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Touring New Zealand 2009 - part 5

Having left Napier early in the morning we stopped at Lake Tutira hoping for good enough weather for camping. Sadly it was an onshore wind, and was not possible. We sat and admired the glorious views and were welcomed by the herd of black Australian swans on whose patch we were sitting. Pete walked around the small lake, and then we moved on. Lake Tutira is about 40kms from Napier, and in another 60kms we reached Wairoa and stopped there rather than continuing further. We had stayed at the Holiday Park on the banks of the river previously and went back again. We were lucky and had a kitchen cabin. The site was really well looked after with flowers and little curtains hung below the sinks in the toilets and even in the kitchen. The kitchen had a cupboard full of crockery and utensils and even tea towels and washing up liquid. We talked to the owner and her assistant. The barbeque is built into the boot of an old car that is attached to a dummy garage. The assistant had come, like us, on spec for a day and was still there after six and a half years, living in a well founded bus - she had had it stretched and it had a side extension sliding out for the bedroom when stationary.

Wairoa is a small town but with all the essentials. There is a supermarket, a butcher/fresh veges and an excellent bakery, Oslers. There are also some bargain antique/secondhand shops and Pauline spotted a large glass fruit bowl which she recognised. It was Iitala glass from Finland, an unusual find in NZ, and a good replacement for the 2litre plastic icecream tub which we had been using as a salad bowl. We don't know yet whether we will bring it home or leave it in NZ.

There are two possible routes to the East Cape, and both pass through the town of Gisborne. Normally we would travel east on SH2 towards the Mahia Peninsula, then continue north to Gisborne. It is a good road, and only 97kms. We chose the alternative. Just 7kms north of Wairoa we turned on to the Tiniroto Road which is signposted Te Reinga. There is a pretty waterfall just off the road, Te Reinga Falls. DOC have been doing some work and there is now a new viewing platform, but the old rough track down to the water is getting overgrown. Just beyond Tiniroto we saw a sign to Donneraille Park. It was lunchtime and we wanted somewhere pretty to sit with our lunch, so we descended to, we presume, the Hangaora River. It was a delightful spot, used for 'freedom camping' between Labour weekend and Easter, for those with a Gisborne District Council permit. There are a number of GDC freedom camping places on the coast between Gisborne and East Cape and getting a permit is a good idea. Here there was a toilet block and tap with warnings to boil the water. We rejoined SH2 just 11kms from Gisborne, making our slow and pretty journey 102kms. It is not a fast road.

At Gisborne we stay at the Kiwi Holiday Park at Waikanae Beach. It is just walking distance from the shops, and there are camping slots which look directly onto the beach and ocean through the fence. In 2009 we stayed in a simple cabin, very good value, but we suffered from the plastic matresses on the beds in the hot and sticky weather. Our cheap walking boots, purchased 3 years ago from the Warehouse - "where everyone gets a bargain" - had split and although Pete did a temporary repair we finally bought new boots in town. It is the first time we have both spent a full hour in a shoe shop, and we came out with 5 pairs of shoes. They also had proper Crocs on sale at half price ($20) at the end of range, and whenever Pauline finds shoes that fit she always buys herself two pairs. The old broken boots will be kept until the end of the holiday because they are good enough for scrambling around on the rocks, fishing.

If you do go round the Pacific Coast Highway make sure you keep full of petrol - it is about 365 kms from Gisborne to Opotiki including diverting to the East Cape Lighthouse. Petrol stations very are infrequent and you can pay a 50% premium - we paid an extra 60c a litre at Ruatoria one year. It is a good idea to fill up at Tirohanga if you are going from the Opotiki end or Gisborne the other way. The whole area also has limited mobile coverage although it is better than our first visit when there was no coverage for 4 days. We now got marginal coverage at Tirohanga and good at Tolaga Bay.

Our first stop after leaving Gisborne was at Tolaga Bay which has the longest wharf in the Southern Hemisphere. On our first visit it was not even safe to walk out on it to fish. It is has now been largely restored and is in the safe hands of the Historic Places Trust - it is now safe but still in need of much more work to arrest the continuing deterioration. The initial contractors were alleged to have used a lot of sand from beaches in the concrete and the salt has rusted the reinforcing rods and exploded the concrete. We stayed at the adjacent camp-site, which is a very attractive option for a stay either on a trip round East Cape or just for a couple of days fishing. We could not get a waterfront cabin like last visit - they have a spectacular view out over the beach and wharf and must count as one of top spots anywhere and they also have everything was new and matching, there was a fridge freezer and their view is one to die for. Instead we settled for a very good Kitchen cabin set back from the front which was significantly cheaper. In fact we ended up staying for three days and had to change to the cabin next door for the final day.

