A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

Paihia, Bay of Islands - Day 68

Swimming with dolphins

21 °C

What an amazing day we've had! After the short drive from Puketi Forest to Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, we did a few necessaries - checked out a few things online, laundry etc. - then grabbed some chips on the promenade before our dolphin watching, and hopefully swimming, tour.

We stood on the harbour eating our chips and a group of people wearing AAT Kings badges walked in front of us. This was the same tour company Andrew's mum, Mary, was with (doing a 17 day coach tour of New Zealand), so I asked a lady what tour she was on but it wasn't the same one. We walked down the pier towards where our trip would go from, as boarding time was getting close, and then Andrew took our chip papers to the bin while I waited for the boat and he spotted a AAT Kings coach pulling up. A few minutes later Andrew looked down the the jetty to me, waved his arms around and then walked quickly out of sight. It must be Mary! I ran all the way back down the jetty, dodging people left and right, and there she was! We didn't expect to meet at the harbour, as we thought she would be arriving later, so it was such a lovely surprise. We all agreed it was strange to see each other again after almost 10 weeks in the other side of the world.

Our boat was boarding so we said goodbye for now and ran back down. The woman collecting our tickets before we got on said 'winners!'. We looked puzzled but it turned out the company, Fullers Great Sights, have a promotion where a person on each trip gets their ticket price refunded. So we were getting ninety-nine dollars back when we got off - result!

The captain of the boat and the woman, who was the dolphin expert, talked us through the likelihood of seeing dolphins - quite high as they'd been told a pod had been seen by another boat just a short time ago - and swimming with dolphins - not great, as they need to be in the right mood and not have any babies or juvenile dolphins in the pod. I didn't know this, but the survival rate of baby dolphins is really low and one of the reasons is that they have the same body fat as human babies so they have to get their fat, to keep them from freezing to death in the water, from their mothers milk. But the mothers milk doesn't go from teet to mouth like humans and plenty of other animals, the mothers have to shoot their milk in to the water and the babies have to pick as much up from the stream of milk in the water as possible. Obviously this is extremely difficult and so many just don't get enough to survive. In terms of swimming with them then, if there is a baby in the pod it can stop the mother from feeding the baby, which needs feeding up to 20 times a day!

We were told we'd probably have to sail quite far to see dolphins today but keep our eyes out and let them know if we see anything. About ten or fifteen minutes in someone spotted dolphins, and we sailed closer. There they were! They were incredible. Jumping out of the water like in all those wildlife programmes my Dad watches! It was too hard to get pictures of this, as they're so quick. They swam in front of the boat, inches away from us - they even sprayed me with water from their blow holes they were so close! We have a video of this, which we'll upload on our return.

The captain and dolphin expert told us this was the same pod they saw this morning but in a completely different mood - and that they judged it was fine for us to go in! They made it very clear how hard it was to get close to the dolphins if you're not a great swimmer and that the waters were quite rough, so along with a couple of other women, I let the alpha males go in first to see how it was whether it was. As Andrew and loads of other people from the boat tried to swim close to the dolphins and attract them through twirling in the water, diving, clicking and making noises under water, we looked on from the boat and saw them, away from the swimmers, making enormous jumps crossing over each other in the air. Andrew got out because it was so tiring, so I thought I wouldn't be able to get in.

Eventually, the dolphins started playing again and Andrew jumped back in. They were really deep in the water, but he could see them, then they were right next to him! They started playing around him and he says he even eyeballed one under the water!!

I couldn't miss out and thought it was best to try and get out than not try at all, so I grabbed some flippers and snorkel and jumped in. They were really close but I couldn't see them under water. We got back on the boat, moved around a bit, and the captain and expert said I could get in first to try and see them, which was lovely and they didn't need to because I wasn't the only one who hadn't seen them in the water yet. They swam towards us and I jumped off the boat as the dolphin jumped straight up out of the water and I saw it drop straight back in and swim right to the bottom. It was so big and powerful but really graceful. I stuck my head out of the water and gave the people on the boat the thumbs up that I seen one. Then I put my head back down and saw four dolphins gliding and crossing underneath me in the water. It was incredible! I wish I had a video of it, but I will never forget seeing that. I couldn't stop smiling when I got out!


Back on dry land, amazed at what we'd just seen, we found a campsite just down the road from Mary, showered and then went to say hello before she had her dinner. Mary even had a gift for us - an Easter egg each! We'd missed out on Pancake Day in Peru so I was really happy to be able to part in Easter! We had some wine, caught up a little and set a time for meeting tomorrow.

