Thursday was a day of mooching around. There were a few showers of rain and Wyn got her bike going for a ride around Ahipara. And we got ready for the trip to the Kerikeri airport the next day to get Laura to her plane.
Friday dawned overcast with occasional showers. I was keen to take the long way to the airport. We had to be there by 5pm, and had some time to explore down the West Coast. We were away in the car by 11am and headed south from Ahipara on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway. ‘Highway’ is a bit of an overstatement – it is a bumpy lumpy sort of road – sealed but needing some work like many roads up here. High rainfall obviously takes a toll on the roads, and most of the uneven bits come with no warning. Also most of the slow corners don’t come with any speed advisory signs, so it is driver-beware. To see the Hokianga Harbour we turned south to Kohukohu where there is a car ferry across the harbour. With time to spare we enjoyed coffees at a cafe beside the harbour, then headed along to the ferry for the 1pm sailing.
The ferry is a big drive-on barge, it takes only about 15 minutes across. It cost $20 for the three of us and the car. Surprisingly it was 2/3rds full – not sure how it copes in summer. By the time we got to Rawene on the other side it was raining again. We had a quick look at the outside of Clendon House which we found was only open on Mondays and Tuesdays over winter. This is an old house of one of the early pioneers. Rawene is apparently the third oldest European settlement in New Zealand. We had lunch in the car in rain beside the harbour, and watched the ferry head back again.
Then it was on south again. I’d worked out that we had time to get to Waipoua Forest to see the most famous kauri tree Tane Mahutu so we headed off, passing through several small towns on the south side of the Hokianga Harbour. The biggest trees are close to the road so it didn’t matter that it was fairly damp overhead. We reached the forest about 20 minutes south of Omapere. Driving through the first part revealed an amazing forest; a wonderful remnant of what covered much of Northland originally. It was less than 5 minutes to walk to see the big tree. We’d seen a few kauris lately, around the Kaimais and on the Coromandel. But nothing prepared us for the shock when looked up at Tane Mahuta. The track leads to close to the foot of the tree, and then suddenly there it is, towering over you and huge. It is over 50m high, and almost 14m around the trunk. Estimes of age range from 1200 years to 2000 years old. There is at least one elsewhere that is bigger around the truck but Tane Mahuta is the tallest kauri in New Zealand. Never mind the stats, the tree is simply awesome. Each of us gasped on first view. Another couple of Kiwis indicated their surprise as well. And a couple of visiting Asian children indicated their surprise as well. It is an impressive sight – well worth the detour.
It was almost 3pm by the time we left there and headed back north to the Hokianga Harbour and on SH12 to Kaikohe and to Kerirkeri airport by 4.30pm. the rain had set in again and there was low cloud. We started wondering whether this might affect Laura’s flight out, and soon learned that it was cancelled. The options were a bus to Auckland Airport, a flight the next day from Kerikeri or a flight the next day from Kaitaia. It didn’t take long to decide that the flight out of Kaitaia was the best option. It is only a small airport, and only gets small planes (19 seaters) but there was a lot to do to sort out the consequences for all the passengers and the staff did a great job.
We topped up with petrol and zoomed off north on SH10 and the Twin Coast Discovery Highway back up the east coast. It took only about 45 minutes to Mangonui and their famous fish and chip shop over the bay (Doubtless Bay). It was dark and wet and windy and stormy by the time we got there with part of the gale whistling through the shop. There was only one type of fish on offer – Blue Nose or something like that. It was delicious. From there is was only another 45 minutes or so back to Ahipara and Suzi via Kaitaia. We returned to the camp not long after 7.30pm – a round trip of about 8.5 hours with Laura no closer to home. There was still time for Wyn to catch most of Goks programme on TV in the lounge at the camp in front of a wood fire. It had been a long day and we were all weary and not long out of bed. We’d seen lots of new bits of Northland and the most memorable parts would be the Hokianga Harbour generally and Tane Mahuta tree in particular.