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New Zealand: Northland

New Zealand: Northland

Life slows down as you get beyond the Bay of Islands. My lightning tour of the far north was a disservice, but this is it.


After another wonderful night in Waitangi, I packed up early and arrived at the nearby Hururu falls before 8am. Fortunately they were not all that impressive, as this was my first experience with the bane of disorganised DSLR photographers; not noticing massive overexposure from not turning the ISO back down. I jumped out of the car, hassled a rooster, wandered over to the falls and popped off some unimpressions. Returning to the car I headed for Kerikeri, eyes set on the Hongi Hika Reserve and the Stone Store, part of the Kerikeri Mission Station.

It was so early, the light was perfect for some nice shots. With nobody else around I hustled around trying to get arty angles; I had a lot of time to kill before the sites opened. It was only once I went to turn up the ISO after sneaking into the church that I realised my mistake. Bugger. So I went back and tried to recapture the magic, but with other people around and the light not as good. Lesson learned, and I’m glad I noticed while I could still there!


Fail. (ISO 25600)


Second times are a bit more forgettable.

The Kerikeri Mission Station was set up in 1819. The local Maori invited early missionaries to set up station here. They were keen to learn European technology and trade; having a little European base made sense. So up went Kemp House in 1821, now New Zealand’s oldest building. It’s surrounded by a heritage orchard, grapevines and a cafe whose lack of friendliness cost them (and me) an early morning coffee.

Kemp House Orchard. Across the river you might just be able to make out two Maori dudes who were practicing their skills with the Tiaha.

Kemp House Orchard. Across the river in the shade you might just be able to make out two Maori dudes who were practicing their skills with the tiaha (wooden staff).

Kemp House w/Geese. 1819

Kemp House w/Geese. 1819

The nearby Stone Store (1832) is an iconic landmark. During its life it has served as a warehouse, trading post, library, barracks and boys school (so says the Heritage site I am pretty much copying verbatim).

I loitered about until 10 when the Stone Store opened, popping in to find it’s current role as a gift shop. A classy gift shop – very NT!

The Stone Store (1832). I swear the photos were better the first time

The Stone Store (1832). I swear the photos were better the first time

Stone Store over fallen blossom. I'll try and be more arty later.

Stone Store over fallen blossom. I’ll try and be more arty later.

I had a nice wee yarn with the lady selling wool. I mentioned I was a Heritage New Zealand member and we yakked some more. As I went to enter the museum she realised she should probably check to see the card. Producing my flexible friend I asked how many good-for-nothings tried to sneak in to heritage museums. The answer won’t surprise you.

Credentials confirmed, I navigated upstairs to read about the life of the store and the Mission Station in the wee museum. It was interesting to read a bit about cross-culture interaction early on and the role of Missionaries in trade.

In the early years of European-Maori relations, muskets were of great interest to Maori. The tribe(iwi) which had them had a decisive advantage in the ongoing inter-tribal skirmishes. In short order, tribes needed muskets for defence too; without muskets they’d be beaten easily and enslaved or driven from their lands. This life-or-death need for muskets led to the desperate trading of heads like I mentioned a few posts ago. Though the heads were priceless, the threat of annihilation is an effective sales tool. The desperate musket-rush was short-lived and the market was quickly saturdated, but in that decade or so, things were nuts. And the Missionary stations, as European trading posts, were key parts of that.

The roof. It was semi-recently repaired; interesting to see the old carpenters markings and the clever ways they worked around not using nails

The roof. It was semi-recently repaired; interesting to see the old carpenters’ markings and the clever ways they worked around not using nails

From a store-room hatch to the shop

From a store-room hatch to the shop

There was a tour through Kemp House at 11; but I was on a mission (get it?). “Younger visitors will love the hands-on Children’s Chores Tour” they say. I gave it a miss. Instead I popped up to see the nearby Church overlooking the complex.

In the wee Church

In the wee Church

The Kerikeri Heritage area is a great little spot, set apart from the depressed (or richly hidden) qualities of modern Kerikeri. The Stone Store looks out on a deep curve of the Kerikeri river, where Maori waka (war canoes) used to be spun in place, creating great whirlpools to impress and threaten. Across the river from the early European settlements is Rewa’s village, a replica of a Maori fishing village. There’s also a nice bushwalk to the Rainbow Falls. There’re some modern amenities too, it’s a nice place to go and spend the day I should think! But all joking about missions aside – I really was on one. I had decided I wanted another day in Wellington before starting work, so I had to shave a day off my trip. To fit what I wanted in, I needed to get to Cape Reinga, some hours north; so I headed back to the car.

Before heading out I popped into the loo, as you do (do).

Found some personals in the loo. What a blast from the past - I guess the internet isn't ubiquitous in Kerikeri.

