Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pt 7 - Cape Reinga with Salt Air; Dinner at the Duke in beautiful Russell.

Friday 19 November – Cape Reinga with Salt Air, dinner in Russell at the Duke

It’s an early pick up with Salt Air for our fly/drive tour to Cape Reinga (pronounced ray-anga by our guides). The bus arrives promptly at 8 am and we are greeted with a question as to whether we have brought jackets. You bet. We clamber aboard the small bus which is already quite full with international travelers.
We retrace our steps of yesterday and head out through Hururu Falls to Kerikeri Airport.

We assemble in the terminal building and a pilot comes in and says that there is no question the flying today will be bumpy due to the wind and prevailing conditions. One gentleman is quite concerned and announces he is prone to air sickness. The likely effect of the weather is discussed in some detail and everyone is given the opportunity to pull out. They can be taken back to town no worries if they would prefer. The air sick man and his wife choose that option. Hubby is looking concerned but decides to give it a go. He’s been quite keen to see the Cape.

As promised it is a bit bumpy on take off, quite a few of those “falling in the lift” sensations. Doesn’t take long for hubby to start looking decidedly uncomfortable, however he hangs in there. The scenery is so different from the air. All around Kerikeri is orchard country. Hedges hedges everywhere it’s beautiful.

It’s not long before we are flying over water and if memory serves our first water was the western edge of Whangaroa harbour. Everything about Salt Air is slick and professional. Their assets are pretty new, we fly in a Cessna Caravan. Their marketing is pretty good too. Take this for example.. they’ve even thought to put their web address on the wing struts of the plane so it is in people’s photos when they show friends and family… same on the nose of the plane. When we landed at the end of the day some people wanted a photo with the plane…where did they choose to stand… right next to another web address! Smooth.

We are entertained by an interesting commentary as we travel over areas of farmland and forestry. I have a few questions and there is no hesitation in providing knowledgeable answers. I didn’t realize it can be so hot and dry in the far north and bushfires are common here, as they are at home. Arson common too, as it is now at home. Here in Northland the fire can get into buried trees under the ground and burn for weeks with a risk of reigniting. We watch some smoke as it drifts across the landscape in the distance.

We pass over the western edges of Doubtless Bay and Rangaunu Harbour to have a look at Ninety Mile Beach… which is only 64 miles in fact…. Commentary jokingly tells us that “there’s a ninety mile beach in Aussie, so we figured we’d have one too”. “Never mind” says I “ours probably isn’t ninety miles long either” “nah” says our guide “but it’s pretty close I believe. Closer than ours”. The joking aside we get the real story about how the beach came by the name and a history of landholdings up this way and the massive forestry plantation that runs pretty much the whole length of the beach. We chat about driving up the beach and the snapper classic. It’s all very engaging and good fun.

The Te Paki Sand Dunes come into view. We visit them later.

Then our pilot asks us to keep a look out for a nice flat paddock where we can land… ah that kiwi humour.. it’s never far away! As there have been no suggestions from the passengers we are informed that we might just land down here on the grass. Our runway is in a leased paddock from the owner of the northernmost privately owned land. Our pretty much brand new Salt Air bus is waiting there for us after a beautiful smooth landing. Hubby heaves a sight of relief to be back on solid ground.
The farmland is pretty dry, reflecting a drought that’s been on up here. A bit of rain a few weeks back greened things up a bit, but more rain is needed.

It’s very cool and windy. This is apparently an improvement on yesterday when the tours had to be cancelled. The tail of cyclone Rene has been giving Northland a bit of a minor lashing.. but it’s always windy up this way apparently.

Our first destination in the bus is to Cape Reinga lighthouse. The road on the way in is partially un-sealed but this last section of gravel is actively under construction for sealing then you will be able to get all the way to the lighthouse area on sealed roads. We pass an area with a lot of dead Manuka (tea tree) bush skeletons. This was apparently some poor sod who slid off the road and the heat from the exhaust pipe ignited a bush fire. Took better part of a week to put it out with several planes and ground crews. The bill was sent to the bloke who ran off the road… bad news for the guy, the bill was about $700,000 and he was in a rental car, so not supposed to be on the road… no insurance cover… ouch! I don’t like to give commentary away too much on tours, but this one is a cautionary tale all visitors to New Zealand should pay heed to!

The Cape is Magnificent. Yep capital M Magnificent. A visit up here is definitely a MUST DO Northland activity. It’s windy as. We enter the walkway through a tunnel either side of which is ornamented with a mural that includes a reproduction of a map drawn by Tuki Tahua of his country in 1793. Tuki’s map shows the path the spirits of the dead travel as they depart this world. Cool.

