Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Travel Journal - Including an ECLIPSE!

Freedom Camping – Day 1

Shelly Beach – Nov. 13, 2012

We had a relaxing morning in the Grafton 
Village neighborhood, then took a taxi out to Otuhuhu (love the Maori names!) and spent an hour with our vacation rental van people, who briefed us on everything we need to know about our camper.  Water in, water out, chemicals in, sewage out, battery power, electric power, spare tire.  You name it, we know how to use it.  This camper is designed for 4, but we’re using the over-cab compartment for storage and have the rest of the camper as space for ourselves, decadent as that is.

And we headed out, trying to become accustomed to driving with right-hand drive and signs that don’t 
quite make sense, navigating traffic circles and following maps that are incomplete.  

We decided to head to Shelly Beach, on the east side of a small peninsula on the Northland West area.  We’re facing Kaipara Harbour to our east, with the main part of the long Northland Peninsula opposite us – so that we’re facing into what we think will be the sunrise.

We’re at a paid camping site, didn’t realize that when we headed here but once we were here, well, what to do.  There are bathrooms, showers, we opted for no electricity since our battery charges when we drive.  Had a lovely dinner of roast beef sandwiches and potato crisps, and Afghan cookies for dessert (they’re rather vile, sort of a coconut  biscuit covered in rice krispies and milk chocolate, 
or something).
The night sky is dark and full of constellations we
 don’t recognize.  And that’s kind of the metaphor for this trip, I guess – heading out into unknown territory with no markers that we understand, just happily going forth without direction, without a plan, like the proverbial rolling stones.  

Because there’s always time to gather moss, later on in life.


Freedom Camping – Day 2
Nov. 14, 2012 – still at Shelly Beach

Today there was a solar eclipse, and where we are it was about 70-75%.  We hung out and watched it a bit, mostly through thin clouds so that we could actually see the eclipse.  Pretty exciting!!!!

I wandered around the Shelly Beach campsite, which is very pretty – the bay is somewhat murky, the beach is mostly small white shells (tiny clams and scallops, from the looks of it – though I think there might be cockles, I’m not sure what cockles look like), and the grassy area has tiny white and orange and purple flowers.  There are a few cement picnic tables that are just a few stools and a table – looking somewhat like Stonehenge, though the eclipse may be what put that thought into my head.

I took a walk up the path that leads to the top of the ridge – and met my first ponga, a tree fern.  This is a GIANT fern, over six feet tall, like a tree – but still a fern, complete with giant fiddleheads.  “Ponga” is the Maori name, and these monster ferns grow all over New Zealand.  I don’t know if they grow anywhere else in the world, but we saw them in the forests as we headed from Wellington to Auckland, and then all along the drive as we’ve headed further north still.  I can just imagine some hobbit looking out from under this giant fern!

We relaxed a bit at Shelly Beach, then decided to head east to Helensville, a town we had turned around in yesterday.  Nice little town, found an internet café so spent some time online, and had a bite of lunch.

We both looked at maps and it appeared that there was a reserve near Wangakura, north of Helensville, on the way to Wellsford, which is where we’d turn onto a different highway to head northwest.  We drove and drove and drove, through windy roads and past tiny communities, stopping at the occasional scenic overlook (which is difficult to do when you’re in an 18 ft long camper) – and then we realized that somehow, either there weren’t signs for Wangakura, or we missed them.  So we looked at the maps, decided on Topara and managed to find the Atiu Creek Regional Park.  


 This seems to be a huge park, with a working farm that people can visit, hiking and riding trails, camping (tent camping) down at the park, and a parking area for caravan camping (like us) up at the top of the hill.  So we’re here.  We seem to be the only people around, cozy in our caravan.  We both walked around a little, but the gates are locked and we didn’t want to climb over them at 5 PM.  There are incredible 270 degree views, the other 90 degrees being a hill to one side of us – hopefully acting as something of a windbreak.  We can see all the way to the Kaipara Harbour to the west, the farm and park below full of a bird sanctuary, indigenous trees, archeological sites (one or two Maori “pa” – fortifications or meeting centers), and the farm.  To the east and south there are rolling hills, farms, cattle and sheep ranches, roads – just rolling light and dark greens with dots of other colors.

