North of Auckland was unknown territory to me, and it’s quite a place. With Auckland so close and lousy to live in, the north gets rammed with escaping city-dwellers, and it was great to see where they go to enjoy life. Wellingtonians have the Wairarapa; many Aucklanders are increasingly finding Northland. This entry covers toddling up to Kororareka/Russell and Waitangi, the birthplace of modern New Zealand.
My first port of call was to the Wenderholm Regional Park, on a small road off the Hibiscus Coast Highway which winds along the east coast. The goal was to visit Cauldrey House, an old homestead. Arriving, the place seemed rammed. They love their historic houses up there!
They don’t really. Wenderholm Regional Park is Auckland’s first regional park, and one of the only places publically owned and maintained on the east coast for folks to enjoy the beach. It was acquired from the owners via the public works act or similar, which is just as well as there were plans for some housing development. The place really was popular – like 300 carparks, all full – families playing cricket on the lawns, having picnics, chasing ducks. It was nice to see, but not my scene. I skipped the beach and toddled up to the house.
Popping in the door, I was greeted by a not-overly-friendly old dear volunteer. They see me, holes in shoes, looking like a total slob, and they think ‘tire kicker’. But no, I gave her $5 and we were soon best of friends. ‘Do you want to hear a bit about the house?’ she asked, with as much life and enthusiasm as the taxidermied pheasant behind her. ‘Yes’ I said. With a sigh she began the spiel.
So, the house was built around 1857, by some bloke. It was moved around the property a bit, added and subtracted, falling apart and fixed, had a bunch of owners and then the council forced the sale in 1965. The incumbent owners were allowed to live there until their untimely deaths in 1973. Aucklander’s really wanted that park.
One of the big events was hosting the Queen in 1957, but that was in a different house, since burned down. You’d think that’d make the story boring – but it wasn’t! Some clever cookie thought to record the thoughts of the family and they’ve set up a little radio where you can play their recollection of the day. They recalled with some amusement that folks were polishing the cherries. I wonder if the Queen still gets her cherries polished?
I impressed the lady with my National Trust experience and she warmed to me. She told me more, about the nearby Waiwera Hotpools complex which was a big deal once, but now owned by Russians and fallen into disrepair. She showed me the advertising poster of the proposed Victorian housing development which never happened due to lack of funds. ‘A pity, as it’s a great spot’ she said. The 500-odd people enjoying the beach outside would probably have disagreed.
Empty save for me and the old dear, I got to taking snaps while listening to the audio and had a grand old time. There’re plenty of pictures of early Auckland and old maps and stuff. It’s a nice place really, ‘as National Trust as we get’ (do I say that about everywhere up there?!) – go take a look.
Returning to the Hibiscus Coast Highway, I toddled on up to Warkworth and their amazingly shit 6-way main highway intersection. I mean look at it:
I sat there for about 10 minutes, until some local refused to move, as the locals know road-rules all their own to get people out of that intersection. My friend said her mum used to get them out of the car and make them go back and forth on the pedestrian crossing, just to create gaps for the car to cross. So it’s nothing new, and barking mad, and it’ll only get busier – one might wonder why roading money is spent straightening a corner but nothing on fixing this!
My friend had invited me to stay the evening just up the road, high in the hills above Matakana. It’s a nice wee town, rammed with Aucklanders, but this recently burnt-out garage caught my eye.
At the terminus of a gravel road, I met my friend and this little lady:
I’d never my mate in person, just worked on heaps of stuff together, so it was lovely to have a big ol’ work-whinge in person, and spend some time hearing about what they’re up to. It’s some damn cool stuff, but that’s their business so I’m not going to write or post photos or anything here. Suffice to say I was inspired, had a delicious dinner and great company for the evening and lapped up the attention from the little nugget above!
After a relaxed start over coffee, toast and making myself slightly useful I headed on along the wonderful winding hill roads around coves to Waipu. I’d been told The Pizza Barn does chips so good they’d ruin all other chips for me so, eventhough it was only 11, I stopped for lunch. It was bloody good, and too much food for me – that was my dinner sorted too.
Waipu was buzzing, the Pizza Barn was turning folks away at the door. All these big Auckland 4×4’s which have seen no dust and beautiful hip people with money and all that. And a few rough-as-guts locals. Most of the towns on the east coast were like that actually, heading up to the Bay of Islands.
