We wanted to see the far north of New Zealand. We didn’t get to Cape Reinga, the tip of a long finger of land that points north from the rest of the island, but we got to the knuckles, around Doubtless Bay. One long sandy bay after another stretches along the north end of New Zealand’s north island. We left our spot on the beach near the town of Mangonui to see Tokerau Bay farther along. When we got there, it was the same gorgeous sand beach stretching for miles.
Beachcombing turned up lot of interesting shells, though only a couple of pieces of beach glass. Fragments of mussels and pen shells have iridescent interiors that reflect the sun in stripes of blue, green, and purple. Jonathan found the live oysters growing on the rocks irresistible.
We stayed at the Old Oak hotel, built in 1861 as the Mangonui hotel, renovated many times, and lovely. The small downtown area of Mangonui has photos showing buildings that have been in place since the 1890s. The only difference between then and now is that the buggies have changed to cars.
One of our goals in Northland was to see Ninety-Mile Beach. It spans the entire west side of that northern finger of New Zealand. Vehicles can drive the length of the beach at low tide and it’s a popular tour. We didn’t really want to drive for two hours up and then back, so we went for a look, and saw marks of the wheelies on the sand–at the end of the tour? Jonathan found people clamming along the shore and wanted a bucket so he could take home his own clams, but we’re not going to be home to the stove for two days and that might not be good for either the clams or for us after eating them, so we watched enviously while they worked. I admired the work of the woman who was clamming with a bucket in one hand and her cane in the other. That’s spirit for you.
Our chief souvenir from 90 mile beach was a flat tire. We changed the tire in record time and when we stopped at a wood carving shop just down the road, a woman directed us a few hundred yards to Awanui Tires. According to the young man fixing tires (tyres), the Monday morning rush had just ended and we chatted while he fixed the hole. He held up a strange piece of metal, neither bolt nor screw, that made the hole. We shook our heads and thanked the two men. The entire process from flat to fix had cost us less than an hour. We understood most of what they said…..New Zealanders can speak their own language when they want to and tourists–we’re on our own.
Last stop in the north was Whangarei (Fhan-gar-ey) the only city north of Auckland. Highlights included the Town Basin area where there is a sculpture walk along the water and shops and galleries selling beautiful local crafts. Polished and carved wood and resin from the kauri tree, distinctive and now rare, was one of the highlights.
Among the sculptures in the downtown area of Whangarei is an unusual small building covered with colored tiles and mirror. This turns out to be a prototype of materials and forms to be used in the Hundertwasser Museum. Hundertwasser was an Austrian artist and architect who was captivated by New Zealand and moved here in 1975 and spent the rest of his life near Kawakawa, outside Whangarei. I became aware of Hundertwasser’s imaginative paintings when I was in college. He drew floating cities with forests for roofs, presaging green roofs by quite a few years. He turned to fanciful architecture, building structures in Europe that resemble the work of Antoni Gaudi. He designed public toilets for the town of Kawakawa, a project that proved to be his last. Now, after years of public debate and fundraising, the Hundertwasser museum is under construction in Whangarei, to open in 2020.
On our way out of town we visited the Quarry Arts Center where a number of artists have studios in a delightful tiny neighborhood filled with sculptures of all kinds..
We ended up at Kiwi North, SW of Whangarei, to see the kiwi. They live in a controlled environment that leads them to believe day is night so they will come out to eat. What funny birds! They look like the back half of a cat with a long beak in the front that they use to snuffle about in fallen leaves. When startled, they zip back into their cave-like nest. We watched them in the dark until a keeper brought out food. That drew them out into what little light there was. After eating, the pair scuttled back into their burrow and we went on.
Kiwi North is a central place for culture in Northland, including historic structures moved from elsewhere, a small museum, rotating exhibits, the kiwi, and a series of regional museum/clubs including medical equipment, old cars, rocks and minerals, and others. These are not open on any particular schedule, but the campus-style setting provides a place for aficionados of different things to have a clubhouse/museum. It looks like a good arrangement for all.
By this time, we had to make our way back to Piha. We packed a lot of looking around into a few days in Northland. There’s lots more to see–we missed the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa! That will have to wait for another time.