The first couple of days were spent relaxing, writing up some of our travels and reading with the odd game of Backgammon thrown in. We also experimented with cooking the mutton bird (titi) we had bought earlier in Taumarunui. Mutton birds are only allowed to caught on one island by a limited number of Maori Iwi. They are the young of the Sooty Sheerwater that are caught at their plumpest and fattest point of development and are usually salted although in the old days they were also partially cooked and preserved under their own fat. They are usually cut open and flattened when salted - ours was vaccuum packed as well although that was more to keep the fat and smell of fish in than for preservation they are so well salted. On previous occasions we have found them very salty after cooking and this time we first found some hints on cooking on the internet and first soaked the bird in water in the fridge for a few hours, simmered it in fresh water for half an hour, changed the water and simmered for another hour then left it to stand in fresh water until we were ready to finally cook and eat. This removed a lot of the salt and boiled off some of the thick layer of fat which starts thicker by far than even a duck. The area should be well ventilated when cooking as they reek of fish. We finished the job on a hot barbeque which removed a lot more of the fat and crisped up the skin. The barbeque only had a cast iron plate which worked well although a set of bars would have been what we would choose if available. We ate it with lots of fresh brown bread and a salad - absolutely delicious with the taste of smoked fish like kippers but the crisp skin of a duck.

On our last day we did a walk over the hill to Cook's Cove where he picked up water in October 1769; there is a historic plaque noting this was his First Landing.

Continuing towards the East Cape we passed the side road to Anaura Bay where the campsite at the bottom of the hill is a possible stop in the future. This was the site of Cook's Second Landing. It is a nice but windswept campsite right on the sea front and further round there is a DOC site but only for campers with a chemical toilet. There is also a walk.

The most interesting diversion was to Waima from Tokomaru Bay where we found some old freezing works and a wharf which was in use until the mid 1950s. We took several pictures as we have a poster of Nelson Bro's Australian and New Zealand Freezing and Shippers of Lamb.

We fueled, both the van and ourselves with an ice-cream at Te Puia Springs - both were a sensible price and there was a small but appropriately stocked store. Otherwise Te Puia Springs has only the Hot Pools, and a traditional kiwi Hotel. If you don't look for the store and fuel it is easy to miss it because it is off the side of the main road.

We stopped for the first time to look at the magnificent church at Tikitiki - it is an interesting blend of Moari and Christian traditions and has been recently restored and again in Te Aroroa town to look at the biggest Pohutukawa tree in the country and is believed to be over 300 years old.

We took a further diversion to see the East Cape Lighthouse. You travel 21 kms down a road, about half is now sealed although the maps show it as gravel. Being in the country there are country hazards - this year a herd of cows were happily munching their way along the verge and wandering into the middle of the road. At the end is a car park which used to feature the farthest east dunny in the world - it has now been replaced by a swish new block with flushing toilets. I am glad I can claim to have used the farthest east dunny before it was replaced. It may still be the most easterly public toilet so savour it. You can then walked back 150 metres and climb up a track over private land to the lighthouse. The signs warn it is a steep climb taking 25 minutes and there are wooden steps to save erosion, 700 in all. Last time Pete got the time down to 13 minutes and Pauline 16 and the views were worth it. We were a little short on time to walk right up to the top this year so we let the records stand. The lighthouse used to be on the island just off shore but was moved to the mainland. As we left we saw some mountain bikers start up the steps - it takes all types. It is said that the trip is best made at sunrise - we must try some time.

We stopped at the Te Araroa holiday park which we had first stayed at in 1999. It's main distinguishing feature then was that it had the Furthest East Cinema in the world. It has now been closed - presumably because everyone now watches DVDs at home. Image #1>Furthest East Cinema We should have re-read our web-site write up from 2007 as we had then given it the distinction of being the worst camp-site we have stayed at - because of an aggregation of a large number of small factors in addition to being more expensive and with less matching facilities than the other sites we used on the East Cape. There were still signs to boil all water even in the kitchens and our 'kitchen cabin' at $55 only had a cold tap but did have a fridge. Things had improved a bit - at least this time we did not find big nests of insects in the folds of the curtains with wiggling grubs a centimetre long. The electric cooker element glowed white hot where it was broken at one end which led me to check the fire extinguisher which had not been signed up for annual checks since 2004. The facilities did not encourage one to use them and the catches on the doors were mostly broken, the showers area looked worse and some did not even have doors and the insects were thick in the air. The washing machines were leaking on the floors. We had to spray the room repeatedly for insects.

On the positive side the shop is still well stocked with food and drink which is much used by locals and opens at 0700 in the morning. The take-away cafe in a caravan was doing good business selling chips. The flower beds outside were full of blooms and we were showed a new set of Motel Units which are very swish and completely self contained (towels on the beds with little soaps etc) but were over twice the price of our cabin. The site seems so sheltered that a tent would be OK in almost any wind strength and this year there were no horses roaming in the inner paddock so it was clear underfoot. With better weather the large beach was good, but with too much surf for swimming. We found a few decent mussels clinging to life on the rocks at low tide. Although it was a better experience by far than last time it still ranks at the bottom of our list of desirable sites unless one is completely self contained or can pay for a motel unit.

