Waitomo Caves - Coromandel Peninsula / Hahei - Bay of Islands / Paihia / Waitangi
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In the North West of the North Island we spend the night in Te Kuiti, close to the Waitomo Caves we intend to visit tomorrow. We pitch our tent on a small camping, run by a Maori woman. This is the first time in New Zealand we really meet Maori. On the South Island we saw almost no Maori, but here on the North Island the Maori are more visible. In Te Kuiti the bigger part of the population seems to be Maori, most of them are not very rich but have their own houses and look happy. The Maori we meet are very friendly, warm people. The woman who runs our camping welcomes us with a smile on her camping and we talk a bit with her in the reception, the room almost unrecognisable transformed with large tapestries and many flowers. The woman is young and beautiful with deep brown eyes, which obviously see a lot more than our faces only. I feel a bit exposed, in Holland you don’t look at strangers - and even normallly not at friends - in that direct way.
The camping is very cheap, we pay 40% less than on most other camping’s. We buy take away (also very cheap) in the centre of Te Kuiti. The shop is managed by Maori and the other customers are all Maori. The man helping us is very interested, it is quite obvious that we aren’t from here around or even from New Zealand and he wants to know where we come from. To give him some impression of Holland we tell him the country is totally flat. He obviously thinks we are exaggerating, but remarks that that must be very easy for walking. To this Jac agrees easily with a demonstrating slap on his own not to small stomach. The man smiles broadly. We take the food to the camping kitchen and open a bottle of wine. The kitchen is very well equipped and looks like a real homely kitchen, the windows have curtains and the tables are covered with colourful tablecloths, a small vase with flowers on top. We share the kitchen with a large Maori, his very long, dark hair flows in big tresses over his shoulders. He is totally absorbed by the television, very shy and unwilling to speak or maybe he can’t hear or understand us. I would like to take a picture of him but don’t, afraid I will offend him or make him even more uncomfortable with our presence. After watching a long film about a Maori family in the bush he suddenly smiles broadly at us – he has only a couple of teeth left – and leaves the kitchen. The next day when I’m sitting at a picnic table next to our tent, I meet another member of the family. The man, quite big with broad shoulders and a bald head, looks kind of ferocious. But this impression is totally destroyed by the dog he is letting out on a long lease: an extremely tiny, nervously jumping dog to which he speaks calmingly with high, birdlike cries. The man is deaf, but understands me easily when I comment with big movements of my arms on the dog and on the weather.
On our way to the Coromandel Peninsula we visit first the famous Waitomo Caves, somewhat to the North of Te Kuiti. The caves in itself are not very special, I liked the ‘Lake Cave’ in the South West of Australia a lot better, with its intriguing structures mirrored in the silent water of the underground lake. Here in the Waitomo Caves they also have water, an underground river streaming through a part of the cave. In complete darkness we step onto a boat. We have to be totally silent. And then we see the glow-worms, thousands of them, right above our head. It looks a bit like a room of a child, who is fascinated by the endless sky and rebuild with tiny white lights held in hanging nets the Milky Way and other constellations on his own ceiling. But there are so many lights, it is eerie. The glow-worms don’t like noise, so that’s why everybody has to be very silent, which makes the experience even more mysterious. In the months before changing into a short living butterfly, the glow-worms catch small insects with long, sticky threads hanging down from there tiny bodies. They emit the light to attract the insects. And a lot of tourist. Which they don’t eat luckily. Would be bad for tourism.
We drive on to the Coromandel Peninsula. Bigger parts of the North Island of New Zealand are beautiful, but not as breathtaking as the South Island. The Coromandel Peninsula however I like very much, round green hills and now and then suddenly a wide view over the blue ocean. We pitch our tent in Hahei, a small, isolated place with not much more than a big camping, two restaurants and one shop. The camping is next to a beautiful sandy beach and we spend a couple of days relaxing on the beach, upgrading our tan, drinking whisky cola, meeting several tourist we know from the South Island and even from Australia and reading a lot. Jacques finished every Dutch book he had (not counting Moby Dick, one of the Dutch books he exchanged in Sidney in the library of a big backpacker hostel, Moby Dick he finds quite exasperating in its endless observations and contemplations), and starts now for the first time in his life with an English thriller, not difficult to read at all he finds after 11 weeks of talking English.
Close to our camping is Cathedral Cove, ten minutes with the car and then a 40 minutes walk over hills and through fields, most of the time wide views of the ocean on our right side. Cathedral Cave is not a silent place, since a whole school class plays in the water and a lot of tourist took the trouble of the walk in order to see this special place. The place certainly is special, the round cave gives a view of the beach beyond and a big rock, standing in the water. The beach is perfect with its warm thick sand and the cobalt sea. The water is safe for swimming, children play in the surf and dive from rocks in the sea.
