Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pt 9 Signal Station Road; Dargaville Museum; Evening Guided Walk

Sunday 21 February 2010 Scenic Reserve Signal Station Rd, on to Dargaville Museum and Kauri Coast top 10 evening guided walk

It is a calm still morning here in the Hokianga. We are very disappointed that the Crossings Hokianga cruise does not have suffient numbers to run this morning. Tarf, who would also have been the guide this morning, told us last night there is much early New Zealand history in this area both Maori and Pakeha. The Hokianga was where Kupe, the discoverer of NZ, made his first residence. History aside the Hokianga, such a reputed beauty spot, more than lives up to it’s reputation. It is absolutely stunning. Natural.

With the reprieve on early departure that would have been required to make the tour departure time, somehow we manage to muck about until after 9:30 showering and packing up. I wander over to the pier to try to capture the beauty that is all around. Tiny fish sparkle softly as they swim around the pier like little silver leaves dancing in the soft green of the water. Hubby having finished checking out, we head over to the Opo general store for some minor purchases.

Our first destination is to the lookout on Signal Station Road. The view is even better from here.

The locals are friendly. As we ooh and ah at the view from near the picnic tables a cicada flys over and lands on my sleeve. It sings away happily regularly flicking it’s wings in a rhythmic drum beat that produces the clicking sound of the new Zealand bush. Australian cicadas don't do that clicking and I've been wondering what it was - mystery definitely solved.

Nearby we stop to read a plaque that has been erected. In this historic place native trees are planted as a living memorial to those who died for us in the service of their country. Hokianga Remembers. We make our way slowly around the walking tracks and lookouts. We are both in no hurry to move on. Yes. There can be no better memorial than trees, here in this spectacular place. It is as great an honour as you could contrive. At every turn the view just gets better and better.

The weather is glorious. Not too hot. Not too cold. We admire a patch of particularly lovely native vegetation. Keen to explore all the little pathways we head down to Martins Bay. It’s a steep walk that winds along a grassy pathway that winds back and forth across the hillside. Some shortcuts have been trampled through the grass for those impatient to reach the bottom.. or the top.. We stick to the path and eventually come to some narrow steps with smooth wooden retainers. Very smooth, slippery retainers and I do indeed slip. Fortunately I just land in an amusing fashion on my bum on the steps. No harm done.

It’s a bit of an anticlimax down here on the beach. We paddle in the water. Cold. We admire the rocks. Hubby tickles my funny bone when he announces “take a photo of that rock, it looks like a brain….

And that one looks like a bare arse..” .. yeah.. they do too!

Not much doing on the intertidal fossicking front, so we head back up the hill. This time we take a turn where the grassy path can lead you more directly to the car park.

We have a late brekky of delicious Kapiti triple cream herb cheese on wafers. Kapiti seem to do everything well. We’ve spent about an hour and a half here around the walks and lookouts but it’s time to move on.

Not a lot is familiar on the drive down to Waipoua Forest, though we travelled this road twice last night. I guess we were too busy chatting with Tarf.

As is predictable there are stacks of cars pulled up at the entrance to the short walk to Tane Mahuta. He looks different in daylight. The forest looks different in daylight too. We could hear trickling last night, but look at that, it’s quite a substantial stream.

The whole experience loses something jostling for a camera shot with the other tourists. Listening to the excited chatter of a group of four… sounds like Italians… who are standing on the railings horsing about while the rest of their group take photos from the distant viewing area... at first we thought the photographers were standing out in the forest, which was a bit alarming. We do the necessaries and are pleased to move off.

With so many people milling about we lose any enthusiasm we might have had for some more Waipoua walking today and decide to head on to Dargaville.

We make a short detour to the Waipoua Information Centre. Not a lot going on there, but there is a nice display of historic photographs and information. I recognize a pair of large Kauri that stand either side of a single lane bridge along highway 12. Here they are photographed in the 1929s with a vintage car between them, their names are Darby and Joan! The area around the centre includes a picnic area and a swimming hole in the river. Not a lot to delay us and we are soon on the road once more.

The country side is not jawdroppingly spectacular but we enjoy our drive down through the forest and farmland. It is pretty and not much traffic. We decide we have time to continue on to Dargaville and knock over the Museum today. This will save time on the trip tomorrow. We’re keeping an eye open for somewhere to eat too.

The entry fee for the museum has gone up. Now $10 per adult. We hand over the money and are supplied with a small map to help us navigate our way around the galleries. Well. What can we say other than Dargaville Museum is outstanding. First of all we sit down to view a fascinating video of a swamp kauri being extracted from the earth. We later discover that this video is also able to be viewed for free at Nelson's Kaihu Kauri which is just out of Dargaville on the road up to Waipoua, or indeed the Kauri Coast top 10.

