A Tale of Great Barrier Island by Gus

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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.

Catch up

Otauto Bay
Otauto Bay

Long time no write – we have been just a tad busy over the last few weeks, but now most of the boxes are unpacked, and the house is in some semblance of order, I thought I’d take some time out to write an update.

Where did I leave you – I think we had just decided to buy 7 Naylor Street and were in the throes of packing and getting to grips with the property buying system here in NZ.  Everything went according to plan and on 12th December at around about lunchtime I had a call from the solicitor to say that the keys were ready to be picked up.  We had arranged for our new bed to be delivered that afternoon and Nigel was going to pick up the new sofa (Yes, we splashed out!) so I headed to the house with a pile of boxes and some cleaning stuff.  What a wonderful surprise – the house was spotless – the previous owners had engaged a cleaning company to scrub the place – it was immaculate!  So I wandered around, opened all the doors and windows and had a thoroughly good explore of our new home.  The best thing about it so far is the open plan living room with access to the garden on two sides.  It’s almost like having another living room – we’ve put the old settee out there as

well as the garden table and chairs and it is very pleasant sitting out there even quite late into the evening.  The garden is very pretty and well laid out and the sitting areas are sheltered and quiet. When Blair was out here over Christmas he tidied up the straggly bushes and deadheaded the roses for us, but really there is little to do to the garden except keep it tidy.  We have plans of course – there are several Camellias and lots of roses as well as some beautiful ornamental grasses and other shrubs and trees we don’t know the names of – but we would like to create a vegetable plot and swap some of the ornamental trees for fruit trees.  However, we will see how things grow over the next 12 months before we start decimating the place!

Matiu Island
Matiu Island

Inside I am revelling in having an en suite bathroom – no more queues for the shower in the morning and a toilet seat that is down not up!! (you need to have a family of boys to appreciate that one!) But generally just having space to move around and finally unpack all those boxes is great.

As I said, Nigel’s brother Blair came to stay over Christmas. He helpfully arrived the day after we moved in though gave us a bit of a scare when he didn’t arrive on the day he said he would, which was our moving day.  We had arranged for a shuttle bus to pick him up and got a call from them mid-afternoon to ask us if he had actually got

Fantail Bay walk

on the plane as there was no sign of him.  After a couple of anxious hours and some unproductive phone calls to the airport and the airline we realised that due to the time difference he must have got the day wrong. Fortunately the Shuttle service was up at the airport the next day and picked him up for us!  He spent last Christmas helping us pack up the house in Ingleton and this year helping us unpack in Hamilton, hopefully next time he visits we won’t be moving again!

We headed down to Greytown on the Friday Aonghas finished school – Lachlan had already had a week off by this stage, mooching around with his friends.  A quick stop in Taupo for a late lunch/early tea and then straight on down. Next day we went over to Wellington for a family get together.  Mike and Kathryn – Nigel’s cousin and his wife were over from Malaysia where Mike is working at the moment but were due to return the next day.  It was good to meet up with them again and Aonghas enjoyed playing with Alexia whilst Lachlan looked on with a sort of teenage superiority!

Matiu Island view
Matiu Island view

We spent the next few days between Greytown and Wellington – Aonghas was desperate to go to Te Papa again and we all had last minute Christmas shopping to do.  On Tuesday we went out to Matiu/Soames Island which is a former quarantine island used by the European settlers when they arrived in NZ in the 19th century.  Sadly, some of them never made it off the island to discover the delights of the new life they had left Europe for. It is a beautiful place and DOC (The Department of Conservation) have adopted it as an Island Sanctuary where they are trying to eliminate all mammalian predators in order to regenerate the native bush and wildlife.  It is one of the few places where you can see skinks and lizards – we had fleeting glimpses as they dashed across our path.  We also had to duck and weave as the odd protective nesting seagull dive bombed us!  There are more and more “Island” sanctuaries being created by DOC, I think I have already talked about Maungatautari which is not far from us and we visited another called Mount Bruce whilst we were away.  After the beautiful weather on Matiu island the rain came and so looking for wet weather options Terry suggested Mount Bruce.  This is a newly developed area with a visitor centre and a Kiwi house.  It was fascinating seeing the kiwis interacting and using their long beaks grubbing for food.  The Kiwi house is specially adapted to simulate night time so that visitors can see the kiwis as they are nocturnal birds. They have a few that have been reared in captivity and will not be released into the wild, but as they produce young they are carefully nurtured so that they can be released into the wild in the areas that have been made predator free. We also watched the Kaka being fed – these are NZ parrots that have been released into the area, but as they are quite social birds they still come back to the feeding area.  They are only given a snack as they get the bulk of their diet for themselves in the wild, but again, it is fascinating watching them scrapping with each other and squawking. Later on when we went for a walk at Waikaremoana we could hear the Kaka above the other birds they have such a distinctive call.  The birdsong in the bush was amazing – I think it was the noisiest walk I have done – even Aonghas couldn’t compete!’ We could clearly hear the Tuis and the Bellbirds as well as NZ robins, fantails and a whole host of others that I don’t yet recognise.

