Monday, October 4, 2010

Bay of Islands: Paihia, Day One

Today was the start of my three-day adventure up to the north of the island with Stray Travel. The bus picked myself and a few other travellers up outside Base ACB at 8am this morning. I say "bus", but it's really a mini-coach that seats twenty, pulling a luggage trailer for all of our gear. We headed over the harbour bridge, then up and away from Auckland, travelling through some beautiful farm country and breathtaking mountains (well, more like very tall hills, but mountain-like). We stopped briefly in Whangarei for a bathroom break, then again in Kawakawa, "train town", which is home to a set of public toilets (yes, these are a tourist attraction, toilets!) designed by the Austrian artist and ecoarchitect Frederick Hundertwasser, and opened in 1999. They are a whimsical combination of brick from local buildings, tile from local Bay of Islands students, and bottles (for the windows) from the local area.

Lest you think Kawakawa is solely known for these toilets, they also have a steam train (apparently a 4-4-0 built by Pecketts of Bristol, England, named Gabriel) that runs through the town! The website for the Bay of Islands Valley Railway is . Sadly I did not get to see it, but I did manage to take photos of the tracks as we drove through (it looks like 3-foot narrow gauge, or perhaps narrower, which would make sense as Kawakawa was originally a coal-mining town). I have not shared my train affinity with any of my fellow travellers on the Stray bus, and I did see several of them giving me funny looks as I photographed train tracks.

The bus arrived in Paihia around 12:20pm, which gave us just under an hour until the boat boarded for our pre-booked Bay of Islands and Dolphin cruise with Dolphin Discoveries. We checked into the Pipi Patch (another Base hostel), and then I wandered down to the local convenience store for some bread and cheese (mmm, lunch of champions). The main grocery store was about 2 km away, and I didn't have the time (or desire) to try and walk there.

Dolphin Discoveries takes passengers on a four-hour cruise around the Bay of Islands, including a visit to Piercy Island (Hole in the Rock, including a trip through the hole when the water is calm enough) and a one-hour stopover at Otehei Bay. If dolphins are spotted and there are no juvenile dolphins around, for an extra $30 one can don a wetsuit and swim with the dolphins. As it turns out, the opportunity never arose; we were "one of the unlucky 5%" of boats that don't see any whales or dolphins at all! Thankfully Dolphin Discoveries has a "dolphin guarantee": since we didn't see any whales or dolphins, we were all given vouchers to come back at any time in the future and sail with them again for free. Mom and dad, when you come down in January.... :-)

As it was, there was plenty to occupy us on the tour; the topography was spectacular, and the captain, Jim, provided us with historical commentary as we passed by several of the islands. First stop of the trip after leaving Paihia was Russell, the first settlement of Europeans in New Zealand, that was endearingly dubbed the "hellhole of the Pacific" due to its catering to the desires of the sailors of the fishing and whaling ships that sought repair and maintenance in its shores - mainly in the form of taverns and houses of ill repute. (In 1835, Charles Darwin said it was full of "the refuse of society"). Now it's a chique little tourist town, and all the pubs have been turned into trendy little art galleries and cafés.

We also saw the bay (now called "Cook's Bay") where Captain James Cook first had contact with the Māori people of New Zealand in 1769 (unlike Abel Tasman in 1642, Cook's first contact was favourable). We also saw a few resort homes owned by millionaires (a mere twelve stories built into the side of a hill), and saw a regenerated forest on one of the islands (the islands were intensively farmed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the easiest way of preparing an island for farming was to get a box of matches and effectively burn all the trees down, resulting in the familiar hills and valleys of grass).

I particularly enjoyed the lighthouse on Cape Brett (where three light-keepers and their families lived, including 15 children). A supply ship brought in goods once every two weeks, and due to the steep nature of the cliffs a pulley system was used to haul goods up to the houses and lighthouse, with a Clydesdale, Toby, turning the winch by walking in a circle all day long. Captain Jim informed us that Toby, being a rather smart horse, learned to recognize the sound of the supply ship, and realizing its presence signalled a day of hard work, would bolt off into the hills the moment he heard the ship's horn, leaving it up to the fifteen children of the light-keepers to haul the supplies and work the winch and pulley!

We did not pass through the Hole in the Rock due to adverse wind and weather conditions: the swells were significant, and seeing as I chose to ride on the outer deck I got suitably soaked when spray came up and over the top of the ship! I didn't mind too much, however; the wind, salty spray, and mountainous scenery reminded me a great deal of BC.

When we docked at Otehei Bay, I opted to take the walk up the hill to see the 360º view of the surrounding area. To do so, one had to walk through the sheep pastures, being sure to shut the gates so the sheep didn't get out, and also trying not to disturb them too much, as the little lambs are with their mothers. Picture every stereotypical scene of New Zealand: the green hills, the bright blue sky, and the little white sheep dotting the horizon: yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was walking right in the middle of all that. Beautiful, and a thousand times better than Auckland could ever be for a small-town girl like me.

Back on dry land once again (although my head still thinks I am going up and down on a boat, making it interesting when I sit down and feel like things are moving), I headed back to the Pipi Patch for a bbq dinner (however, I chose the vegetarian option, and just ended up eating three potatoes instead of cooked meat), which was nice after a few dinners of noodles and sandwiches. I ran into Abby, the British girl who was in my room at Base ACB in Auckland, and she said she is going to come by later tonight and pick me up from my room here and we'll have a few drinks together at the Base bar... this could prove interesting as she is definitely way more of a free spirit than I will ever be! :-) I have to get up early tomorrow, however; we are heading up on a day trip to Cape Reinga at 7am, so I will be back here in bed by 11pm. Night!


No comments:

Post a Comment