100km and still walking – just! Oxfam Trailwalk 2015

April 4, 2015
Four female walkers at the start of the Oxfam Trailwalk event.  It is dark as it is early in the morning.

Counting down to the start – a hurried photo!

I did it!  WE did it! The much blogged about Oxfamtrailwalk NZ 2015 is done and dusted bar the sore feet and blisters. It was not uneventful – nervousness, excitement, pain, tears, frustration, disappointment, disaster, elation, adrenalin, determination – just to name but a few of the emotions we felt as we journeyed from Whangamata Road Landing strip to Taupo Domain.

Our first tears and frustration came when we got lost on the way to the event!  Then the adrenalin rush as the countdown was on and we were still in the loo; 7 we ran out, 6 still re-arranging our knickers, 5 held hands and 4, 3, 2 wove through the throng  and 1, we were officially off.  We picked our way in the half light of a chilly March morning over the uneven ground, passing teams on our way, “Skirts coming through!” “Mad women, on their way!” shrieking and laughing in near hysteria that we had actually made it!  As we reached the mountain bike track and the path narrowed, going was a little slower but the passing protocol was cheerfully adhered to.  “Passing on your right!”  “You go girls”, “Good luck”, “Have a great day” “Love your skirts, so cute!” (from the chicks) “Nice skirts, girls” (from the guys – with a look and a tone that went with it!) “What’s your team name?” “Cool, nice one. Catch you later!”

As the field thinned out we found ourselves amongst teams going a similar speed to us and started playing team tag.  We were feeling great.  My quads were screaming as we pretty much ran the first leg but it trended downhill and we knew that we wanted to get a good start and make the most of the Grade 2 legs early on to have some time in the bag for the harder legs to come.

The sun had come up and it was going to be a beautiful day;  the promised rain didn’t come until the next day and boy, were we thankful for that!  Then, CRASH!  Jo went down like the proverbial! She was behind me as we ran and picked our way over the roots on the baked sandy path and tripped and fell headlong.  It didn’t look good; she was twisted on her back holding her neck.  But, no, all good, she turned over, dusted herself down gave herself a shake and took off. Adrenalin was clearly pumping as we could hardly keep up!

We met our support team at Kinloch, 22km in.  A quick massage, some blister care for Debbie, take on some food – peanut butter and honey sarnies for me – some electrolytes and we were on our way again.  The 16km on the mountain bike track over to Whakaipo Bay winds its way over the headland and down again in the bush.  We ran and walked in equal measure staying cool in the trees despite the sun getting ever hotter.  Glimpses of a glassy Lake Taupo’s deep blue waters at high points reminded us that there was a world outside our challenge!  Our support crew were a welcome sight in Whakaipo Bay but just a quick refuel and then we were off again.

4 female walkers at the highest point of the Oxfam Trailwalk. Clouds in a sunny sky.

At the trig point Leg 4

Over the hills and far away.  Less running now, uneven ground, across fields, uphill to the trig point, downhill on the Scoria Road, through the quarry and into Taupo.  It was more of a battle but we had passed some milestones; a quarter of the way, a third of the way and now the halfway point had been reached.  Jo was really starting to struggle though.  She hadn’t mentioned it at the time but admitted during Leg 4 that she had been very woozy during Leg 3 following her fall.  Her knees were sore and she took to her walking poles for Leg 5 (so did I as my quads were complaining!).  Leg 5 took us along the river to Huka Falls and a checkpoint with no support crew.  Jo was finding it hard going, her knee was hardly bending and every downhill stretch was painful for her. We were worried. Camaraderie from other teams kept us going.  The support out there was fantastic.

4 female walkers walking along a gravel road. cloudy sky

Half way point on Scoria Road

As we ventured into the pine forest that would lead us to the Wairake Resort and Checkpoint 6 there was an eerie silence.  The ground of dead pine needles was soft underfoot and our feet made no sound as we marched across it.  The trees towered tall and sombre above and around us as the sky between grew dark.  No birds sang and we could neither see nor hear any other teams.  The path took us up and down, looping through and back on ourselves and seemed to go on for ever.  We grew weary of the silence, of the darkness and we were increasingly worried about Jo. Eventually she stopped.  Nauseous, sleepy, in pain but still determined to keep going.  Frustrated, disappointed.  We had to make a call.

