Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Heading "Up North" in New Zealand

A real riding stable for the hotel!
Here in New Zealand, they go “up north” for warm weather. The northern tip of the North Island is called Northland. It is the area of vacationing, fruit orchards, farmland and more wineries. The weather stays quite nice up there even in winter, so it is somewhat like us going to Florida in the winter months to escape the Michigan cold. Here you go south to the colder temperatures and winter sports.

I never dreamed of fresh croissants in the middle of nowhere!
Other than sailing into Opua through part of the Bay of Islands, we have not really explored the northern area. The Kiwis hype the South Island so much that most tourists head down there and spend most of their time seeing the southern sites of interest. Seeing the Northland from the water is a different perspective, so we decided to take a driving trip north.

Here we go again without a real agenda and no set reservations. It is a little risky, but it is now fall here and the summer is over so we are hoping that the crowds will be light and rooms available. We will see! Several people warned us about the heavy traffic going north on the weekends (hummm – I-75 heading to Harbor Springs traffic, I am wondering). Of course, the roads are narrow two-laners on winding and mountainous terrain. So we will beat the crowds out of Auckland by leaving at 7 AM as we are already 45 minutes north of the city.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul
As we were driving north, Dennis spotted a sign for a little village off the main highway and hung a quick sharp left (that is what the handrail above my door is for!). We came upon a lovely little village – Puhoi.

It is a quaint little village with a library, hotel complete with riding stables, a general store with fresh pastries brought in from an Auckland French patisserie and a couple of other buildings. Just what we needed for a nice morning snack after leaving so early!

The tour book refers to it as “a slice of real Bohemia.” It was settled in 1863 by a group of about 200 immigrants from what is now known as the Czech Republic. Of course, there is a museum as in every little village and town: the Bohemian Museum. And there is a pretty little Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which dates from 1881.

Local carvers make beautiful Kauri bowls and objects.
Lazy Susan made from slices of Kauri wood in acrylic
Back on the main road SH1, we continued north to Warkworth and Brynderwyn where we turned west toward Dargaville on the west coast. Along the way, we found the famous Kauri Museum which was well worth a several hour stop. Inland from the beautiful west coast beaches of the Tasman Sea are the Kauri forests.

There are very few remaining stands of Kauri today. The Kauri trees are the magnificent thousand year old trees that once covered the area. They were here long before man found New Zealand.

Unfortunately, as man often does, the kauri tree forests were decimated for timber to build canoes for the natives and ships and furniture for the Europeans. Today there are several stands of Kauri trees that are protected.

There is a wonderful photo display of the Kauri era
The furniture is beautiful.
The Kauri Museum Matakohe is conveniently on the way to the Waipoua Kauri Forest. It is a wonderful museum providing everything you would want to know about the Kauri trees and forests historically and currently. There is a vast collection of period furniture built of Kauri wood and a photo display showing the logging industry at the time.

Examples of gum.
In addition to the wood, the Kauri tree gives off a gum in amazingly large chunks that were “mined” by gum diggers. The basement of the museum has a large display of gum art, jewelry and artifacts. It looks somewhat like the Russian amber we saw in Russia, although much lighter in weight.

In one wing, there are several large trunks from Kauri trees. While you cannot cut down the trees today, people are digging the old ones out of bogs where they have been somewhat preserved for hundreds of years. Artists carve both the Kauri wood and the gum in to bowls and other objects.

This tree is label with historical dates in NZ. It is old!
One of the trunks that has been in the museum for many years was cut after it was hit by lightning. The rings show significant dates in New Zealand history and the age of the tree. We will continue driving north to see the real trees and the largest and oldest ones.

The next stop was in Dargaville. This is where the road reaches the Tasman Sea and turns north again. Here we found a pleasant surprise – in addition to Dennis finding a seafood fast food joint! He needed another snack! But the best find was a Kauri woodcarver’s studio. His work is beautiful! And expensive, but then the Kauri wood is expensive because it is so rare today. Dennis is planning to go back there next year to take a workshop.

Finally we are reaching the Waipoua Kauri Forest area! It has been a long day in the car with a few interesting sightseeing breaks along the way. Now we are ready to hunt for the Kauri trees. The highway twists and turns for 20 kilometers through the forest so we are carefully watching for the signs marking the areas where you are allowed to walk into the forest. There are some marked tramping trails as well as the nice boardwalks that are the shorter hike.
There was an operating sawmill section in the museum.
Lunch along the way. The birds had made a mess on the table.
The oldest tree – over 2,000 years – is Tane Mahuta or “God of the Forest” and is considered New Zealand’s mightiest tree. It is over 6 meters wide and nearly 18 meters to the lowest branches! A photo cannot begin to capture the massiveness of this tree. And you can’t get far enough away to get it all in one shot.

There are several other significant trees in the area, but we did not visit them as the sun was beginning to set and we needed to find a place to stay for the night – remember, no reservations this time. Humm – maybe not such a good idea! Just 10 km from Tane Mahuta is another area where you hike for 30 minutes to see Te Matua Ngahere, the “Father of the Forest.” This tree is actually shorter, but fatter than Tane Mahuta making it the second largest Kauri tree in the country. We saw photos of all of the major named Kauri trees back in the Kauri Museum.
The Woodturner's Studio


Beautiful bowls.
Dennis wants to learn to make one of these.
The Kauri trees are huge and interesting.
Throughout NZ, they have build walkways into the forests
to access sites without damaging the environment.
The oldest Kauri trees have Maori names and are in areas with boardwalks for visitors so as not to damage their sensitive roots. The New Zealand government has taken major steps towards preserving what is left of the ancient Kauri forests while still allowing sightseeing in the area.

Just to try and grasp the size of this Kauri!

We also walked through Trounson Kauri Park to see the small but impressive stand of Kauri trees. This area has been turned into a “mainland island” or a reserve in order to protect the North Island Brown Kiwi and the result is an increase in their numbers. That is good. Unfortunately, Kiwis are nocturnal so unless you participate in the evening tour, you won’t see any.

Now we are off to find a place to sleep – hopefully not another trailer park!




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