 to explore this new land and map the islands. On this first of three visits he claimed New Zealand for Great Britain. By the 1830’s Britain had a new Queen (Victoria) and the British Empire was expanding and the British (and others) were beginning to colonise these islands. In 1835 a treaty was signed at Waitangi, about an hour up the coast from here which guaranteed protection for the Maori in return for Sovereignty over these lands. (More of which in a later blog)
Our drive up was uneventful. The main road (State Highway 1 – SH1) started as a Motorway, around the city centre, became a dual carriageway for a short time as we cleared North Auckland, but once out of the city became a normal 2 lane road, with bumpy bits and regular potholes, just like back home. One interesting feature is the proliferation of Agapanthus and Crocosmia growing wild at the side of the road. In the UK these are popular garden plants and feature in many garden designs. Here they are regarded as invasive weeds and a bit of a pest, but I must say they do add some lovely colour to the roadside. The roads were crowded but the traffic still moves along briskly. The speed limit here is much lower than UK, at 100kph which is about 60 mph in real money. Locals still exceed the limit though.
Agapanthus growing wild on the roadside
After a two hour drive we arrived at our home for the next few days, a delightful small bungalow or “Bach” (pronounced Batch) in beautiful grounds about 15 minutes drive from the city centre. Our hostess, Jeanette came to greet us with typical Kiwi friendship and we quickly settled in. It was nice to be able to unpack and not have to live out of a suitcase!
The origin of a “Bach” goes back to immediate post WWII and were nearly always small timber structures made of recycled timber or other cheap construction material and built as simple and convenient one room holiday shacks near a beach. They were influenced by the backwoods cabins and sheds of the early settlers and farmers. Other baches used a caravan as the core of the structure, and built extensions on to that. In the 1950s, many cities were dismantling their tram systems, and old trams were sometimes used as baches, They were simply furnished often with second hand furniture and became symbols of the beach holiday lifestyle becoming more popular in New Zealand at that time. Modern day Baches are much more the holiday home, well equipped (judging by ours anyway) and in prime locations away from main towns and cities but close enough for convenience. The origin of the word “Bach” is thought to stem from Batchelor Pad however as many of these structures were originally built in popular family holiday locations I leave you the reader to draw your own conclusions.
Top: Our “Bach”
Bottom: The garden viewed from our front window.
Whangarei lies between rich green forest hills and a deep harbour and the temperate climate (similar to UK) is reflected in lush city gardens and surrounding orchards and farmland. The Town Basin has recently been redeveloped with a colonial theme for the buildings and its cafe’s, restaurants, shops and galleries attract locals and tourists alike. The large deep harbour also makes Whangarei a popular destination for yachties sailing the world and provides them with sanctuary from the cyclonic storms common over the Pacific Ocean in summer.
Top: View from Town Basin Whangarei
Bottom: Whangarei Harbour
There is a walk which meanders along the river, starting in the Town Basin it winds it way past all the new cafes to a Sculpture Park and Heritage trail. Eventually these run out and the path continues into the city outskirts past a site of industrial units to a new Bascule Bridge which is the only road crossing and allows access to the return path along the opposite bank. It was raining hard when we approached the bridge which made this part of the route look very grim and austere and not pretty.
Clockwise from top left: Reyburn House – The only remnant of Pioneer housing in Whangarei.; Lyn takes a break; War Canoe sculpture, Two more sculptures on the trail.
The opposite bank is home to a small wildlife reserve, skate park, an exercise Trim Trail and a number of small boat builders and repairers and is much less developed. The path back also follows the road for much of its length.
Clockwise from top left: Me resting on the boat sculpture; Me trying out the Balance Bars; Lyn on the swing; Lyn on Balance Beams.
It is from this road however, that a lovely walk up to the Whangarei Waterfalls starts. A track at the end of a cul-de-sac leads up through the forest and alongside the river. The path is a good one and the sound of birdsong and the river flowing over rocks, add to the peaceful green environment just outside the city. The predominant tree is the Kauri, a slow growing tree that stands tall and straight…….eventually. It can take over one hundred years to grow to maturity and there are Kauri trees in Northland reputed to be over 2500 years old. At the AH Reid Kauri Park there is a canopy boardwalk where you can walk in the upper branches looking down on the forest below and admire the strength and majesty of these trees. Despite their age however, modern life is starting to have an impact on the life of some of these old trees. Kauri dieback is a fungal infection that has taken hold in New Zealand. It is thought to have been dormant for many centuries but has become active in the last 40 years Strong biosecurity measures are in place on all forest paths to try and eradicate or control the spread of this disease.
Clockwise from Top Left: Silver Fern, Symbol of New Zealand; Two shots the river flowing down from the Falls; Crocosmia growing wild.
The path continues to follow the river upstream until eventually the forest clears into a large pool, which, at one end, a large waterfall 26m high cascades down. It is summer time so the volume of water is probably much lower than other times of the year but it was still an impressive sight. Some people were swimming in the pool but despite the warmth of the summer I would have thought the water would still be quite chilly. We stayed a while but did not swim, then walked back the way we came up, admiring the wildlife, the Crocosmia in abundance and the straight up Kauri trees proliferating in this forest.
Top and Middle: Two views of Whangarei Falls; Bottom: Kauri Tree (or some of it – ran out of “wide angle”
As I write this the weather is changing. Gone are the blue skies, to be replaced by grey clouds and stormy winds. Rain has already visited us and more is forecast. Just like summer at home really and totally what we expected. Nevertheless it is still a beautiful and uncrowded place.