Reveling in the Anthropocene, like pigs at a trough
Day One: Auckland
And so, our adventure begins.
A flight on Air New Zealand in one of their premium-plus-class pods transported Julia and me from the tormented shores of the USA (Trumpsylvania, I want to drink your democracy) to the idyllic and egalitarian shores of New Zealand. Our first stop is Auckland which is a great city and the gateway to many wondrous parklands in this peaceful and happy place. We cannot wait to begin to explore them.
Recovering from 14 hours of travel, losing a day, and a shift in three hours of time zone is difficult. To aid in this recovery Julia and I spent the morning in a spa receiving massage, taking steam, warming in the sauna, and swimming in a crystal pool. This treatment did indeed help our recovery and had us ready for our journey through this unfamiliar, yet astounding country.
Day Two: Rangitoto
The city of Auckland nestles against a shimmering bay. The majestic island of Rangitoto stands tall within this bay. The product of a dormant volcano the now lush and green Rangitoto beckons to all who venture to Auckland. We too, could not resist its siren call. A short ferry ride and we were hiking up to the summit climbing to the humungous volcanic crater left behind by the last explosive convulsion of this once fiery place.
Along the way, we were surrounded by the unusual flora of this new and isolated world. Plants and animals have been secluded for so long here they have speciated and formed new and unusual versions of plants and animals we northern-hemispherical-biased-people are used to. Sharp and glassy pumice stone crunched under foot as we climbed, walked around, and descended this amazing Rangitoto.
Day Three: Wenderholm
Driving forever northward, and of course always keeping to the left, we stumbled upon New Zealand’s first regional park: Wenderholm. This is a small piece of indigenous rainforest still intact and very accessible to the nature hungry tourist. We drank in its lush green flora and wondered at its diverse fauna as we walked its perimeter track. The path took us through rainforest, marshlands, and past the remains of Maori encampments, the original inhabitants of New Zealand.
Onward and northward we continued to our destination, for this day: Paihia. This seaside town, nestled on the massive Bay of Islands, is a favorite vacation spot for city weary New Zealanders. However, the long drive had taken its toll, Julia and I soon fell into a deep sleep at our bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We dreamed of the adventures that lay before us in this subtropical wonderland.
Day Four: Cape Reinga
Arguably there have been two mass human expansions across the world. The first occurred when homo sapiens initially awoke in Africa from our ape-like dreaming and slowly exited the dark continent. This excursion was not rushed it was very gradual, but eventually we spread to every corner of the planet. However, the second expansion of the human species was very fast indeed in comparison. As the European branch of our invasive species awoke from their dark-aged nightmare they began to spread across the Earth like an unstoppable viral-infection. It was during this second infestation that the western world encountered the Maori people of New Zealand.
In an unending story of subjugation, theft, brutality, and in so many cases extermination the western world flooded this new land. With greedy eyes and insatiable hearts these cruel and selfish western ancestors chopped down 5,000-year-old Kauri trees, raped and pillaged, transported ravenous animals and plants, and ultimately subsumed New Zealand. The remaining indigenous peoples were forced to sign the now famous treaty of Waitangi. Julia and I visited the treaty grounds at Waitangi and watched modern-day Maori perform traditional dance, songs, and war rituals. It was a both sad and enriching experience as the Maori culture lives on in these modern-day assimilates. However, at the same time they are now no longer original or unique. It is a loss as significant as the extinction of the great flightless Moa.
New Zealand is an island country pinned between the cold and tumultuous Tasman Sea to the east and the vast Pacific Ocean to the west. Where these two powerful bodies of water collide, they endlessly pushed up immense amounts of sand to form the northern most vestige of the North Island of New Zealand. At the very most northern tip of this sandy peninsular is Cape Reinga. From this isolated perch, Julia and I watched the two powerful bodies of water continue their endless wrestling match. No more unique a spot exists on our fragile world.
