Monthly Archives: November 2011

Native Bird Recovery Centre

On our way back to the city, we stopped at the Native Bird Recovery Centre where they treat and rehabilitate injured birds of all kinds before being released back into the wild. The centre has been in operation for many years, and you can see it is because of their deep love for animals.

Many people come to New Zealand hoping to see a live kiwi but leave disappointed. The kiwi bird is a shy, nocturnal creature and it’s rare to see one out in the wild. The only other option is usually to pay for a night tour or see one in captivity. We were able to see a kiwi up close and personal at the Centre. He was a rescue bird and only had one leg as one leg was amputated due to injury. We were able to pet his soft feathers and really see what a kiwi looked like in the light of day.

Not only were we lucky to pet a kiwi, but this particular kiwi was a famous one at that. This kiwi is flown all over New Zealand to educate the public. He visits schools, special functions, news rooms and fundraisers. He is completely used to being around people and, according to the Centre’s owners, he will never leave of his own volition. He believes he’s one of the family.

Another cool native bird we saw was the tui. Although we could only see it from within its cage, we were told that his vocal abilities were spectacular. All tuis can make hundreds of sounds, and humans can only hear a small percentage of them. They can mimic things, even human speech if taught to do so.

One of the most amazing birds we saw was an injured falcon-like bird. I’m not exactly sure what species it was (a falcon, kite, hawk, etc), but he was currently recuperating nicely after being hit by a car. Many of these birds scavenge food from road kill and sometimes neglect to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. This puts them at risk of becoming road kill themselves. This bird was such an amazing animal, especially when one of his wings opened to show individual finger-like feathers. Had he been able to open up both wings, his wingspan would have been at least 5 feet wide.

Before leaving the Centre, I decided to leave a small donation in the collection box. This was the type of organization that I felt compelled to support in some small way. Organizations like this one really do make the world a better place just by doing what their hearts implore them to do. They are also the ones that need the most financial and physical support as there is always so much to do and so little money and people to do it.

After leaving the Centre, we finally pulled into Auckland around 6 pm. I had a great time up north and couldn’t wait to see more of Aotearoa (New Zealand). I had a feeling that the next month or two would be one amazing adventure after the other.

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East Meets West at Cape Reinga

The following morning we joined the Dune Rider tour that would take us to Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean in the east meets the Tasman Sea in the west. It is the northernmost point of the North Island, which Maori believed is the departure point for spirits to make the final journey to their ancient homeland of Hawaiki. I couldn’t wait to see the lonely lighthouse that warned sailors away from its shores.

As we headed north toward Cape Reinga, our first stop was Gum Diggers Park & Ancient Buried Kauri Forest. In the old days, men would labor long and hard to dig up the resin from the kauri trees in order to make floor laminate and other products. It was a difficult process, but the wealth spurred the men on. I’d say it was comparable to the gold rush in the States or the opal mining in Oz.

Our guide took us on a short bush walk during which we saw recreations of various gum digger camps. The shelters for those first gum diggers were very simple. However, as time went on they became more elaborate. We also saw the large holes where diggers uprooted the kauri. With their simple tools and implements, it’s a wonder how they were able to cut down and dig up these gigantic trees.

After a quick look around the gift shop, we continued our journey toward Cape Reinga. As there had been a tsunami warning earlier in the morning, we were unable to drive there on 90 Mile Beach. Instead, we took the inland road, which I thought was just as nice as we passed more green hills and valleys. But the weather had turned gray and cloudy. Raindrops splattered against the windshield and whipped against the windows.

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When we arrived at Cape Reinga (aka Te Rerenga Wairua), the weather was still grim but at least the rain had stopped. Alba and I quickly bundled up and hopped out of the bus. We made a dash toward the lighthouse, which turned out to be farther away than we anticipated. Even with the approaching storm (or maybe because of it), the view of the ocean was amazing. It was dark and gray like a moody lover after a quarrel. The waves crashed fiercely against the rocks far below the cliffs.

