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Sunday 17 Feb 2013
Paihia, New Zealand

Bay of Islands sandboarding, dolphins and a few cheeky Sauvignon Blancs...

What a great few days!

I discovered belatedly that my plan to hire a car for a week was going to cost me far more than I thought, so booked myself onto a Stray bus up to the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland.  The advantage of these buses is being able to meet people, many of whom are travelling solo, and have a guaranteed bed for the night each time you arrive in a new place.  I got chatting to Abi (English) and Patrick (German) at the bus stop.  By the time we had nattered all the way up to Paihia, we'd been joined by Sarah (English), Christian and Anika (German - There were a lot of Germans on the Stray bus.  They must have a great advertising campaign in Germany.  Great for me as I have been happily practicing my language skills)  The bus driver handed round a list of activities that we could do in the Bay of Islands, some of which were already included in my pass.  I signed up for a half day outing in a Maori canoe, on top of Swimming wih Dolphins and a day trip up to Cape Reinga.

After checking in to the hostel it was unanimously agreed to be officially beer o'clock, so a group of us headed down to the beach and found a table in the sunshine, toasting our good fortune to be in such a stunning place.  Abi had a list of challenges from friends back home, so we spent a while trying to take jumping photos on the beach, giggling helplessly and utterly failing to get all four of us off the ground at once.  (This somehow set a precident for the trip and we ended up taking jumping shots everywhere we went!)

We had a barbeque at the hostel that evening, following by a few drinks in the bar and a dance to some really bad music.  As it was Valentines Day, they were giving away free Love Juice cocktails to the ladies (they were not good) to encourage everyone to stay there despite the terrible music choices.  It was great fun regardless.

We had quite an early start the next day, which was delayed by the fact that the bus had refused to start, so we were picked up nearly 20 minutes late.  This meant we were quite pushed for time to reach 90-Mile Beach in time to beat the in-coming tide.  This was hampered further when the bus appeared to blow a turbo and had to crawl along at 40 mph and inch its way up the steeper hills - at one point we thought we'd all have to get off and walk!  At the next stop, the driver was able to tinker with a few things and discovered it was actually something to do with the exhaust, not the turbo, so we were up and running and eading for the beach again.

90-Mile Beach is located on the north west of the peninsula and despite its name, is in fact only about 65 miles long.  It is possible to drive along the beach at lower tides, which is what we were aiming to do.  In order to get to the stronger wet sand on the water's edge, Barry (our driver, a real character) pointed us straight at the sea and floored it, much to the surprise of the dog-walkers and tourists minding their own business.  He headed right into the water, before turning a big circle and heading off along the beach at speeds of around 90kmph.  I have to say this was one of the more surreal experiences I've had so far - bombing along the water's edge with beautiful turquoise sea and rocky islands to the left and perfect sandy beaches and dunes to the right, with the occasional bigger wave causing spray to fly up both sides of the bus.  Approximately 40km along the beach there is a dogleg where the rocks protrude down onto the beach and further out.  Barry explained that we had to get to this point before the water covered the smallest rock, or he wouldn't be able to drive around it without getting stuck.  If we were too late, we would either have to park up and wait out the tide (therefore missing half of our day's itinerary), or turn around and try to outrun the tide on the 40km back to where we had started.  Buses get stuck and lost to the sea on a fairly regular basis, so the excitement was palpable, added to by Barry's brilliant Fred Flintstone-like chuckle.  All he had to do was chuckle to get the whole bus giggling with him.  We caught up with another bus on the beach and raced to the dogleg together - strength in numbers: one bus could help rescue the other if necessary.  The water was already lapping the lowest rock, but we went for it anyway and made it safely around.  Cue lots of cheering on both buses.

After we left the beach, we drove up a shallow creek between huge sand dunes.  This was our next activity: Sandboarding.  Armed with boogie boards, we climbed to the top of the dunes and followed Barry's example - take a running start, lay down on the board and hold on tight to the board - wheeeeeeee!!! Down the slope (which feels much steeper as you're going down headfirst!), off a small lip and shoot out across the shallow water in the creek bed.  Inevitably, one girl lost her board at the edge of the creek and performed an oscar-worthy multiple tumble across the creek and sat there dripping and giggling helplessly.  Patrick had his GoPro (small sports video camera) so recorded himself boarding down... until he let go of the board halfway and tumbled the rest of the way down head over heels.  The footage is brilliant!

We stopped off at Puketi forest to see a couple of huge Kaori trees.  The Kaori trees once covered the North Island, but the Maori tribes and then the European settlers decimated these forests to harvest the wood.  Kaoris grow incredibly tall, with perfectly straight trunks and drop their lower branches as they grow.  The result is long, straight, knot-free timber in huge quantities, perfect for Maori war canoes (Wakas) and house building.  Sadly, these trees tak hundreds of years to grow so although many have been replanted, the north Island will never look like it once did.  Those that are still standing are well protected.

The northernmost point of New Zealand is at Cape Reinga.  Maoris belive that the souls of their dead travel to Cape Reinga and leave the island by entering caves by a sole Puhutekawa tree near the water's edge.   It is a spiritual place 


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