These swamp kauri that are extracted have been carbon dated and they are ancient. 30,000 years in the ground and they were ancient when they fell. The film crew follow as a huge section of trunk is manouvred onto a truck and delivered to Nelson's Kaihu Kauri near Dargaville. There they set up the portable saw mill and mill the log into huge slabs 6m x 2m. There’s already orders for a couple of the slabs. One will go to Germany and another to an international destination also. What foresight to make a film of the process. Nelson also gives his views on how the kauri came to be in the ground.. it’s all very very interesting.

The museum has all sorts of treasures beautifully presented. Lots of people seem to have given really valuable items to the museum. Collections of people who’ve passed on seem to end up here. I guess that’s the way of things isn’t it. Excellence attracts generosity. Looking around you can only conclude that there is a massive amount of regional pride. This museum is a great example of the principle that the only boundaries are those you place on your own achievement. These folk think big.

There’s a beautifully hand carved kauri chest of drawers made by a local young woman many years ago. There are large spaces devoted to various themes. A music room which seems to have inherited an impressive collection of accordions and accordion figurines. . Fabulous antique pieces like a wireless grammophone. Another room has evening dresses from various periods 1950s through to 1980s worn by local women. Photos of local debutante balls.. then there is the maritime gallery where they have photos and models, and bits and pieces salvaged from various ship wrecks; a display about the rainbow warrior, some relics and an explanation of the masts erected outside. They belonged to the Rainbow Warrior. But it doesn’t end there. Large working models of various types of ships. Huge sections from shipwrecks washed ashore..

The museum seems to be very proactive on the collecting front. There is heaps of stuff that is interesting and that someone, or in many cases teams of people, have sought out for the museum. It’s all I can do to stop myself from walking around with my mouth hanging open in wonder. This is a small town's Museum! Obviously, the crowning glory is the only stone hewn waka from pre-european times. What a shame it wasn’t better handled when first discovered at the turn of the 20th century. This and the gallery in which it is displayed are awesome.. but a very very close second is the kauri gum gallery.

For the kauri gum section some generous descendants of a gum digger have restored or reconstructed various pieces of plant related to the gum digging… a widow has donated her late husband’s treasured kauri gum collection… there is a reconstruction of a kauri gum diggers camp; memorial spades for a whole stack of Dalmatian gum diggers and a display devoted to the special sort of spade designed and manufactured specifically for the conditions peculiar to digging gum. The whole place is simply amazing. $10 well spent. Judging by the visitors book they get a steady trickle of international and kiwi visitors who all seem to find the place well worth the time. We thought the Dargaville Museum was very well worth the visit. We have both enjoyed it very much. It’s taken us about an hour and a half to wander about inside, but we could easily have spent longer. The Museum is situated on a hill and as we head back to the car we admire views over the Dargaville.

Tempted to try Joys Homemade café or the Blah blah café in Dargaville, we end up opting to head straight back to check in the Kauri Coast top 10. This achieved we ask about food nearby and learn that the Kaihu Tavern shuts up at 5pm tonight. 3:30 now, so it looks like an early dinner. We pop some things in the fridge and take off back to the tavern.

It’s a cute heritage building and the interior is unspoilt (ie unredeveloped) vintage local pub. I can think of some TA folk from the Aussie forum who would love this place. Just a scattering of people hanging about chatting out in the beer garden out the back. The television is playing a triathlon from Takapuna.

We examine the menu and order. Hmm Kauri burger. What’s that involve? The friendly lady behind the bar informs us the kauri burger is ridiculous. It’s a tower of food. Far too much plus it comes with chips on top of that and it’s $14.50! We really don’t want one of them, surely. Well actually the description has won hubby over completely. He’ll have a kauri burger thanks.. I settle for a works burger. Hubby requests a Tui beer, but no joy they’re all out of tui’s. Somehow nowhere seems to have Tui available. It would be ironic if hubby has to wait to get home to try it! I think I have seen it for sale there, but figured it would be more fun to try it for the first time in its own country. Hubby compromises with a Lion Red and we settle down to watch the triathlon.

As we are brought some cutlery we get chatting with the lady looking after the place. She’s an Australian citizen. Minding the place here, she has property.. well really family property of a pretty reasonable size in Opononi (she appears to be Maori) but she can’t wait to go home to Queensland. Many people we meet have lived for extended periods in Australia.

We enjoy our burgers. The meats in them are the frozen plastic meat sort of stuff, but the rest of the ingredients and proportions makes up for that. They are pretty good burgers ..especially the onion, which was beautifully cooked…. and that kauri burger is quite a creation!

