October 29th-November 1st
29.10.2012 - 01.11.2012 18 °C
The start of our trip up to the Bay of Islands took us to Paihia. The Northlands of New Zealand is rich in Mori culture and history, and the Bay of Islands is a popular holiday destination with clear water beaches scattered along the coastline. As soon as we arrived in Paihia, there was no time to book into the hostel before some of us headed out on an afternoon trip around some of the many islands the area has to offer. During this trip we were able to enter the freezing cold waters and actually get the chance to swim with the dolphins in the wild. I was a bit apprehensive at first as I hadn’t got on particularly well with snorkelling in the past, but I was determined to give it a go and conquer my fears (especially as I am hoping to try a bit of scuba diving when I get to Perth!) Donning the wetsuit, flippers and mask, I sat on the side of the boat practising breathing through my mouth for when I was in the water. We were all lined up along the back of the boat ready to slip into the water once the dolphins were in sight. Once I had got over the initial shock of the cold water and managed to calm my breathing down a bit, I stuck my head under the water and swam away from the boat in the hope of spotting something. However, all I could see was the murky dark water which had been caused by recent rains. I swam on, following the lead of some of the other more confident snorkelers and kept popping my head back up to get my orientation and check the direction that the skipper of the boat was pointing in for the dolphins. Suddenly out of nowhere, a bottlenose dolphin swam directly beneath me about 6 foot below. The feeling was amazing, to be swimming with these graceful creatures in their natural environment. It was hard not to reach out and touch them, but we had been told not to as their skin is very sensitive and doing so would also interfere with them and possibly scare them away.
Back on the boat we headed further out around the islands to a spot just between Waewaetorea and Urupukapuka, where we waited patiently for the skipper to call “go, go go” before we all scrambled off the back of the boat again. This time just as I was swimming away from the boat a school of 5 dolphins swam under me. I couldn’t believe there were so many of them so willing to come close to us. Just as soon as they had appeared, they were gone again. Despite my best efforts of swimming round and round I couldn’t find them again. It didn’t matter though, that last encounter was enough to make the trip worthwhile. I came back to dry land very happy.
Up early the next day and we were off further up the coast to Cape Reinga. Standing at Cape Reinga lighthouse, the most Northern point of New Zealand, you really do get a sense of being somewhere special. The Maori people consider Cape Reinga to be the point at which souls depart this land on their journey to their spiritual homeland, Hawaiki. Here stands an 800 year old kahika tree, names Te Arohe, where the spirits are believed to enter the underworld by descending to the water on steps formed by the tree’s roots. Cape Reinga is also the point at which the Tasman Sea and Pacific Oceans meet. The waves break together causing a swelling of the sea and a noticeable line in the ocean.
The drive back to Paihia took us via Te Paki stream and New Zealand’s largest sand dunes where we were able to scale the dunes and sandboard back down again. The exhilarating ride was all worth the effort to get to the top. Next stop was 90 Mile Beach (which was more like 90 km when they actually got round to measuring it!) The only state highway in the world which is actually a beach, you get to drive along in the sand and surf. We stopped off enroute to try fishing for some Tua Tua, a mussel-like shellfish which we ate raw straight out of their shell. They were actually quite meaty and so tasty that I had three! On the drive back to Paihia we stopped off at the ‘World Famous’ Mangonui Fish Shop for some Snapper straight from the boat and chips.