January 31st – February 12th 2016
Didn’t have a shower for a week. What I HAVE done is: reconnected with nature; bathed in some of our country’s most wonderful beaches and rivers; taken the dogs on at least one off-lead walk every day (sometimes whole days exploring new places); marvelled at some of the most untouched parts of this land we call home; and been given new faith in people. Welcome to New Zealand’s East Cape.
This was a holiday, pure and simple. Not the search for freedom this blog is about, but freedom nonetheless. With wars and poverty constantly overshadowing so many lives, it’s important to take a moment to remember that.
Did a tiny little Work Away placement for a few days, but mostly just relaxing on beaches. No mobile reception. No internet. And my solar panels weren’t really getting enough charge to the caravan battery after depleting it nearly completely in Whakatane. Pretty lo-fi. Bliss. Turns out it was perfectly timed over two long weekends (Auckland Anniversary Day and Waitangi Day) so I guess that’s as good an excuse as any.
First up: a happy place. Up there with the areas surrounding Whangarei, the areas surrounding Whakatane took my heart. If you ever get the chance, the drive from Ohope to Opotiki is one to be savoured. Beginning with the beautiful town of Ohope and its spectacular beach, you’re then treated to alternating scenic coastline and forest parklands. That’s just the beginning….
After Opotiki, you’re launched back into the past as you traverse the coastal clifftops and bays. Looking out over a deep blue ocean, the roads are bordered by a rugged mountain range as wild as any you will see in the country. You pass through small towns and as marae after marae go by the side windows, you are reminded that this land was peopled long before colonial “civilisation” came to it. Out East, it is still very much predominantly Maori.
Our first destination was to be the camping ground at Maraehako. Unfortunately, despite the picturesque setting and my desire to set up camp, the “No Dogs Allowed. Sorry” sign meant a slight change in plans. Even more unfortunately, we’d just passed an amazing Free Camping spot in a bay just outside of Te Kaha. However, it was far enough back that we weren’t about to backtrack, so it was on to Waihau Bay.
Average. That pretty much sums it up for me. To be fair, it’s really more of a fishing boat launch kind of bay and for that it seemed great. In fact, there was a fishing competition on that day and some of the catches were pretty impressive. Being a vegetarian, I wasn’t really in it for the fishing. There was a place allowing caravans though as well as a restaurant/bar and as it happens, the filming locations for the movie “Boy”. It served its purpose. Given the chance to do it over though, I’d definitely stop at the bay by Omaio/Te Kaha.
The next day was a similarly impressive time warp of a drive through rural towns and breath-taking views out from the clifftops. In particular, Lottin Point had a wee spot I’d have liked to head down to, but I didn’t back the Tauraus and the trailer to suffer the road, so we just carried on right through and past Hick’s Bay and WAAAAY out East. Nearly as East as is possible to go on land. The reward was priceless.
The East Cape Campground (fee charged by ‘honesty box’, which I love) was one of the most serene places I’ve ever been. All you will hear out there is the constant roar of the Pacific Ocean rolling in to the shore of a long stretch of sandy beach punctuated by the occasional mooing of a local cow. By chance, the new local cop, Jason was doing his rounds just in time to help me pop up the camper walls and have a short yarn about camping and rural policing before leaving me and the pups to enjoy the whole place to ourselves before a few others arrived later on.
Ended up staying out there for another day and night just to enjoy the peace and quiet. Whipped out my copy of “A Field Guide to Native Edible Plants of New Zealand” (Andrew Crowe) (link to book in Fishpond.co.nz) for the first time and started taking baby steps toward paying closer attention to the living world around me. To be honest, I failed miserably at identifying much, but I did find some Beach Spinach (link to info)-> pretty tasty actually- to try with dinner and roasted up some Native Scorzonera root (link to a similar plan root) -> disgusting. Don’t bother- to have with breakfast. While I was at it I had a scrounge around for some Plantain, which I had recently learned was a super cure for mosquito and sand fly bite itchiness as well as for bee sting pain. Little things like that may one day add up to really understanding nature and working with what she provides. Little random side note: although I’m not overjoyed to be reintroduced to sand flies, (and maybe it’s just me) but I find I feel their bite WHILE they bite whereas, I usually only feel mosquito bites after they’ve finished. Bad luck for the sand flies.