We waited as night fell in forest.  Jo wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets, drifting in an out of half consciousness as I kept her talking, Debbie and the other Jo directing teams around our friend as they caught us up and went past.  We were getting cold too and still rescue didn’t come.  Conflicting emotions; on the one hand real worry about our friend and the time it was taking to get help to her, on the other frustration at the time we were losing.  It isn’t easy to face up to those selfish thoughts but we had worked so hard and we had done so well so far and were easily on time for our sub 18 hour target.

An hour later, after several phone calls with Oxfam Support, Civil Defence and our support crew and still no sign of rescue, Jo’s husband arrived.  We left them in sombre mood, cold, damp and hungry, picked ourselves up and jogged in the darkness to Checkpoint 6.  Hot food, more fluids and a bit of a pep talk to get our heads back into a good space.  Up until now we had sung our way into every checkpoint.  Our skirts and our song were becoming a feature!  Not this time, we were just too flat.  Fleeting thoughts of packing it all in came and went.  Jo would have been mad as hell if we didn’t continue.  So we forgot the 69km we had already done.  This was a 30km walk.  We’d done plenty of those in training.  Get up and get out there!

The 18km of Leg 7 was interminable.  Darkness and not actually knowing where the hell we were made the kilometres pass by very slowly.  We prayed that we had missed a km marker or two and that the next one would say we were a couple of kms further on.  But no.  We felt like we were making a good pace and we were passing the teams that had passed us in the forest but those kms didn’t seem to be going down and we seemed to be going round in circles.  And don’t mention the swede fields!

We sang our way into Checkpoint 7, loud and heartily.

“We are the Pat and Posties Team.

We are strong and we are mean.

Walking the trail in our little skirts.

‘Cos we know the hundy hurts!”

(US Army marching style, me leading the others repeating!)

Nearly there.  I, for one, was tearful.  We had had to dig deep for that leg.  Last refuelling – my boys had made me a hot cup of coffee – never has a coffee tasted so good!

Final leg. 12.3km.  Grade: Easy.  There is nothing easy about a final leg of a 100km walk!  Once again we were directed across fields, stumbling in the dark on uneven, wet grass searching for the glowsticks that were like candles in tin cans that marked the way.  It was heartening to have other teams to walk with at times and we provided mutual support in the darkness of the night. The lake front was a welcome sight – 4km to go – and there was Jo in the car with Doug!  So happy that she was ok.  What an adrenaline rush – come on, we can do it girls!  Our support crew had organised a staged re-entry for us! Paul and Aonghas along the lake front (and the runaway campervan!) spurred us on to go up a gear,  Lachlan met us as we rounded the corner for the last set of steps (cruel, cruel trick!) and the rest of the team were reassembled as we came into the finishing chute.  “We are the Pat and Posties team…..”  Once more as loud as we could!

A bitter sweet ending.  So glad that we finished.  So sad that we didn’t all make it all together.

Thank you “Pat and the Posties”; Postmaster General; Debbie, Courrier Post; Jo M, Fast Post; Jo P, Digi Post; Anne

And a huge shout out to the support crew of Lachlan, Aonghas, Rob, Doug and Paul.  We couldn’t have done it without you!


2014 A review.

December 31, 2014

We haven’t been very active on this site this year. Could give lots of excuses but really we’ve been a bit lazy and also a lot busy!  We also saw a lot of people gave to face when we came over to the UK in May which was great.  Rather a whirlwind trip but fantastic to catch up with you all.

I wrote about “crossing the bridge” earlier in the year when Aonghas went for 5 weeks to Great Barrier Island.  As the boys have reached the age where they are quite independent we are at a sort of hiatus in our lives.  Lachlan moved out in January and has been living with four friends from school. He is currently reviewing his living arrangements but it is unlikely he will come back home for long now he has had a taste of freedom and independent living. He has been working in an outdoor shop and now a bike shop over ther last year after returning from Canada so is financially independent too.  The harsh realities of working five long days a week (often at weekends when his friends are free) and earning not a lot have hit hard.  He now understands that the world is an unfair place; whilst he is working full time his friends, who are students or unemployed, are footloose and fancy free and playing footie! He has worked every day over the Christmas period with only the odd day off so has not had a summer holiday. In fact, he hasn´t had a holiday since this time last year!  However, he has bought himself a car and is now thinking about studying next year.  He has grown into a fine young man and towers over me at over 6ft tall!  Very proud Mum!

