Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Leaving Paihia

A view in the bay

Motukokaka Island - the Hole in the Rock

A failed attempt to drive through

Leaving Motukokaka Island

A nice fit

Bream Head Lighthouse

The lighthouse and DOC house for walkers of the track

Idyllic (murder) island - see blog

The jet boat for a wet ride

The Stone Store at Kerikeri

Inside the Stone Store

The Kerikeri Mission Station

Kerikeri Inlet

The bridge over the Kerikeri River (to be removed)

Spies at Opiti Bay


Prior to leaving Russell 4 days ago we realised the Auckland American Embassy’s phone could not be accessed by our mobile phone. We then tried to contact the embassy using a public phone box to no avail. Today we used Rosemary’s home phone and we made contact. The result was an appointment at 10.30am on Thursday 31 July.

With an upturn in the weather and the benefit of Rosemary’s advice we drove south to Paihia for the boat trip around the Bay of Islands and The Hole in the Rock. The advertisement leaflets all promote the opportunity for Dolphins, Whales, birds and other wildlife viewing; some trips offer the chance to pay an extra fee and the chance to swim with the dolphins. This is probably a summer activity as today there was a lack of people asking about this option.

Our boat was the only trip on the bay this afternoon, (other than the quick journey Jetboat), and therefore no other boats were available for co-operation in the search for dolphins; and none were found, nor are we likely to see a whale at this time of year. It is a big bay and we have seen dolphins before in New Zealand so we were not disappointed. Normally the boat collects further clients at Russell but there are none today so we were taken on a wider longer journey around the north part of the bay past mainland cliffs and beaches and by a many of the islands.

Some of the islands have houses on them, usually posh ones, and private helicopter is often the mode of transport. We cruised slowly whilst viewing and learned that although some of the islands are private, the beaches are available to the public during daylight. After passing by Cape Brett Lighthouse the water became much choppier as we sailed to Motukokaka Island, (height 478 feet above sea level), the home of the Hole in the Rock. No one was allowed to move about the boat. Captain Cook named it Piercy Island and though he probably sailed round it, there is no record of him sailing the hole of it.

The inside of the ‘hole’ is known as Cathedral Cave. To reach it our boat had to pass by rocks at the edge of the hole and thread its way inside the opening. Unfortunately the swell of water was too dangerous for us to pass through the hole. Our boats captain was a female Maori who seemed to be very skilful. She apologised for the failure and explained that 70% of the time it is possible to sail through the hole. We backed away and taken round the side of the island, and the boat was backed into Cathedral Cave. The fault line in the ceiling of the cave which caused this unique feature was clearly visible.

As we journeyed back we were taken past more islands and told stories about them. On one island a Maori had killed his work mate and when told by his employers the police would have to be told and he would be punished, he killed them as well. This man was the first Maori to be hanged in New Zealand; and it looked such a nice place too. On the way back we visited Russell and then back to Paihia. The sail was almost three hours duration and had seemed to pass quickly. No doubt people sailing in summer will see more wild life and will also share the boat with a lot more people; we enjoyed our sail.

The park over property north of Paihia where we stayed four nights ago was the chosen destination for tonight.

We awoke to constant rain and took a leisurely breakfast and repose in the hope the rain would cease. Usually the rain falls in showers and very rarely have I had to wind up my 65 feet of electric power cable whilst getting wet. Today I have the water hose connected also and I was not too pleased when admitting the rain seemed to be in for the day. I had run out of excuses and had to get wet whilst preparing to leave.

With dampened spirit, (well coat anyway), we were on our way north to Kerikeri, the nearest sizeable town south of Whangaroa and Ota Point, the home of Rosemary. At Kerikeri we sought out the ‘Stone Store’. This is the oldest stone building in New Zealand. It is a remnant of a Church Missionary settlement that was founded in 1819. One of the first buildings to be erected was a wooden storehouse that doubled as accommodation. The Stone Store replaced the original Storehouse and was built between 1832 and 1836; Scots carpenter Ben Nesbit did the timberwork.

