Top tip of New Zealand

Posted on February 16, 2008
Filed Under Commentary, Travel | 1 Comment

Cape Reinga Lighthouse90 Mile BeachMichelle with ancient Kauri tree

Pics from beginning: 1) Cape Reinga Lighthouse. Pacific Ocean on the right. Tasman Sea on the left. The very top of New Zealand. 2) The 64-mile-long 90 Mile Beach. Tour buses race up or down the beach depending on the tide at the time of the tour. 3) An ancient, protected Kauri tree. (Pic of Michelle in carved Kauri chair removed on command)
Click on pics to enlarge.

Please excuse the lousy formatting. For some mysterious and extremely frustrating reason, my posting program has decided to present me with a brand new set of parameters. I’ve never seen them before and have no idea what they think they might do. Even when I experiment, they don’t do anything useful. Help, Colin Casey, help!
I’m developing a new respect and sympathy for Rick Steeves, who does the popular video tours of Europe. I’m already over a week behind with my reports on our travels.
From Auckland, we took a bus to Paihia, on the Bay of Islands, four hours north of Auckland. As the name would leave you to believe, the bay is a boater’s paradise. There are hundreds of island beaches to explore. It is common to see one boat and one tent on a beach.
We took a bus tour north to Cape Reinga, the top of the country. On the way we stopped in at a Kauri forest. The story of the Kauri is much like the story of our own and the British Columbia forests.
These ancient trees, some predating Jesus Christ, were stripped from the country to the point that it is now illegal to cut even one.
In addition to felling the best of them, settlers bled others for a valuable gum used in the manufacture of shellac and hard enough to carve for jewelery.
When the trees and the gum were no longer available, diggers probed the forest soil for ancient balls of the gum.
The Kauri timber is astonishingly durable. To this day, people dig up trees sometimes thousands of years old. These ancient trees are very valuable for the making of very expensive furniture by artists and artisans. A nicely inlaid dining set sells for well over $20,000. It has a beautiful, lustrous sheen.
Being in one of the remaining protected Kauri woods, like being in Cathedral Grove, between Nanaimo and Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, is a deeply spiritual experience.
I suppose part of the reason is that the towering, ancient trees and the dark forest floor soak up all sound returning no reverberation. It is also humbling to be in the presence of something alive, so old and so big.
The Maori held the trees in such respect, they even gave many of them individual names.
Sheep and avocados
The countryside along the road to Paihia is rolling hills somewhat like that of western New Brunswick but with much higher hills and, to us, more exotic trees and birds.
The hills are tightly terraced by generations of sheep grazing around an around them.
Creating land
New Zealand is a bunch of dormant volcanoes strung together with sand bars. Early settlers in the northern end, planted a beach grass to hold the sandy peninsula from moving around. When that worked, they planted lupins to put nitrogen into the soil which provided nutrients for trees and crops.
Now avocados are a popular crop. On one huge farm, a new owner is lopping the tops off hills to fill in ravines to level off the land for farming avocados.
New Zealand does not have the rivers New Brunswick has. Most of its water is collected from rain. Our bus driver wondered if there will be enough water to nourish all those avocado trees.
Cape Reinga
The tip top of New Zealand features a lighthouse. On one side is the Pacific Ocean, on the other the Tasman Sea.
It is spectacular but the main thing about being there is to be able to say you were. It is like getting to Uclulet or Tofino on Vancouver Island or Cape Spear in Newfoundland.
The amazing thing about Cape Reinga is “90 Mile Beach” running down the east side of the peninsula. It is actually only 64 miles long but that is quite impressive enough.
Our tour bus drove down the length of the beach on the beach. It has to make the trip at low tide. The only sand hard enough to drive on is that uncovered at low tide.
The buses are specially designed and built to handle the roads and turns on the way to the cape and the sand and salt water on the way down.
Drivers unfamiliar with such things as tides and rogue waves lose their vehicles on the be ach each year. Vehicle insurance does not cover anything that happens on the beach so errors are very expensive.
Harsh treatment
As we reboarded our bus from one beach stop, we got a first-hand lesson in how New Zealanders feel about their environment. One elderly foreign passenger tossed some litter on the shore.
Our driver picked it up and accosted the miscreant in extremely hostile manner. At one point, I thought he had slapped him but he had slapped his own arm while right in the offender’s face and telling him in no uncertain terms that one does NOT do that in his (the driver’s) country.
It must have been mortifying for the passenger but it was impressive. Would that we were as willing to embarrass our own litterbugs in our own country.


One Response to “Top tip of New Zealand”

  1. Lisa on February 18th, 2008 10:01 pm

    David and Michelle! What a surprise to find you on the WEB travelling down under. Michelle….what the hell hit you in the head before you’re picture was taken in that wooden chair.?
    How are the New Zealand wines? Some of my best friends in the world live in NZ and you guys are there too….!! How appropriate!

    David, be brave and post a photo of yourself!Don’ be shy.

    Hope you’re happy.

    Lisa and Brett..(minus 45 degrees last night)


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