Aonghas is growing up fast too.  No longer my baby, he has not quite reached me in terms of height but measures himself against me every week – nearly there!  He loves his sport and computer games and hates studying!  There will be ongoing battles this year as he studies for his NCEA Level 1 Exams.  He represented Waikato at hockey again this year and plays both football and hockey at school.

Nigel continues his work at the University of Waikato as leader of the Waikato Centre for ELearning and I am still at Waikato Diocesan School for Girls now teaching Spanish rather than French and organising Outdoor Camps.  We are busier than we would like as we both added study of some sort to our jobs this year as well.  Nigel has been taking some Uni papers and I was awarded an eFellowship with Core Education this year.  I think our New Year’s Resolution will have to be to give ourselves more time together in 2015 to go away at weekends.

This Christmas we are all apart as I am currently in Costa Rica on a World Challenge expedition with eleven girls from school.  Nigel and Gus, after spending Christmas Day with Lachlan, are in South Island exploring the west coast.  We will all be together again on the 10th January.  Looking forward to it although I am having a fantastic time here in CR.

Once I am back I will try to put together a few photos of our year and post them.  Bye for now!  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


A Tale of Great Barrier Island by Gus

July 27, 2014

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For five weeks in June and July 2014 I went with 29 other boys and two teachers from school to Great Barrier Island  in the Hauraki Gulf.  We were there to learn some new skills, have fun, learn about the community who live there and be challenged.

I flew on to Great Barrier Island (GBI) on a tiny little plane, it looked and felt dodgy.  It was a noisy plane so we got given ear muffs.  Mr Hall,  Aaron and I landed at GBI “international” airport, and drove about 1h to Orama.  We arrived at night and put our bags in cabins and went to tea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went on two long uphill walks on Saturday and Sunday with just the teachers because the OPC staff were having a break from the girls trip.  Coopers Castle was a long, very steep walk with great views at the top.  We had to keep away from the edge because there was a big cliff with a huge drop but there was a great view over Okiwi.  It was hard to walk up because it was so steep and we had to scramble parts of it.  On Monday we had the power and water tour and it showed us that Orama gets their water from a stream and power from a generator because they don’t have mains electricity.

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Next Monday we went on our first expedition.  My group walked one and a half hours to a bay.  We found a big dead  mako shark on the beach. and mussel barrels that we kept throwing into the sea and they would float back into shore. We descoverd some good climbing rocks that we scrambled on. We also found some kina it looked like a hard spiky ball but you open it with 2 spoons and there is a mussle like fish inside which Teina ate. Mitchell also caught a rat with his bare hands and strangled it to death.

When we got back to Orama it started raining that night. It got really windy and rainy on Wednesday.  We practised how to belay then went white water rafting (aka brown water floating) down the so-called stream that became a river.  It wasn’t very fun and we got  cold,  wet and numb and then we had to carry the kayaks back to the trailer .

On Wednesday night at 11:59 pm we were awoken from our sleep and were evacuated to the Orama lounge because there was a big storm.  We had to get dressed quickly – luckily I had my waterproof trousers so I pulled them on over my fat pants, grabbed my sleeping bag and rain jacket and followed the adult with the torch – we had no idea where we were going because it was dark and wild.  It was tipping it down with rain, my cabin was shaking in the wind. it was kind of scary but not really, it was more exciting than scary.  In the morning  there was mud everywhere, tractors,  trees and a generator were washed out to sea.  We sat in Orama lounge all day because it was too dangerous to go outside because of all the debris around.teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

The next day we helped Orama clean up. My group had the hardest task of cleaning the classroom and gym, which had knee deep mud and took 3 days to get out of the classroom. Then we ripped up the carpet and cleaned the walls. The tables and the couches had been washed from the classroom through the gym and into the foyer on the other side of the gym. I found my student book outside with mud all through it and soaking wet.

great barrier clean up

My group spent 4 days shoveling mud while group 3 went to Glenfern and got on TV, but luckily TV3  came to Orama for a little bit and we were on TV too. Glenfern is an island wildlife sanctuary that Scott and Emma look after, they are trying to regenerate the native populations of NZ  birds and skinks.  I found a Chevron Skink buried in the mud at Glenfern; they are very rare and so it was quite exciting finding one. 10502489_242198045974132_7513004355070039754_n

Shoveling mud was boring but seeing what we accomplished felt great. Orama lounge became our new hang out space which was way cooler than the old classroom. Unfortunately, there wasn’t another gym that we could use.

