February 25, 2010
We got picked up at the hostel this morning by the car hire company and headed out to their office to get the car and get on the road. We’d gone for the budget option which means we have an old Toyota Corolla with 250,000km on the clock!
First of all, we headed to Mount Eden, the one thing in the city we wanted to do but hadn’t got round to before. With the car, it made it easy to get there and it was on the way to the motorway so was a quick, easy stop. When we got to the top there was a tour bus there but thankfully everyone was still sat inside it. This was good for us as we had some great views without hundreds of people in it! The crater at Eden is really deep and you aren’t allowed to walk down into it but the view down it is enough to get a good perspective of the size of the volcano. It also provided some great views over the city from a different angle and I was able to see the stadium at Eden Park which is being re-developed for the rugby world cup in 2011.
From there we hit the highway before branching off and taking the more scenic route. We were heading north to Paihia but rather than head straight there I had decided to detour via Whangerei on the way for a walk around and some lunch. Elizabeth found out about a little cultural area in the town and we parked up there and had a wander, checking out the cool wooden poles called “pou” (like totem poles) which are traditional Maori. The designs were really interesting.
We then had a walk through the main street and got a couple more books and stopped at Bob for lunch. I know Bob sounds like a person but it was actually a cool little café where you could pick your own sandwich ingredients including which bread, meat, cheese, veggies and dressings you wanted – and all for $7 (under US$5).
Suitable fueled and ready to go, we continued north. Our next stop was at the Whangerei waterfall which was really picturesque and we spent a bit of time walking around the area, heading down the path to the bottom of the falls to get some pictures. At the top of the falls a number of kids were using a rope swing to jump into the water – it looked really inviting and we both wished we’d had our swimming gear on.
I had noticed a route to Paihia which went around the coast rather than cut cross country so I put that into the GPS and off we went, ignoring the warning about unsealed roads! We wound through some amazing hills and scenery. It is impossible to describe how stunning the views were, especially once the clouds closed in and the mist and fog covered the hilltops. At a junction about halfway along the road we had a choice of the main road or the gravel road. I chose the gravel! The road was pretty much one lane and was even more windy than anything before. I don’t think I was able to go much over 30km/h due to the gravel, the bends and the thought of something coming the other way around one of them! It was so loud and bumpy but good fun and I was amazed Elizabeth managed to doze off while I buffeted along the road!
As we neared the end, the lakes and swampy areas around the road were right up to the gravel section and I was pleased to finally reach the main road again. Here still the water levels either side were quite high but provided just great views.
To get to Paihia we had to take the ferry across the bay from Russell which was quick and easy. Once in little Paihia, we got some amazing sea views and were soon at our hostel and checked in. We also arranged a tour for tomorrow. The area is called the Bay of Islands so fittingly we are taking a boat trip out into the bay and hopefully get a chance to see and swim with some dolphins.
After a trip to the local farmer’s market and the supermarket for food for the next few days, we headed back to the hostel to get our stuff ready for tomorrow. For dinner I cooked chilli using some New Zealand lamb, a couple of capsicums, onions and some Thai eggplant we got at the farmer’s market. I had wanted chilli for a while and this was certainly what I needed and a much needed break from pasta!
February 26, 2010
Today we did a boat tour of the Bay of Islands. There were two things we wanted to do on the boat tour. The first was to visit the Hole in the Rock and the second was to hopefully find and swim with some dolphins.
Our tour set off from Paihia wharf in the morning and we toured a number of sights in the bay. (Get ready for some long place names!)
Our first stop was another little town called Russell. This was actually nearby where we had caught our ferry yesterday to get across to Paihia. The town looked even quieter than ours so we were glad we’d decided to stay the side of the bay we were! Our first real port of call was an island call Motuarohia which was the island James Cook anchored the Endeavour when he first came to New Zealand. Next up was Moturua. At one point on this island we were shown an old naval base which at one point during WWII was protected by a line of underwater mines which ran right across the bay to another island called Moturoa. Of course, the fighting never came this far and the mines were completely pointless.
