Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hiking Again!

My six weeks in England were mostly restful, visiting my parents and sister. The typically wet and cold winter weather was hardly conducive to outings except for one Sunday when my niece drove us to a National Trust historic house. There we enjoyed a lovely ramble in the beautiful gardens and deer park.

So, back to the wilderness of New Zealand. I was overjoyed when we landed on Rangitoto Island for a hike up to the volcanic peak with a few diversions into the lava tubes. Our head lamps allowed us a closer look at the brilliant crystals embedded in the tunnel walls and prevented us from stumbling on loose rocks and roots underfoot. Surprisingly enough part of the trail wound its way through a fairly dense forest of ferns and trees, pohutukawa being the major one. Panoramic views from atop the volcano were somewhat dulled by the thick grey clouds over Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.

The following day was sunnier and we trekked across Motutapu Island to Home Bay. This trail hugged the fences between undulating fields of golden grasses. The hilltops afforded spectacular views over the pastoral landscape of the island with cows grazing along the trail and under copses of trees. At the campground in Home Bay, the feisty north wind was whipping up the sea into surfy conditions. Most of the campers were sunbathing on the grass around the campsites but some were brave enough to venture into the water. I am gaining a new respect for New Zealanders - they obviously love the water and are not afraid of the cold. We sat a while gazing at the sea and enjoyed a picnic of crackers, aged cheddar, fresh vegetables and Cadbury's Roses.

I must confess that both hikes left my legs aching a little and I slept deeply at night.

On Kawau Island yesterday we ventured out shortly after supper and strolled along Schoolhouse Bay Road to a lookout over Dispute Cove. The trail reminded me of Vancouver Island as we trod on a springy forest floor covered in pine needles. However, the tall tree ferns and exotic bird calls were not in keeping with memories of home. A flightless bird called the weka crossed our paths many times and did not scare easily. It looks a lot like a small hen with chocolate and rust coloured feathers but it's jerky head movements are quite distinct. Our return at dusk was rewarded by sightings of half a dozen wallabies. Most were too fast and we just glimpsed a furry animal hopping into the bush. But a couple of them froze for a few moments as if we were playing statues and we made eye contact. They are about 3 feet in height, have small mouse-like faces, big eyes and ears. They are certainly not native to New Zealand and are survivors from a collection of exotic animals brought to the island by Sir George Grey in the 1860's. Sir Grey bought the island for $3,700 in 1862 and sold it in 1888 for $12,000. During his ownership he created a stately home which is currently under restoration.

This morning we hiked to the historic Georgian style Mansion House. I was most impressed by the variety of trees on the property, especially the giant Moreton Bay Fig, Bunya-Bunyas, Hoop Pine, Chilean Wine Palms, Queens Palms and Norfolk Pines. The house has period furniture and some beautiful engravings of royal paintings from the Victorian era. There were many visitors to the site today from Auckland, enjoying a picnic in the gardens or a cooked lunch from the tea house/kiosk. We treated ourselves to an ice-cream cone with Flake chocolate bits which I had brought from England - yummy!

Tomorrow morning we shall set sail to Great Barrier Island.

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