Next was the obligatory stop off at the East Cape lighthouse. It’s a nice view and a good walk… up several hundred stairs but I didn’t feel like hanging around for long. The drive along the south side of the cape was a lot of farm land and winding roads. Nice too, but I just kinda ploughed through until the first camping opportunity I felt like taking. That was Waipiro Bay. Along the coast in the Gisborne District Council area, there is apparently a permit system for ‘free’ camping… of which I was not aware until after travelling all the way down the hill to the beach. Luckily the council office was right at the top of that hill in Te Puia Springs, so it wasn’t that bad. But save yourself the hassle and get yours online at their website. To be honest, if your conscience allows, you could easily just not get one. No one was checking. Great spot. Waipiro Bay was a quiet and relaxed beach far from any real settlements which has a local dog in attendance throughout most days (“Miss Pitty” to me). Very friendly girl, who got along really well with my dogs and a great ambassador for bull breed dogs everywhere.
As we passed the next few freedom camping sites, I decided to keep going. Nice places, but just a little too close to major roads/towns for my current feeling (and my dogs’ safety). Tolaga Bay was a nice surprise. We stopped at the Kaiaua Bay camp site which was also nice. Great view across the bay at Tolaga Bay’s famous pier. It is indeed a very long pier.
The highlight for me was the really friendly local attitude toward me as a visitor. Now this is significant. There are a few places in New Zealand, which seem to have developed a reputation for local Maori being hostile to visitors and white visitors in particular. The East Cape is one of these. For what my two cents is worth, I’d just like to put it out there that this was the absolute OPPOSITE of what I experienced on my trip. Tolaga Bay especially, was one of the most welcoming communities, I’ve come across. The local pub’s Friday night entertainment, a bilingual jazz band called ‘Wakakura’ (link to their Facebook) was also a treat. I went to bed feeling optimistic about the world and people in Tolaga Bay- and it wasn’t the beers I had either, as I only had two 😉
Gisborne was a WWOOF at a rural “Cattery”. I was under the impression I was going to a cat boarding facility. I was wrong. Turns out this was a cat (Bengals and Maine Coons) “breeding” operation also “breeding” working dogs (Bearded Collies). As many of those who will read this know, I come from an animal welfare/shelter background, at which a fairly high proportion of animals arrive in some part due to irresponsible breeding practices (although there are many, a good yard stick would be whether a breeder has buyers for the kittens or dogs BEFORE breeding the animals- a responsible breeder does). I put “breeding” in quotation marks because I think of it more as animal “pimping”. I wasn’t particularly impressed. However, my hosts were nice and I decided to give it a try since I was there anyway. To cut a long story short, I courteously enjoyed my hosts’ hospitality, completed my WWOOF jobs and took what I could from the experience. This included lessons on how to milk, dress and butcher a goat. I also took the opportunity to watch DVDs about a currently popular school of thought on working/herding dog training that they happened to have on hand at home. Ultimately though, I felt it best to leave as soon as I could find another placement, more suited to my interests. So that’s what I did.
On the way to my next placement, it seemed a waste not to use the last couple of days on the freedom camping pass. So, off the dogs and I went to Donneraille Park. What an awesome decision! This place is about halfway between Gisborne and Wairoa and it is magical. After dropping off the main state highway at the top of a hill, you descend into a river valley with sheer white cliff faces and dusty gravel roads. Two days were filled with near silence and bathing in surprisingly warm river waters. The one downer was that I realised that “Yes, my caravan battery IS stuffed”. (Le sigh). Turns out if you let a car battery run dead, it can’t be revived (or at least I don’t know how- please get in touch if you have any tips). Still, that wasn’t gonna get me down. A relaxing wind down period, well enjoyed.
At Wairoa, although I was only passing through, it was striking how pleasant the atmosphere was. It’s a nice little spot. Well worth a visit if you like that small town vibe. In fact, it may be a place to return to when I have a little more time. For now though, I bought some lunch, a new 12V battery for the caravan and a new a ukulele. And now on to Turangi, to experience one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had of life and how it can be.