Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years Eve on Great Barrier Island

It is 2013 in New Zealand and New Years Eve was one for the books. I moved Ladybug from Kiwiriki Bay to Kaiarara Bay so that I could access the hiking trail to an historical Kauri logging dam. It took two trips across the bay in the dinghy to find the trail head, which is located at Bushes Beach. Liz and George had told me that many thousands of dollars have been spent on trail upgrades, but I was still surprised at how 'flash' (as the Kiwis say) this trail is. From the picnic site at the beach, the trail rises gently - a full gravel path with a drainage ditch running its length. At intervals, pipes drain water in the main ditch under the trail, and sluices take care of surface run-off. Where the trail passes through wetlands there are beautifully built boardwalks and where it crosses creeks or river valleys, both fixed and suspension bridges. Most of the work is new and to a very high standard, using either stainless or galvanized hardware and plenty of treated wood.

From the beach, the trail runs along the side of a hill above the estuary, eventually dropping down to the river, which it follows first to the Kaiareara hut and then over a suspension bridge and up to a logging dam. The damn was built by lumber men in the early twentieth century to bring down the huge Kauri logs that used to cover these 2000 foot hills. Kauri trees can live for close to 2000 years and can grow to yards in diameter. The logs were floated in the ponds that resulted from the dam. When enough were gathered, a portion of the damn was suddenly released to allow a cascade of log-filled water to plunge down the mountainside.

Past the dam the trail steepened, ascending over 1000 stairs to reach the highest point on Great Barrier Island, the summit of Mount Hobson (Hirakimata in Maori). The visibility was quite good and it was possible to get a good feel for the overall shape of the island and the location of its bays, settlements, and beaches. Later, looking at a map, I saw that the hike I was on was just a tiny part of the extensive trail network that criss-crosses the Great Barrier Forest. You could spend weeks here just on the major hiking trails and forest roads.

I met some sailors who were also hiking the trail and they suggested an alternative route down that was more gentle and passed by a hut just under the summit. We descended to what proved to be a superb 'hut', with running water and gas stove tops. Two bunk rooms led off the main cooking and dining area and we enjoyed views through picture windows back out over the valley from which we had climbed. We had lunch here, sheltered from the chilly ridge-top wind. After a brief rest, I refilled my drinking bottles from the rain water cistern and followed my new friends down the trail. This led through a forest of red-tinged ferns and blosomming tea-trees and out and along the rim of a giant bowl. The views on the descent were remarkable, looking back across what may have been an ancient volcanic caldera. Rani will really enjoy this hike and I have told her to bring tea bags and dried milk to make a cuppa at the hut.

Back at the beach, the sailors I had been hiking with invited me to join them ashore later for a New Years Eve celebration. I took a refreshing swim, rinsed off, made a batch of Burfi - an Indian sweet - and went ashore to see in the New Year. We stood around a beach fire talking about life and our plans for the next year and drinking too much, and generally doing what people do at New Years.

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