NZ: Waipoua Forest and the Forest Gods

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My travel holidays never feel like they have started until the first morning; When you slowly open your eyes and realise you’re in a new bed, a new location, a new world.

The fresh morning light gave us the first real opportunity to appreciate our campground selection—Port Albert Domain (read more in the previous post). B had parked in a brilliant position: good distance away from the public toilets and main driveway in; completely avoiding the horrible potholes; with the rear windows facing the ocean views (perfect as our first outlook for the day). It was a very quiet secluded campsite, with only three other campervans for company.

Shaking off the bad vibes of yesterday, we all agreed to head to the Waipoua Forest and seek an audience with the Great Guardians of the Forest. The Waipoua Forest is home to the largest Kauri trees in New Zealand, some of which are considered Forest Gods and Guardians of Aotearoa. Control of the forest has recently been returned to Te Roroa, the local iwi (tribe) as part of the settlement for breaches by the New Zealand Government (the Crown) against the Treaty of Waitangi (more on that later). While I am sorry to hear of the breaches in both Treaty and trust, I am very glad to learn these cultural and environmental places of such significant importance have been returned to the people with the closest connection and best interests.

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After a quick breakfast and tidy-up (‘take only photos, leave only footprints‘), we were back on the road. Follow the signs back to the State Highway 1 and Brynderwyn, then head west on SH12 to Dargaville. The further north you go, the more infrequent the shopping opportunities. If you are planning on staying more than a few days, make sure you stock up in Dargaville and withdraw cash for any purchases on the road.

On the way, we passed through Matakohe, a tiny little village with nay more than a Kauri Museum for its claim to fame. I’ll be honest: we didn’t go inside.

However, outside is a fascinating cemetery. And yes, I am one of those weird people who absolutely love cemeteries as the story-tellers of a town. If you do stop here to stretch your legs, have a wander around the cemetery and take note of the predominant families in the area. You will soon notice the pattern.

Onwards and upwards to Waipoua Forest, the highway becomes less ‘highway’ and more ‘main road’. This area is the one true highlight of Northland New Zealand, with its windy roads through the stunning forest sanctuary. The forest road is 18km long, with the Waipoua Visitor Centre and Forest Campground located at the southern end. Our plan was to drive through the sanctuary to the northern tip and work our way back to the campgrounds for the night. It meant doubling up on the driving (tripling up, if you consider we were driving north again the next day), but believe me when I say it is worth it. Even the kids agreed.

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We first presented ourselves to Tane Mahuta, named for the Maori forest god. Tane Mahuta is the largest kauri alive, measuring around 51.5m high and about 13.8m around the base. Te Roroa believe Tane Mahuta has been guarding over the forest for somewhere between 1200 and 2000 years.

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No matter your faith or personal belief, there is a presence in the forest. Tane Mahuta, in all his magnificent glory, commands respect. The sense of awe as you look up to this tree… this forest god, is breathtaking.

“In the beginning before the world was light, Ranginui the sky-father and Papatuanuku the earth-mother were bound together, their offspring caught in the darkness between them. Their strongest son, Tane Mahuta, put his shoulder to Papa and thrust upwards with his powerful legs, creating life and light.

– Maori Legend”

Our children were silent. They were stunned. For a moment we each stood there gazing upon Tane Mahuta, soaking up the vibrant emotions all around us. The magic was gently interrupted by a soft curtain of rain. At that point, our eldest child whispered “Thankyou”, and it felt like the perfect acknowledgement. There is so much life all around the forest. It is so natural to feel gratitude for the trees, the sanctuary and the local iwi who are taking care of it.

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Tane Mahuta is the first of many gods in the forest. Heading back to the campgrounds (south), there is another collection of kauri. From the carpark, it’s a 20-minute walk past the Four Sisters to Te Matua. These are four separate kauris standing tall, but fused together at the base. There is a very accessible walkway for most of it, especially around the fenced off trees. The kids were amazed by the connection of the trees at the ground, following it all the way to the separate canopies.

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Te Matua Ngahere is further along. As Father of the Forest, Te Matua Ngahere is not as tall as Tane Mahuta, but he holds the same attention within the forest. Even though he is surrounded by mature trees, they look like saplings in presence. Te Matua Ngahere is the widest kauri, with a girth of about 16.4 metres.

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By this time, we are all tiring from the lengthy walks (even Z up in her backpack carrier). As we walked back to the campervan, S and I slowed our pace and started talking about the forest. It felt so healthy and strong and full of life! It was at the point, talking about life when S turned and exclaimed: “What was that?!?”

We have no picture to prove it. In fact, I was too slow to see anything but the movement of low leaves. But S swears he saw something brown scurrying along the ground. It was until further in our trip when we reached the Bird Sanctuary in Queenstown, where S became convinced he spotted a Kiwi bird!