From there we sailed in between Moturua and Motukiekie islands. Motukiekie is completely privately owned having been offered to the government previously for $800,000. The government decided to not take up this option and it ended up being sold for first $2m and then a few weeks later for $6m. Seems it isn’t just the UK government that makes crap investment decisions!
We headed across the more open water then towards Bird Rock, passing between two more islands on the way – Okahu and Waewaetorea, two government owned reserves. By this point we had still not seen any dolphins, or much wildlife at all in fact. At Bird Rock we saw a huge number of nesting birds and right at the peak we saw the yellow-headed gannets. The captain told us the rock was quite smelly so we were grateful he stayed downwind of it!
The next stop was Motukokako, or more commonly called the Hole in the Rock. Here the rock forms a huge archway big enough to get a boat through. But before we put our boat through it, we entered a huge cave called the Cathedral. This cave was barely bigger than the boat and it took a lot of skill for the captain to take us so far in. The views inside the cave were amazing and the weathered rock provided a great backdrop inside. There was quite a swell out in the open water but our captain still took our boat through the Hole. It seemed much wider than the Cathedral he’d just gone into but it still took a great effort to keep it straight enough to get through. Our boat was much bigger than any of the others we’d seen out all day, too.
Around this area of the water were some huge schools of fish which were breaking the surface. We saw large schools of trevally and blue maomao fish. The captain decided at this point that we could have a snorkel if we wanted to. Most people didn’t but Elizabeth and I thought we should. Unfortunately, rather than drop us into the huge schools he zoomed off around the bay and dropped us into a fairly serene area with little fish life. That was a bit disappointing given how many fish there were around in the more open areas. The water was really cold but it was good to get a swim around anyway.
Next we went to Deepwater Cove where the wreck of the HMNZS Canterbury is. The wind had picked up by now and the swell meant we were unable to see the wreck from the surface. It made me want to jump in and dive it!
Our next stop was for lunch and we went ashore at Otehei Bay on the island of Urupukapuka. The island was lovely and picturesque and a nice stop to laze around for an hour and eat our home made lunches.
Continuing on our search for the dolphins we headed right across the bay to a solitary rock called Nine Pin before doubling back to a group of rocks called the Black Rocks, so called because of the volcanic rock which makes up these pinnacles. We had circled just about the entire bay and had found not a single dolphin as yet and we were getting a bit frustrated.
We entered Rangihoua Bay where the captain was telling us about Marsden Cross, the sight of the first Christian sermon in NZ when three dolphins were spotted right at the front of the boat swimming towards us!
The guides on the boat spotted one was a juvenile but was fairly independent so it meant we were going swimming. We got kitted up, along with about 15 other people and jumped in. The water wasn’t very clear but you could still see the amazing creatures up close and personal as they swam through the water, often clearing the surface to do jumps and tricks. It was just brilliant to see and just a shame so many people were in the water. Even after we were made to get out, the dolphins carried on swimming around our boat and when we started to leave the bay they still followed us, meaning we had to slow down and try to leave them where they were! As we left quickly, they carried on jumping over the wake and one even leaped out of the water so high it went level with the top of another boat back in the bay. Absolutely wonderful.
From there we headed back to Paihia. It was late in the day and we had caught the dolphins at about our last chance to do so! The onboard photographer had got some pictures and I had to buy a copy – it’s not every day you swim with dolphins in the wild!
Back at the hostel we chilled out and ate our leftover chilli. Given the great conditions today and the prospect of some great fish, we decided to go diving tomorrow. It is a bit of a hit on our budget but I think we’re now going to cut back elsewhere. I hate budgeting!
February 27, 2010
So, after a day on the water yesterday we had another early start and this time we were going diving. We were picked up at 7.30 by our dive company, Dive North, and headed to their little shop to get kitted out.