We stopped at Raukokore at the beautiful Anglican Church which is out on a promontory. It used to be overshadowed by two magnificent Norfolk Pines but unfortunately they have had to be cut down as they were destroying the foundations. It however makes the white church even more striking. We could not go inside as it was Sunday morning and a service was being held. On previous visits there has been a note inside saying not to worry about a slight fishy smell as there was a family of penguins nesting under the font.

We passed the camp site we used at Maraehako on our first visit which it seems to have gained some informal horse riding and kayaking - it is owned and run by a Maori trust. Originally very informal it now has a good facilities block and there were a number of buses, vans and tents parked down by the beach.

We stopped next at the Tirohanga Beach Motor Camp to ring ahead to see if there were any possibilities for a trip to White Island. The main road still had no mobile coverage, so we used the Freephone number from the phone box. Trips depend very much on the weather and one year we spent three days in the area, reporting each day to their office in Whakatane and never got a trip. Our previous and only visit there was in 1996. In 2009 the weather was much better and we were lucky and were 'waitlisted' for the following morning and had a firm booking for 24 hours later. With over 50kms to drive to Whakatane for White Island it was too far to use Tirohanga as our base, but we have stayed there several times before and it was an obvious option for our return journey.

We passed the Te ara Ki Te Tairawhiti - The Pathway to the Sunrise about 4 km short of Opotiki. It was created by Opotiki's master carver Keke Collier and shows the arrival of the Maori people in Opotiki with a European soldier and Maori woman symbolising the togetherness of the races. They were moved to this site in 1998 due to the risk of vandalism and they have just been painted up and look rather fine in the new setting.

Entering Opotiki we passed the pipi beds at the end of the river - we have stopped and gathered them on previous visits - they make good eating if just boiled until they open like mussels or even better if barbequed till they open. They are called pipis as they give a squirt of water when gathered - they are usually about 6 cms under the sand at low water mark.

Our intention was then to continue to Whakatane and stay at the Whakatane Holiday Park, which was walking distance from town. When we got there we found it was on the edge of the river and we had hoped to get a beach view, so we turned back to the nearest alternative - a Top10 at Ohope Beach about 15kms to the east. Here we got a beautiful camping slot, with power, and a direct view onto the ocean. This was our most expensive camping at $36 a night, and would have been $40 without our Top10 card. It was shoulder season - in high season camping there is $50. The site was excellent, and they had some lovely new apartments which overlooked our tent and had direct sea views, but at a price. We stayed a second night, but in a cabin at twice the price, because we needed a very early start in the morning and the weather was going to be wet overnight - packing a wet tent at dawn is not a joke.

Checkin for our trip was at the White Island Rendezvous - a mixture of motel accommodation, cafe and tour information and booking centre which was built in May 1998 next to the Whakatane Harbour. The tour to White Island on PeeJay IV was timed at 1030, for departure at 1100. There was also an early trip at 0915, on the larger PeeJay V. In 2009 it cost $175 each; with our Top10 card but we did get afree coffee and muffin at the PeeJays Coffee House. It was beautiful coffee and a magnificent white chocolate and blueberry muffin. It was so good we would even pay full price next time! One novelty - the checkin tickets were stainless steel cream separators - they said they were difficult to lose. Departing at 1115 we easily got over the harbour bar and passed the statue of the Maori maiden, Wairaka who is the subject of several legends.

White Island is an active volcanic island about 50 kms off shore. The first European to discover White Island and give it its name was Cook in 1769, but he did not realise it was a volcano. That was only discovered in 1826. It is certainly a memorable and exciting place to visit. The trip across by the PeeJay IV boat took just over an hour and a half and when we arrived at Crater Bay, the only place suitable for mooring, we found PeeJay V was there and loading its passengers after their exploration. There was also what was described to us as a 'cruise ship'. It was the Oceanic Discoverer and was small but looked expensive. They had been using the official guides provided by PeeJay for their tour of the island, and were also about to depart.

We were invited to step down and onto the inflatable tender which took us to the landing area where we climbed out onto a sort of set of ladders. We had put our cameras into waterproof bags, but the transfer was no problem for us; it was not a trip for old folks or wheelchairs. Although the PeeJay boats and tenders are larger and newer than in 1996 the landing area is still the same. We asked why there had not been a proper wharf built and were told that the boulders which are beneath the landing area move too much to support a permanent structure. Since 1953 White Island has been a private scenic reserve, owned by the Buttle family trust and part of the income from each visitor ($27 in our case) goes to them.

