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Journeys : Dec10 Jan11
December 2010 / January 2011 17 Destinations kept its charm – these days it’s the site of a splendidly-refurbished old hotel, The Duke of Marlborough, New Zealand ’s first licensed premises. As our walk continues along the cliffs and ridges of Cape Brett, Blandy points out the gnarled skeleton of an old pohutukawa tree, one of many killed by a plague of feral Tasmanian brushtail possums. Early explorers had admired the bright red blossom of these trees and named Cape Brett the ‘Crimson Cape’. Today, Blandy’s people and the local Department of Conservation have made Cape Brett a ‘mainland island ’, keeping possums out with a kilometre-long electric fence. As we walk, we see the results – new growth on the pohutukawas and more bird life in the forest. I learn from Blandy that the Bay of Islands has long been a magnet for celebrities. On our way to the Cape, we go ashore on Urupukapuka Island, where American cowboy novelist Zane Gray built his game- fishing lodge in the 1920s. These days, Maor i people from the nearby village of Rawhiti manage the island, welcoming the cr uise boats, pleasure craft and dolphin- watching charters that explore the waters of the bay. International opera diva Kiri Te Kanawa is a contemporar y resident of the Bay of Islands – her private peninsula has its own electr ic fence to keep the possums out. Our walk ends in Rawhiti, and a short drive later I’m enjoying a frosty Steinlager in the Duke of Marlborough, sitting comfortably in an unusually-subdued bar, watching the Wallabies wallop the All Blacks and waiting for a ferry for the 10 minute crossing to Paihia, the main centre of the Bay of Islands. This sunny and relaxed town on the inner shores of the bay is a popular base for holiday-makers. It’s the home port of the cruise boats that venture out to the Cape and the islands, and is also the location of New Zealand’s most significant historic site, where Maori chiefs and British administrators signed the Treaty of Waitangi, the document that founded the modern nation. Waitangi was a pivotal event in the nation’s political histor y. But New Zealand ’s geological histor y is more turbulent by far. North of Kaitaia near the settlement of Awanui, I see first-hand evidence of the dramatic power of nature. Here, a farmer shows me the peat swamps where he digs up primeval forests, har vesting enormous kauri trunks thousands of years old that seem to have been f lattened by a single cataclysmic event. Deep beneath the saturated peaty soil, the great trees all lie in one direction, suggesting they could have been felled by the air blast or tsunami that followed a massive volcanic eruption. Preser ved in the acidic swamp, the ancient wood is still sound – it is prized as the rare craft timber called swamp kauri. From Awanui, I join a tour to visit Cape Reinga and drive along the wide, hard sands of 90 Mile Beach. The locals tell the tale of a little timber-town pub that had to close when the bushmen moved on. Lifted onto a horse-drawn sled, the building was dragged along to the next settlement at the far end of the beach. The jour ney took nearly three weeks. But under the quaint laws of the day, any premises that failed to open for more than seven days risked losing its liquor licence. The publican used his Kiwi initiative – each evening after the horses were unhitched, the doors of the pub on the move would be thrown open for business to welcome any bushmen and far mers who happened to be within range. On the extreme tip of the North Island, I stand facing the wind on the crest of the w ild crags of Cape Reinga, watching a roiling welter of foam and water in the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. From this point, the Maoris say, their spirits leave New Zealand to fly back to Hawaiiki, the ancestral home of their people. Poa tussocks ripple like fur in the breeze – gannets wheel and cry above the waves. Sea, sky and wide horizons combine to create a dramatic and beautiful landscape – the essence of New Zealand’s magnificent Northland. We can get you there! For everything you need to know about a journey to New Zealand’s Northland, contact RACT Travelworld on 1300 368 111 or visit your local branch. Cape Reinga 90 Mile Beach Russell TonyHickey
Oct Nov 2010
Feb March 2011