Pohutakawa
Pohutakawa

The sun came out for Christmas day and the planned barbecue went ahead – I still can’t quite get my head around a hot Christmas but we had the full works for Christmas Day – cooked English breakfast, roast lamb, potatoes etc for dinner, the only real difference being the kumara which seems to be served in almost every dish in every restaurant here.  Nigel and Blair really struggled whenever we ate out as they use kumara or pumpkin as the basis for nearly all vegetarian dishes – not one of Nigel’s favourites!

We headed up the coast to Napier on Boxing Day and had a day on the beach which was lovely – rather overdid the sun exposure despite liberal lathering with sun screen – swimming and playing in the sea was a welcome activity after being inland for so long! Napier is an interesting place with it’s 1930’s architecture, though we didn’t really have time to explore it much. The beaches are graded pebbles – Aonghas wasn’t impressed as he couldn’t dig but it was quite nice for wriggling down in the warm pebbles and making a comfortable “nest” to lie on! (and no sand in the sandwiches either!)

silver fern sphere, Wellington
silver fern sphere, Wellington

From there we went inland to another “island” reserve around a lake called Waikaremoana (sea of rippling waters) – this is a huge lake in the Te Urewa National Park.  It really is beautiful and well worth the uncomfortable drive to get there and back out again.  The main Wairoa to Rotorua State Highway goes through the Park but 90km of it is un sealed and very rutted!  The car had a thick coating of red dust all over it by the time we got out!  We found a basic DOC campsite (standpipe and Longdrop toilet) but got a tent pitch right next to the lake.  Aonghas was keen to get straight in the water but took a while to persuade Lachlan to come in with him – in the end Blair offered them 2 dollars for the first to get in – Aonghas was straight in there but it still took Lachlan an age to submerse himself!  It was quite cold – the lake is at 600m – I went in for a morning swim the next day and came out numb!  Very refreshing though! We were short of gas so Lachlan and Blair went into the bush to get some firewood just in case. (we’d already checked with the warden that it was okay to have a fire and there were already fireplaces constructed along the lakeside) Lachlan was disappointed that we didn’t need to light the fire that evening – it was also a bit windy so we were reluctant to inconvenience our neighbours. We went to bed after a beautiful clear evening and a dark night sky full of stars, with the Morepork calling to each other to wake the next day to mist and rain!

Waikaremoana sunset
Waikaremoana sunset

Undeterred we set off on a walk through the bush to a smaller lake called Waikereiti.  It was only a short walk but a wet one but the bush sheltered us from the worst of the rain and there was plenty to look at and hear on the way.  Definitely a place to go back to in the future as there is plenty of scope for longer walks and overnight tramps.

Back to Hamilton for New Year.  It was good to touch base and do a bit more unpacking.  Fortunately the weather was good again so we managed to dry out the wet tent we had packed away in Waikaremoana.  We had a quiet Hogmanay with just the five of us but it was lovely to be at home (and sleeping in our new, very comfortable bed!) I have been struggling with a damaged rotator cuff muscle and sleeping on the hard ground in a tent didn’t do it much good!  But a couple of days later we packed up again and drove up to Otauto Bay on the Coromandel coast to stay with Lorraine and Rob on their campsite.  A chance for the boys to go fishing – Blair usually fishes for Pike in Scotland so was looking forward to some sea fishing, and he had bought a fishing rod for Aonghas for Christmas so he was keen to try it out!  We had four days of beautiful weather after the first night of thunderstorms cleared the air.

Aonghas fishing
Aonghas fishing

Unfortunately the fishing wasn’t as productive as we were told it had been the previous week, but we all caught something so were happy.  Just being out on the boat early in the morning, the sun shining and the breeze blowing the cobwebs away is wonderful.  I could quite happily sit out there all day, rocking on the waves (as long as they aren’t too big!).  The boys had great fun playing in the sea – they managed to borrow some kayaks which kept them occupied for hours.  Aonghas, of course, was perfectly happy to dig and create fortifications to keep out the sea and then watch them being engulfed before starting all over again!  I enjoyed my early morning swims when nobody else was around – it was like having the whole ocean to myself!

