Tolga Bay to Te Araroa North Island 8th to 9th May 2008
8 Jun 2008
The weather forecast for today is for it to be fine in the morning and then to rain by lunch time. As we are planning to do the 31/2 mile walk from the campsite on the Cook Cove Walkway, an early start was planned. We got an earlier start than we bargained for when a spraying plane was using the field right behind the campsite as a refuelling depot before taking off and landing on a fairly regular basis from first light. We were up and kitted out for possible wet weather and we were off. The Lonely Planet guide said it was an easy stroll through farmland and native bush to a cove that Captain Cook made a stop at 1769.
I don’t think the writer has actually done this walk; it went straight up the side of the hill and kept going until it reached the top of the cliffs. Coupled with the fact there has been a bit of rain recently the path was very muddy, so this caused us to make detours around large muddy areas that the sheep had churned up. When we reached the top of first hill we got a good overview of the campsite and the spraying operation going on. Mindful of the possible change in weather we plodded on and arrived at the very top, surprising a group of wild goats, who had not expected to see any tourists up here today. We got a lovely view over the cove way down below us. The journey down was much better as we were walking through the bush and whilst the path was drier it also went down many steps, in fact Jeff counted 349 in total. As we were wandering down I couldn’t help thinking that what goes down must come up again, but that will be in another hour.
After his bad experience at Poverty Bay, Cook brought his ship into this cove to take on water and firewood. It was a lovely little cove and on a better day would have been nice to have stopped to eat some sandwiches, but not today. Close by is a hole in the cliff where we were able to walk through the cliff and stand on the beach looking up the coast line. A further ten minutes up a small hill was a monument which I felt was a hill to far for me, so I sat at the bottom whilst Jeff walked up to read a plaque saying James Cook landed here. As we started back up the hill, the rain began to fall, however when we got into the bush we were protected by the trees. So as we emerged at the top we were quite dry, a bit different to our neighbours from the campsite, who looked a little wet as we passed on the top of the cliffs.
Down at the bottom we were a little bit damp but as the rain had now stopped we decided to walk down the Tolga Pier. This is the longest pier in NZ at 660m and was built in the days of costal shipping around NZ. Today it is slowly disintegrating from the sea end through being bashed by the constant waves. The view from the end was quite spectacular looking at the big cliffs, but we did not stay too long as the rain was returning and we had a long walk back to the van. We had lunch amongst wet cagoules, damp boots and wet trousers, the joys of camping.
Suitably fed we were back on the SH 35, the Pacific Coast Highway. The coastal route around East Cape may look a short journey on the map but then this is NZ. The road is constantly twisting and climbing and we kept meeting the big wood lorries heading to the docks with full loads and returning back empty for the next load. There were little spaces for us to pull over and let them pass. What we did notice was the absence of rental vans on this highway, possibly a long way for them to travel to reach the most easterly point of NZ. The region has some of the more remote areas with some small Maori communities and lovely beaches. This area has the strongest Maori presence in NZ and we passed many road signs directing us to the Marae in each little community. The interior is rather wild and woolly with few roads going into it. The journey around the cape is 330 k with some great views of the sea on one side and the mountain range of the Raukumara Range on the other.
We made a detour to Anaura Bay, the second place that Captain Cook set foot in NZ. Unlike Gisborne this small place probably is still very much like it was when Cook arrived. We drove along the front, took some photographs and got back in the van to avoid the rain and carried on to Tokomaru Bay. This is another small community which seems to be going backwards. The main employer, the meat works, closed in the late 1950’s and it seems most of the people went with it. We stopped here as the next camping place was too far away. The camp site was very basic and when we went to use the washing machines, one didn’t work and they all had the fronts missing off them. Lighting was also poor and Jeff fell down the ditch, as luck would have it there was no water in it at the time. Later that night he bruised his big toe on a plank of wood.
Friday morning we left the camp site and drove a short distance up the road to Te Puia Springs where we hoped to indulge ourselves in the hot pools. We spent all of five minutes driving around the town and could not find them. At the garage we were told to drive up to the hotel and ring the bell, but when we arrived back at the hotel there was no bell. We did find some springs at the back of the hotel in a small shed but no one to ask about them. So stifling our disappointment we drove on looking for the loop road which would take us to Waipiro Bay. Today was not our lucky day and we missed the road and ended up coming in from the north end. We stopped by the beach for a coffee and then decided to drive back on the road to Te Puia to find out where the road we had missed was. We ended up right in the centre of the town, close to the hotel we had been driving around looking for hot springs.
Our next stop was in Ruatoria, the Ngati Porou tribe’s main centre. Sir Apirana Ngata, an inspiring Maori politician, who was the minister of Native Affairs in 1928, lived here as well as All Black George Nepia. Sir Apirana set up the Maori Institute in Rortorua, to ensure the traditional Maori skills of carving and weaving would not be lost. We hope to visit the institute when we are in Rotorua. We called in at the Ngati Porou visitor’s centre which also has a large selection of carved Maori crafts for sale and on display. One of the young men came out to talk to us and told us a lot about the local craft people, some of his tribe’s history and gave us an understanding of Maori tattooing. Most of the land in this area belongs to the Maori Tribe and that includes Mt Hikurangi, the highest non volcanic mountain in the North Island. On the mountain are nine very large carvings (Whakairo) depicting the whanau of Maori – Tikitiki-a-Taranga. Legend attributes him to fishing up the North Island from the sea. They run trips up the mountain to see the carvings but as the weather for the week-end is not good there would be no trips for the next three days. So this is one we will just have to miss out on. The local people bring the new year in up on the mountain as this is the first place to see the sun each day in NZ.
Above the town are clearly defined trenches from one of the Maori wars. The young man informed us that the Maori people introduced the rest of the world to trench warfare. As the rain was now falling quite heavy we would not be able to visit this area so our next stop was at Tiki Tiki to visit the lovely Maori decorated church.
This original church was destroyed by fire and the re-building of the church was done through the revival of Maori craftwork and design. Instrumental in the rebuilding of the church in 1923 was Sir Apirana Nagata, And once built the church was dedicated as a memorial to the Maori Battalion and all Maori men who lost their lives in the first World War. We were really impressed with the wood carvings and the many woven wall panels inside the church. For those travelling this road it is worth taking the time to visit this lovely church, which is left open for visitors.
From here we drove to Te Araroa where the road turns off to East Cape. It was getting late so we decided to drive to the new campsite we had been told was on the way to the light house. The road hugs the cliff and runs by the sea, and we got some nice views as we drove along. But we got a shock when we got to the camp site to find a very hilly field, no facilities and a charge of $11 for the first night and $5 per night after that. It might have been a nice place to bush camp but tonight we need something a little more substantial as the weather is not going to be good. We turned around and drove back through Te Araroa to a campsite and booked in for the night. The lady pointed out where the sites were and Jeff asked if we would get bogged down, to be told that we would be safe where we were. As we were about to drive on to the field a gentleman staying in a cabin suggested that we camp on the roadway as it was going to rain very heavy tonight. So we parked on the roadway and settled down to a very blustery and wet night.