Sea kayaking was the most challenging activity and I didn’t really like it because we got wet and cold.  The day we did it, it was really windy, there were salty big waves and a big swell.  We had to turn back because it was too rough – the waves were 3m high they had big white caps and the wind was 50 knots gusting to 65 knots.

I loved coasteering, it was so much fun and I want to do it again.  It was epic getting pulled in and pushed out in the swell.  I jumped in off some rocks that were 9m high.  I did a swan dive off a 4m high rock – I was a bit sore after the swan dive but it was great fun.

10336627_236232233237380_5175793285606235730_nMy favourite was surf kayaking and I really want to do it again.  It was brilliant  catching the waves and getting tipped!  I got quite good at it and I came 3rd in competition but I got the highest score  of 7.5.  We had to different heats and do tricks but it was timed and I lost in the semi-final.

Sailing was fun but scary because we were in the middle of the ocean with big waves and it felt like we were going to flip.  I didn’t want to be the first to capsize but once we did, we realised that it was quite good fun and we did it lots!  The thing is once you flip you aren’t supposed to stay in the boat or the boat ends up completely upside down.  But my partner stayed in the boat and it completely tipped it so then we had to stand on top of the upside down boat to try to get it back the right way up!  It was hard but we did it.


Crossing the Bridge

June 22, 2014

Celia Lashlie, in her book “He’ll be Okay: growing gorgeous boys into good men” talks about “crossing the bridge of adolescence” and the need for boys to have the opportunity to have positive male role models and take steps away from the protective arms of their mothers.  To have a place that allows them to take some risks, to challenge themselves, learn what they can do, find out about the impact of their actions on others and learn to make good choices.

At the moment Gus is away on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.  He is halfway through a five week stay there as part of his Year 10 Curriculum at Hillcrest High School.  They have no technology except on Sundays, they are sharing accommodation with other boys, cooking their own meals, doing their own washing and learning to fend for themselves under the watchful eyes of two teachers and the OPC staff.

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As well as all that they have their lessons in classrooms but, more importantly, outside the classroom.  Learning as they play and work.  Learning as they kayak, tramp, coasteer, skipper boats, fish, swim.  Learning as they help in the community, visit local residents, talk to them and observe their way of life.

We are kept in touch with what they do through the FaceBook page where the teachers add photos and comments about what the boys are up to and we get a weekly, very crackly, phone call home.

However, this trip the boys have been hit with rather more than they bargained for!  Ten days into their trip high winds and lashing rain wrought havoc across New Zealand but was especially severe in the Hauraki Gulf.  ImageThe stream that had been a trickle became a raging torrent, sweeping mud and debris through the camp, into the classrooms and bringing down walkways and footbridges.  Fortunately they were all safe but were without power, clean water, or sanitation.  We received an email warning us that the boys may need to be sent home but in the end, the situation was assessed and it was decided that it was safe to keep them on the island and put them to work helping out with the cleaning up process.  What a fantastic learning opportunity for them!  Judging by the photographs and the news report, they have rebuilt paths, cleaned up buildings, helped local residents, moved debris and dug out water channels.

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The weather for the clean up appears to have been good and the photos show the boys enjoying sunshine and clear skies.  They have also still managed to go out on expeditions and have some fun.  We parents are all proud of our boys for the work they have been doing and food parcels have been winging their way to GBI at a great rate of knots if the man in the post office is to be believed.

teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

I think our boy will come home having well and truly taken his first steps across that bridge.  He had mixed emotions about going away for five weeks – excitement mingled in probably equal measure with apprehension.  But I guess that is how it should be at the age of fourteen.  We have missed him and will be happy when he is home, but we have enjoyed scanning the photos on Facebook for glimpses of him (he has a habit of hiding!) and reading the updates from the teachers, hearing his voice in the crackly phone calls and knowing that he is having fun, he is learning and he is growing.

