Tane Mahuta, the giant kauri tree

Tane Mahuta

Tāne Mahuta

The final stop on our long journey home was in the Waipoua Forest to visit Tāne Mahuta, the giant Kauri tree.

As you enter the forest on your way to see Tāne Mahuta is a signboard with the following words:

“In Māori Cosmology, Tāne is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. Tāne tore his parents apart, breaking their primal, to bring light, space and air and allowing life to flourish.

Tāne is the giver of life. All living creature are his children. This is the largest living kauri tree in New Zealand. It is difficult to accurately estimate the age of Tāne Mahuta, but it may be that Tāne Mahuta sprang from a seed around 2000 years ago.

The dimensions of Tāne Mahuta are: Trunk height 17.7 metres. Total height 51.5 metres. Trunk girth 13.8 metres. Trunk volume 244.5 metres.

The feeding roots of Kauri trees are shallow and delicate. Walking off the formed protective paths and platforms can kill these giant trees.”
Photographs really don’t do any justice to this huge, majestic tree. Tāne is so much bigger than expected and standing there in the presence of this giant, it really is mind-blowing to think of how long he’s been there. It’s a truly awesome sight and a humbling experience, it makes one realise how small we humans really are, and is something that I’m glad we got to see.


Opo the Dolphin

Map Ahipara to West HarbourAfter three days in Ahipara / Ninety Mile beach, we began our long 6 hour journey back to Auckland, driving via Opononi in the Hokianga Harbour to see the statue of Opo the Dolphin.

Opo the Dolphin (or Opononi George) was a young, female bottlenose dolphin well known in New Zealand and some of her story is found on a plaque under the statue: “In the summer of 1955/56 Opo the Dolphin arrived at Opononi and befriended swimmers and boat owners.  Her antics thrilled people of all ages as she swam amongst swimmers, tossed beach balls and escorted boats.  All New Zealanders were saddened by her death in March 1956.  She is buried in front of the South Hokianga War Memorial 60m to the left.

IMG_4851An Opo Memorial Committee was formed and commissioned NZ artist Russell Clark to carve a stone statue of “Opo and Boy”.  The statue was placed on this site in 1960 as a tribute to “Opo” the friendly dolphin.

In 2012 the statue was removed, restored and this bronze replica made from it.  The original stone statue is at our local Museum on Waianga Place, 2.5km west of here.  This bronze copy is dedicated to the memory of “Opo””.

Apparently concerns for her welfare led to the formation of a protection committee and an order was issued declaring it an offense to ‘take or molest any dolphin in Hokianga Harbour’.  This came into effect at midnight on the 8th March 1956.  Unfortunately these measure did not save Opo the Dolphin.  She was found dead the next day, stuck in a rocky crevice.  What exactly happened to her is still uncertain – some believe that she may have became trapped or stranded while fishing, while others think that she may have been killed by fisherman using gelignite (a kind of explosive).

Many were devastated by her death and messages of sympathy were sent from around the country.

To this day, Opo is remembered in song, books and with this statue.

A ‘cartoon’ version of her is featured in a recent advertisement for Tasti Bars (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_KlR-MNIuA)

Cape Reinga

Map Ahipara to Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga is often mistakenly thought of as the Northernmost tip of the North Island, as it’s the furtherest place North that the public have access to. The Northernmost tip of New Zealand is actually situated 30kms to the East of Cape Reinga and are the North Cape’s Surville Cliffs.

A day trip to Cape Reinga revealed that the official Māori name is ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’, which means “the leaping-off place of spirits”. It is believed that this is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld and as this is a very sacred site, eating and drinking at Cape Reinga is prohibited.

Cape Reinga LighthouseIn the Māori mythology of some tribes, Kupe (10th century) was involved in the Polynesian discovery of New Zealand.  Kupe is the earliest known voyager from Hawaiki, the original home of Māori in the eastern Pacific and it was Kupe who gave this place the name Te Rerenga Wairua.  He saw it as the point from which his people would return to their distant homeland after death.  Many places around New Zealand have names from Kupe’s ancient voyages of discovery.

