Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The most easterly cinema in the world

The road to East Cape

East Island and the road ahead

East Cape

A tired man at the end of 759 steps

Looking at yesterday

East Cape road

Suspicious locals at Whangaparada

Monument at historic canoe landing site

Historic canoe landing beach

Drying our boots off


Yesterday we thought we had driven through some heavy showers. Last night taught us what New Zealand heavy rain really does sound like; still it was just what the weatherman had told us to expect. Fortunately we had parked on the grass road above the camping area, which now contained three large ponds; one of these was where we would have been parked. “Will I get bogged down in your field”, I asked when booking in. “Definitely not”, was the reply.

Last night darkness had fallen sooner than usually and we turned off the road too soon, not realising there was more than one camp. Today is a rainy dismal morning and the weather forecast is to expect a very rainy day, so, good bye to ‘Sunrise Camp’ and hello to the camp we should have stayed at 500 yards further along the road; a camp which was more established and offered protection from the wind.

The heavy rain of last night had taken its toll of our new site which proved to have some large parts of the tarmac road round the site damaged and subsided. The many ducks swimming in the puddles on the road were not pleased as we toured the camp to decide where we should stay. The grass was very soggy and not wishing to create deep tyre tracks we eventually parked partly on the road and partly on the grass, still leaving room for other vehicles to pass. After setting up our free to air TV dish we settled down to a quiet restfully day and the chance to do some catching up with our blog writing.

This camp boasts the most easterly cinema in the world. The building which houses the cinema is not very big and I suspect it only operates during the holiday times, and it will be some time before the new Indiana Jones film reaches here. However, every night between 4 and 7 pm the caravan fish shop operates for all who pass this way. The modest fee of £4 bought two fried fish, a large portion of chips and two fried donuts.

After another rainy night, (it’s surprising how therapeutic rain on the van roof can be), we travelled back towards East Cape. On the way we stopped at Te Araroa’s school to view the Pohutukawa Tree which is reputed to be the biggest of its species in the world. The information sign claimed the tree is 350 years old, (though some state the tree is much older). The height of the tree is 69 ½ feet and it is 131 feet across at its widest point.

Suitably impressed by this very big tree we continued our drive which now took us mostly along the coast line for 13 miles, and a good half of the drive was along a gravel road. It is a superb run and we were especially fortunate to view some great waterfalls after the recent rain. Four miles from the cape we stopped to take photographs of the camp site we had explored two nights ago. The motorhome club book records this site amongst the main list which includes the top camps, though notes that it is only suitable for motorhomes which are ‘self contained’. Basically this means you have your own water, cooking fuel, potty, and can take all your waste water away with you.

We took photographs of the hilly terrain which has no facilities what-so-ever other than one tap which has a warning not to drink the water without boiling. Our assessment of the camp site and some of the photographs will be e-mailed to the NZ motorhome club.

The last ¾ mile of coast road had been cut out of the cliff side and the waves were crashing into the cliff below us. It was quite dramatic and a surprise to soon find we were driving past fields to a car park near the start of the walk to the lighthouse. As rain was predicted for the afternoon we chose not to make coffee and started on the walk. We donned the walking boots and set off to climb the 759 steps which fortunately had a rail running alongside. Whilst I stopped to take some photographs Sylvia bounded ahead of me, and when I finally hauled myself up the final step she was their to photograph my triumph.

Just off from the Cape is an island called Whangaokena. On 31 October 1769 James Cook sailed past this island and named it East Island and this became the site of the first lighthouse on 09 August 1900. Three lighthouse keepers kept the light burning for 22 years. When the cliff sides kept falling into the sea due to earthquakes, it was decided to move the keepers and their families from the island and on to the mainland, and the lighthouse to its present site. The light became automated in 1985 and the lighthouse keeper withdrawn.

A local farmer George Goldsmith bought the three cottages on East Island for £30 and he and friends rafted the dismantled cottages to the mainland without breaking even one pane of glass. In 1960 George and his friends got involved again and went on East Island and killed 68 wild goats leaving only Pacific Rats to inhabit the island. These were eradicated in 1997 by Department of Conservation workers, and after careful monitoring the island was declared rat free in 1999. It is now home to 4 species of sea bird; the grey faced petrel, black-winged petrel, fluttering shearwater and the sooty shearwater. After the present weed removal programme is completed, and once the replanting of native trees and the insect population has grown to a level which will support Tuatara, (see blog on Invercargill), the Tuatara will be reintroduced to the island.

All very interesting and I will have to look at the old wooden buildings, (which we now know came from East Island), at the start of the walk in a new light. However, the most interesting thing for us was the horizon beyond East Island. From our elevated position looking beyond the ‘International Date Line’; we were looking at yesterday.

After a careful descent on the wet path we lunched then set off once more on our travels, which was back again to Te Araroa, then across land to Whangaparaoa where we once more ran mostly alongside the sea. Our camp for this night was at Waihau Bay, a Park Over Property which in effect was a field well used by cows infront of a small summer home of Daniel and Taniora from Gisborne. Along the way was an historic site where one of the original Mouri Canoes that brought the Mouri people from the Polynesian Islands, (or maybe from even further), had landed; and we had missed it.

Nothing daunted, after waking and saying goodbye to our hosts we backtracked a few miles to the village of Whangaparaoa to enquire from the local’s whereabouts the canoe had landed in Whangaparaoa Bay. On arrival we were inspected by 4 locals, a mother and her three young pups, before finding a local man who gave us directions. These were to go back the way we had just come and look for a small track into the undergrowth leading to the beach; and if we got to the bridge we had missed it. When we reached the bridge we parked the van and walked back, turning off the road at what might have been the track. On reaching a boggy part, (remember we have had long nights of heavy rain recently), we picked our way carefully around and climbed over the farm gate. By now our sandals were full of water and our lower leg was wet and clammy.

Our next task was to cross wet land which was laced with brambles. My mind wandered to my early childhood books of Braer Rabbit who had conned the nasty fox into releasing him by throwing him into the bramble patch. Unfortunately the rabbit was much more at home in the brambles than we were. When we reached a small river that crossed our path we back tracked and eventually reached the beach and found a stone carving which marked the historic site. Sylvia located the path we should have travelled and this proved to have a greater water hazard than the one we had found, so back the same way we went.

We were a bit damp, (well quite soggy actually), but our spirits were high. There hadn’t been much to see but we had stood at an historic spot which is very important in Mouri history, folklore and legend.

The onward drive passed us on from one beautiful bay to the next and we were lucky enough to view them in glorious sunshine. At lunch time we parked between two bays and put out our wet sandals and our walking boots which were a bit damp from the East Cape Lighthouse walk to dry. After a lazy lunch we were again on our way to Opotiki and the internet shop we used over a week ago. After successfully uploading our blog write ups and pictures we telephoned our previous Park Over Property hosts Jon and Noeline and arranged to spend the night camped at their home.

It was good to see them again. Tomorrow we will tell them of our 370 miles of experiences since we left their home on the 6th of May, before carrying on with our travels.

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