Wednesday morning we strode purposefully down to the quayside for a 7am start, on a bus trip up to Cape Reinga at the very northern end of the country. This was an excellent day out in the care of our driver, Huey from Fullers GreatSights, a man full of local information, fishing stories, and "my wife..." jokes. We managed to take in a trek through Puketi Kauri Forest to see the ancient Kauri trees, a visit to Cape Reinga where the spirits of departed Maori set out for their journey home (and where the guys from @Northland2011 included us in some of their publicity shots), and a chance to surf down some giant sand dunes on a body board (after an exhausting climb up the shifting sands). Huey drove the coach down the bed of the Te Paki quick sand stream and onto Ninety Mile Beach, which we followed south for more than three quarters of its length, stopping on the way to fish for clams and mussels, and to hear tales of how many coaches the company had lost to rising tides and shifting sands. Finally we dropped in at the showroom of Ancient Kauri Kingdom, who work the 40,000-year-old Kauri wood found preserved beneath the local swampy farmland.
Our trip on Thursday morning started at the relatively late hour of 8am, when our driver (Huey again) picked us up to transport us to Hokianga Harbour on the opposite coast, where Maori ancestors first set foot on New Zealand a thousand or so years ago. We started our trip with a visit to one of the earliest inland Christian missions in the country, and went on to see the Wairere Boulders, giant blocks of basalt sprinkled down a narrow valley leading to the harbour. But our most remarkable stop on this trip was to see Tane Mahuta, the largest Kauri tree in the world, and earthly representative of the great spirit who separated Mother Earth and Father Sky to allow light and life to flow into the gap thus formed. Our local guide Tawhete was happy to explain the cultural and spiritual significance of the site and punctuated our visit with songs and prayers of approach and welcome, of respect and regard, and of goodwill and thanks.
On Friday we weren't due to catch our bus back to Auckland until lunchtime, so we spent our morning visiting the nearby Waitangi Treaty Ground, where the agreement between the European settlers and the collected Maori chiefs was signed in 1840. Allegedly, the Maori chiefs invited the European authorities to help establish order between the more unruly elements of both communities, and the process which led ultimately to the establishment of New Zealand as a nation was begun.
As I type, we're on the 13:20 bus from Paihia heading south to Auckland, where we're due to arrive at 17:30 and I can once again return to the land of coffee-shop-WiFi and start uploading photos. By the time you read this they might well be available online.