Sunday, February 16, 2014

New Zealand Day 5: Tauranga Bay to Spirits Bay

After a great night of sleep with the soothing sound of waves in the background, we woke on the beautiful Tauranga Bay beach when Brynna came down from her loft around 7:15 looking for breakfast! Alex made coffee for us and we slowly got rolling. Originally we’d planned for a fairly quick start, but for some reason it didn’t work out that way. B did her violin practice...

I hand-washed some laundry, B and Alex wrote some postcards, and I bought some wifi access to upload our first set of photos and blog entries. We feel bad posting these pics of our summertime vacation when our northeast friends and family are getting slammed with cold and snow. We hope you won’t hold it against us, and wish all of you were here with us!

Eventually we did get rolling, and made our way via twisty turny tiny roads to Mahinepua and the Mahinepua Peninsula Scenic Preserve, where my NZ Frenzy guidebook had promised “the best scenic track in northland,” which given some of our previous walks based on his recommendations, sounded pretty amazing. The only downside is that I scraped a gouge in the side of the camper on a very narrow gate as we arrived. Oops.

Back to the hiking though—as advertised, it was terrific. It was about 6k round-trip, undulating up and down, with 297 steps one way (yes, we counted). B spent most of the time on the walk out playing Aurora-in-disguise-from-Maleficent-the-witch (she was wearing my sarong as a cloak, you see), and Alex and I gawked at the views.

We also wondered about these trees, which look almost too perfect to be real. Kind of like those cell-phone-towers-in-disguise in New Hampshire, or like those tiered cookie plates:

We had a few sprinkles at the beginning but then things cleared up. It took us a bit less than an hour to get out to the trig, where we got some photos and had a snack.

Then we headed back to the nice little beach cove partway along the track.

There, we had another snack and then all wetsuited up and got into the Pacific for our first NZ ocean swim! The water is pretty nippy without a wetsuit but pretty much perfect with one on. Alex cruised around some rock formations while I stayed with B. I did manage to convince her to swim a few strokes on her own, but she did get chilly pretty quickly. Alex came back about 10 minutes later and they got out of the water. I decided to swim back to our campervan, which took me out around a rocky point and past a couple of coves. I’ve been swimming a lot in the pool and definitely felt stronger than before in the water, and enjoyed the added boost/buoyancy of swimming in my wetsuit. Too bad that there was nothing interesting to see—the water was pretty clear, but there were just some seaweed beds and some very small fish. I didn’t look at the time or bring my GPS watch (bummer!) but I think the swim was about half a mile.

I got out of the water and lounged on shore for about fifteen minutes until Alex and B walked back around to the van. After a quick nibble, it was off to the north. First task was to find a water exchange place, because we were just about dry. We managed that in Mangonui, also taking the opportunity to rinse out wetsuits.

Alex the Eagle Scout came to the rescue again—the water spigot was missing its handle, but his Gerber got the job done.

B had a long nap and finally woke up just as we headed north on the loooooong promontory that marks the far north of New Zealand. It was getting on towards suppertime, and thinking that it would be nice to break up the drive to the DoC campsite near Cape Reinga, I consulted my Rough Guide and we stopped at a star reviewed cafĂ© in Pukenui, “the farthest north takeout in New Zealand.” We ordered a veggie pizza, which turned out to be really greasy and quite gross—the tomato sauce looked and tasted like something out of a spaghetti-O’s can, the cheese was not very nice, and the whole thing was just covered in a sheen of grease. Eeeew. At least they also made a very tasty pineapple fritter…it’s hard to wreck deep fried stuff, I suppose! Well, we did not come here for the food. We’ll continue cooking for ourselves, thank you very much.

At least we were able to send some postcards.

Then it was onward to Spirits Bay, where we arrived just before dark after a nice jostle on a gravel road.

Alex took a quick walk down to the beach, which is apparently lovely. Tomorrow we’ll go see Cape Reinga (the far northern point) and then will take a loooong trip down to the west coast of Northland and the giant kauri forests.

Today’s scenery was particularly different from what I’d imagined. Northland, which I guess I’d pictured as kind of sparse, is in fact lush green farmland full of sheep and cows, much like a more sharply hilly England. Yesterday’s area was also full of orchards. Even this evening, as we drove up to Cape Reinga, what I’d imagined as basically scrub between beaches on east and west turned out to be a very winding, hilly drive through more beautiful green farm country.

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