Life on the Coromandel Peninsula is very relaxed, the restaurant close by announces as opening times: ‘Open till we’ve closed’. The hot water machine in the camper kitchen is not working and has a note stick on to on it: ‘Out of order till fixed’. I can’t help thinking how my last boss (‘Don’t talk to me about problems, only about solutions!’ he liked to shout) would have responded on such a timing. I’m sorry I didn’t try it. We dine in a small restaurant close to the ferry to Whitianga (five minutes on the ferry or 50 kilometres over the road), a small tourist place complete with palm trees where you can eat well and get money out of a machine. The restaurant is named ‘Eggcentric’, an open restaurant with terraces full with flowers and a big garden, the ‘Eggcentricity’ is provided by our host, a male of about 50 years with the clear blue eyes typical of the New Zealander, clothed in a less typical rope skirt over his jeans. The food is good and our host is very friendly. He tells us about his visits to Holland, he for a change didn’t visit Amsterdam (everybody thinks the whole of Holland is drug addict because the only place they visited was Amsterdam, to be precise a couple of infamous streets in Amsterdam), but camped in a lot of places and really liked the Krüller Müller outdoor museum, modern sculptures in a (for Dutch standards) big nature reserve.
When the weather gets bad we drive on to the North, through Auckland to the Bay of Islands. This is a famous place but I have to say the Coromandel Peninsula is prettier and less spoiled by tourist. But maybe I’m influenced by the bad weather, we have some rain and a lot of wind. We stay next to a waterfall close to Paihia and by now we are so thoroughly spoiled that we don’t even take a look at the waterfall opposite our camping. Jac is totally bored by any waterfall and I’m only interested in the bigger ones now. I reassure Jac that we’ll be back in Holland in about a week and he won’t have to worry the next months about having to visit waterfalls.
Directly next to Paihia Waitangi is situated. Here we visit the Waitangi National Reserve. This is the place where on the 6th of February 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, a treaty between the Queen of England and 46 Maori Chiefs, guaranteeing the Queen the sole right to purchase Maori land and in return granting the Maori full rights and privileges of British subjects. Although this treaty was violated time and again by the English, still we get the impression that the Maori are better situated and more respected than the Aboriginals, their Australian neighbours. This could also be influenced by the different culture of the Maori, who are more used to settling on one place to live than the wandering Aboriginals and find it therefore maybe easier to adapt a bit to the European way of life.
From Paihia you can’t see much of the Bay of Islands so we take a cruise. The woman that manages our camping worries a lot about us, first she is certain we slept bad because of the rain, which soaked a couple of other tents. When I explain a normal tent is waterproof she smiles knowingly. A little annoyed I ask her if she has any problems in her house with leakage. Now she starts with advise about good medicine against seasickness, when we take the cruise this afternoon the wind will cause a lot of problems otherwise, she explains. I say that Jac nor me have problems with seasickness but give up and listen to a detailed explanation of the prescription we should take and the drugstore where to buy it.
The cruise is very nice, a pity it’s raining but still we get a good impression of the Bay of Islands, a lot of islands indeed. The captain is just like our camping lady very worried about our health and announces each bigger surf in time for us to prepare. When we reach the open sea the wind is strong and the captain can’t run through the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’, a natural tunnel just big enough to accommodate medium ships. To convince us the way through is not possible he sails very close to the entrance. The surf hits the sharp rocks with extreme force and the big boat is pushed around like a toy. We are totally convinced. On our way back we get stuck in a ‘dolphin jam’ as our captain calls it, at least a hundred dolphins are heading for open sea and boats aren’t allowed to run fast while dolphins are close. We enjoy the sight of so many dolphins, most quickly passing under our boat and heading for the sea, others turning around, looking at us, playing hide and seek under our boat. We stopover at Urupukapuka island, this is Maori for the island with the many growing trees. There are even more sheep than trees and almost no humans. We climb the hill on the middle of the island and have a wide view over all the islands, no rain for a moment but – a pity - also no sun.
The last couple of days we spend in Auckland. We return our car – still as good as new for a change, no hailstone bumps, no kangaroo damage - and get our 1000 NZ dollar back without problems. Good for our budget! Auckland has a lot of boats and water everywhere, both on and above ground level. It is raining like it was in Christchurch when we arrived in New Zealand. Anyway we were quite lucky to have such wonderful weather for the bigger part of our stay, one month earlier a couple of friends of us visited New Zealand and they had rain for almost the whole of their four weeks visit. We console ourselves in a cosy Belgian café where they serve delicious New Zealand mussel and real Belgian Tripel beer, the first time in both Australia and New Zealand we find Belgian beer in a café!
After three months of travel we continue our tour around the world and fly to the east, stopover in Los Angeles and fly the last part to Holland, where it will take me at least three months to get accustomed to the Dutch indoor life again. Luckily by then it is summer over here and we start to wonder how to spend our next Dutch winter, the other side of the world is certainly a very attractive alternative!
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