See you soon Big Gus!


A flying visit

May 6, 2014

I am fighting the lethargy and fatigue of jetlag.  It is inevitable that I will fall asleep if I stop moving.  However, it is too early to go to bed or I will wake at some unearthly hour and not be able to regain the deliciousness of slumber…  So, I have decided to ramble about our whistle stop tour of the UK that is the cause (partly) of my state of exhaustedness!

Eighteen days is not enough. Never again will I attempt to fit a trip to the homeland in such a short length of time.  I should have learned from last year’s trip to Spain.  But I thought that the fact that I was studying, immersed in a foreign language was the main cause for my exhaustion then.  Wrong!  It is a causal factor, but the main reason is that two weeks is simply not enough time to travel across the time zones, regulate a body clock, visit as many people and places as possible and then fly back across the time zones and actually feel human. Add to that a twelve week term, with two camps and a full term of teaching and organising Teacher Professional Development…

Nevertheless, I am glad I went.  It was wonderful to see my beautiful sisters, my nieces, nephews, great nieces and lots of dear friends.  Some things and people never change – how refreshing!  Isn’t it amazing how we slip so easily back into friendships as if we had never been away?  We lament that we don’t keep in touch often enough, our lives are so busy, we have so much to do, the immediacy of our lives and the issues connected with them impede maintaining contact with those far away.  But once together, it is as if we had never been apart.  Yes, water has flowed beneath the bridge, but we are the same people with the same interests that bound us and bind us still.  We say that we will write more often, speak more often.  But we won’t.  The reality is that we know each other, we know that our friendships run deep and we will maintain contact ephemerally if not tangibly.  We will pick up where we left off the next time we meet.

So where did we get to?  Our whistle stop tour took us to Olonzac in France, Ingleton & Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria, Harrogate in  North Yorkshire, Leeds in West Yorshire, Stanley in Newcastle, the Northumberland coast, and Edinburgh, Scotland.  How many people did we meet up with us? 41.

It was a trip full of nostalgia – visiting old haunts – fleetingly.  And a reminder of how bloody cold it is in Spring in the UK!  We really have acclimatised to NZ weather!

No more writing… here are some images to reflect ouir time away, the people we met and the things we saw.


The “Top of the North”: Sand and sea

January 19, 2014

90 Mile Beach has also been on our “to do” list for a while but we started off at Bayly’s Beach just because we ran out of time travelling north.  Bayly’s Beach is on Ripiro Beach which is another driveable beach over 100km long.  We took the “5 minute” walk from the campsite down a steep hill and arrived on the beach just as the sun was going down.  It is a beautiful spot, several photographers were set up with tripods so it is clearly a well known place for a sunset.  The 4WDs making circles on the beach were a little alarming but they quickly raced away into the distance. 

Wide, sandy beach.  Tide going out has left wet sand in which the setting sun is reflected, Clouds in teh sky are also reflected in the wet sand.

 

 

The quick way north is to get the car ferry from Rawene which is an interesting place.  Once a thriving little port with some historic buildings, most notably the courthouse and gaol and a great little cafe on stilts in the harbour “The Boatshed Cafe”.  Nowadays, it seems to survive on the basis that the car ferry transports tourists and locals across the harbour, so avoiding a long drive around windy roads. On the way we stopped at Koutu in Hokianga Harbour to look at the boulders.  We spent a good hour wandering up the beach climbing on the strange spherical boulders that look like giants have abandoned their huge bowling balls right in the middle of a game!  It looked like the best ones were further along but we didn’t have time to linger – if we had realised how extensive they were we would have made more time, but we have made a mental note and will return!

Large spherical boulder ion a sandy beach.  Mountains in the background, clear, blue sky.

