Sunday, February 16, 2014

New Zealand Day 6: Cape Reinga to the Kauri Coast and a Kiwi

We had a restful night at Spirits Bay and woke naturally around 8, B having arrived sometime during the night and sandwiched herself in between us.  We had planned on a pretty quick departure to go the last little bit to Cape Reinga, but were held up a bit by the GoPro being stubborn about Alex’s attempts to set it up to take video during our drive. He did triumph eventually, and we headed back the long gravel road to take state highway 1 the rest of the way to the top of the island. About half an hour later, we arrived, to find the parking lot virtually empty and only a few people around. We walked the kilometer or so out toward the lighthouse—B was having a cranky morning and was very peeved that we kept stopping to read the interpretive signs!—and were then able to see the interesting wave patterns where the Tasman Sea to the west meets the Pacific proper from the east.

There were lovely sweeping views back along the east coast to where we’d spent the night, and then across a vast sandy expanse to the west to Cape Maria von Diemen, where we would’ve done some additional walking if we’d had the time.

Cape Reinga is a sacred site to the Maori, it is thought to be the place at which the spirit leaves for the afterlife, following the roots of this tree:

It was almost noon and B was in desperate need of some food and rest, so we headed back to the campervan and put together a quick bite to eat. This was just in the nick of time as a bunch of tour buses had arrived and people were pouring onto the walkway. We felt very smug to have been there before the crowds.

And then, after several days of heading north, north, north, we’d run out of north to go to! So instead we headed south, south, south. We stopped for some tasty ice cream in Te Kao, hit up the iSite (info kiosk) in Kaitaia, wound our way further south and across the car ferry to Rawhene, and finally arrived on the kauri coast. Kauris are New Zealand’s answer to the giant sequoias of California. They used to cover much of the island, but were cut for ship’s masts and for furniture (unlike sequoias, the wood is apparently delightful to work with and makes beautiful objects), and now exist only in smaller pockets. Originally we’d planned to walk to see several particular examples, but ended up only having the time (and five-year-old energy) to see Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, the largest living kauri.

Tane Mahuta is along a boardwalk only a few minutes from the road (kauri roots are very fragile, and there is currently a lot of concern about kauri dieback disease, hence the boardwalk).

We wandered through dense forest, admiring a variety of trees and plant life, and the impressive bracing job on one of the trees...

...and then all of a sudden were confronted with an ENORMOUS trunk. It was amazing, truly very impressive.

B and I were inspired to do a little tree pose:

And a handstand:

Alex got some additional photos as well. There are many additional types of plants that live on the trunk and in the crown.

Then we headed on to our first truly commercial campsite, the Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park. We were aiming at this spot because it is right next to the Trounson Kauri Forest, where there is a recovering population of kiwis, providing another chance to try to spot one in the wild! There’s also a DoC site right in the forest. I’d opted to ask the iSite folks in Kaitaia to book us at the Holiday Park because they run a guided kiwi tour in the evening, and I thought we could use some help from a pro! However, when the iSite folks called ahead, we’d found out that the tour was already full. I thought about canceling at the Holiday Park and opting for the DoC site, but had seen that the Holiday Park had a playground, which I thought B would really enjoy, and I figured we could go kiwi-hunting on our own, so went ahead with the booking.

Based on what I’d read, I thought the camping park was basically right next to the DoC site, but it turned out to be a few miles away, so we’d need to drive back out to do our kiwi hunt. Bummer, but we were committed and really needed to stop and have some supper!

Temporarily stymied by an issue with the van stalling out (while idling…this was not driver error), we eventually managed to get backed into our spot, and we all felt a lot better after B had a runaround on the playground and we had a chance to make some pasta. The lady at the desk had given us some red cellophane, so we wrapped up our headlamps, dressed a bit warmer, and headed back out for the Kauri Park entrance to see if we could find a kiwi!

It was after 9:30 PM by then, and B was understandably toast. She fell asleep on the short drive up the road and so we decided to take it in turns to walk into the woods, with one of us staying in the van with the sleeping B. I went first. It was a bit spooky to be walking around by myself, even with my red headlamp. I was also being extra careful to remember my turns on the paths so that I could find my way back! Almost right away, I picked up two little red eyes in the distance. My heart leapt—a kiwi! Nope. Turned out to be a bunny. Perhaps Bunnicula, with little devil eyes. I walked, stopped, listened, walked, stopped, listened. I could hear some kiwi calls way off in the distance, and saw a couple more bunnies (or maybe the same one, stalking me), but no kiwi. Fifteen or twenty minutes in, I saw red lights off in the distance. It turned out to be a tour group (the one from our holiday park, it turns out), and when I passed them, it sounded like they hadn’t had any success either. It had been awhile, and I was also getting a little tired of being alone in the woods at night, so I followed them for a couple of minutes and then headed back up to the parking lot to give Alex a turn. I gave him a couple of suggestions and then he went on his way. About ten minutes later, I was sitting in the van with B and heard some close-by kiwi calls, so I opened the door to see if maybe one would happen to cross the parking lot where I could see it. As I did, Alex came across the lot beckoning me. He’d located one just around the corner and had also run into the larger group and was able to see the kiwi with the leader’s very powerful red flashlight. We switched again and I went over to piggyback on the tour group. And then I saw it! It was a little bigger than I’d thought, about like a chicken, and was rustling and pecking in the brush. So cool!

Then, finally, it was bedtime. We zipped back to the Holiday Park, got B up into her loft, and collapsed. Kiwi-sighting accomplished!

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