We were already buzzing from the emotional and spiritual experience of visiting the Kauris; to add bird spotting was just too much! Only minutes down the road, our campgrounds awaited and after a quick dinner of spaghetti bolognese, the kids fell asleep almost immediately.

The Waipoua Forest Campgrounds are a DOC site, with cabins and sites for campervans or tents. Payment is by cash in the box located in the kitchen, and for the facilities, I was a bit disappointed with the price: $15 per person per night for a non-powered site. I know the money goes towards the maintenance of the campgrounds in the Forest Sanctuary, but the facilities were really lacking. For example, half of the kitchen facilities were broken.

I also found out the hot water was turned off for the ladies bathroom. The switch is on mains board in the kitchen, but that’s not helpful when you’re in the shower. I ended up choosing to shower in the men’s bathroom because the women’s bathrooms open directly onto the main thoroughfare. The cold wind straight into the bathrooms was awful, never mind the lack of privacy.

To be absolutely honest, we love the park for location. We had stayed here once before (pre-kids) but this time we were sorely disappointed with the facilities, even knowing it’s a DOCS site.

If you choose to camp with a tent here, be careful in the wet weather. The main area of the campground becomes very squishy in the rain, with most of the water running down hill to the tent sites.

Next stop: Waitangi Treaty Grounds

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NZ: Landing On A Long White Cloud

It’s long overdue but there is also a lot to cover. And to be totally honest – our first day was not our best, so it’s taken quite a bit to … Well, to sort of figure out the best approach.

And all because of a travel agent.

Let me just say, I know not all travel agents are THIS incompetent. However, everything THIS agent touched turned to travel manure.

Summation: we had planned a three (3) week holiday for a family of five (5) to travel around two (2) islands. I took care of a lot of the planning myself; pretty much everything except:

  • campervan hire
  • ski pass
  • ski equipment hire
  • accommodation in Queenstown
  • ferry between Wellington and Picton

Each of these was paid upfront, in return for the standard use of travel vouchers. They tried to sell us travel insurance as well, but not only did we pick it up much cheaper with Defence Health, I was able to include the Snow Pack and Adventure Pack with a far greater coverage. If you’re skiing or luge-ing or bungee-ing in NZ, ensure you have these extra features or your extra activities aren’t covered.

blog-01Awaking on D-Day, we were all excited for our trip. Being the first time I entrusted any travel details to a third party, I was fairly nervous. But I convinced myself to enjoy the trip and trust the agent.

The flight itself was pretty much a non-event and I’m very happy about that. We left early in the morning with QANTAS, giving us a 2pm arrival in Auckland with plenty of time to pick up our campervan and find our first campsite.

As we stepped into the arrival terminal, my phone buzzed. An email. Really? Already? I remember being very tempted to ignore it … But I checked it just in case

And I’m very glad I did. The pick-up location for the shuttle to the campervan had changed. And the directions from the travel agent were awful – we could not find the door they referred to.

auckland-airport-hobbit-dwarfLuckily, there were some awesome Hobbit displays in the terminal from Weta Workshop. The NZers are very proud of their greatest export (though, I think Taika  Waititi is going to challenge that…), and it provided a great opportunity to entertain the tired kids while I figured out where to go.

Tip: Take Door 8 and head out to the bus stop. The ‘shuttle’ for Britz Campervan is actually a public bus, and where a travel agent calls it a Yellow Bus – it’s actually any colour at the time but called a ‘yellow bus’ for the route it takes. You might be lucky to see a sign in the window saying ‘Yellow’.

The good news is the bus drivers are accustomed to this and happy to help out. Tell them you are heading to Britz and they will tell you when to hop off.

Britz are also very helpful – especially when your Travel Agent forgets to include a $210 payment in your voucher.

That’s right folks. We turned up to pick up our campervan and were slogged another $210 for a fee the travel agent completely forgot about. Since the travel agent was unavailable to take my call, I made the payment with the intent of chasing the agent when back home. Britz were very good and ensured I had all the paperwork to argue the point. You can guess how much extra time this took to fix up. By the time we sorted it all, it was already approaching night and we still needed to pick up groceries. This was not a great start to our holiday.

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Things did improve: before you leave Britz, make sure you raid The Pantry. It is a big cupboard right at the door, where any travellers can leave leftover groceries for those just starting their journeys. It is perfect for things like oil, salt, flour, tomato sauce, even toilet paper. All the things that are sooooo much cheaper in bulk but rarely used up in a 2 or 3-week trip.

Any groceries still needed can be picked up 5min down the road towards the highway. Countdown is one of the 3 big grocery shops which sell almost anything. They also have a Travellers Card which gives you a 5% discount and a discount for patrol. Every bit helps.

