Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Zealand Day 2: Uretiti Beach to Puriri Bay

We all woke around 8:30 and Brynna had a little more time to play with her friend Sophie. We gave Sophie’s family our tentative itinerary for the week and actually decided to meet up at Waipu Cave nearby. Waipu was another NZ Frenzy guidebook tip—there are a variety of glow-worm caves in NZ but this one is uncommercialized and thus free.

I drove the campervan very carefully along winding roads, following the excellent signage to the cave. Though the roads are often narrow and twisty, the signs are very helpful and we have a big road atlas that came with the campervan. After about half an hour, we pulled up next to a cow pasture with bathrooms and a sign indicating the short walk to the cave. We wandered across the field and caught our first glimpse:

We had specific instructions from the guidebook to go inside and sit next to the big stalagmite for seven minutes until our eyes adjusted. Brynna was initially very excited about this whole thing but freaked out as soon as we started to go inside the cave. We ended up picking her up and carrying her in, hoping that she'd get used to it. And she did. After we waited for a little while, I took a few more steps into the cave and started to see little pinpricks of light on the ceiling...and then more and more and more! 

The cave has glowworms on the ceiling – an entire galaxy’s worth.  These larvae produce small pinpricks of light, more concentrated but less bright than a firefly.  They seem to cluster no closer than 1-2 inches apart.  It truly was a stunning sight – something we haven’t ever experienced before.  Alex did some playing with the camera: the S120 has a nifty Star Mode for tripod-mounted long (15-sec) exposures.  Mounting the camera on the gorillapod worked out nicely and produced some awesome images.  Where people played their lights across the ceiling, he got some stalactites in the images, too. 

Sophie was also very unhappy about the whole thing, but once Brynna calmed down, she was able to help her along. Our families advanced together about at far into the cave you can get (maybe 200 meters) without crawling through a stream. There is a longer loop for very adventurous folks without small children!

Once out of the cave, and after a game of tag in the field, we drove onwards a little ways into Whangarei, where we found a small park and playground next to an iSite (NZ tourist info kiosk) for lunch.  Then we found the lovely Whangarei Falls:

We did our first water exchange before leaving town – an interesting experience in its own right. We have a 90 liter tank so with 3 showers (though not with water continuously running), dishes, cooking, and some laundry we pretty much need to exchange every day. There's a hose for taking on fresh water and another one for dumping the gray water.

Then we continued up the coast a bit to Tutukaka Bay, where there was a short hike to what was called a lighthouse, but was really more like a solar-powered beacon on top of a headland.  This headland is actually a tiny island of sorts, connected by an isthmus to the main island.  

We hit this trail around 4:30 pm, and made our crossing around 5 – about an hour before high tide.  The isthmus actually gets flooded at high tide.  The first bit of the crossing was a broad sandbar that was barely covered by the waves from either side.  

Farther on was some tricky stepping stone action requiring knee-deep wading between the waves.  

A helpful local got in deeper to help us pass B across.  The hike from there to the “lighthouse” was uneventful.  From that height-of-land we could see a good distance along the coast.  Using google maps (yes, plenty of phone service), we determined what all the islands and land features in the distance (mostly south and east) were.  

The return crossing, now at true high tide, was a even higher and the bottom of our shorts got wet from the waves as we passed B across the deepest part.  She was game: another mini adventure for the Moose family.

According to Google Maps, our destination for the night was a bit more than an hour away.  B and Alex hung out in the back for the drive, which actually took almost two and a half increasingly grumpy hours.  Hilary did well with the driving, but there is no escaping that this is a really big vehicle that bumps and sways a lot on the road.  These roads are not exactly highways: these are the steeply graded, twisty turny roads of rural country that has never experienced snow.  At times we cruised at 60 kph, but it seemed every minute we would slow for a 25 kph turn.  We were both reminded of equally tricky driving in St John, but now with a much larger vehicle.  We were all very tired, and as the sky dimmed with no destination yet it got a little punchy.  Poor Alex actually started getting a bit nauseous. Finally, finally we arrived at our DoC campsite at Puriri Beach, had some showers and supper (pasta), and off to bed. We're finding the camper to be very comfortable for sleeping.

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