Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Kiwi House

Kiwiana at Otorohanga

Carvings at Otorohanga

A view from our coffee stop

Arriving at Kawhia

Evening view at Kawhia

Evening at the Marae

Evening at the Marae

Historic Waka burial - markers behind the post

A view over Kawhia

Bridal Falls

POP stop at Raglan

Sylvia selects her surf board

Manu Bay - famous surf beach

Waingaro Hot Springs campsite


The first pleasure of the day, (getting up is not a pleasure), was to visit the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park. On arrival we learned the park is operated by the Otorohanga Zoological Society Incorporated which is a non profit making organisation dedicated to the conservation of native wildlife through education, display and breeding programmes. Alongside was a motorhome, caravan and camping park which was nice, and cheaper than where we had stayed. Inside reception was an offshoot room full of kiwi education material and a young school class listening in rapt attention to the instructor explaining how an adult kiwi bird will use kung fu moves to defend itself.

We walked into the dimly lit large indoor area which was split into two pens, both protected by glass from floor to ceiling, and each housed a Kiwi. Genetic research shows there are five species of Kiwi. In the first pen was a Great Spotted Kiwi which is found in the north west part of the South Island and in the second pen was a much smaller Northern Brown Kiwi, (resides in the north island),. Above them, flying right round the large room at frequent intervals was a Morepork Owl. We enjoyed wonderful views of both Kiwi before moving on to the outdoor area.

First we were faced with the challenge of peering into glass fronted cages to spot a Gecko. The park currently displays ten species of Geckos which are well camouflaged reptiles which live in trees and other vegetation, and feed on insects and nectar. Our Geckos were not appreciative of the cold morning and not very active. A staff member produced a jam jar containing grasses and shook out some hopping bugs into the first two cages. It was like a mini version of being in the Kruger Wild Animal Park in South Africa as we waited to see if we would witness ‘a kill’. No such happening for us. The bugs would be safe until the day’s atmosphere warmed up.

The path took us past large cages containing native New Zealand Falcon, Harrier Hawk, and Owls. In the pool areas were Wetland Birds and Shore Birds, and along side the path were examples of native trees. They even had an area where Tuatara were running about, (or more likely lying still inside a small log on a day like this). The Tuatara is the animal which was common all over the world 200 million years ago and written about in our Invercargill blog.

One of the last parts to visit was the most dominant structure within the park, the ‘Barry Rowe Aviary’. The walk-through dome is 59 feet high, 147 feet across and encompasses some 1,730 square yards of ground area. It is planted as a native rain forest habitat and the centre staircase took us to a platform on a par with the lower branches of the trees. Here we could observe the native birds without any barrier. Two Kiwi also live in this area but are unlikely to be seen during the daylight hours. Last of all we again entered the Kiwi house and watched the two birds roaming around there large dimly lit pens. We recommended this as a place to visit.

Before leaving Otorohanga we took photographs of carvings which honour important people in Maori history and then filled up with diesel fuel; the cost of which keeps rising.

After a lovely scenic drive north for 9 miles along SH39 and then west along SH31 for 34 miles we arrived at Kawhia, home of the great 14th Century Waka ‘Tainui’. The Waka, (canoe), arrived at Kawhia and moored under the sacred Pohutukawa tree on ground now owned by the Marae. It is buried in line pointing between two distinct distant hills, the Castle and the Pinnacle.

We set up camp on the site nearest the Marae and walked down to the boat ramp before following the shore line walk over to the main area of town. It was now 4.50pm and the town was shut, so we enjoyed our walk back before night fall.

Next morning we stayed on camp until 11am, the time when the local museum opens. Here we met a very interesting volunteer who enquired on our behalf if we could visit the Marae. We were not given a lot of hope as the ‘key holder’ demonstrates his mighty power by refusing most requests; from Maori and others alike. However, we did learn that we could walk along the sand infront of the Marae and view the sacred place where the Waka is buried between two headstones.

First we had a good look around the interesting museum before attempting to use the internet at the town café. This proved to be a failure but the homemade soup was very nice. Near by was a young woman from Portsmouth selling her husbands freshly caught fish. Now part of the family business she is firmly fixed in New Zealand and some very nice fish is now firmly placed in our freezer compartment.

At the Marae we walked along the sand and took photographs of the Waka’s burial place. This is now the second place we have been in New Zealand where one of the original waka’s landed that brought Maori to New Zealand. Each place carried a sense of history.

Prior to leaving we drove up the steep hill to the golf club where our museum lady advised we would get great views over Kawhia, and then 2 ½ miles outside town took the north unsealed Raglan Road to our next destination of Raglan. We expected 7 miles of unsealed road but after branching left at a junction which forbid travel to the right, to our amazement we came to the small hamlet of Te Papatapu. According to our map book there is no connecting road. Onwards we went along a road which was now quite rough until after 14 miles we re-joined the Raglan Road, and was able to turn south as far as the Bridal Falls.

At the top we learned that the height of the falls was 180 feet, (this translates to 320 steps down; and up). We also learned that in order to protect the threatened plants at the bottom of the falls abseiling and rock climbing are no longer permitted. So nothing for it then, it had to be the stairs. Fortunately the half way observation deck provided a good banister to drape over and regain breath on the way up.

At Raglan we stayed the night on a Park Over Property up a steep driveway where luckily the owner backed our van down the drive in the morning; so saving my blushes. This morning is the first day of winter and the weather is mild and threatening rain.

Raglan is a ‘surfers’ town and near by bays are internationally famous for their waves and attract surfers from all over the world, especially for the summer surfing competitions. After a brief walk round the very nice town centre we drove to the first of the two major beaches used by surfers and parked above. From here we watched the surfers lie in the water riding over the waves until the swells increased and the activity of surfing in towards shore on the waves began. During this time we read the Sunday paper, drank coffee and ate biscuits; eventually we had lunch. It’s a hard life.

Next we drove to the second surfer’s beach only to find surfers in the car parking area shedding their wet suits and towelling off. It had now begun to rain. We quickly walked down the steps and along to the surfing area but no surfers were left in the water. It seems that either the tides have something to do with the timing of when to surf or they don’t like getting rained upon as they might get wet.

We then decided to drive 20 miles north up SH 22 to Waingaro Hot Springs. This is a camp site with a large and small thermally heated hot pool. Also on the premises is a very long wet slide and a very long and twisting flume. As this is a Bank Holiday because tomorrow the New Zealand workers get a day off for the ‘Queens Birthday’, the camp site was very busy with many families taking advantage of the facilities.

We parked up high at the back of the camp and went for a walk round, viewing the pools and slides before finding ourselves by chance in the near by pub, where we watched the Rugby Seven a Side competition from Murryfield, Scotland. The rugby was great and the weather was glorious. This is the nearest we have been to feeling homesick.

After our evening meal, at 8.30pm we went down to the now much quieter pools and spent an hour in the smaller, hotter pool, lazing about in 39 degree centigrade thermally heated water. This hard work really takes it out of you and once again, after experiencing a hot pool before bedtime, we slept very well.

Nb. The internationally famous surfing beaches we visited at Raglan were Manu Bay, (featured in the classic 1964 film ‘The Endless Summer’), and Whale Bay.

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