Friday, April 28, 2006

Whistle stop tour of the Bay of Islands...

Up early today for another fab Stray trip to the Bay of Islands. This area, in the heart of the Northland region, is famous for its incredible coastal scenery, and its one of NZ's major attractions. I would love to have stayed here for a few days, but of course, with only 3 weeks in the country, you have to pick and choose what you can get to, so a day tour (kind of long; from 8am to 8pm!) to see the sights was all i could manage! Oh well, just means i have to come back for another trip! And as today was yet another bucketing day of chilly rain, it would be nice to see this part of the country with a little sunshine - another reason to return!

First stop, with our fabulous Stray driver, Shane (off to travel the world in a few weeks himself....) was at a park just outside of Auckland, to hug a "Kauri" tree. Actually, we gave it a "hongi" (Maori greeting with the pressing of foreheads and noses, giving life breath!) as you can see! Kauri trees are now 100% protected in New Zealand as there are very few of them left. These trees can grow up to 2,000 years old and the most famous is called Te-matua-ngahere (Father of the Forest) with a trunk over 5m in diameter, the biggest of any kauri in NZ; found in Waipoua Kauri Forest!

After briefly visiting the town of Warkworth, it was off to Goat Island for some snorkeling in the Marine reserve there! Can't believe i actually did it as the weather, although sunny, is pretty brisk to say the least right now!
Then off to Whangarei, to see a real live Kiwi bird! Ok, so its almost impossible to see these in the wild (who knew? think its like the Haggis in Scotland teehee!) so we visited a Kiwi reserve and chatted with our animated host about the habitat and wildlife patterns of the kiwi bird. Did you know they are nocturnal, mate for life, very territorial of their habitat, and the couples separate each night to defend their area... see, I am a fund of information!!

We arrived in Pahia around lunch time! Pai means good and Hia is for here so you can imagine that this is a good place to be! The weather had completely changed (another norm for NZ; it changes all the time!) and we had stunning blue skies and blinding sunshine that twinkled on the water in the harbour! ... Pahia is the base for the Bay of Islands area, as well as being right next to Waitangi, (were you paying attention in my last posting about the founding document tut tut!)....where on Feb 6th, 1840 the famous signing of the treaty between the Maori people and Queen Victoria's govt. took place... Anyway, there are tons of water sports to do here.... lovely wee place!

Headed back to Auckland with Shane, Julia (my new found friend from Finland)and a guy called Steve from England. Had a great chat; talked about pretty much everything under the sun, from politics, history of New Zealand and the Maori culture, the fact dairy farming has now overtaken sheep farming as the number 1 export (NZ milk is the cheapest in the world apparantly and every one believes the NZ ethos - "clean and green"!), religion and a bunch of other daft things....

On the way back, we had a wee pit stop in Kawakawa, an ordinary little town, just south of Pahia, with a very extraordinary public toilet. Designed by Austrian born artist and eco-architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who lived near the town in an isolated house without electricity from 1973 until his death in 2000, the toilets boast wavy lines, funky tiles and lots of brightly coloured bottles .. weird but pretty cool!

Decided to hit the hot spots of Auckland so Shane took me to meet some of the other Stray drivers at the Globe bar, Lenin's and a wierd country and western bar where everyone wore cowboy hats....but the music was Wham and other fab 80's hits -- so, yup, I was in my element! Another great day in NZ...


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