New Zealand Northlands
Reveling in the Anthropocene, like pigs at a trough
Day One: Auckland
And so, our adventure begins.
A flight on Air New Zealand in one of their premium-plus-class
pods transported Julia and me from the tormented shores of the USA (Trumpsylvania,
I want to drink your democracy) to the idyllic and egalitarian shores of New
Zealand. Our first stop is Auckland which is a great city and the gateway to
many wondrous parklands in this peaceful and happy place. We cannot wait to
begin to explore them.
Recovering from 14 hours of travel, losing a day, and a
shift in three hours of time zone is difficult. To aid in this recovery Julia
and I spent the morning in a spa receiving massage, taking steam, warming in
the sauna, and swimming in a crystal pool. This treatment did indeed help our
recovery and had us ready for our journey through this unfamiliar, yet astounding
Day Two: Rangitoto
The city of Auckland nestles against a shimmering bay.
The majestic island of Rangitoto stands tall within this bay. The product of a
dormant volcano the now lush and green Rangitoto beckons to all who venture to
Auckland. We too, could not resist its siren call. A short ferry ride and we
were hiking up to the summit climbing to the humungous volcanic crater left
behind by the last explosive convulsion of this once fiery place.
Along the way, we were surrounded by the unusual flora of
this new and isolated world. Plants and animals have been secluded for so long here they have speciated and formed new and unusual versions of plants and animals we northern-hemispherical-biased-people are used to. Sharp and glassy pumice stone crunched under foot as we climbed, walked around, and descended this
Day Three: Wenderholm
Driving forever northward, and of course always keeping to
the left, we stumbled upon New Zealand's first regional park: Wenderholm. This
is a small piece of indigenous rainforest still intact and very accessible to
the nature hungry tourist. We drank in its lush green flora and wondered at its
diverse fauna as we walked its perimeter track. The path took us through
rainforest, marshlands, and past the remains of Maori encampments, the original
inhabitants of New Zealand.
Onward and northward we continued to our destination, for
this day: Paihia. This seaside town, nestled on the massive Bay of Islands, is
a favorite vacation spot for city weary New Zealanders. However, the long drive
had taken its toll, Julia and I soon fell into a deep sleep at our
bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We dreamed of the adventures that lay before
us in this subtropical wonderland.
Day Four: Cape Reinga
Arguably there have been two mass human expansions across
the world. The first occurred when homo sapiens initially awoke in Africa from
our ape-like dreaming and slowly exited the dark continent. This excursion was
not rushed it was very gradual, but eventually we spread to every corner of the
planet. However, the second expansion of the human species was very fast indeed
in comparison. As the European branch of our invasive species awoke from their
dark-aged nightmare they began to spread across the Earth like an unstoppable
viral-infection. It was during this second infestation that the western world
encountered the Maori people of New Zealand.
In an unending story of subjugation, theft, brutality, and
in so many cases extermination the western world flooded this new land. With
greedy eyes and insatiable hearts these cruel and selfish western ancestors
chopped down 5,000-year-old Kauri trees, raped and pillaged, transported
ravenous animals and plants, and ultimately subsumed New Zealand. The remaining
indigenous peoples were forced to sign the now famous treaty of Waitangi. Julia
and I visited the treaty grounds at Waitangi and watched modern-day Maori
perform traditional dance, songs, and war rituals. It was a both sad and
enriching experience as the Maori culture lives on in these modern-day assimilates.
However, at the same time they are now no longer original or unique. It is a
loss as significant as the extinction of the great flightless Moa. Â
New Zealand is an island country pinned between the cold
and tumultuous Tasman Sea to the east and the vast Pacific Ocean to the west.
Where these two powerful bodies of water collide, they endlessly pushed up immense
amounts of sand to form the northern most vestige of the North Island of New
Zealand. At the very most northern tip of this sandy peninsular is Cape Reinga.
From this isolated perch, Julia and I watched the two powerful bodies of water
continue their endless wrestling match. No more unique a spot exists on our fragile
After Julia and I flew ourselves 10,000 miles around the
edges of the contiguous United States of America, back in 2008, Julia recorded some
300 flight hours. This is a significant amount of light-aircraft experience and
a true badge of honor for any aspiring pilot. During the three months of flying
it took to complete the journey we encountered much bad weather and many bumpy
skies, yet Julia never once got air-sick. Alas, during the hour and a half it
took us to fly to Cape Reinga Julia became violently ill. She was so sick that
even after we landed she continued her downward spiral on the bus trip to the
cape. My poor darling did not recover until hours after our return to the
south. There is simply no understanding the human eustachian system.