Posted by staceywaugh 05:47 Archived in New Zealand Tagged boats dolphins swimming_with_dolphins Comments (0)

Doubtless Bay to Puketi Forest - Day 67

A lazy day around the bays

18 °C

An overcast day in the Northland, which was supposed to be a beach day for us! Never mind, we drove around Doubtless Bay, going to a little local fete in Taipa, watching men fish on Coopers Bay and had lunch at Cable bay.

Then on to a quiet little fishing village called Mangonui, where people of all ages were fishing off the jetty and the community centre had stalls inside selling honey, soaps and knitted items amongst other things.

It was still early, so we took a scenic drive through a harbour town called Whangaroa - a centre for big game fishing.

Then round the coast road through Matauri Bay. The scenery was pretty and we saw the strangest post boxes that were made from microwaves?! As usual, we were going to quick to get a picture and then there were no more!

We stayed down another long dirt track tonight in Puketi Forest, which was peaceful but the toilets were covered in flies. Not only were there dead flies covering the seat but when I felt brave enough, I flipped the lid and flies flew out at me! Needless to say, I couldn't bring myself to go in there so a little nature 'going' had to commence. Ill never think public toilets in England are bad again!

Posted by staceywaugh 05:55 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches trees boats fishing views harbours Comments (0)

Cape Reinga to Maitai Bay - Day 66

An impressive Lighthouse, awesome Sand Dunes, disappointing Ninety Mile Beach and a pretty Bay

21 °C

This morning we braved the cold showers for the first time. It wasn't freezing cold, but definitely not particularly warm either, and I jumped in first. So, so cold! Andrew was impressed that I just flung myself into it, but I think he thought it mustn't be too bad because I'd managed it. He realised soon enough and shouted "Jesus, it's frickin' freezing!" when the cold water hit him.

Another first was that I drove the camper! It was strange because it was an automatic but apart from that it was easy. I took us up to the Cape Reinga lighthouse, which is also the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. This is also a spiritual place for Maori, where the spirits of the recently deceased depart.

It was a short walk to the lighthouse, but we ran up and down the hill instead and immediately regretted it - it was steep and too hot! Plus were not very fit! The views were very pretty and the lighthouse had one of though 'distance to...' signs. We're so far away from home!

Next stop was Te Paki Sand dunes for some body boarding down them. We hired a board for about 15 dollars, then made our way across the sand to the biggest dune. I went first, carrying the board while trying walk up sand - not an easy task! Every step I took, I slid back half the same distance and about half way up wind started to come into play and the board was trying to get away from me! Eventually I got up there, with Andrew laughing at me and out of breath. It was a long way down from here! But I jumped on the board and slid down using my feet as brakes, so I didn't go too fast.

Andrew wasn't laughing when he tried to walk up the sand dune! It really was hard work. When he slid down though, he didn't use his feet as brakes at all, and whizzed down the dune and past me for another few metres! We had another few goes before leaving, getting fast each time - it was too tiring getting up the dune to do much more! (The videos are better, which we'll get online when we return home)

While we were up here, we thought we'd go and see 90 mile beach, which is actually only about 73 miles long. Cars and buses drive on it, but our rental agreement doesn't allow us to do that, so we just had to drive to it instead. There are lots of ways to get to 90 mile beach but the way we went took us down the longest, bumpiest gravel track we've ever driven on, so long we almost turned back because we thought it couldn't possibly be the way. We got there and it was just another beach really. I guess driving down it is the fun and point of it?

We then went across the east side of the Northland to Maitai Bay campsite, because we wanted to explore Doubtless Bay tomorrow before heading to Bay of Islands the next day. The campsite was really pretty, with two beaches, its a shame it wasn't warmer so we could have taken advantage of it. Andrew did get into the sea though, but it was so cold.

Posted by staceywaugh 05:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches sea lighthouse sand_dunes sand_boarding Comments (2)

Uretiti Beach Camp to Cape Reinga - Day 65

Beautiful beach...until the nudists came out!

24 °C

We woke up after a good sleep - the caving and driving must have tired us out - and headed for the beach. And what a beautiful beach it was! White sand, mountains and islands out to sea. Hardly anyone was in the beach, a few walkers and a lady sunbathing and reading her book.

The sand was covered in pretty shells, some of them perfect and enormous - I wish I could have brought some back. And the birds were really cute too!

I felt like I could have stayed here for a long time, it was so peaceful and beautiful. But then in the distance, walking towards us were two people, who must have been wearing speedos or a tiny bikini. Wait, they don't look like they have any clothes on...can't be, they've got hats on. Oh no, it can be. A man and woman were walking towards, completely naked except for sun hats?! We turned around and walked the other way, but I still can't get my head around wearing a hat when you're completely naked?? Anyway, when we turned around a bit later, they'd grabbed their body boards and were surfing the waves of this beautiful beach completely starkers.

