After the extremely busy and tiring weekend at the Rotorua tattoo convention (which for the record, was brilliant, see previous blogpost), we started our second road-trip. First one here in New Zealand. Though we were halfway the North island, at Rotorua, our first stop took us all the way to the top of the island, past Auckland, to the Bay of Islands.
After our first taste of scuba diving in Krabi (Thailand), we were itching to do some more. Luckily for us, New Zealand is and island that has plenty of spots for diving. After a very long tiresome day of driving up North with a hungover Haythim (the tattoo afterparty included tequila… and I don't get hangovers hehe) we arrived at Paihia. As it was getting late, we started our search for a camping spot to stay the night. Luckily, New Zealand is very friendly towards campers and campervanners (especially when you are self contained). While driving towards the centre of Paihia, we drove past a lovely campsite on the beach. A little stretch of grass on the edge of a sandy beach on which the water softly swayed. In the background a gorgeous sunset, that turned the sky from orange and purple. It truly was the perfect spot to spend our first night on the road.
The next morning we walked towards the local visitor centre, as we do at every new location. The people who work there are very knowledgeable about the area and usually have very good recommendations on what to see/visit and what not. We asked about the local hiking and scuba diving options and were told that one of the best areas for reef-diving would be the poor knight’s islands. (the dives at Paihia were a lot of wreck dives but they go deeper than 18m and we’re not licensed for that yet…). The easiest way to get to the islands was through a company located in Tutukaka (I know, what a name right?). The price was a bit more than in Krabi (Thailand) but that’s to be expected. We signed up for a dive a couple of days after and made an easygoing planning for our first days, so we could get used to hiking and campervanning again.
Our first hike was the Paihia lookout hike. It’s a good warming-up hike since it’s only a 3km walk on an easy-to-walk path through a forrest. After two weeks in Auckland city, plus the busy Rotorua tattoo convention, we really needed some time in the greens to relax our minds again. The hike was a lot of fun. Mainly because we got to hear a ton of birds! Some of those New Zealand birds made the strangest sounds and were very hard to spot. Others like the fan tailed tit were not shy at all and bravely came near us to fan their tail at us, as a show that this territory was theirs! Cute little buggers really! At the top of the hike, we were rewarded by some beautiful views of the surrounding area, islands and bays. It’s of course no wonder they call this the Bay of Islands.
It was still early when we arrived back at the car and we were still hungry for some more "adventure". So we decided to go visit the Waitangi Treaty grounds nearby. A site of enormous importance to the country and the Maori people. It defined the later development and relations between the original people and the new settlers. I’m not going into detail here because it is literally too big and complex to try explain it all. But summarised: Europeans came to New Zealand, saw the potential and also wanted to profit of this beautiful island. So they let a contract be made. One version of it in English and another version ("translation") in Maori. The first one stated the fealty of the Maori people to the crown (Great Britain), the latter one expressed a coexistence of the two people. Both were signed by the Maori people, and not soon after, the new settlers started acting as if they owned the country... Not quite a fair conduct of affairs. The rest is history, but of course to this very day there remain problems regarding this matter. Only ‘til a couple of years ago, Maori people are starting to be really accepted, respected and be heard.
We learned a ton from our Maori guide and the exhibitions on the museum grounds. But we left with mixed feelings because, (once again,) people from Europe had to twist and turn their words and use contracts to cheat others out of what was theirs. After our visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, we felt quite tired and decided to call it a day and head back to yesterday’s spot to settle for the night.
We woke up, to what was shaping up to be a beautiful day. Clear blue skies, a gentle breeze and a solid plan. First, we would do a hike towards the Haruru falls, and in the afternoon we would go back to the Waitangi treaty grounds (because our tickets granted passage for two days, and we didn’t get to finish our tour at the museum). It must have been one of the most fun hikes I have ever done! It was absolutely amazing! Because there was a very high tide the wooden path between the mangrove trees which covered half the hike, was covered with a 15cm of turquoise water. Even though our Meindl hiking shoes are waterproof, I found it more fun to cover the distance with my bare feeties in the water, while Haythim rocked his hiking shoes he so loves. We started making our way over the path through the water and it was almost like we were walking on water! Taking pictures was so much fun! Needless to say that this was more awesome than seeing the Haruru waterfalls. After that we went back to the Waitangi Treaty grounds once more for its museum. We really wanted to catch up on some more background information and on the events leading up to the treaty and the aftermath.
In the afternoon we took to the campervan and slowly made our our way down to Tutukaka for our next adventure. We had to be at the dive centre the next morning around 8 for our dive so we thought it prudent to already be in the area...
Urgh, waking up early was never one of my strong points and certainly not without coffee/tea… I’m Godzilla waiting to happen. We managed to get to the dive centre at 8 am, filled out the forms and got our gear. The trip to the poor Knight’s Islands was only 1h and when we arrived we got some history and area lessons by our own captain Jack. He took us through the largest marine arch in the southern hemisphere and the biggest marine cave. The echoes in there were amazing! Afterwards he explained the importance of these islands. They have been so isolated from the rest of the world that the creatures living their have evolved in a complete different and independent way from their counterparts, (if any,) in the rest of the world. Finally we were called to go down and prepare for our first dive. This was somewhat different from our last dives in Krabi. We had to put on a hood (3mm) and a 7 mm suit… which gave us almost 10mm neoprene for our dive. Together with the fact that the water here was more salty we would be a lot more buoyant. So we had to add more weights (almost triple) to our belts. Once in the water, Haythim and me searched and had to adjust a bit to regain our buoyancy control again.
Diving here was completely different from Krabi. First of, the water felt like a friggin icecube going down our clothes! Second, the area and the fish are completely different. The first thing we saw was an abundance of kelp. It was like a huge underwater forest below, where jagged pieces of rock stuck out like mountains. the fish here were a lot les colourful but they were, generally speaking, bigger. We immediately saw a couple of moray eels there. We saw an especially large specimen on our last dive, the mosaic moray eel. These creatures are absolute beautiful and are not really aggressive unless you are disturbing them. Once again: enjoy the view, don’t disturb it. The next amazing thing we saw was a huge school of blue maomao that were inside the cave. Even though it was a cave, there was still plenty of light so we could see everything clearly. There we also saw a huge stone fish and several brightly coloured snails. These are really special. They have a vast array of possible colour-combinations and they have, so it seems, a little crown upon their head. This is actually their respiratory organ (which allows them to breath). It is funny how life around our world can evolve totally and utterly different.
After the first dive, we enjoyed some hot soup on the boat and a delicious vegetarian sandwich, with some chocolate on the side. It didn't take long before one of us was tuckered out from swimming so much. Wouldn't recommend it though. It often makes you nauseous sleeping on a wiggly boat...
We enjoyed the rest of our dive, swimming through kelp, being followed/ stalked by school of little fish, trying to spot that one extra special fish or plant. It is a different world filled with life and colour and we were totally immersed in it, until we noticed our meters show only 50 bar left and we needed to start our ascend. It is a moment we both dread because it means our time in this magical world is coming to and end. At least until the next dive.
That's all folks! Next blogpost will continue our story of our first roadtrip in New Zealand. But it seemed wise to break it up into smaller pieces as to lessen the workload a bit, and to not keep you anticipated for long ;)