Today’s Lesson: Just because a road is called a highway, does not mean you will be able to use it to quickly get from point A to point B.
We got up early in the morning on Day 2 of our time in New Zealand to travel from our lodging at Sheepworld to meet up with Tiana (Eli’s coworker’s daughter). We had been planning on stopping for an hour long hike up a mountain on our way, but it was raining and incredibly misty out, so it didn’t make sense to do the hike. Instead, we decided to take the “scenic highway” route to get to our destination (since none of the museums or shops were open at 7:30 am).
The scenic highway turned out to be quite an interesting drive in a large campervan on a windy day. The road was quite curvy with a few one-way bridges sprinkled in. I wish I had a video of driving it, since it’s hard to describe. My best description would be that they needed a road, but didn’t want to blast through any rock, or cut down any trees, so wound the road around these things. And the geology of the island is very young, so there are a lot of hills and valleys, but they’re not rounded from years of weathering like they are in the states; they’re new and quite irregular. So instead of slow winding loops up the hills like you get on Rt 17 through the Catskills, you get very tight corners that loop back on each other in quite sharp turns.
Another interesting thing about the roads here in the Northlands, is that the speed limit is higher than any sane individual would drive. There was a particularly twisty pass with almost constant switchbacks and sharp corners, with a speed limit of 75kph (~50mph). We took it at about 40-45 in the campervan. There are stretches of 100kph road that we couldn’t do more than 60 or 70 on. Quite a difference from the Mass Pike. Eli has been doing all the driving so far, since I’m not quite sure I can handle these roads, driving on the wrong side of the road in a large diesel van.
So in the morning we drove the excitingly windy scenic highway. We stopped frequently at various parks and sights, since Eli couldn’t look at much except the road while we were driving. There are some really beautiful parks here, most of the ones we saw today were long stretches of coastline with mountains in the background.
We took a lot of pictures, but didn’t upload very many, since we’re paying for internet by the MB. We’ll upload more later, when we next have a free internet connection.
This is a shot of Lang's Beach. I love a beach with mountains in the background.
Eli and I after walking the beach to stretch our legs after an hour or so of windy road driving.
They call this the New Zealand Christmas Tree (I can't remember the official species name), since it flowers with these beautiful red flowers in early to mid December. They're starting to flower everywhere just now!
Close-up of the red flower from the "Christmas Tree"
We went to a reserve called One Tree Point (although there were many trees there, so the name was misleading), and there was all of this igneous rock that was incredibly soft. There was also harder stuff that they'd carved stairs into so you could get close to the water. These trees have amazingly strong roots; most are coming horizontally out of the rock face, with no roots pointing downwards!
After we reached the town of Whangarei (pronounced Fahn-goo-ray), we found we had 6 hours before meeting Tiana, so we decided to go to see the Waipoua Forest, which has the last of the native Kauri trees in the country. It used to be covered with them, but most were cut down by Europeans after they settled here. We first took a walk to the Father of the Forest (the second largest tree in the forest) and the Four Sisters (four large trees clustered together). They were nice, short hikes, and the trees were amazingly large. Then we took the very short hike to see the Mother of the Forest, the ‘mightiest tree in the forest’ (although we forgot to bring our herring…). It doesn’t come through well in pictures, because it’s hard to understand just how large it is… 13.8m around the trunk (over 45 feet).
On the way to the forest, we stopped by a shop and met a man that does carvings with this wood. He has to use trees found preserved in swamps, since it’s a protected species and cannot be cut down. There’s a lot of wetland area in New Zealand, and when a farmer finds one of these trees on his land, these folks pay to have it extracted, then they work with the wood. It has an amazing grain pattern, which they call ‘fiddleback’ here, since it’s often the same pattern as the wood used on the back of violins.
Eli with a tree fern
We were wondering if tree ferns were like ground ferns, and started their fronds as fiddleheads. We wondered this for a while, until we finally saw this one, which is nearly as big as my head! And we saw a partially unrolled frond, where the individual leaves were still uncurling. Quite cool!
The mother of the forest, but with no people for scale, it's hard to see how incredibly massive this tree is. I'm standing quite a good ways back to get this picture (and could still benefit from a wide-angle lens)
After the forest, we drove to Tutukaka to meet with Tiana for dinner. The drive took a lot longer than we expected, since we hadn’t accounted for the curvy-ness of the road through the forest, which made our drive earlier in the day seem tame. It’s as if the road curved around every individual tree, with very small shoulders and often steep dropoffs. But we eventually made it to Tutukaka, and had a lovely dinner with Tiana at the local restaurant, and took a walk along the marina there. She graciously offered her yard for the night, so we parked the van and got a good night’s sleep. We had a reservation to dive on the Poor Knight Islands the next day, and wanted to be ready!