The view was simply spectacular, but we couldn’t linger any longer. Large drops started raining down upon us as we made our way back to the bus. By the time we reached the midpoint of the path, we were drenched and had to start running. As the path wove back and forth we were alternately pelted by rain from the front and the back. The wind was gusting with violent force, and for once I was thankful for my (how do I put it delicately?) extra heft? I think it’d be quite easy to be blown off the path by a rogue gust of wind.

Despite our best efforts, we were completely soaked by the time we made it back to the bus. Water dripped off of everything and got everywhere. But at least we got our photos, right? While we waited for the others to get back, we slowly unwrapped ourselves from our hats, gloves and coat and tried our best to get warm and dry.

Once everyone returned, we headed to Te Paki, where there are gigantic sand dunes, for the opportunity to go sand boarding. Despite the cold wind and rain, many of the people on our bus got out and geared up with a boogie board. After hiking what seemed like ages up this massive sand hill, they came zipping down at lightning speed. I’m sure the rain helped to slick the sand and it was easy to see how they could pick up so much speed and hydroplane at the bottom. It really did look like fun but with the weather as it was I decided to stay inside the dry bus.

On the way back to Paihia, we stopped for fish and chips but I decided to pass on them. They weren’t especially cheap either so I stuck to my backpacker budget and waited till we got back to the hostel to eat dinner.

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Paihia, the Bay of Islands

My first taste of the “real” New Zealand would be a trip to Paihia and the Bay of Islands. I looked forward to finally seeing all the Kiwi stereotypes I’d heard so much about, such as the unique natural beauty and the millions of sheep. To do this, I’d have to get out of the city center and to help me was Dooley (aka Gareth), our tour guide and bus driver.

Gareth picked us up from the hostel bright and early in the morning. It turned out that there were only eight people on this leg of the trip, which was a nice and cozy way to begin. While driving out of the city over the Auckland Bridge, Gareth told us about Auckland’s history.

The hustle and bustle slowly gave way to rolling green hills and farmland. Many of the passengers took this opportunity to nap since we’d gotten up so early in the morning. However, as this was my first glimpse at New Zealand, I was wide awake and fascinated by how green and lush everything looked.

Our first stop was at the McKinney Kauri, which is over 800 years old. It stood tall and proud with wide-reaching branches. Gareth told us that this wasn’t even the biggest kauri in Northland. There is an even larger one called Tane Mahuta, which is between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. Its name in Maori means “Lord of the Forest.”

Next we visited Kawakawa and its famous (or infamous) public toilets. German architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser designed them, and they might be the most visited toilets in all of New Zealand. Even after seeing some very unique toilets in outback Australia, the Kawakawa toilets managed to hang with the big boys and rank up there among some of the weirdest bathrooms I’ve seen so far.

When we finally reached Paihia, Alba and I checked into YHA Paihia while everyone else stayed at the Stray-recommended hostel. The YHA was just a few buildings away and ended up being cheaper. After settling in, we met the group and walked to the wharf and our dolphin cruise boat.

By this time the weather had become cloudy with rain being a high possibility. It wasn’t exactly the best dolphin-watching weather but we went anyway. The boat looked like a cross between a Baywatch rescue boat and a ferry. Although there were only about 30 people aboard the ship, it seemed like it could hold a lot more.

As we pulled out of the dock, I could tell this would be a rough ride as the waves and wind whipped against the boat. Still, I was excited about the trip because the skipper told us it was likely that we’d see a pod of dolphins that had been sighted daily. She also said that all the dolphin-watching boats cooperated with one another and radioed when they found a pod. With this tag-team mentality, it ensured that all the visitors were able to see dolphins firsthand.

Sure enough, we saw a small pod of less than 10 dolphins and calves. Due to the pressence of babies as well as the rough weather dashed anyone’s hopes of swimming with dolphins, although I wasn’t keen on it myself. Amazingly, the dolphins swam right up to and under the boat. It seems that they were familiar with the sounds of the motor and didn’t give it a passing glance. Meanwhile, aboard the ship, people were madly snapping photos trying to capture the moment.

Despite the gloomy weather, this was definitely a nice way to begin exploring New Zealand. I could already feel how special it was, and this made me look forward to discovering much more of it.

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