Found some personals. What a blast from the past – I guess the internet isn’t ubiquitous in Kerikeri.

I had some spots to visit on my way North, the first of which was Matauri Bay.

Putataua Bay, just across from Matauri Bay

The road to Matauri Bay was lovely, winding through the hills. And when you cross over, the place is magic – the New Zealand of our postcards, of ‘our childhood’. The beach houses (we call them bachs) were of the proper vintage; small and haphazard, paint bleached and peeling. I was so happy to see ‘it still exists!’

So I was a bit bummed to follow a winding new entrance route, winding around empty lots, speedbumps and ‘beach access’ alleys already in place. There’ll be a bunch of mansions ruining the vibe in a few years, but for now, still magic.

At the base of a small knoll there’s a campsite, much loved and full of campers who clearly set up camp for a long time. Most with boats, and many with ‘family blocks’ of tents; what a great tradition for those families.

Matauri Bay

Matauri Bay. On the right edge of this photo in the carpark, you can see the Jazz above the Norfolk Pine. I selected this shot for the blog because a jetski just looped some kids on the pontoon as you can see from the wake – it was so summer holiday.

The reason I’d come out here was to see the Rainbow Warrior Memorial, at the top of the knoll. But approaching the only accessway, signs said ‘NO ACCESS; CAMPERS ONLY’. Lost, I popped in to the camp shop, already eyeing the ice creams for later.

‘I’m trying to…’

‘get up to the memorial?’


‘You see that gap in the camp fence?’

‘The one that says do not enter?’

‘Enter that, you can’t miss it’.

So I scrambled up the hill, my only colleagues a few holidaying ladies doing their fitbit steps. At the top I saw the Rainbow Warrior memorial.

Rainbow Warrior memorial

Rainbow Warrior memorial

The Rainbow Warrior was Greenpeace’s flagship protest ship. In July 1985 it was in the port of Auckland, readying to embark on a protest trip to the Moruroa Atoll where the French Government were doing nuclear testing.

The French intelligence service were having none of these hippies disrupting their plans. French spies entered New Zealand and attached limpet mines to the ship.

The first blew a hole, intended to prevent the ship leaving and also get the crew off. The second, timed 10 minutes later, was to sink her. Unfortunately, a photographer, one Fernando Pereira, stayed to rescue his film and gear. The second explosion flooded the ship and drowned him – poor guy.

The authorities captured a few of the bastards who did the deed; Australia caught most of the others at Norfolk Island but had to let them go.

Of the two caught in New Zealand, they plead guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years in prison. In response, France threatened an embargo on New Zealand goods. Threatened with economic ruin, we released the spies to French jurisdiction where they were promptly set free, as acting under orders from the French Government. It’s all a bit interesting, have a read.

Anyhow, the Iwi of Matauri Bay offered the site as a final and fitting resting place for the ship. After being refloated for examination, it was towed from Auckland and scuttled in the bay. It’s now a dive wreck and reef – a fitting end for a ship that advocated for the health of the seas.

The Cavalli Islands (and Motukawaiti Island) off the coast; no wonder the folks bring boats!

The Cavalli Islands (and Motukawaiti Island) off the coast; no wonder the folks bring boats!

At the other end of the bay, there’s a wee cemetery and church. The whole area just felt chocolate-box perfect. The kiwi version of the quaint cottage village.

The bay from above

Matauri Bay and the islands from above

I continued along the coast, eventually arriving at Whangaroa Harbour. It was on the way, but I mostly wanted to pop by to see where the Boyd Massacre took place.

In 1809, the Boyd arrived from Australia to pick up a cargo of Kauri spurs. They had a Maori chief’s son on board, Te Ara. He was accused of stealing or something (it’s unclear), starved and lashed against the mast. Whatever happened he found it unfair and sought vengeance and retribution. Regaining the Captains trust, he encouraged him to anchor in Whangaroa harbour, where his iwi lived. He told his iwi about it, and when a longboat went out to scout out appropriate trees for felling, the Maori killed those scouts. Then, donning their clothes, at night the Maori rowed the longboat back alongside the Boyd, climbed aboard and killed almost everybody on the ship. A few hid among the mast rigging and saw their colleagues being dismembered for eating. Metal as fuck! Fortunately for them, a friendly chief came by in the morning to trade, and they called for help. Survivors loaded on the chief’s waka, the Whangaroa Maori gave chase, and the friendly chief watched as all survivors were killed on the beach.

The Boyd was towed into the shallows and looted. The tribe were keen to liberate the muskets and gunpowder, and climbed deep within the hold. Striking a flint, the gunpowder ignited and they blew themselves to pieces. The whale oil caught alight and the ship burnt to a husk.

