The majesty of the Cape was long lived in our minds, but we had to move on eventually. We climbed back into The Mammoth and headed back down the coast towards Hokianga Harbour, which marks the lower end point of 90 Mile Beach and the start of the Kauri Coast.
The journey down took the best part of the day and it was getting dark and raining hard by the time we got to the road leading to the Kohu Kohu ferry. As we drove down the access road I heard the sound I had been dreading; the sound of a flat tire. We managed to limp onto the jetty and look at the time table. A ferry was due in 5 minutes – no way to change the tire by then – and the last of the day was due 20 minutes later.
The ferry did arrive and the crew offered their apologies but insisted that we must change the tire before boarding. I could hear a slight chuckle in their voices and they whistled and shook their heads.
Thus we had our challenge: could we change it before their return?
Bloody right we could!
Putting on my rain coat I lay in the wet and loosed the spare tire, while Cesca found the jack and started on the nuts. I had never changed a large vehicle’s tire before, but luckily for me the enormous 10-ton jack had diagrams explaining where to put everything and a helpful picture showing that dropping the van on my head was not a good idea. Getting the nuts loosened took every ounce of my strength and pulled skin from my hands. Then the jack went in. The winding of the jack was geared so that maximum effort gave a smooth but deadly slow lift. Cesca could see the ferry in the distance, making its way back.
“Go put a cup of tea on!” I gasped as rain seared down my face.
“What? You want tea now?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes please, and get a towel ready!” I called back.
I wound, and wound, and thought of all the Goju Karate lessons I could. My heart pounded and my clothes were sodden with rain. Eventually the flat-tire came off and the new wheel went on. Damn my hands! The cold was freezing my fingers making it harder to tighten the nuts that Cesca was passing me. The ferry was almost back and I could hear the pounding of its engines clearly. Rushing as fast as I could I rolled the flat tire around to the back and into the brace under the rear and then sped into the cab. Coat off, face towelled, soaked trousers changed, tea in hand – all in under ten seconds.
The ferry arrived and we smoothly drove down onto the ramp. The crewman from earlier came up to the window,
“Get it done then hey?” he asked smiling.
As nonchalantly as possible I looked up from my paper and across at him,
“Of course, old boy” I smiled and sipped my tea and then dunked a biscuit. He smiled back through the rain and nodded – a small sign of respect. Well, at least the English reputation around here was up a few notches!
The next day we stopped to get the tire repaired and made it to Hokianga. The harbour itself is very very large and not at all like its name suggests. This isn’t a Newcastle-like hive of activity. This area of the the country is amazingly underdeveloped and graceful curve of the coast is nestled by age old Marui villages and few locals. The quiet drive to the mouth of the inlet was very peaceful. The mouth is where all the action lies and is stunningly beautiful.
We stopped at the head of the harbour and marvelled at the meeting of the waters
It was a bright and clear day and the walk did us good. Standing on this headland gave us a great impression of the scale of things here. Many people rush the Northland, or even skip it – deciding instead to head straight down from Ackland. Truly, these people have missed out. As is usual at these times, Cesca and I continued our deeper discussions. This was the beginning of a theme for us: “What sort of place do you want to live?” This deceptively simple question brings up all sort of others and like all great questions requires a long time to decide. I suggested to Cesca that she try reading some Buddhism texts of mine. Little did I know how she would take this advice to heart…
We ground away a hour on that subject while watching the sea grind away the sand dunes. Then we headed into the forest.
This is called the Kauri coast for a very good reason, all along the 110km of exist a superb forest sanctuary. The last remains of even larger ancient Northern forests and containing the largest of trees you will ever see; the mighty Karui themselves. These mighty plants have been holding court here for over 2000 years and are increasingly rare. Unsurprisingly, the remaining ones are very protected. Tane Mahuta (God of the forest) was marked as a short walk from the road. We parked up and made our way in, slightly sceptical that we would see it clearly amongst all the other trees in the canopy. The path lead around and Cesca asked, which one was the God? I professed a mocking laugh that the tree was hiding and then, as I turned, I saw it,
“Fucking hell!” I exclaimed.
