Friday, January 20, 2012

Raglan to Wanganui

December 28th- January 4th
We had a lonely drive south on Hwy 1 after waving goodbye to Lindsey at the Auckland airport (see last post). Our destination was now Raglan, a surfer town on the west coast.  Since most locals and many tourists head to the white, sandy beaches of the east coast, we went west.  Raglan had a large tidal flat, so along with surfers, there were many kite-surfers and fisherman – all in the best places for their sport along the coast. The local i-sites (information centers) are the best places to get clued in to camping spots that aren’t necessarily on the map. We learned about a private campground near the beach that was land that had been taken from the Maori many years before and was now recently returned.  The golf course reverted to grassland and we got a prime place to camp for $10.  I went for a long walk along the beach while Darrell worked, and then he went for a run on the beach while I hand washed some clothes and even washed the van. Living in a small space, it is critical to give each other some alone time!

UFO being used as a home in Raglan
We use the car battery to recharge our computers, and we didn’t know then how quickly we drained our battery with the inverter, so the next morning we had to get a jump from one of the guys at the camp.  Later we bought our own jumper cables so we could charge the car battery off the auxiliary battery if we ran it down too far!

Raglan was pretty hip and nice, but we moved one beach town farther south to Kawhia which promised to be even more laid back.  Kawhia is one of the places where there was a historic canoe landing (usually considered to be in the 14th century) and it remains a town with a sizeable Maori population. We stayed at what is known as a POP (Park Over Property) where, for a minimal fee (free to $10) you can stay on someone’s private property, but they rarely have any amenities.  So you need to be “self-contained” since there is no potty, showers, etc. We had a lovely tidal river view though so we stayed two days.  I walked into town and used the public toilet since it was so close. I am not mentally prepared to clean a port-a-potty so we haven’t used it yet!  Thank goodness NZ has many nice public restrooms!

Entrance to Kawhia town and harbor
Kawhia also has a hot water tidal beach like we found on the Coromandel Peninsula but it was much less crowded!  We couldn’t find a great hot spot though and it was raining, so we didn’t last too long in the tepid water.

We wound our way out of Kawhia, returning to the highway; a relief after driving narrow, windy roads with few guardrails and many drop offs… On the way south we cruised through Otorohanga, whose main road has Kiwiana signs hanging on both sides.  Kind of silly, but whatever lures in tourists helps the bottom line! See if you can spot the kiwi fruit, fern (symbol of the All Blacks national rugby team), sheep, jandals (Japanese sandals) and then my eyes can't focus any farther!

Kiwiana symbols line the street in Otorohanga
We checked out some interesting rock formations near Te Kuiti and then stopped to see some amazing driftwood sculptures at Wade’s Landing near Raurimu.  They are amazing!

Darrell dwarfed by the Giant Moa
Our next detour took us along the incredible Wanganui River. Darrell ogled the huge, bedded Quaternary (last 2 million years) deposits along the road to Pipiriki (don’t you love these names?)  and then along the Wanganui River Road.

We spent New Year’s Eve at the quietest campsite I’ve ever been at.  There was one other couple besides ourselves.  The ground was so soggy from all the rain that it was like walking across a sponge! The other couple was there for a family gathering at the local marae.  A marae, as I understand it, is the tribe's community center where all important group decisions and celebrations take place.

Marae along the Wanganui River
The next morning, we had more Kiwi-road adventures. Small landslides blocked some areas and hadn't been cleared yet - it was New Year's Day after all!

Rain plus steep hills equals landslides
The deposits along the road made it interesting in other ways also! There is a giant fossil oyster bed in one of the deposits. Darrell is at the bottom of the exposure in the picture below.

Darrell (tiny dot above) and the giant oyster bed
As the river valley widened out, we saw signs of civilization again. Besides omnipresent cows and sheep, there are many tree farms. You can drive a long time between wild places, especially if you don't get off the main roads...

Nature doesn't usually grow trees in rows!
At the end of the river, we came to Wanganui - which turned into one of our favorite places. At the friendly i-site we could surf the internet and charge our computers at the same time! You don’t know how exciting this is! Plus Darrell had some interesting geology to do, so we tramped up and down long beaches collecting shells from different glacial stages represented in the cliff sediments. We camped in three different places over four nights and actually felt like we were getting to know the town by the time we left!

Geology on the beach - life is good!
The van was ready for its 90 km check up, so we drove to the VW dealer in Palmerston North and walked from there to downtown.  We spent the afternoon at a local cafĂ© and then at the library where we were introduced to the lovely Aotearoa People’s Network – a free wifi service at many libraries in New Zealand.  This is a true gift to travelers. (Which I am using now!)

Last note: Oil changes in NZ are like in Australia – you pay closer to $300 than the $30 we pay at home.  I haven’t figured that why. Thankfully, the dealer we bought the van from also included our first oil change so they paid the bill. And, while gas is a little over $6/gallon, car insurance is incredibly cheap. There are limits on suing over car accidents so our “high” rate as Americans who drive on the other side of the road, was $347 for the entire year! Isn’t that what folks pay for a week in LA?

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