Te Reinga

Te Rēinga

A rocky point jutting out to sea, called Te Rēinga, is the spot where the spirits apparently enter the underworld. Clinging onto the rock is an ancient kahika tree, named Te Aroha. The spirits descend to the water on steps formed by the tree’s roots and then they continue on their journey to Hawaiki, the spiritual home.

Where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet

Where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet

Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) marks the separation of the Tasman Sea (to the West) from the Pacific Ocean. For Māori, these turbulent waters are where the male sea Te Moana Tāpokopoko a Tāwhaki meets the female sea Te Tai o Whitireia. The whirlpools where the currents clash are like those that dance in the wake of a wake (canoe) and they represent the coming together of male and female and the creation of life.

Ahipara and Ninety Mile Beach

Map Tapeka Point to AhiparaAfter three days of lovely weather and frequent trips into Russell or walks around Tapeka Point, we left the Bay of Islands and continued on our journey.  The next three days were spent in Ahipara, which is situated at the Southern end of Ninety Mile beach, about 16kms west of Kaitaia. Ninety Mile beach stretches from Ahipara northwards towards Cape Reinga, along the Aupouri Peninsula (the straight, almost flat section on the map).

90 mile beach

Ninety Mile beach

90 mile beach at sunset

View of Ninety Mile beach at sunset from Ahipara

The beach is not really 90 miles long, its only 55 miles (90kms) and there are many theories as to how the beach got its name, one of which includes a mix up during the conversion from the imperial system to the metric system.  It is said that when it was measured to be 90kms, people hadn’t fully adjusted to using kilometers and continued to refer to it as 90 miles, in error, and the name stuck.  Whatever the reason behind the name, the wide, flat sand that stretches on for miles is truly beautiful and is the perfect place for a quiet, long beach walk.

Sea life is abundant in Shipwreck Bay and while walking along the beach, it is common to see lots of sea shells, broken sand dollar shells and starfish being washed up on the beach.  I happen to be one of those people who love starfish and have numerous photographs of them.  I can’t bear to see people manhandling these delicate creatures or to watch them drying out in the sun when they’ve been stranded by the tide.  IMG_4804I know many say that it’s pointless and that it doesn’t help, but I often gently pick them up and place them in a nearby rock pool or back into the sea if it looks like they’re in danger of being dried out, driven over, stepped on or pulled apart by someone’s children.  If the seagulls get them, well, that’s what the gulls eat and it’s not for me to interfere with.

Sand dollars

Sand dollar shells

If you are patient enough to beachcomb for sea shells, you may be lucky enough to find some unbroken sand dollars, but as many people drive on the beach or ride quad bikes and horses, finding unbroken ones can prove to be rather difficult, unless you’re out at the right time of day.

Tapeka Point, Bay of Islands

Tapeka, Bay of IslandsOur “home” for the three days spent in Tapeka Point, was a rented bach (pronounced ‘batch’, which is an NZ holiday home) situated about 2kms from the town of Russell.  Tapeka Point consists of a large hill jutting out between two bays, with spectacular views stretching from Paihia and Waitangi and then sweeping out across the Bay of Islands.  The walk up the hill can be a little steep at times and I wouldn’t recommend walking up there directly after a heavy rain or in the drizzle, as the grass and muddy slopes can get quite slippery, but on a clear sunny day, the climb is not too bad and the awesome views are definitely worth the effort!


View from Tapeka Point

Tapeka, Bay of Islands

View from Tapeka Point

We were told that dolphin and Orca frequently visit the bays and swim up close to shore.  We were told to watch out for the ships doing day tours, as they often slow down or stop if there are dolphin and whales in the area.  Unfortunately, during our stay at the point, we weren’t lucky enough to see dolphin or whales.

Norfolk Island Pines planted in the 1830's

Norfolk Island Pines planted in the 1830’s

There is a public reserve that borders along a section of the beach and it has a few wooden benches scattered on the grass around two large, very old Norfolk Pine trees.  This is the perfect spot to comfortably sit and read while periodically whale or dolphin watching.  These pine trees were planted in the 1830’s by the Stephenson family, in honour of their 3 sons and legend has it that one of the sons died in a storm at sea, while on that same night one of the pine trees was struck by lightning.  The dead pine tree was later replaced with a younger specimen and can be seen towards the beach, in front of the larger original two.  (Looking at the photo below, the newer pine tree is at the back, behind these two – you can just see the third, smaller trunk, towards the right).