A short drive from Cape Reinga we came upon 500-foot-tall
sand dunes stretching in all directions. Julia found a soft small dune to
nestle in and tried to stabilize from her spinning world. At the same time
members of our excursion group carried half-length surfboards up the tall sandy
hills so they might partake of the favored pastime here of sand surfing.
Day Five: Bay of Islands
The massive Bay of Islands is in fact walkable to some
extent, when you employ the extensive ferry system available there. Julia and I
did just this and walked from Paihia to the lovely small village of Russell and
back again on a gorgeous sunny day. Â We encountered a family of Weka (a native
flightless bird) as we passed through marshes, mangroves, and steamy
rainforests. After two ferry crossings, we walked along sandy beaches, rugged
coastal cliffs, vast rockpools, and muddy tidal plains until we returned to
where we had begun this excellent walk at Paihia.
Day Six: Waipoua
We bid the east coast of the New Zealand northlands farewell
and drove from Paihia to the Waipoua Forest on the west coast of these northern
reaches. What a truly beautiful countryside exists here. Endless green rolling
hillsides glide past as you drive by sparse hamlets and remote villages. It
reminds me somehow of driving the English countryside and yet this spell is
often broken as tall green tree ferns popup here and there.
Our first destination was the ancient forests of Waipoua
that stretch out along the northwest coast. In these emerald jungles live the
few last remaining old-growth Kauri trees. This majestic giant suffered a
similar fate to that of the magnificent redwood tree back in California. The Kauri
trees can live for over 5,000 years and grew all over the place. Their straight
and hard wood made them perfect to be commoditized by the capitalistic crazed
Europeans greedily consuming everything in sight.
Today only 2% of the old
growth Kauri trees are left, likewise there is only 4% of the old growth
redwood trees left standing in California. To make matters even worse for the
ill-fated Kauri early logging efforts imported logging equipment from other
Pacific Islands. The earth on this equipment contained a fungus that the Kauri
tree has no resistance to and so they began to die, and continue to die, from a
terrible fungal infestation. These irreplaceable trees are just one of so many
victims of the Anthropocene. Will we ever learn? I think not. If you do not
agree with me think about who the Americans have voted to be their President, I
rest my case.
From the stunning and yet ill-fated forests of Waipoua we
drove endlessly south to our final destination for this day: Waitakere.
Day Seven: Karekare
We encountered our first day of rain today. Yes, it is
indeed summertime here in the antipodes and yet it did rain today. This is the
nature of the weather in this very green and subtropical place. All day the
rain fell in light drizzle, to at times heavy downpours. However much it rained
it never really got cold and so Julia and I braved the rain and walked several
short hikes in it. It is truly special to walk in the New Zealand jungle while
a light rain falls. The rain enhances the smells of the lush undergrowth and
fills the bush with sights and sounds not seen when it is dry.
One of the most notable walks this day was the hike up to
the Karekare waterfalls. We did the hike in the dry in between showers, but as
soon as we arrived back at our car the skies opened up and the rain poured
unendingly until that evening. The luck of the Irish is only surpassed by our
Day Eight: Waitakere
In the Waitakere River Regional Park, is the stupendous
Montana Hike. This track climbs you slowly up, to a high ridge covered in lush
green rainforest where live a stand of magnificent Kauri trees. Their massive
whitish trunks reach up high where finally thick branches dart in all
directions, each topped off with a poof of green leaves. The reason we could
experience these trees is because of one local man and his dog who refused to
allow poachers to kill them. We humans are such strange creatures, on the one
hand we destroy everything in sight without thought of the consequences and
sometimes (rarely) we protect life. Our behavior seems contradictory, I'm
convinced the human species is insane.
Day Nine: Waiatarua
The Waiatarua area and its surrounds are made up of lush
green jungle, small winding roads, and minor villages, all backed up to the
outer suburbs of Greater Auckland. If the amazing forests in this lovely area
were not enough the whole regional park system is surrounded by oceans, bays,
and beaches. Given how friendly and welcoming the locals are it is hard to find
a more attractive place in the world.
Today Julia and I drove to Whatipu where
we walked six miles up and back a stupendous sparkling black-sand beach. Three
of these miles we walked barefoot paddling in the warm, but tumultuous waters
of this invigorating coastline.
This was our last hike in a place we think we could spend
the rest of our lives in. Given how our homeland has fallen into a dark and
dismal time, driven by America's overwhelming self-interest and greed, perhaps
we will return to live here; only time will tell.