Time to go and we had another long drive ahead of us to get to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand. We stopped in a town called Whangerai for shopping and to book our dolphin trip. The tour we chose includes a swim with the dolphins if the conditions are right, so fingers crossed we'll be lucky enough to be able to get in with them.

Along the way we saw some more beautiful scenery...

We got to our camp at Cape Reinga at a good time, which was in a really pretty bay. We've been able to camp in some really amazing places here so far - in terms of scenery, not facilities! - for very little money.

Not everything was perfect though. As we started to make dinner the camp stove wouldn't work properly, which meant we had to cook a two pan meal on one hob. It took forever and we ended up making and eating dinner in the dark.

Posted by staceywaugh 05:28 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches birds views campsite Comments (0)

Waitomo Caves to Uretiti Beach Camp, Northland - Day 64

Black water rafting with glow worms

20 °C

Good morning!

Today was our trip to see the glowworms in Waitomo Caves. Instead of walking or taking a boat in the caves, we decided to tube it instead. This is basically a rubber ring you sit in as you navigate the caves, which is called black water rafting. I have been a bit nervous about this for the last two days, just because the woman at the isite said there are eels and spiders down there!

At the Black Water Rafting Company office, we were taken to get our gear for the trip. Wet suits, socks, booties and helmet...I wished there was gloves too so my hands didn't have to touch anything down there! Our group had a mixture of ages, from teens to 50+, and from places like Seattle and Malaysia, as well as quite a few of us from England and Scotland and was led by two women guides who were young, enthusiastic and funny. It took us a while to get suited and booted, then we hopped in a van to take us to the caves.

We got to a parkland area and picked up our tubes, making sure it fit us.

Then we walked to the river and one of the guides said "Right, in the caves there are a couple of waterfalls that we need to get down. The safest way to do this is to jump away from the waterfall, facing backwards with your bum in the tube, ready to land in the water". I thought she was joking, but clearly she wasn't when she made me take the first practice jump in the river! I did it and apart from a face full of water as I landed, it was fine and quite fun! I was unsure how easy it would be the save, given it was dark and has a low head height...not something I usually worry about.

Everyone had a go - apart from one girl who refused and subsequently had to climb down the waterfalls inside the caves - and then we were off to the caves!

The hole to get in was tiny but I managed just fine, Andrew had to watch his head constantly...something he is always worrying about (particularly because he is quite clumsy!). Inside we turned on our head lights and sat for a while to get used to the dark.

The women told us lots of information about the cave as we made our way through, walking, wading through water and tubing. It was so much fun jumping backwards into water in the dark!

We stopped to sit in one of the tunnels in the cave, ate a chocolate and marshmallow fish they gave us (which made the next bit slightly better) and turned our head lights off. My least favourite part, as I wouldn't be able to see spiders trying to attack me! But we looked up and saw the luminous green, glowing worms on the ceiling! They looked beautiful and strange, like a sky of green stars. But they're not pretty at all. One of the guides told us that they're not worms, they're actually Arachnids with no legs that cling on to the ceiling and dangle their web to catch insects to eat. They live for quite a long time then wrap themselves in their web to eventually hatch into a blind moth without a mouth. Realising they're not going to live very long without a mouth, they forget their hungry and just mate for two days before it dies. I think the female glow worm has the children and then gets eaten by them?! (I could have made that last bit up!)

We made an 'eel', by sitting in the tube while the person in front holds your legs and you hold theirs, and travelled through the cave looking up at the thousands of glow worms, which were somehow nonetheless beautiful because of the gross story we just heard. And then finally we spilt and tubed ourselves to the end of the cave, in the dark, using our arms to move through the water, which was really tiring!

We got out of the cave and had a group victory shot! I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and would definitely like to try other rafting now.

Out of our stinky wet suits, we had a hot shower and ate tomato soup and a bagel, before setting off on a long journey to the Northland area of New Zealand. There were no other DOC campsites on the way and we didn't want to pay for a holiday park yet, as we would need to stay at a few in the bay of islands and later in the trip on the South Island. This meant us driving through Auckland at sunset and the view from the bridge was lovely.

Arriving in the dark at Uretititi Beach Camp, we couldn't really tell what it was like, but the sky was so clear that the stars and moon were beautiful and bright.

Posted by staceywaugh 05:45 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises lakes caves caving tubing Comments (0)

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