Saturday, February 11, 2012
Today we completed the circle by returning to Auckland and the Airport Motor Inn Motel where we stayed in our first night in New Zealand nearly a month ago. We think we are even back in the same room. This time we are on our way home. Tomorrow we check in at the airport and head for Tahiti for a couple of days.
We departed Paihia with some instructions from the motel lady. “Don’t stop in Kaikohe - it’s not a very nice town.” We wanted to see the western side of the peninsula on our return trip to Auckland and there are two routes to accomodate travelers. They are called “twin discovery” routes. We found the western route the more scenic and the less traveled. That meant not as many cars trying to pass those of us who were enjoying the scenery, fewer big trucks and of course, the usual cows and sheep grazing contentedly on the green hillsides.
Kaikohe lived up to the predictions. People didn’t look very pleasant and perhaps the reason for the reputation has some ethnic overtones. Most of the people we saw appeared to be of Maori descent. There may be some pent-up animosity for Europeans, tourists, Caucasians and other “outsiders.” We kept driving.
We came within sight of the west coast and the road turned south towards a low mountain region and the Waipoua Forest. Along the way in our travels around both islands of this great country we had seen large stumps and the remains of what must have been large trees. What happened? Although today, there are many forests and logging continues to be a significant industry, many of those early giant trees are now history.
Kauri trees once grew all over these islands and became “the backbone of the country’s timber industry.” It was at one stage New Zealand’s greatest export. Lumber mills proliferated along the west coast and port cities like Dargaville boomed. By 1900 only 10 percent of the kauri forests remained. Today the number is down to four percent.
The kauri is a giant tree. The sequoia may be taller and older, but for sheer wooden bulk, the kauri has no equal. Growing up to 2,000 years, the trunks can reach a diameter of 16 feet and soar to a height of 160 feet. The trunks don’t taper until they are up about 65 feet, providing huge cylinders of straight-grained wood. No wonder the trees were logged and the wood sent around the world.
What remains are a few select trees in various places around the country. There are no doubt large stumps remaining as well. We saw one of those stumps fashioned into a sofa and on sale in a store in Paihia for $22,000. The resin from these trees was also valuable and used as a base in varnish. Pockets of this sap were located and exported as kauri gum back in the 19th century.
Four of these giant trees remain in the Waipoua forest and one of them, named Tane Mahuta (the god of the forest) by Maori is the largest kauri in New Zealand. We stopped for a look. The tree is 168 feet high, measures 46 feet around, and sits five minutes from the main road. It is massive and well worth the stop. One of the websites I consulted in planning this trip was Trip Advisor. They have a list of “101 kiwi favorites” or something like that. The #1 place on the list was this tree. Apparently, there are night-time tours which take you into the forest and you experience some spiritual connections with the trees and the birds which populate this place. Hmmm. . .
We commenced to experience a bit of drama for the next 30 miles or so. I was so intent on finding the tree that I neglected to watch the gas gauge and we were down to empty. This warning light came on. Could we make it to the next town? Where was the next town and how far away was it? The suspense began. Should we let those cars pass or should we count on them to rescue us when we run out of gas? Can we make it to the top of that hill and then coast down? Where are the farms and farmers who might help us? When will we get out of this forest? Should we drive slowly to conserve fuel? How much gas is left when you see the warning light?
|the god of the forest|
We kept driving. Finally, we got back to some civilization and the sign “17 km to G.A.S. Station” gave us an indication of where we had to go. More hills to climb, but now there were farms and a road construction crew. We kept going. Finally, there it was and we left $40 in trade for a quarter tank of petrol. The car rental people advised us to “run it dry” since we were paying them for a tankful when we brought the car back, but this was carrying it to the extreme.
That drama behind us, we looked for lodging and found it at the Mangawhai Retreat. For what seemed like a low overnight cost we got a well-equipped little 2-bedroom cottage (he called it a villa), high on a hill looking out at farmland, deep valleys and off in the distance the South Pacific Ocean. Add a full moon and the place had a lot of romance for our last night before returning to Auckland. We enjoyed a couple games of Skip-Bo before retiring for the evening.
Today we completed the journey by driving the relative short distance from Wellsford to Auckland by way of scenic highway 16 which ultimately connected back with highway 1 in the big city. Along the way we passed the Mt. Auckland walkway and wondered what kind of mountain that might be. Some other day. We found a small vegetable stand on the side of the road, enjoyed some pleasant conversation with the proprietor and bought two of his huge “free range chicken eggs” for a dollar each. That will be breakfast tomorrow morning at our motel. Seems like free range chickens are pretty desireable.
So this will conclude a marvelous adventure. We’ve wondered how to respond when people ask, as they will, “How was your trip?” It will be difficult, if not impossible, to boil it down to 25 words or less. That’s one of the purposes of this blog. If you want to longer version, look over these pages. If you want the shortened version, we could boil it down to one word we heard frequently and said with proper British accent:
|the national rugby team|