Our next beach stop was Rarawa Beach.  What an awesome place!  We could just as easily have gone to Henderson’s Beach but missed the turn off!  The sand was so white… and squeaky!  Silica sand, really fine and the blue sky made it like a tropical beach.  Aonghas and I had great fun in the waves while Nigel watched camera in hand.  There is a lot of work going on to regenerate the sand dunes as there is all over New Zealand.  The plants vital to stabilising the dunes are being re-introduced and visitors are discouraged from walking across the delicate dune environment.  Last year, my Year 12 students helped out with some planting and maintenance of a regeneration project in Raglan.  We were amazed at the photographs of the area just 50 years ago when extensive dunes were in evidence.  Some of the erosion is natural as high tides wash the sand away and deposit it in other areas, but the activities of tourists and building developers contributes significantly too. 

White, sandy beach. Clear blue sky.

 

After our play in the waves we went for a walk along the beach to the rocks where we fossicked in rockpools.  Lots of crabs scuttled away as we approached; we also saw small fish, deep red sea anemones and a small octopus hiding in a crevice.  Just its eyes were visible and the regular sweep of a tentacle as prey swept past in the waves.  The rocks were unforgiving on bare feet as they were covered in barnacles but the pools were just too enticing to ignore!  The tide was coming in  so we had to be careful not to get cut off and we ended up diving into the ocean again to cool off and play in the breakers.  As the waves rolled in we saw shoals of fish seemingly trapped in them.  Where do they go to when the waves break?  We also felt little lumps in the water and soon realised that they were bits of jellyfish!  The people in the water with us said that they had seen them at 90 Mile Beach before but didn’t think they were dangerous.  We certainly suffered no ill effects but made sure that we showered well on return to the campsite. 

Boy jumping in the waves.  Clear blue sky. Beautiful summer day.

 

We visited 90 Mile Beach on a day when the wind was blowing hard off the Tasman Sea.  Apart from the tourist buses and some other families braving the chilly gusts the beach was deserted.  It only served to illustrate just how vast this place is.  Blown up sand on the horizon as far as you can see north and south and the Tasman Sea stretching out to infinity to the west.  We wandered to the water’s edge to dip our toes – as you have to – and when our attention lapsed were swamped by rogue waves that threatened to reach our thighs!  It is a wild and beautiful place and I was sorry that we did not have time to go back again on a different day.  It was also strange to see buses going up and down with the Tasman in the background.  We decided that it would be foolish to attempt to get our car onto the sand despite the fact that it is a public highway; the sand at the entrance to the beach was soft and we watched the buses taking a long run up to get off the beach! 

Tour bus travelling alon 90 Mile Beach with the Tasman Sea in the background

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Heading further north next ….


The “Top of the North”; Kauri & Gum

January 18, 2014

teenage boy standing in front of signpost showing directions to all parts of the world.  White lighthouse in the background, clear, blue sky. This is the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand.

After last year’s trip to the “Top of the South”, this year we thought we would follow up with a trip to the “Top of the North”.  Very little planning and very late too but but we have car, tent and a map  – all you need for a road trip.  Lachlan didn’t get to come again as he was working.  Hard life when you are a teenager needing money to fund an extravagant lifestyle of Magic cards, trendy clothes and nights out with the boys!

We decided to head up the SH1, peel off at Brynderwyn and up to Dargaville.  This is Gumdiggers country – the whole economy from the mid 1800s to mid 1900s was predicated on digging the gum out of the ground where Kauri trees had fallen centuries ago  to ship back to Lancashire and Birmingham to make into varnish.  The gum is a bit like the white blood cells that form scabs to help the healing process when we cut ourselves.  When the Kauri trees are damaged the gum leaks out to heal; it collects in the crooks of branches and on the tree trunks.  Where the trees had fallen the gum was buried with them.  The gumdiggers probed for the buried Kauri trees and then dug down to find the hardened gum.  In areas where the Kauri trees were still standing they “bled” the trees for the gum.  Many of the diggers came from Dalmatia (what is now Croatia) and were known as Dallies.  They lived in shanty villages in huts made out of sackcloth or corrugated iron and baked earth sods.