We were then divided into groups, each escorted by two guides and issued with hard helmets and gas masks; the latter are always needed in some areas, one hopes the hard hats are required less often! The overall impression was that the description of it being "the most awesome experience in New Zealand" was not that much of an exaggeration. It certainly makes even Hells Gate look restrained and we certainly needed the gas masks at times as the swirling clouds of steam and sulphur caught up with us. In June 2000 there was new activity with ash emitted and a plume of smoke. Again as recently as Waitangi Day 2007 there was a small eruption and we were shown the eruption material - so soft you could break it up with your hand. The vivid crater lake varies in depth and was nearly full enough in 2004 to overflow and break its banks. Fortunately it did not. Certainly White Island is different on every visit and will always have its own way of surprising visitors.

Until the 1960s the Maoris visited White Island to collect the young of the greyfaced petrel, or the NZ muttonbird, during November, which they then preserved. We smiled because in Taumarunui we had purchased a Muttonbird from a supermarket which we subsequently boiled three times and then roasted on the barbeque at Tologa Bay - much to the amusement of other foreign tourists.

White Island has been inhabited at times by sulphur extractors for fertilizer manufacture and some of the buildings and kit remain. At least one party of minors were completely lost in a landslide in 1914 and only the cat was ever found. Then in 1923 another venture began which went into receivership in 1933. The outside walls and a few pine timbers are all that remain of their large ferro-concrete factory - the extreme corrosion and the way some of the equipment has been distributed bear witness to the power of the fumes and the sea.

Once back onboard the main boat people could swim. In 1996 there had been snorkels to see the rich underwater life - no fins unfortunately but Peter still had an enjoyable 20 minutes and regretted he had not had the grease for sealing the video camera underwater case with him.This time there was a lot of swell and only a couple of very keen swimmers partook. The vegetarian packaged lunch was extremely disappointing, especially after the most excellent coffee and muffins earlier in the day. Every other aspect of the trip was superb. After lunch our visit continued with a circumnavigation of the island, and as we left we saw a much larger cruise ship approaching. Even without binoculars we could see it had a white funnel, not a red one, and it looked like a small Holland America ship. Our crew were also staring at it, trying to read the name, when a passenger from Holland said it must be the Volendam which was due to arrive in Napier shortly. During discussions about cruise ships we discovered that the brother of one of the crew was working as Maitre d' on one of the Cunard ships. Its a small world. Overall, a very good visit well organised by Peter and Jenny Tait who are real enthusiasts and one we would happily recommend.

Leaving Whakatane at 1730 we drove straight for the Tirohanga Beach Motor Camp - we have stayed several times before and had checked it out on our way past earlier. We had first been attracted by an advert with aerial view showing it to have well spaced and sheltered sites almost on a calm sandy beach. We had a kitchen cabin with cooking, hot and cold water and a fridge at a very reasonable $50 (2009) and the tourist cabins with full cooking, fridge, loo and shower plus double bed within a stones throw of the beach (like we had last time) had risen to $75 (2009). The sea was a bit too rough for swimming and, unusually, there were not a lot of fishermen surf casting. It is a good place for either a tent or cabin and is strategically placed at the start/end of the East Coast Highway. The owners are very friendly. It also has a good and surprisingly cheap store at the entry with free book exchange and excellent value ice-creams so an extended stay would be practical. One for the list of places to return to again and again.

We took the old coach road through Motu and Toatoa which had been recommended to us by several people as an interesting drive. We took it first a couple of years ago from the Matawai (Gisborne) end and swore not to do it again but time dims the memory and this time from the Tirohanga end it was very different and gets added to our list of desirable back roads. The first 48 kms of the road had various health warnings which were justified and it would be a nightmare if there was heavy traffic - we saw no othe vehicle moving on the the whole stretch in over nearly three hours. The road and views are fantastic and it must count as one of the more interesting roads we have done - it was very reminiscent of the Thomson Valley Gorge Road in South Island which was an old goldmining trail but without the 45 gates to open. It had the same feeling of clinging to steep hillside, perhaps even more so as in places as the road was routed along the ridges as well as clinging to the slopes with near vertical drops. It must have been quite a trip in a coach although probably almost as fast as much of the time we were below 20 kph. We took the very worthwhile five Km diversion on unsealed roads to look at the Motu falls. They were right alongside the road and one got an excellent view from the swing bridge which was sited just above. The last 20 kms from Motu were fairly normal and sealed all the way until we joined the road to Gisborne. We bypassed Gisborne originally intending to stop at Wairoa, where we halted long enough at Oslers to buy more of their excellent bread. It was still early and we were both keen to have a final try at camping at Lake Tutira.

The next part will cover Lake Tutira and the Napier Art Deco Festival

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