Gluttony sated, I arrived in Whangarei, our northernmost city, and toddled over to ‘Kiwi North’ on the west of town. It’s a tourism complex, and I was saddened to see it quite empty (for Whangarei, I was chuffed personally). They run a little Kiwi raising programme there, keeping pairs two years before sending them out into the wild. So I got to watch two Kiwi forraging about without anyone else around, and it was quite neat to have the time to enjoy them without some self-absorbed kid being a pain. They’re very odd birds, like footballs. Kiwi North also has a bunch of native geckos and fish and such, all of which it was nice to spend some time learning about and watching.
They also house the Whangarei Museum, which I thought might be a bit naff but once you’re in there it’s really great. They had small wee boxed galleries covering a heap about Northland history. You get a quick view of Whaling, Sealing, Kauri gum digging, Kauri logging, the Ruapekapeka Pa battle. A bit on the locals from WW1, and a wee celebration of Matariki. Matariki is the ‘Maori New Year’, which has recently taken off again as New Zealand’s thanksgiving sort of mid-winter thing – which I am all for, it’s about time we recognised we live in the southern hemisphere! It’s a high-level, speed-pass taster of everything up North – worth a pop in to see what you’d like to learn more about.
They had a wee gallery exploring the success of some prominent Northlanders, which was a nice touch. Northland is pretty depressed really, a bit run-down, a bit sad. Aside from the Aucklanders holidaying, there’s just no industry – the whole region has run out of resources to plunder, the factories and mills have closed and now the land is a dustbowl. I think it’s really cool up there, the beaches are great and it’s the cradle of the country, but history and sand doesn’t pay the bills and I can imagine if you’re living there in the shadow of all this former prosperity, it could be tough. Showing the kids success does come from there, that’s cool.
Kiwi North is actually part of a heritage park. A bunch of old buildings from Northland dot the hill, many relocated, and they’re divided by a well-tended miniature railway. I enjoyed taking some photos and strolling about – I was the only person around! A bunch of clubs run their stuff from some of the old industrial sheds, so I suspect it would be more lively in the weekends and that’s a nice ‘locals’ connection.
On the other side of Whangarei is the Parihaka War Memorial – a metallic obelisk perched over the city. I toddled up the hill to take a look, to see the city in it’s entirety. The road was black with burnouts, and I drove through some of Whangarei’s suburbs on the way – let’s just say it’s affluent if you replace the ‘a’ with an ‘e’. Arriving at the deserted car park, I realised what a fantastic place it would be to rob tourists’ cars if you had no money. Just pop out of the bush, yoink stuff, and you’re away laughing. With news of the ‘lawless north‘ in my mind, I wondered whether the car would still be there when I got back (I am an anxious man). But communities are made of all kinds, and up the road in the actual carpark, a community group were there to ‘guard the cars’.
I thought it was nice that they’re doing their bit to maintain a bit of reputation for the city. But at the same time, a bit disconcerting they need to be that organised, that the car burglaries were so common that they have an organised old-dear patrol! Either way, I hadn’t parked within sight of the old dears, so I hurried up to look upon the city, mind on the car and how big a pain that would be to lose or have broken into. The shabbiness of the city was muted from above, but it just reminded me of Lower Hutt.
I moseyed on, keen to leave idle city dwellers behind. I had intended to pop by the Whangarei falls, but I deemed them not worth the risk. I wouldn’t have enjoyed them as I would have been worrying about the car the entire time. That says more about my spiraling anxiety than the city, but it is what it is, that’s where my mind went. Kiwi North is worth a look though!
Further north I found more gravel as I visited Ruapekapeka Pa (Maori fort). This is one of the last Pa sites besieged by the British (and some Maori) in the New Zealand wars at the end of 1845. It was also one of the most substantial, and studied by European generals for its expert earthwork defences, use of trenches and such. It was also purpose-designed to be attacked by the British, so while they did eventually take it, the Maori forces didn’t suffer many losses and most of them had left by the time it fell.
Being wood, everything but the earthworks have rotted away, but you can still see the shape of everything. From the carpark you visit the earthworks of the British forward emplacement, before walking a nice wee bushwalk and arriving at the Pa, high on the hill with great views. I was alone when I visited. I had a bit of a moment with our history up there, it’s a powerful symbolic place. It’d also be a fantastic place to use Augmented Reality to digitally overlay the pallisades and such as they would have looked through some smartphone goggles and play out the siege a bit (get on it Peter Jackson).
Heading along the winding country road, which was a blast, I passed a burned out car.
After that it was great driving all the way to Paihia and neighbouring Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, a beautiful place absolutely chokka with history. I pitched up in one of the most lovely spots of the trip and saved it for the morning.