Before we left to go up the Coromandel we decided we needed a map so that we could get back to one of our favourite past times of poring over the map of the area we were visiting and planning walking routes (and then looking at them afterwards to see where we had been).  We had very reluctantly parted with our collection of OS maps when we left the UK, but decided that maps were to be used not stored so gave them to friends we knew would appreciate them.  We are quite excited at the prospect of starting a new collection of NZ maps as we visit new places but were disappointed to find that here in NZ that 1:25 000 maps do not exist!!  They only have 1:50 000 and there are very few footpaths marked on them.  However a lot of the land is open access or is owned/managed by DOC and there are walking route cards available from  them (usually at a small cost of $1) which give information about the area and which parts are open access.

Fire building
Fire building

At the moment most of the walks we have done have been on marked trails but as we get more familiar with the terrain and the environment we will go a bit further afield.  Anyway, to get back to the map for the Coromandel – it turned out that we needed TWO maps for the small area we were going to and one of the maps is 90% water!! We decided to do one of the walks marked on the DOC leaflet though not marked on the map – it went up from Fantail Bay and was described as going up to the bushline where their were fantastic views of the Coromandel.  After a couple of hours fishing and playing in the sea we headed off through a DOC campsite and into the bush.  Following a stream for a while we started to climb up the sides of a gully, the path was marked with coloured tags in the trees but was a narrow track and was quite overgrown with Supplejack and fallen Ponga trees.  Blair was up at the front and soon shouted back that he thought we had gone the wrong way.  It was clear that we hadn’t but the path was getting very steep and he had reached a point where the path seemed to go downwards before turning back up again.  We were in a very steep gully and decided that caution was the better part of valour and turned back.  Once back down at stream level we followed the stream along to a very inviting pool – so inviting that the boys and I stripped off and dived in!  Cold but very refreshing, we made our way to the waterfall where we let the water pound our backs and floated in the bubbles.

We had a lovely time with Lorraine, Rob, Ernie and Marlene who just treated us as part of the family – they have a great setup there as they all prepare a bit of the meals each and bring it all together, eating fresh fish as they catch it.  We felt a bit awkward that we didn’t have the wherewithall to contribute as much as we felt we should have but we can hopefully make up for that in the future somehow.  I’m sure we will go back there agin and can go better prepared next time.

Brotherly Love
Brotherly Love

Back to Hamilton again – Blair and I had a bit of a job persuading Nigel to come back before the 8th (his Birthday) as Chris and Brian were coming up from Wellington for a surprise Birthday visit.  I also had the job of organising the sleeping arrangements without him suspecting anything! Blair was already in Lachlan’s room and so he was sharing with Aonghas, so we were hoping for good weather so that the boys could sleep in the tent in the garden and I brought the futon in to Aonghas’ room for Chris and Brian.  Blair was to take Nigel out of the way for the day so I could do all this!  It all worked out well because Chris and Brian arrived while they were out and so he got back to find them there and was genuinely surprised (although we had a scary moment the previous evening when Aonghas nearly gave the game away).  It was good to spend more time with Chris and Brian and get to know them better especially since Blair was here as well.  But all too soon it was time for them and Blair to go home and the house feels quite empty now we are just four again!

On top of the tower at Maungatautari
On top of the tower at Maungatautari

A few days to chill before I start my new job – the boys are booked into a tennis and golf camp next week in Cambridge – a bid to keep Lachlan off the computer and out into the open!  He has struggled with the familiar summer holiday problem of friends being around when we were away and then them being away when we are here so hasn’t been out and about as much as he had hoped.  Hoewever he has met up with some friends today and I am sure the last week of the holidays he will be able to catch up with them all again too.  Both of them are taking part ion the Weetbix tryathlon at the beginning of February and Lachlan is also competing in a Mountain bike race in mid-Feb.  We have just spent $250 on repairs to his bike after the last event which he disappointingly got more than half way through before his wheel hit a root and got bent!  We were amazed that yesterday he got up,(after spending most of the holidays doing the teenage thing of sleeping until midday!) made himself a packed lunch and was ready to set off to cycle to the Mountain bike track on his own to practise and then cycle back.  We were so impressed we said we would give him a lift since we were planning on going up that way anyay! (It is quite a long way on busy roads to get there – or are we just being too protective!)

Wow, that is a bit of a mammoth blog.  Well done if you have got all the way through it! Better stick some photos in now!