We're glad we made it to Waitangi and saved our ‘Maori cultural experience’ until the end. This post rounds off our New Zealand trip with our visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a drive down the Western Northland coast (I liked writing that compass phrase, not sure why) and then a few days in Auckland with a much hoped for old reunion, our first real backpacker experience and hey presto we are in Auckland Airport with a ticket to Singapore.
A Treat at the Treaty House
From our toilet experience
it was only a short drive up to the Bay of Islands through Paihia to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
The treaty grounds were gifted to the Maori in the early 20th Century by a kind benefactor, Lord Bledisloe. Since then it has been developed into a cultural and commercial centre with its own golf course, Copthorne Hotel and of course the historic Treaty House and associated Maori sights.
The large Te Whare Runanga, unique in that it is shared by all Maori tribes, and carvings inside depict ancestors from many tribes across new Zealand, a bit like photograph or story does. It was completed just in time for the Centenary celebrations in 1940, as was the huge ceremonial Waka (canoe).
All this information was gained from the Maori guide who took John and I on our personal tour of the grounds. Admittedly most of what she told us could have been gleaned from the guide book, but we had the benefit of asking her questions about Maori culture and life and was well worth the additional charge. Entry to the grounds is NZD $25 with the guided tour adding an extra NZD $18. We learned that one view of the relationship with the Maori and the Crown State is that of a married couple who want to separate but can't get divorced until all the legal niceties have been settled!
We also added the cultural experience show and as we were in post Waitangi Day celebrations it was quiet, The audience therefore consisted of John and I and two other nervous travellers, as we learned on entry there would be audience participation. Given there were four of us, it was inevitable we would be involved and sure enough I was, John 'elected' not to do so he could capture the embarrassment of me trying to do the Haka in digital high definition.
The Journey South
We headed West first, but there was little on the journey to hold our attention until we approached Hokianga Harbour and stopped for lunch at Opononi and admired the giant sand dunes on the bay opposite. You can if you have time take a ferry from here and go sand surfing which sounded like fun, but we had an appointment with a giant 2000 year old tree called Tane Mahuta.
From Opononi you soon find yourself climbing into the Waipoua forest which is an impressive drive through some very tall lush forests. You catch glimpses of some impressive trees along the route until you stop off at the DOC guided trail to the biggest of them all. Kauri is one of the most ancient trees in the world and Tane Mahuta or “Lord of the forest” stands at 51 metres tall and is estimated to be over 2000 years old. As such it qualifies as one of the largest living trees in the world. The size of these beasts got the eyes of the logging trade dewy in the late 19 th early 20th
centuries and over three quarters of the stock was felled between 1800 and 1900. Thankfully controls are now in place to protect these giants.
From here we continued on to what was to be our camping stop for the evening at Dargaville, an old logging port which also lays claim to the sweet potato, capital of New Zealand. The kūmara
may be sweet but their campsites are not, we decided to motor on and stayed instead at Matakohe. This was a much better site and provided us with a beautiful blood red sunset to complete the day.
From here we headed back to Auckland in search of a campsite with decent internet as we had some booking and planning to do before we dropped off Bertha early the next morning. We celebrated Bertha's last night with some tasty barbecued lamb chops and local veg and some more of our favourite New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Auckland and Annes Visit
Our final two days in Auckland came with a very pleasant surprise. Someone John and I had worked with years ago had moved to New Zealand about ten years ago and we had not seen her since then. We'd tried to make contact but were convinced she'd moved to Wellington and we had therefore missed our chance. As we arrived in Auckland and
suffered into the Base Backpackers Anne made contact and said that she lived just south of Auckland. We were delighted.
The next day we were treated to a home cooked meal, some wonderful company, an introduction to her delightful husband and daughter and it was a real treat after being on the road for two months. The food and insights into kiwi life were amazing, as well as reminiscing about all working together at the same university, big thanks Anne.
Our final day in Auckland and we managed to pack in a few of the main sights and short trip out to Devenport by Ferry to sample what was promised the best 360 degree view of Auckland and two volcanoes. While the volcanoes were a little disappointing - two hillocks that had blown their last puff years ago, the views were as promised and the guide was entertaining showing off this very leafy and expensive susburb of Auckland, which is very charming. The volcanoes turned out to be Mount Victoria and North Heads have a moderatly interesting history as Harbour protection military sites.
Our choice of the Base Backpackers was purely on cost and the promise of an in room TV and Safe. While the cost was as advertised by Hotels.com, the safe and TV weren't. John is currently in lengthy correspondence with their 'customer service' department about this.
The place was wild, even by our standards!! The lifts had a mind of their own with wires hanging everywhere. Parties were in full flow each evening with offers of various 'themed' shenanigans. In the end it was a bit of a laugh and the location was fantastic in the heart of the CBD on Queen street. We put this down to one of those experiences you have while travelling. One that we shall not be repeating though.
Fond Farewell New Zealand
We covered over 5,500Km driving both islands in our campervan, not to mention what we did walking and tramping. So farewell New Zealand, thanks for the stunning scenery, wildlife, great food and wine. We'll hopefully return one day on our travels to sample more.