Dargaville was once a thriving port but looks a little sad nowadays.  Nevertheless, there has been some effort at regenerating the place and we found a great little cafe for lunch.  It is situated on the curved reaches of a wide, brown, muddy, tidal river which is quite impressive from above.  The Dargaville museum is definitely worth a visit – we spent a good couple of hours in its tardis-like depths.  It is a treasure trove of collected memorabilia of life in the area; all manner of trinkets, household objects and tools of the trades undertaken by the inhabitants of the area.   However, despite an impressive display of lumps of gum and carvings made of  gum, gumdigging equipment and detailed explanations of how it was extracted and the lives of the gumdiggers, we left the museum still not knowing why the gum was mined!   We found out a little later in the day when we stopped at a shop selling Kauri woodware and gum jewellry.  The main market for the gum was England and the USA where it was made into high quality varnishes.  As the supply of gum dwindled and the good quality lumps were dug out, the smaller, low grade gum was used to make glue.  Eventually, the trees that had been “pegged” to bleed the gum out of them died and fell, the deposits in the already fallen trees was too deep and difficult to dig for and the gumdiggers had to find something else to earn a living.  Many of them stayed in the area, some had made enough money to buy land and turned to farming, others had other trades such as carpentry, building or ironmongery.  It was mostly single men who came over from Croatia; they settled with Maori women and stayed, others went back to their families in Croatia or had already brought their wives and children over.  It is strange to see the many road names with the “ich” suffix and shops and businesses with Eastern European names.

We found a great DOC campsite at Trounson on the edge of the Waipoua Forest where we stayed a couple of nights.   It seemed quiet when we first arrived late in the afternoon but by 10pm the place was full.  We are used to DoC sites with minimal facilities so were surprised to find that there were proper toilets, hot showers and a fully equipped kitchen.  The place is well known for being able to see kiwi at night, so as the sun went down we headed off into the bush with a red torch trying to walk as silently as possible.  (Not very silently with a teenage Aonghas!) The forest was like Piccadilly Circus, red lights beaming everywhere and the footfall and whisperings of  probably a hundred or so people along the 3km of track!  We were excited when we heard kiwi calling and scuffling in the bush but we didn’t see any.   Nigel and I decided to do the whole walk the following night; we set off early to avoid the crowds but despite sitting quietly in several spots for extended periods of time and hearing them again, we still had no luck sighting any kiwi.

One of the main reasons we had gone to Waipoua was to see the giant Kauri.  We didn’t manage to get this far north when we came to NZ in 2005 on holiday and the Kauris have been on our wishlist ever since.  Once upon a time the Kauri covered the northern part of New Zealand.   Huge swathes of forest were buried in some sort of cataclismic event hundreds of thousands of years ago, but the forests regenerated and when the European settlers arrived in the early 1800s they quickly recognised that these mighty trees with their long straight trunks were invaluable for ship building, houses and furniture.  The timber industry, like the gum digging was to decimate the Kauri population as trees were felled to send to America and Europe.  Thousands of tons of timber was wasted as the methods for getting the logs from the hillsides down to the ports was brutal.  Like anything that seems plentiful, the people benefiting from it don’t see the long term effects of their actions.  Now there is a huge conservation and regeneration project underway to re-forest the land with these beautiful and majestic trees.

We were amazed at the number of large Kauris that are in this forest.  Up until now we have seen the odd large Kauri and stands of young Kauri in the forests in the Coromandel, and in the Waikato.  Here in Waipoua Forest there seemed to be a significant number.  It is difficult to know how healthy the Kauri are as the 21st century has brought a new blight – Kauri dieback disease.  Interestingly though, whilst we had to disinfect our footwear to prevent spreading the disease in the forest area around Trounson, there are no such measures in the tourist areas where the large Kauri trees are.

Tane Mahuta is the tallest Kauri tree in New Zealand and it is truly impressive.  So too are the other trees we walked to; The Four Sisters – four Kauri fused together at the lower trunks that then soar high up together;  Te Mata Ngahere, the second tallest Kauri.  We also walked past Cathedral Cove which is a group of Kauri in the middle of the forest that tower up like the columns of a gothic cathedral to Yakas whose roots are protected by a boardwalk which means that you can get up close for some “tree-hugging”.  The walks through the forest are all on prepared paths and boardwalks and visitors are urged not to stray from the path as the shallow feeding roots of the Kauri are delicate and easily damaged.  The Kauri are inspiring and I am ever reminded about how small we are in a world that can produce such beauty and splendour.


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