Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Week 41 - Te Arai and Whangarei

Te Arai Point beach is pretty much perfect, theres rocks to climb and cliffs to jump off straight into the sea below. The ocean is clear, the sand is white and you’ve got views of the surrounding islands in front of you, and the bush and sand dunes behind…with good weather on the forecast we felt like we’d made a perfect choice. It’s just a shame the road to the beach is a 5km gravel path, though watching the Top Gear NZ episode I’m wishing that we’d just hired a car so that we could take those kinds of roads like Jeremy Clarkson did! We were highly amused when we observed 8 girls in a row climb up the top of the rock, strip to their bikini, stick their bums out and put their arms in the air whilst their poor boyfriends stood below and took a photo from 100 different angles…looks like there’ll be a fair few of the same photo on Instagram! 
The closest “town” to us is Mangawhai, there’s little more than a couple of restaurants, a bakery, a meat shop and a surf store, but it’s cute and reminds me a little of Spain. I think that’s due to the hot weather, dusty roads, holiday homes and the odd building that looks like a Spanish villa with huge wooden doors, metal gates and ivy up the side. Despite having not much to do, besides visit the chocolate factory in the villa, it makes for a nice place to relax with a coffee and watch the world go by.

To escape the car we booked an Air B&B in Whangarei, a little over half an hour from Te Arai and a nice little city break. We chose to stay with Becky and Tate, two expats with a dream house high in the hills overlooking the city and harbour, and to top it off they’re both chefs…this made for a delicious gumbo tea. A dish from Tate’s hometown, New Orleans, gumbo is a little like a sausage and chicken stew, only better.

With so much to see in Whangarei we had a full on first day, starting with a visit to the large but quiet town centre and doing a cheeky bit of window shopping before moving on to the Town Basin. The Town Basin is a yachting marina boarded by posh shops, restaurants and bars, you can also visit the art museum, the national clock museum or Reyburn House (Whangarei’s oldest house). There’s also a walkway that takes you along the waters edge and is scattered with sculptures, including works by local and international artists, this walk eventually takes you to ‘Te Matu a Pohe’ bridge, an award winning opening bridge.

As if all that wasn’t enough and we weren’t already sweating like we were back in Vietnam, we headed out to Whangarei Falls, a stunning 20 foot waterfall surrounded by a bush walk and  leading into a long river with stepping stones or a bridge across. It’s just a shame that the water beneath the falls was deemed unsuitable for swimming, by this point we were both ready to jump into the cooling waters.

Here in NZ we love to find free, or almost free, stuff to do, so we were delighted when we stumbled across Quarry Gardens. For just one gold coin donation per person you can walk freely around this old quarry, now a stunning man made garden, complete with lake and waterfall. The locals have done a really good job in creating a lush and vibrant garden, with pleasant walks and hidden quarry artefacts within the flora and fauna. For $1 it was well worth a visit.

We got lucky again with another local festival, this time ArtBeat was taking place in the town centre park. With a mixture of food stalls and arts and crafts stands, mixed with do it yourself art sections and live entertainment it was a great morning out and it was nice to see all the locals gathered together enjoying themselves. My favourite act of the day was Northland Youth theatre group, who performed songs in both English and Maori and were packd full of talent. 

No trip to Whangarei is complete without a trip to Whangarei Heads, a long stretch of ocean surrounded by mangroves, walking trails, small villages and overlooked by Mount Manaia. I was keen to climb Mount Manaia to enjoy the views over the bays but unfortunately toilet step gate meant that it would of been too much of a struggle for me to make the 403 metres above sea level climb….but there’s always next time! Instead we found ourselves on Ocean beach, and I know I say this about every beach, but this one was an actual dream as it came complete with dolphins!! I’ve been moaning about not seeing dolphins since we got here, and I now feel so lucky to have seen them swimming and jumping right in front of us. It certainly makes sunbathing all the more interesting seeing 8 of one of the most elegant creatures in the world. 

On the way back to Te Arai we planned to visit Piroa Falls but as we pulled into the parking area we could tell that this little swimming hole was going to be packed. The 10 minute bush walk took us down some steep steps before we headed across the river and round to the base of the waterfall, it was here we were met by hell! It’s a shame really, the waterfall, though small, looked refreshing in the heat and the water below was crystal clear and warm, we just didn’t fancy spending the afternoon with 36 other people and getting in the way of their selfies. Good job there’s plenty of beaches in the area, hey? So after a quick iced coffee in the town time forgot, Waipu, we headed back to Mangawhai heads.

Of course when there’s a beach with waves Kyle’s going to take up every opportunity to surf, this time he got a board from Aotearoa surf school. After a day of surf and chatting to the owner, Che, we went down to the local “members” only club house for a beer where they were holding their annual fishing competition. To raise money for the club house, and for a bit of fun, all the catches of the day are auctioned off to the highest bidder, they also offer prizes for the largest, prettiest, most unusual and smallest fish…some of the prizes weren’t half and mind, we watched one guy walk off with a new 50” TV. It was a pleasant evening, and once again we got a taste of Kiwi life in a small town, I don’t think we’d quite fit in with the fishermen but it’s still nice to hang out with them and get a cheap-ish beer!

So today sees a surf lesson booked in for both, currently I’m feeling like wimping out…I fucking hate cold water, water in my face and getting my hair wet. Plus the thought of a wet suit has me feeling kind of claustrophobic, I can’t see this happening at all. Wish Kyle luck.

Love Carrie xxx

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