Posted by: dammer145 | October 23, 2008

A trip to the islands

We woke up early today at about 07:00 and after having had a nice long shower and a coffee from our kitchenette we sat down in Rod and Christine’s dining room for breakfast. It started with an ugli, followed by self-made muffins, home-made muesli, various kinds of fruit and last but definitely not least an “eggpot”, consisting of eggs, cheese and potatoes. Lovely!

During breakfast Rod explained to us what damage the English settlers had done to New Zealands ecosystems when they arrived here. Instead of just enjoying New Zealand flora and fauna for what it was, they decided they wanted to recreate England just as it was. To this end they brought all kinds of non-native species with them such as sparrows, blackbirds, doves. The biggest problems came from non-native mammals such rabbits. Once introduced, the rabbits went totally mad and caused widespread devastation over the islands. To solve this problem the English introduced the Australian possum, weasel and other small predators. A lot of New Zealand birds however are either birds that fly very poorly or cannot fly at all. So instead of the weasels getting tired of running after those rabbits all day, they decided it was a lot easier just to catch those lazy kiwis. Rod told us that nowadays a lot of effort is going on to eradicate these creatures – “if you see a hedgehog on the road, it’s better not to brake”. Anouk wasn’t very happy with the prospective of roadkill…

Anouk inspects an enormous kauri tree.

Last night Christine had booked us an afternoon cruise around the Bay of Islands, but before that we set off towards one of the ancient forests that are spread out over the northern part of the north island. These forests are home to many kinds of endemic birds and trees, the least of which are the legendary kauri trees. These ancient trees can grow up to enormous hight, with trunks that can be as wide as 6 meters. Carbon dating has shown some trees to be over four thousand years old. We made our way to the Puketi forest, about twenty-five minutes drive from our B&B (although Anouk decided we would take the “scenic” route so it took us a little bit longer… As one was not allowed to walk over the forest ground (the swampy nature of it made this impossible anyway) a wooden walkway had been installed through a large part of the forest. At first it was not clear which trees we were looking for, but soon the gargantuan sentinels started popping up left and right of the path. The trees have a greenish gray bark and are completely bare like stone pillars right until the top, where they stretch out their canopy towards the sun. It was very hard not to be impressed by these giants. During our walk through the forest we also found a variety of ferns and other strange-looking plants and trees.

One of the most striking things when one comes to New Zealand is the variety of birds that can be found here. Whilst in the forest we again encountered a bird that is numerous in New Zealand: the tui. Male tuis have a small ball-shaped white tuft under their beaks which make them very recognisable. Their song is unlike anything I have heard before: apparently they have more than one set of vocal chords allowing them to make the strangest of songs. Today we also encountered fantails, bellbirds and pukekas.

The hole in the rock.

After tramping through the forest we made our way towards Paihia where we would catch our boat. The sea was pretty choppy when we made our way out, which proved to be pretty bumpy! First we crossed over to the small town of Russel where we picked up a few more cruise passengers. We passed various locations, including the one where captain Cooke first laid anchor when he came here halfway through the 18th century. The furthest point we went was cape Reed, where we also passed through the famous Hole in the Rock. The Bay of Islands is beautiful – a labyrinth of small islands covered in subtropical plants and trees. We were quietly hoping we might catch a glimpse of dolphins, however they did (of course) not appear. On our way back we got off the cruise in Russel and had a look around here for half an hour. Russel was the very first European settlement here and used to be home to all kinds of bandits, drunks, whale hunters and traders.

We took the ferry back to Paihia where we had dinner in a restaurant next to the water called 34” South. Anouk had soup as a starter and since I enjoyed the seafood chowder so much the day before I decided to have it again. As main course we both had fish and chips – personally I thought the fish was too fatty and the chips had far too much salt on them. Next to us were two older Germans putting up a fuss just about everything – from the fact they had put ice in their cocktail to the fact that he had ordered two steaks and not just one.

After dinner we made our way to Waitangi. On the 5th of February 1840 five hundred Maori chiefs and representatives of the British crown came together here to sign the Treaty of Waitangi which would define how these two people would live together. Both English and Maori versions of the document exist, and it remains controversial to this day as the Maori version can be interpreted differently to the English version.

We had booked some tickets to a traditional show of Maori dress, song and dance, held in the meeting hall, or marae, on the shore at Waitangi. We learnt the history of the Maori in Aotearea, the Land of the Long White Cloud as the Maori call New Zealand. The men would stick out their tongues and shout and stamp their feet in an effort to scare us away!

We headed back to the B&B and fell fast asleep.

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