We had about a 1 hour drive to the drop in point for our boat so we got some time to watch the gorgeous scenery further north of Paihia. We were going to be diving the Rainbow Warrior wreck.
The owner of the dive company, Ty, gave us the history behind the vessel which rain like a true life James Bond novel. In 1985, the boat was owned by Greenpeace and was docked in the Auckland harbour before a planned trip to Moruroa Atoll near Tahiti to protest against French nuclear testing there. Several members of the crew were having a party one night when two bombs planted by the French Secret Service were detonated and one man, the photographer, lost his life. The New Zealand authorities tried and found two agents guilty, charging them with a 10 year sentence each of which they served only two in NZ. After an agreement with the French, the convicted were to spend the rest of their sentence living supposedly at the French Army Base in French Polynesia. The agents were returned to France after serving only a couple more years, one returned due to supposed ill health and the other due to her falling pregnant after her husband was granted permission to live with her on the islands! Back in France they were both subsequently promoted. It was later revealed that French President Mitterand had personally authorized the bombing. What a nice payback to New Zealand who defended the French in both world wars. I guess it is a perfect example of their fickle nature and how they cannot be trusted.
The wreck was moved to the current site in the Cavalli Islands in 1987.
The water temperature was only about 21C so when we jumped in it felt pretty cold, especially compared to the 30C we had in Samoa. We descended the line at the front of the boat but as we hit the bottom I could tell Elizabeth wasn’t very comfortable and she was rubbing her arms to try and warm up. She decided she could not continue and so one of the guides, Rich, took her back to the surface while I followed the other guide, Andrew, along with the other two divers, Bev from Reading and Tamika from Australia. The wreck was pretty cool and there were a number of different holes you could peer into and get an idea of the size of the ship. Inside, there were loads of schools of tiny fish, mostly big eye fish, and the coral on the outside of the hull was really brightly coloured. On top, on the deck, the kelp had grown quite thick but fighting through it you found a number of different fish including some well camouflaged scorpion fish. I also saw some large fish like trevally, king fish and snapper, too. Andrew managed to catch a bright pink nudi-branch which was floating around in the water which was really cool to see so close up.
We were able to swim through one of the lounges and into a bit of the engine room and this was pretty cool.
After a lunch stop at a nearby beach, we headed back to the wreck and dived again. Elizabeth had been persuaded to try again but once at the bottom she was too cold. I offered to go back up with her but the guide told me to stay down and he took her back to the boat. The second dive was pretty similar although I took a chance to look into more holes around the ship and saw a number of small eels swimming around. Tamika was swimming with me and had a major inability to keep still and was constantly hitting me, not using her legs to move around but her arms instead which made her look really stupid in the water – you have huge fins on to propel you, why use your small hands?! It seemed everywhere I stopped to look into a hole she was slapping me in the face trying to look in the same one. Annoying.
As it was so cold, I used my air fairly quickly and we all surfaced after about 35mins on both dives. I was worried about Elizabeth and was glad to get back on board and see she was wrapped up warm and being well looked after by Ty.
We headed back in, having had two pretty good dives. I felt bad for Elizabeth as although the wreck wasn’t my favourite dive ever, it was still pretty cool to see it and I wish she’d been able to share the experience with me. I love being able to share such a cool hobby with her as it gives us so much to talk about and enjoy together and it is such a shame when one of us misses out or has a bad dive.
Back at the hostel I collapsed, sleeping for a good couple of hours before showering and doing some of my travel journal. For dinner we made the most of our remaining food, with Elizabeth making me a lovely grilled ham and cheese sandwich to go with our leftover carrots and dip from yesterday!
Tomorrow we head back south again but it had been another great stop here. Auckland was fun but driving around was much more picturesque and scenic. The drive here was fun, the scenery was great, the dolphins were absolutely amazing and the diving was good too. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the same but so far, so great!