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Saturday 25 Jan 2014
Dargaville, New Zealand

Volcanoes in Dargaville

I had no real plan when I left the Tree House this morning.  I had to take Jim’s money over to Opanoni, but then I could either go through the island back to Paihia and book a dive out to the Rainbow Warrior – very tempting, but very expensive – or I could continue down the west coast and find some of the ancient Kauri forest giants.  The Kauri forests won.

I followed the coast south until it wound its way into the forest.  After about an hour’s drive, I reach the small car park by the trail for Tane Mahute, the Lord of the Forest.  It is the tallest of the remaining Kauri trees, trees that once covered most of New Zealand but were logged almost to extinction.  It was only a short walk down a boardwalk to reach a clearing at the foot of the mighty tree.  It was, quite simply, huge.  I followed the boardwalk a bit further around to a second clearing, which showed the tree from a different perspective.  Seen from further away, the height was even more impressive.

I kept driving, intending to see some of the other giant trees and follow a few trails, when I glanced down at the dashboard and realised, with a sinking feeling, that in my concern about getting Jim’s money to him, I had forgotten to fill the car up and the light was now on.  I didn’t remember seeing a petrol station any time recently, so I kept going.  I eventually found a visitor’s centre and stopped in there to ask about the nearest garage, only to be told it was 28 miles in either direction.  Gulp!  She was very confident that I would make it if my light had only just come on, but as it was a rental car, I had no idea how much warning the light gave me.  There was no ‘miles-to-empty’ counter so I just had to cross my fingers and drive as economically as I could.

Thankfully, I made it to the garage without conking out and filled the tank right up.  In the States, I had been good at not letting the car go below half a tank as I knew it could be a long drive between garages, but it never crossed my mind that I’d need to do the same in New Zealand.  Coming up the east side of the peninsula, I’d passed lots of garages, but this was a wake-up call that I needed to pay more attention in the more rural parts of the country. 

I could have driven back up to see the forests, but I’d come a long way south looking for fuel, so I decided to keep going down to Dargaville and look for somewhere to stay.  The iSite (visitors’ centre) directed me to the Greenhouse, a 1921 schoolhouse converted into a hostel.  The owner was a lovely lady who gave me a guided tour of the old school.  One of the old classrooms had been made into a big lounge, library, games room and dining room.  It still had the original murals painted on one wall, a bright tableau of fish with their namesakes (a rainbow fish had a rainbow on the side, a trunkfish was carrying a travelling trunk, etc.), which made the room bright and welcoming.  The other classroom held about 15 beds divided into small groups by pinboard partitions.  The original blackboards still covered the length of one wall in each room and I was encouraged to leave a message.  It was fun reading the messages left by travellers from all over the world.  The reception window was surrounded by wooden plaques bearing coins from around the world, so I dug through my travel purse and donated a few more from Central and South America that they didn’t have yet.

Although Dargaville had little to shout about, I liked the atmosphere in the hostel, so booked a second night.  I watched Avatar that evening with a group of other backpackers from Germany, Brazil and Holland. 

While Dargaville is little more than a few streets, it declares itself as the ‘Kumara capital of New Zealand’ and produces two thirds of NZ’s sweet potatoes - something that doesn’t exactly occupy the youth of the town, as I found out.  I was walking along the main street, minding my own business, when something hit me on the shoulder.  I’d been pelted with a gravy-soaked cooked kumara, and I heard the cackle of teenage laughter from the car as it shot off down the road.  Oh, how I love being the source of other people’s amusement!  Idiots.

After changing my top, I drove out to explore the local area.  About 15 miles south of Dargaville, there are a couple of rocky outcrops, remnants of the islands early volcanic origins.  Tokatoka is a volcanic plug, whose original cinder cone has long since eroded, leaving a tall thin pinnacle dominating the surrounding flat agricultural land. 

I drove up to the base and followed a steep path up through the trees around the base.  I crossed a small meadow and discovered that the first bit of the path was only pretending to be steep.  It took only 15 minutes to reach the top, but my heart was pounding and my legs warned me they’d be objecting later.  The last 15m were more of a climb than a walk, up out of the shrubs and onto the exposed, very windy summit.  I could see in all directions.  The river wound its way past below me, between fields spread out like a patchwork quilt for miles around.  There was another rocky outcrop that appeared to be on my way back, so I decided to investigate that too.

Maungaraho Rock was signposted off the main highway and seemed to be quite close.  But perspective can be misleading and I drove over 20 minutes along gravel roads as it got bigger and bigger, but I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to it.  When I finally reached the base of the monolith, I realised it was easily twice the height of Tokatoka and considerably bigger in bulk.  There were a couple of walking routes marked on the signpost, but it also indicated how unstable it was – frequent rockslides – and advised against climbing it alone.  I’d only driven up there out of curiosity and wasn’t really geared up for a long walk, so I decided to head back to the hostel. 

After such a hectic couple of months, I was still in need of some down time, so I treated myself to reading an entire book in one go, lying on one of the sofas in the schoolhouse lounge.  Lovely.



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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #4 New Zealand and Australia

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