Now,  with the sun set and the sky nearly dark, and no lights to be seen in any direction, it’s very quiet and peaceful.  The wind has died down, and we’re thinking about settling in for the night.  The good news is that we have water, lights (on the battery), and a gas heater and cooker.  Plus park restrooms down the road a bit. 

We’re set for freedom camping the Kiwi way – self-contained and in a spot that’s free for the night.  Cuppa tea and some biscuits, a cosy duvet or two, that’s the life!  

Freedom Camping – Day 3
Nov. 15, 2012 – Our 9th Anniversary!!!

Just a quick summary of the night – the skies cleared and the stars were amazingly beautiful – all the usual metaphors of diamonds and lights in the sky and twinkling lights and such.  And, of course, constellations that we don’t see, so we can make up our own.  But enough starlight to give us vague light, just a bit of a glow, inside the camper.

At maybe 10:30 PM Richard heard a car pull up, and a young woman got out – she came over to the camper and asked if there was a place to camp.  I woke up, and told him that the tent camping was down the hill but the gate was locked.  He conveyed that message to the woman, she and her friend drove off.  I’m not sure why they didn’t just pitch their tent in the clearing in back of the car park area, although it would have been extremely windy – but at 10:30 PM in the dark, I personally don’t think anyone needs to worry about having a reservation or camping in the wrong area!

We spent the morning at Atiu Creek Regional Park – it was a rainy morning, but cleared by about 8:30 so we set off to walk around the park.  I wanted to walk to the Pa (not sure if it’s pronounced Pay or Pah), an old Maori meeting place or fortification.  Turned out that it’s a hill without any apparent archaeological site – but it was a good hike.  I made it to the Pa, then a bit beyond – but it started raining, so I turned around and hiked back.  Richard wanted to get to the Ti Tree Point, but again, he was rained out. 

The trails were color coded, so easy to read on the map and with corresponding markers along the trails – we followed the red and yellow trails, then Richard tried the other end of the red trail.  But the markers along the way – I’m not sure how to describe them, they mostly looked like the large painted dowels used as croquet goal posts.  Really, they did!

And the birds!  There were various ducks, mostly ducks with wings that were black on the edges and white in the center top – one gender had black heads, the other white.  We saw a flock of them, and then a young couple who were courting (we think) – we aren’t sure which is the male or female – the white head duck was noisier, but the black head duck was larger.  But they definitely were a noisy couple, and they took turns chasing each other through the air.

Then there were the magpies, also black and white – and one magpie decided to lead me on my hike after Richard turned around to try a different route.  The bird would fly ahead, perch on something, squawk at me, then as I approached he’d fly ahead to another perch and wait for me to come up.  There must be a Maori legend that the magpie is the messenger of something, that he leads people through the forests to safety, or carries messages, or something.  But on the return hike, one trickster magpie tried to lead me astray, sitting on the fence of a downhill path, but there were no marker croquet sticks – so I knew not to trust that magpie, and I told him he couldn’t fool me.  He gave a loud caw caw and flew away.

But there’s a little yellow-headed bird – not bright gold like a goldfinch, but a soft butter yellow, like canary yellow – a small wren or sparrow looking bird, with this clear yellow head and underbelly – I have no idea what they are, they fly around in little flocks, and they make little chirpy noises while they watch people approach – then fly away in their group.  Very pretty against the evergreen trees!

Okay, we’re stopped in Wellsford for lunch and internet time, then will head north and west – aiming generally for Dargersville, which is partway up the upper peninsula of Northland.

1 comment:

  1. Thomas, we didn't have a map - that would have helped!

    But I'm deleting your comment, since you have a link to the benefits of coconut water - we can't have advertising, or something like that.