Russell, Bay of Islands

Map West Harbour to Tapeka PointWe decided it was time to explore some of the Northland and planned a week long trip where we’d be spending 3 nights in the Bay of Islands and then 3 nights in Ahipara.

Our journey started with a 3½ hour drive from Auckland to Tapeka Point in the Bay of Islands, this included a first-time trip on a car ferry, from Opua to the quaint little town of Russell.  The car ferry was quick, only taking 10 minutes (there is also passenger ferry that runs from Paihia to Russell, which can be used if you’re heading out to explore and don’t need a vehicle).

Formerly known as Kororāreka, Russell was the first permanent European settlement and New Zealand’s first capital.  With whaling becoming a major industry in the 1800’s, the town quickly became known as the “hellhole of the Pacific”, thanks to the rough and rowdy crews off the ships docked in port.

Trade between the local Māori and the Europeans flourished, although it wasn’t always favorable.  The trade of muskets in the early 1820’s led to “The Musket Wars”, where old feuds between Māori tribes were settled with these new, powerful and destructive weapons. Many were killed, with certain Māori tribes being destroyed completely and the boundaries of original tribal lands altered.

Situated along the waterfront road, in the town of Russell, is the Duke of Marlborough Hotel.  We have been watching MasterChef on TV and a few weeks before we arrived, the contestants had been given the opportunity to cook in this ‘history-steeped’ hotel!


Duke of Marlborough Hotel

To give you an idea of the history surrounding this place, this next section is an extract from http://www.theduke.co.nz:  “The Duke of Marlborough began its life in 1827 as “Johnny Johnstons Grog Shop”. The owner Johnny Johnston was an ex convict come good, he became fluent in Te Reo and was very well regarded with the local Maori. This relationship led to Johnny being able to purchase the freehold site of the Duke – which was one of the first land sales to a European in New Zealand.

In the 1830s, Russell or Kororareka, as it was known then, was the biggest whaling port in the Southern Hemisphere and turned out to be a bit of an eye opener for the missionaries. Up to 500 whalers at a time would arrive in Russell after twelve months at sea, with Russell having no effective law enforcement agency, the scene wasn’t ideal. Prostitution was one of the area’s largest industries and many local women frequently entered into 3 week marriages.

Johnny quickly changed the name of his hotel to the Duke of Marlborough, at the time the Duke of Marlborough was the world’s richest man, so the name sought to bring respect, elegance and opulence to the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. By all accounts, Johnny was a well trusted man and assisted in the translation of the treaty of Waitangi to the Maori – it is rumoured he was worried that the Maori version did not quite equate to the English version (it still pays to listen to your publican!)

After the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, New Zealands first government was formed just down the road in Okaito, and started treating to bring the famed lawlessness to an end. With Johnny being so well known in the local area, it is no surprise that he managed to swing the very first licence for his establishment (the colonial treasurer was a close friend), so after 13 years of serving Whalers, traders and prostitutes, Johnny the ex-con was now all legal.  The licence now hangs proudly in a gold frame in the bar, where sharp eyed history buffs have pointed out a reference to the succession of Queen Victoria from her father.”

ex-Russell Police Station

ex-Russell Police Station

Walking a little further up the road from the Duke of Marlborough, we got to see the large old Morton Bay Fig tree and a very old house that used to be Russell’s Police Station.  The sign outside the house reads as follows:

“ex-Russell Police Station.  This Historic House was designed by W.H. Clayton, the Colonial Architect in the late 1860’s.  First occupied in 1870, it served as a custom house until the 1890’s.  It became a Police Station and residence in the early 1900’s.

Morton Bay Fig Tree (planted between 1870 & 1886)

Morton Bay Fig Tree (planted between 1870 & 1886)

The adjacent Morton Bay Fig Tree (Ficus macrophyllia) was planted by the first collector of customs … Mr E.B. Laing who served from 1870 to 1886.  This house is the Policeman’s home, please respect his privacy.”

To read more interesting facts on the history of Russell and to continue reading about The Duke of Marlborough, visit http://www.russellnz.co.nz/russell-history and http://www.theduke.co.nz