It’s quite a long walk down and around the ridge out to the lighthouse. A hat that keeps the wind out of your ears would be a good thing to have with you. The area seems to have been only recently redeveloped. There are interesting interpretive boards all along the way. Our guide takes us down a little way to make sure we don’t miss the critical points then we are given about half an hour to wander about down to the lighthouse. It would have been good to have a little longer. This is a spot where you could sit and contemplate for longer than we are able to indulge.

About half way down the path is the viewing place for the “kahika”. An ancient pohutukawa that grows alone on the point of departure for the spirits. There is of course more information provided about this significant place and the nearby springs… but I will leave my commentary at that. I don’t want to deprive people of the pleasure of discovering this brilliant place for themselves when they come here. Don’t skip it if you’re coming to Northland.

Down from the lighthouse the two oceans, which Maori regard as male and female meet. The whirlpools where the two oceans come together are like the wake of the waka and represent the coming together of male and female and the creation of life.

I watch as two massive waves head straight for eachother and smash together. Unreal. Before coming I did wonder if the division between the two oceans would really be visible. They are. This is way better than I could have imagined.
Reluctantly heading back up the hill, a New Zealand Pipit is scurrying around the grassed area on the edge of the cliffs. Sweet… the glare on my camera back is so extreme I cannot get a photo of him.. where is daughter to show me how to adjust the screen lighting….

Looking south from the path you can see the sand dunes. Visibility is not that great. The haze is caused by the sand blown around in the wind. If you look closely you can see the clouds of sand drifting in some places. Geez that would get old quickly for people living around here. The north of Northland is just a huge sand spit joining what was one a series of completely separate volcanic islands.

As we return to the bus, I am guilty of delaying the group as I buy a flax plant to contribute to the revegetation of the area. My flax plant will be in the garden bed in the parking area, so please be careful of the gardens when you get out of your vehicle!

There are other walks around the lighthouse precinct and information for visitors on the area and what’s around. Yes, I could cheerfully spend a lot longer here… in the right clothing..

Next stop is down to the beach at Taputaputa Bay. Another magnificent spot. The dune grasses are healthy. Cute little grass with fluffy “pussy willow’ type seed heads dance in the wind. The waves coming in sets crash with massive plume blown back by the wind. I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful seascape. Fantastic. I sit and photograph and video. Just sit and watch mesmerized by a spectacle of nature man could never hope to improve on.

I drag myself away briefly when morning tea is served. Nothing substantial, just a couple of teeny teeny little muffins per person so have a decent brekkie before the trip!

A flock of brown quail are wandering about the road and toilet blocks as we drive away.

More interesting commentary about life in the Far North as we travel to the Te Paki sand dunes for a spot of dune surfing. These dunes extend for 3 kms by 4kms and the highest of them is 150 metres. The dunes move to the east about 2 cm per year.

We are all handed little plastic sleds and scurry up the side of the dune, then walk quite a way over to the spot where you slide down. The sand is blowing in the wind a bit, but it’s not overly bothersome for the short time we are there. Hubby goes down before me and makes a hash of it. I slide down OK but muck up the very end and land with my bum in the shallow water….yuck… Hubby heads up for another go, but once is enough for me… I manage to get a bit of a video of him sliding down this time though the glare on the camera back is bothersome.

Time to go before the bus sinks into the slow quicksand..apparently the bus would be gone in about 4 or 5 hours to emerge about 8 years later out on ninety mile beach! It’s back to the airstrip for our (longer) return flight down the eastern coast to the Bay of Islands and around to Kerikeri airport once more.

Our flight commences over more of Northlands profusion of intricate bays and estuaries then we come to the shining white sands of a spit… name escapes me and it isn’t shown on the maps I’ve got…anyway it’s extremely pure silica. The used to mine it for making high quality glass, but that had to stop when it was changing the entrance to the bay too much… how refreshing to hear of something being stopped in favour of preserving the natural environment!!!

We follow the beautiful shining white sand beaches, which are inaccessible to all but a very few people who can access from nearby farmland, or by boat, as they run down the coast until suddenly they end. The next bay has sand of a completely different colour and although they are close together the ocean currents and so on keep both sands quite separate. I have heard of a few beaches that claim to have the whitest sand in the world... I reckon this beach in Northland would have to be a contender if it has the purest silica.