Quite a tale and I wanted to see where it happened. I saw the mudflats, but to access the harbour and see a view; I must have missed the turn. The painting’s pretty good though:

Louis John Steele's The Blowing Up of the Boyd (1889). Took this at Waitangi

Louis John Steele’s The Blowing Up of the Boyd (1889). Took this at Waitangi

A bit further around were the golden sands of Doubtless Bay, a lovely spot (no doubt about it).

Doubtless Bay

Doubtless Bay

The Spirit of New Zealand had bet me here from the Bay of Islands earlier

The Spirit of New Zealand had bet me here from the Bay of Islands earlier

At the base of the northern mast of New Zealand sat the small town of Awanui. I stopped a while to visit the Ancient Kauri Kingdom. It’s a rather dated tourist draw, designed to sell Kauri carvings. It’s seen more affluent days, but the real draw is still there; a staircase hollowed out of the core of an enormous Kauri log. They built the shop around it. A small sign exclaims with wonder that it took the guy 300 hours to carve the rough stairway, and two others another 200 hours to complete it in 1998 or so.

I just kinda hate that. The tree had sat in a swamp for 45,000 years, and was probably 2000 years old or so; but hey, let’s be amazed it took some guy 300 hours to cut some steps in it. But it WAS already dead when they cut it up, so I shouldn’t get too whiney about that (I like sitting in my wooden house thank you); plenty of time for me to get all tree huggy later. It’s gaudy as, but standing so fully within a solid trunk that old, it’s still got something going on.

Top floor of the Kauri staircase, Ancient Kauri Kingdom


From Awanui it was an hour and a half slog straight up the spine of the northern tip, to Cape Reinga. And the hordes of happy-snap foreigners can’t make a dent in the magic of that place.

An hour of rusty scrub

An hour of rusty scrub

Maori originally navigated from the pacific islands to New Zealand. In folklore, the spiritual home of the Maori is Hawaiki, a mythical, (possibly real) island north of New Zealand. The belief is that when the spirit leaves the body, it flows up the spine of New Zealand, departing at Cape Reinga to return to the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. So that’s pretty cool, it’s obviously a really special place to Maori. It’s tapu, sacred – and you shouldn’t eat or drink at sacred sites. I was heartened to see no tourists doing either (though a few cigarette butts littered the landscape). It felt special to me too.

Cape Reinga. You can just make out the Three King Islands on the horizon, where the spirits pop up for one final look before heading to Hawaiki.

Cape Reinga. You can just make out the Three King Islands on the horizon, where the spirits pop up for one final look before heading to Hawaiki.

It has been tastefully developed to handle the tourists but retain it’s aura. A winding path leads you a kilometre or so from the carpark to the lighthouse, with interpretive panels along the way. Taking the happy snap at the lighthouse is naff, but I got some guy to take one for me.

Me and the stupid sign

The lighthouse is just a lighthouse, no different from many others around the country. But you can ignore the tourists and look out to sea, and that was the magic. Beyond the headland, the ocean churns as the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean crash together. The currents created beautiful whirlpools, swirling to perfect Maori motifs for an instant before changing again. I loved it, I watched the changing canvas for ages.

The ocean swirling - hard to see in a photo. It was stunning.

The ocean swirling – hard to see in a photo. It was beautiful.

Suitably spirited, I returned to the real world. Gosh selfie sticks are awful.

Eh one more won't hurt. Looking back toward the Big Te Paki.

Eh one more won’t hurt. Looking back toward the Giant Te Paki.

Heading back south, I stopped by briefly to the ‘Giant Te Paki’ – big sand dunes – just so I could put it in the blog. At the end of the gravel road a couple of kids were renting boogie boards to tourists, who would hike up the dunes and slide back down. They looked like they were having fun, but that’s the kind of fun that isn’t camera nor loner friendly – I trundled on!

Dead sandworm on the Big Te Paki

Dead sandworm on the Giant Te Paki

I hurried back to Awanui. Unfortunately I spun myself into a panic – I thought it was a day later than it was and I was a full day behind my itinerary. I wondered how I had got it so wrong! It was only once I gave up on my plan and found a place to stay that I realised my mistake and relaxed again – stressful hours.

I spent the night at the Norfolk Motel and Campervan Park, a road-side standard fare sort of place. I only mention it because the proprietress was the most welcoming, lovely lady I had the pleasure of staying with. The rest of the trip, I felt like I was ‘just another guest’. She made me feel like a personal guest here, that’s a real skill! She was made for hospitality, what a star. They also had a pool, so I had a wee paddle and a great sleep, ready to head into the Kauri forests in the morning.

Larry's a 30-something chap interested in travel, being a dork and changing the world via less boring training.

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