Our initial plan was to drive to the North of Auckland, as close as possible to the Waipoua Forest. The extra time with pick-up really hit us, and I wasn’t sure if we would still make it. We definitely wouldn’t be there for dinner, but we learnt of a good enough site to make the effort to sleep there for the night.

This is where I am going to rave about Campermate. And seriously, I cannot rave about it enough. You are going to read a lot about this app throughout our NZ trip because we used it everywhere, every day. Campermate is an app you can download to phone, iPad or tablet for free. It will show on a map all the campsites, dumpsites, grocery, playgrounds, fresh water, wifi, public toilets, anything you need while campervanning around New Zealand. It will show you places of interest and parking around them. It will show you EVERYTHING, and in most cases, with reviews from other Campermate users. It is brilliant when you are looking to free-camp but you want to make sure if your huge campervan will fit. Just as an example. Seriously, I considered Campermate the absolute travel enhancer for our trip.

With a stop for dinner (quesadillas), we eventually arrived at Port Albert Domain (Wharf Road, Port Albert) around 10pm. Take SH1 North through Auckland. From Wellsford turn onto Port Albert Road SH16. At the end of the road, turn right onto Wharf Road. You need to drive down a gravelly road to the open campsite – a big open area to park your campervan for the night without cost. It’s about 11km from Wellsford.

Arriving at night meant we couldn’t really appreciate the water views with the location, but it was a real bonus to have a clear starry night before crashing in bed. The Legend of the Long White Cloud ended up being figurative only – but we were determined to shake off the ‘travel agent Blues’ and start afresh tomorrow.

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NZ 2015 – Itinerary

It’s been awhile since I was last on this blog; It takes a new family holiday to motivate me again. I know I am WAY behind on the details of Borneo, let alone the previous trips to Italy, Malta, Hong Kong, coast of Queensland… But I am motivated again. Partly to catch up on the fairytales, and partly to be ready for the next great adventure: New Zealand. Yes! We are planning the next family holiday for this year. This time, we are a family of 5 (our youngest was born in 2013) and we are campervanning around the two islands. Here is the proposed itinerary, but of course it is in draft. I’ll update with any changes and I am always open for suggestions:

  • 09-Sept  Auckland
  • 10-Sept  Auckland to Bay of Islands (incl. Morn at Auckland Tower)
  • 11-Sept  Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Waipoua Forest
  • 12-Sept  Drive to Waitomo for Glow-worm caves (incl. Thames Butterfly & Orchid Garden)
  • 13-Sept  Drive to Rotorua – line-up Zorbing, luge/look-out and maybe a concert with a hangi (this is the city to lose your money!!)
  • 14-Sept  Thermal pools and Huka Falls before driving to Whanganui (via Mt Ruapehu – because S is reading The Hobbit with his dad)
  • 15-Sept  Drive to Wellington via Silky Oak Chocolates and Kaitoke Regional Park
  • 16-Sept  Weta Workshop, zoo, and some shopping (mostly for food)
  • 17-Sept  Ferry to South Island, and drive to Kaikoura (incl. Eco World Aquarium
  • 18-Sept  Drive to Christchurch (incl. Dolphin spotting, and Point Sheep Shearing Show
  • 19-Sept  Shop/bus ride around town before heading towards Arthur’s Pass
  • 20-Sept  Arthur’s Pass and Hokitika
  • 21-Sept  Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier (should we prioritise?)
  • 22-Sept  Haast to Wanaka (Puzzling World!!)
  • 23-Sept  Head to Te Anau (might stop in Arrowtown?)
  • 24-Sept  Doubtful Sound (playing with the idea of an overnight cruise…)
  • 25-Sept  Head to Queenstown and return the Campervan
  • 26-Sept  Shop/sightsee (incl. Gondola, Perugian Chocolates, and Winnie’s Pizza. And probably some souvenir shopping for the kids)
  • 27-Sept  Ski on the Remarkables
  • 28-Sept  Ski on the Remarkables
  • 29-Sept  Did I mention the skiing on the The Remarkables? – Yes we have arranged for lessons for all us (excl Z, the 2yo) with hubby and I splitting the duties with the youngest, and the final day is the family together to show-off. As you do.
  • 30-Sept  Fly Queenstown to Christchurch, with a 5hr stopover to check out the Antarctic Research Centre near the airport, before flying home in the evening.

So there you have it. Our next family holiday, in less than 6mths. What do you think? Hubby and I have been to NZ before – we travelled around both islands in a much smaller campervan during our much poorer uni days. I have been previous to that on a school trip. Means we have a fair idea of where we are going, but still looking forward to a fresh viewing through the eyes of our kids. Any suggestions, please share them in the comments. It is still early days, so I’m always looking for suggestions! Like Fran Josef Glacier v Fox for a Heli-ride. Or chocolate shops across the South Island. Or ANYTHING!!