Monday, 10 January 2011

North of Auckland to Russell

North Island to Russell

Over a period of five days, we have meandered north up to Russell, stopping off to see whatever has taken our interest.

We have searched for words to describe the scenery and have decided that high alpine meadows and forests defines it best although so far we have not been high! The landscape is extraordinarily green in numerous shades. You are driving along a winding undulating road, go round a corner and there in front of you is a magnificent bay with a wide sandy shore or a hillside covered with a jungle like forest.

It is easy to understand how the first settlers – Maori or Colonists felt they had discovered a land of plenty. Of course they then proceeded to plunder it and nearly denuded it of magnificent trees but more of that later.

One travelling difference with Australia is that any distance takes much longer to cover because of the bends / hills in the roads (and also the numerous speed traps). All motorists seem to take great pleasure in warning on-coming drivers of speed traps ahead using the universal warning code of flashing of headlights.

We did not know that the Kiwi is an endangered species, it is and there are estimated to be only 20 to 30 thousand left in the wild.

They do not start breeding until they are 40 (they live to about 80 years old) and then only lay two eggs a year each of which has to be sat on for three months. The egg is very large, we guess about four times the volume of a hen’s egg. Its predators are stoats, rats, dogs, cats etc etc. All of these factors make Kiwi life rather difficult, Hence there are a number of projects around the country focused on breeding programmes for this iconic flightless nocturnal bird.

One of these projects is at the Kiwi North Centre which we passed on the way to Tutukaka. The centre has a room where time is reversed - it is bright during the night thus encouraging the kiwis to go to sleep and dark during the day when they are supposed to come out to play so we can watch them. However when we went, the Kiwi had decided to stay in bed but one of the centre staff kindly went and got it out of bed so we would be able to catch a glimpse of it. What did it look like? Grumpy and about the size of a fat chicken is the answer.

Stuffed Kiwi

Also at this centre are a number of old buildings which

School House
Riponui School House c1898
Classroom (OfSTED note the Dunce’s Cap)
Women's Jail
Women’s Jail

have been re-erected on the site clustered around “The


Clarke Family Homestead” dating from 1886. In its quiet

Clarke Homestead 1

peaceful setting, it was quite easy to imagine one had been transported back to that era.

Wallpaper     Jane Mander Writing House 
Homestead Wallpaper Writing room of  Jane Mander, NZ Author

The longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere (how does anyone know this? does someone keep a reference book on footbridge lengths?) is 9 km down an unmade

Longest Footbridge

roughish road in Northland (the district north of Auckland)

Unmade Track

and crosses the Whananaki Estuary. Such a claim needs a visit and so we proceed down the track to give it a walk.

Longest Footbridge 2

Old, spectacular, scenic, and long are a few of the words that come to mind when walking across the footbridge to the other side of the estuary and then turning round and coming back.

Kawakawa is a small town which ordinarily would have nothing to create any interest (although it does have a railway track running down the middle of the main

Railway down high street

street) to detain the tourist if it were not for the Hundertwasser Toilets (plus a few other related things).

Toilet Entrance

Toilet Entrance

Toilet Corridor

Corridor leading to business area

Hundertwasser (who lived locally) was commissioned in 1997 to design some public toilets and his design was built by local labour using local materials. These are fully

Business Area

functioning public toilets (we tested them) built to a rather


unique design.

There is also a wonderful Art Deco Theatre.

Kawakawa Theatre

and a pub which looks just like a pub from the 1920’s is supposed to look

Kawakawa Pub

To the north east is Russell, this is one of the most delightful towns we have ever come across. To get there, we chose to use the ferry to cross the sound from Opua  - one cannot really call it the mainland since Russell is not on an island.

Apart from its delightful buildings;

Russel Uniting Church
Uniting Church
Police Station Russell
Police Station built in 1860
Old Building Russell
Super Market

and a quiet determination to provide a traditional holiday setting;

Russell Beach
Russell Beach and Boat Pier

and one of the best equipped and most picturesque

View over bay from campsite
View over Sound from Campsite
Traveller at Rest
Traveller at Rest

campsites we have ever visited (which advertises itself as being totally unsuitable for anyone looking for an exciting night life and bans noise after 10.30 pm except on New Years Eve when noise is allowed to 1.30 am)

Russell was also the first capital of New Zealand – then know as Kororareka with a reputation as the “hell hole of the Pacific”. On the other side of the sound is Waitangi, location of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the Maoris and the Settlers in 1840 which essentially established New Zealand. That the legal version of the treaty in English was more favourable to the settlers than the non-legal version in Maori should come as no surprise.

A question for non antipodeans: name the current capital of New Zealand – if you say Auckland, you have got it wrong.

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