Our path winds back and forth across the beaches to make sure both sides of the plane have good views over the spectacle below. We explore down the coast, over the Cavelli (?) islands and the site where the rainbow warrior was sunk as a dive wreck.

All the way we are treated to interesting bits of information about the scene below. Finally we reach the Bay of Islands and have a good look at what must be hundreds of little secluded sandy bays, private islands and resorts, Russell, Paihia. The Kingfisher Bay resort used to be an army facility in WW2…. Was it the Bay of Islands that was the fall back harbour for the pacific fleet if Australia fell to the Japanese??

As we pass over over a couple of cute little islands it is noted that these two are unusual as they are basalt and the diving around them is consequently wonderful. In the ocean as on land apparently, a basalt base means great fertility. We fly right over the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.. and then we’re heading once more across an intensive area of orchards to Kerikeri taking note of the expanses of kiwi fruit orchards.

Back on the ground there’s a rush of people to the amenities. We chat with the salt air guys and then its back on the bus for return to our accommodation or town whichever we like. Hubby is relieved to be out of the plane, but has no hesitation in saying the trip was well worth the nausea he’s suffered. We’ve had 50 odd mins in the air on the return and 30 mins on the way north. 2 ½ hrs of bus touring around the far north. The trip is excellent value. Really excellent value. The company motto is: Northland: Best seen from above. IT IS. It really is.

Back at Sea Spray we laze around for a brief while before heading off to 35% South for lunch. Hubby has been eyeing off this restaurant since we first arrived. I’m a bit dubious about it. I find it unsettling when somewhere has such a stable menu they can print it on a banner to hang outside their entrance… however hubby is entitled to follow his whims too, so in we go and find ourselves a seat. It’s a fabulous position and the day is now bright and blue and sunny. I go for the Monteiths beer battered fish with kerikeri tartare and hubby the chowder. Both are very nice and we have a very enjoyable light meal. Then we’re off home for a nap.
It’s all very quiet, though I wake with a bit of a headache.. maybe too much sun.. too much wind for my hat…We try contacting Gannets at Russell to make a reservation for dinner. No joy they are not answering. We’re both sluggish but eventually, just before 7:30 we drag ourselves from our cave and venture out to find dinner. We decide, what the heck, lets go over to Russell. If Gannets doesn’t come off we’ll go to the Duke of Marlborough.
It’s a pleasant drive. Fun on the vehicular ferry and soon we are pulling up in Russell. Gannets is closed for the weekend. Never mind. We head around to the Duke. The sun is making a show through the clouds. The duke is a lovely edifice. The table service area is fully booked, but never mind we can sit anywhere else.. so we order our meals at the bar and head outside to the open area. It’s quite windy but it’s protected here against the building. It’s a totally gorgeous place Russell. We’re glad we made the effort this evening. We laze at our table, hubby with his Speights Distincition Premium lager which they have on tap. He reports this beer was very refreshing and very moreish. The sinking sun is putting on a display with the lingering cloud cover.

For no table service we seem to be getting plenty of attention. A young lady brings us salt and pepper and cutlery. Then the food arrives. Hubby’s first. He’s gone for the Seafood chowder “a potato and bacon based creamy and chunky soup”. ($15.50). I sample a little chowder. Thin consistency of the broth but delicious. For simultaneous consumption (we need to make it back in time for the ferry) he has selected Garlic Cream Prawns on a chive risotto cake ($18). OH, MY, GOD! Those garlic prawns are to die for. The risotto cake is even better.

My own meal arrives. I have gone for the Rack of NZ Lamb grilled vegetable tart with tomato thyme jus. $36. 8 tiny little ribs in racks arranged on the most delicious intensely flavoured vegetable ratatouille resting in a square of puff pastry. The jus is arranged artistically all around. Sensational and it tastes even better than it looks. Wonderful.
We gobble our fabulous meals and as he finishes first, hubby heads in to order me a serve of the world’s best garlic prawns. He gets himself a serve of bar calamari ($7.50)…. He has me excited for a minute when I think he’s ordered the Tempura style calamari with baby salad and chili caramel sauce, which is only $13.. but it’s not to be. He enjoyed his crumbed bar calamari and the delicious accompanying salad. Sigh.. what a fabulous meal. What a fabulous setting for it. Superb.
Hard to believe I know but we pass on the dessert. For this we can thank the ferry. We really want to be in heaps of time for the ferry.

We take our leave and enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront on our way back to the car. There can't be too many places more romantic than Russell day or evening.

Our spirits revived we are rolling straight on to the 9:30 ferry to head back to Sea Spray. We’ve had a fabulous day.

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