The Stone Store currently houses lots of old fashioned goods and there are many written aids to help understand the ways of yesteryear. Although the displays upstairs were under reconstruction there was ample to engage us on the ground floor. Very close by was Kemp House built in 1822, the oldest wooden building in New Zealand. This also was a very interesting place to visit.

Outside the buildings barriers had been placed to stop vehicles driving across the river bridge which is going to be removed and replaced by a footbridge. Twice over the last 20 years the Kerikeri River has been in flood and trees swept down the river towards the Kerikeri Inlet have caught against the bridge causing damming. This has resulted in flooding of both historic buildings so the bridge has to go. Across the other side of the bridge is Rewa’s Village. This is a copy of a Maori fishing village and is built of native materials as used before the coming of the missionaries.

We were ready for lunch and there was a nice licensed restaurant near by. After a quick dash through the rain we enjoyed a bar lunch. Before returning to our van we visited the near by lovely little St James Anglican Church, built in 1878, whose Mission Statement is ‘To proclaim the love of God and so nurture, love and care for all people’. What a nice sentiment. The first chapel, dedicated 19th April 1824 stood at the foot of the hill near the Stone Store. A notice inside the church informs, “You are visiting the birthplace of Christianity in New Zealand”.

Next we visited the town centre and both sought out hairdressers before driving round to the other side of the river in search of Rewa’s Village. Although the new car park seemed to be ready, a barrier prevented access and we had to turn round and leave. Never mind, we had seen reconstructed Maori village huts at Te Puia, Rotorua.

The last expected visit of the day was to be to the near by Aroha Island, but we could not find it. After driving round a housing estate, twice, at the end of a small peninsular we went in search of Opito Bay. I turned off too soon and we visited Dove Bay, or rather we drove along side a long row of houses still half way up a cliff and had to turn around at the end of the road and go back. After finally reaching Opito Bay and taking some photographs, we tried again for Aroha Island and this time found the way to it.

Aroha Island is protected by an Open Space Covenant under the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust. It is connected to the mainland by a causeway across the tidal mangroves, built in 1964 by the then owner. On the island are middens, (ancient Maori rubbish heaps), stone heaps and a burial ground dated from 1850. The island also has rare flora and fauna and bird life which includes two pair of Kiwi. The Trust that was entrusted to care for the island wanted it to be an important place for public use. The concept of an Ecological Centre, with an emphasis on kiwi restoration, was promulgated and agreed on.

We arrived at 4.45pm, just before Jill, the volunteer in charge was about to leave. Jill could not have been more helpful. We were introduced to 80 year old Dave, the volunteer groundsman, shown to a tarmac spot, (away from soggy grass), where we could get power, and loaned two red torches for shining on unsuspecting Kiwi’s. Jill then took us to view an ancient grave, down to the beach, and round the island on a 20 minute walk. Whilst explaining where we might be lucky enough to find a Kiwi, she pointed out a low hanging branch on a Carob Tree. Once back at the van night was falling so we put on extra warm clothes and set off on a slow silent walk around the island.

The rain that had stopped two hours ago began again. We took great care on the slippy path, aided by our two small dim red torches, listening for the sound of a foraging Kiwi. I did not hear one but one might have heard me when I ended up on my posterior in the bushes by the side of the path. On we went along our dark path until I was able to tell Sylvia I knew exactly where we were. This knowledge came to me in a flash of light when my head found the Carob Tree. (Sylvia is wee enough to walk underneath without knowing it was their). Eventually we completed the circuit and got a more powerful torch from our van to light the way, saving the small red ones for the Kiwi.

During our second circuit the rain became heavier and hiding under the trees was not as effective as before. I felt a bit of a drip, in fact quite a lot of them, so we speeded up and returned to the van for a late evening meal. What an exciting life we lead.

Once cosy in our van we decided the Kiwi’s could be left to their own nocturnal devices; tonight will not be the night we add more wild Kiwi to our viewing tally.

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