At 51m tall and 13m round, Tane Mahuta is the largest damn tree I have ever seen. It dwarfs the trees all around and they were not short. A simply enormous trunk leads up to branches the size of lesser trees, like trees growing out of a mother-tree. Everyone is awed by it and the conversation is muffled and quiet around its basin. Majestic indeed.
Cesca was glad to have a wide angle lens for this one! We passed on still talking about the trees size.
It was a few days until our 4th wedding anniversary and we had plans to spend it somewhere romantic. So we pushed hard passed Auckland and around to the Coromandel. I felt sorry to leave the Northland because, as a starting taste of New Zealand, it was a great deal of fun and not a little romantic already.
(Now passing you over to Francesca)
New Zealand’s Northland holds many gems for the wide-eyed traveller, but it is The Coromandel Peninsular that is held in particularly high regard by both Kiwis and tourists alike. Evidently this is due to the rugged wilderness and beach life-style, which suits us down-to-the-ground. So as we drove through the night to get here we realised this new place had much to live up to.
We spent five lovely days wandering around the wonderfully curvaceous but narrow coastal roads and inlets in our 2 berth abode. There are plenty of remote locations complete with DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites to explore, which we did despite not being allowed on unsealed roads. Our journey took us from Thames up the West coast to Colville, across the unsealed road to Waikawau Bay and then back down the East coast via Hahei, Hot Water Beach and Waihi to the Bay of Plenty.
Driving our 6.6m campervan over the mountainous pass between Colville and Waikawau Bay was unnerving to say the least due to the amalgamation of road quality, narrowness and steepness. However this was a highlight of our trip due to there feeling of isolation and remoteness. As rain beat down on us over night we lay awake wondering if we would make it out of this soggy DOC 250 pitch camping field. We inched off our pitch in the morning all the while expecting to get stuck and yet we made it. Our new found happiness vanished around the first corner – as we attempted a manoeuvre around a vehicle on the track our back wheels span creating a fine spray of mud cascaded behind us. We were stuck! Embarrassingly we asked for help from the burly Maori owner who pulled us out in 5, with typical Kiwi ease. Relieved we returned over the mountain pass and gladly joined the sealed roads again!
We travelled south to Hahei, our destination of choice for a spot of romance, to enjoy our wedding anniversary. It was a luxury to debunked from the campervan and check-in to ‘The Church’ accommodation. The private huts with en-suite bathrooms were delightful and a luxurious in comparison to foam mattresses on top of a campervan table! The huts were thoughtfully appointed although the shower was a little small for two and had no light! We were made very welcome by the delightful staff. Here we indulged ourselves with a candlelit dinner at ‘The Church Restaurant’ in the converted church building. The food was delicious and the local wine equally so.
Walking to Cathedral Cove on our anniversary there was a beautiful view across the blue ocean which buffeted against the surrounding islands with a white foam. My mind began to unwind just that little bit more. Cathedral Cove is fabulous. The clear sunlit water ebbs and flows under the arch with each wave smoothing the sand in its path. I enjoyed paddling my feet in the not so warm water and admiring the sculpture it had created. The small neighbouring beach has lovely clean sand and some amazing rock formations both on and off the beach. At the end there is a high waterfall that must be a delight in summer. Visiting this area is a must.
Close by is the wonder that is Hot Water Beach where really hot water bubbles up under the surface of the sand and you can challenge yourself with digging a pool. As we discovered this is quite a challenge in Spring as the tide keeps washing any semblance of a pool wall away. Amazing fun though.
Hot Water Beach with it’s bubbling sand and J trying to keep the perfect pool from the endless tide
I’m not really in favour of the whole Holiday Park experience myself, but it seems to be a necessary evil when campervaning around New Zealand. However, there is an exception at Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Park. there was all the standard facilities in pristine condition but the highlights were all the extras; including spa, pool, gym, waterslide, barbeque, sundeck with parasols and sun-loungers and beautiful gardens. We awoke there to glorious sunshine so I graced myself with a dip in the outdoor spa and enjoyed my usual 50 lengths in the pool. What a truly wonderful way to wake up.