Before heading back for a rest, I am driving and enjoying my first stint behind the wheel of the Aurion, so we head the few kms out to the Trounson Kauri Park. This is a “mainland island” reserve where they engage in intensive feral predator and pest control. However unlike the more recently created mainland islands they haven’t the benefit of a predator proof boundary fence. The stats on the animals they have removed are remarkable. Hundreds of horrid beasts removed in just a year. Extraordinary. Kiwi breeding success is up. Kereru numbers are way up.

It’s a beautiful piece of forest and not over run by visitors here this late today at any rate. There are some large Kauri. One estimated at 1200 years. Some impressive fallen trees and recorded voice presentations. It’s a beautiful patch of forest. We expect our walk tonight will bring us back here, but we’re very glad to have seen it in daylight as well. It’s taken us about an hour taking a very leisurely pace.

It’s just after 6pm when we get back to the Kauri Coast top 10 where we settle in for a break before joining the guided walk at 8:30. There’s a group of about 10 people. Enough to fill the little van in which we travel out to Trounson Kauri Park. Our guide is an elderly local man named Herb. It’s still light as we set off armed with torches supplied for our use on the tour. We get a bit of a briefing on how to proceed and first up before we leave the car park Herb gives us a run down on kauri and their growth habits as many of the relevant features are visible from where we stand.

Across the road is a new section of forest. Man made forest that was planted in the 1940s. So someone was thinking a head and planting new forest for the future. This completed we trundle down the boardwalk making stops along the way, including a run down in the little info pavilion.

Our first thrill is some cave weta. As the name suggests these generally live in caves but in Trounson they find them living in the rotting kaurie stumps and fallen kauri trees.

It’s a still windless night and the forest is very quiet. If there’s kiwi out and about we should definitely hear them if we listen. I am thrilled to report that as we wandered along the paths, all under instructions to keep our ears to the ground listening for movement in the forest, I hear movement close to the path. Herb is a bit ahead, but I call him and he comes back with the spotlight and sure enough he finds a North Island Brown Kiwi in the beam. AWESOME! Hubby and I, crouching, manage to see the kiwi before it moves out of sight behind a big kauri. It really helped having been on the tour in Okarito last year, I knew what I was listening for!

Others on the tour were not so lucky unfortunately. … more stops… glow-worms. They like living in the nooks and crannies provided by the root balls of the fallen kauri trees. So pretty. .. then loitering behind the main group with my torch aimed at the ground beside the path I find the first kauri snail. Just a little one about 45mm but I’m pretty chuffed. Again it helped having seen one on the tour with Tarf last night! Later a larger kauri snail is found also.. and some more male weta at destruction corner - the site of some tree falls the history of which is explained.

We chuckle as Herb tells us the name of a twin pair of kauri trees that have grown together at the base. It looks like a pair of legs and the lower part of a body sticking out of the ground.. so they call it the bungy jumper!! The bungy broke obviously! Ah kiwis. I love their sense of humour. I’m sure kiwis must never stop laughing. The jokes just keep on coming….. and kiwis seem to have a passionate love of puns too… but I digress.

We spend some time looking for, and at, some sheet web spiders and I get chatting with a young lady who is heading to Australia (are huntsmen really this big?… do they really like cars and houses?... yes but they’re completely harmless… what you really need to be careful of in Australia is drowning…. Drowning and crocodiles.. everything else pretty much will try to avoid you.) We chat as a small group with a lady from .. I think she said around the Whangarei peninsular, who is not a fan of creepy crawlies but is fair dinkum arachnophobic.. nice lady….

Rain is needed badly. The creek is low, but we see plenty of nocturnal water creatures. Koura (crayfish) a young native fish; and the resident eel. As we wander about up on the grassed area the southern cross is conveniently positioned visible between two kauri trees, so I take the opportunity to point it out to some of the international folk with kids on the tour and they seem pretty chuffed to have seen it. Back at the car park once more Herb uses the spotlight to point out the cross and the two pointers to everyone. Lucky, as a cloud moves over and the cross vanishes almost as soon as it’s pointed out.

The southern cross is bright again when we get back to the Kauri Coast Top 10. It’s a quarter to 11 but Herb offers to take anyone interested down to feed the eels in the river. Big grand daddy eel is keeping away this time, but there are heaps of others. We have learned about their life cycle tonight. Not far from the river under the bridge there is an embankment that the glow worms love. Herb guides us over there and we enjoy the fairyland spectacle. Well after 11 now we thank Herb sincerely and head in for journaling and bed.

The guided walk at Kauri Coast Top 10 is without question the best $20 on a tour I have ever spent. A bargain at twice the price. HIGHLY recommended.
… now I just have to hope that the scuttling about we heard in the roof earlier doesn’t keep us awake… probably possums… bloody possums…

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