After Julia and I flew ourselves 10,000 miles around the edges of the contiguous United States of America, back in 2008, Julia recorded some 300 flight hours. This is a significant amount of light-aircraft experience and a true badge of honor for any aspiring pilot. During the three months of flying it took to complete the journey we encountered much bad weather and many bumpy skies, yet Julia never once got air-sick. Alas, during the hour and a half it took us to fly to Cape Reinga Julia became violently ill. She was so sick that even after we landed she continued her downward spiral on the bus trip to the cape. My poor darling did not recover until hours after our return to the south. There is simply no understanding the human eustachian system.
A short drive from Cape Reinga we came upon 500-foot-tall sand dunes stretching in all directions. Julia found a soft small dune to nestle in and tried to stabilize from her spinning world. At the same time members of our excursion group carried half-length surfboards up the tall sandy hills so they might partake of the favored pastime here of sand surfing.
Day Five: Bay of Islands
The massive Bay of Islands is in fact walkable to some extent, when you employ the extensive ferry system available there. Julia and I did just this and walked from Paihia to the lovely small village of Russell and back again on a gorgeous sunny day. We encountered a family of Weka (a native flightless bird) as we passed through marshes, mangroves, and steamy rainforests. After two ferry crossings, we walked along sandy beaches, rugged coastal cliffs, vast rockpools, and muddy tidal plains until we returned to where we had begun this excellent walk at Paihia.
Day Six: Waipoua
We bid the east coast of the New Zealand northlands farewell and drove from Paihia to the Waipoua Forest on the west coast of these northern reaches. What a truly beautiful countryside exists here. Endless green rolling hillsides glide past as you drive by sparse hamlets and remote villages. It reminds me somehow of driving the English countryside and yet this spell is often broken as tall green tree ferns popup here and there.
Our first destination was the ancient forests of Waipoua that stretch out along the northwest coast. In these emerald jungles live the few last remaining old-growth Kauri trees. This majestic giant suffered a similar fate to that of the magnificent redwood tree back in California. The Kauri trees can live for over 5,000 years and grew all over the place. Their straight and hard wood made them perfect to be commoditized by the capitalistic crazed Europeans greedily consuming everything in sight.
Today only 2% of the old growth Kauri trees are left, likewise there is only 4% of the old growth redwood trees left standing in California. To make matters even worse for the ill-fated Kauri early logging efforts imported logging equipment from other Pacific Islands. The earth on this equipment contained a fungus that the Kauri tree has no resistance to and so they began to die, and continue to die, from a terrible fungal infestation. These irreplaceable trees are just one of so many victims of the Anthropocene. Will we ever learn? I think not. If you do not agree with me think about who the Americans have voted to be their President, I rest my case.
From the stunning and yet ill-fated forests of Waipoua we drove endlessly south to our final destination for this day: Waitakere.
Day Seven: Karekare
We encountered our first day of rain today. Yes, it is indeed summertime here in the antipodes and yet it did rain today. This is the nature of the weather in this very green and subtropical place. All day the rain fell in light drizzle, to at times heavy downpours. However much it rained it never really got cold and so Julia and I braved the rain and walked several short hikes in it. It is truly special to walk in the New Zealand jungle while a light rain falls. The rain enhances the smells of the lush undergrowth and fills the bush with sights and sounds not seen when it is dry.
One of the most notable walks this day was the hike up to the Karekare waterfalls. We did the hike in the dry in between showers, but as soon as we arrived back at our car the skies opened up and the rain poured unendingly until that evening. The luck of the Irish is only surpassed by our own.
Day Eight: Waitakere
In the Waitakere River Regional Park, is the stupendous Montana Hike. This track climbs you slowly up, to a high ridge covered in lush green rainforest where live a stand of magnificent Kauri trees. Their massive whitish trunks reach up high where finally thick branches dart in all directions, each topped off with a poof of green leaves. The reason we could experience these trees is because of one local man and his dog who refused to allow poachers to kill them. We humans are such strange creatures, on the one hand we destroy everything in sight without thought of the consequences and sometimes (rarely) we protect life. Our behavior seems contradictory, I’m convinced the human species is insane.
Day Nine: Waiatarua
The Waiatarua area and its surrounds are made up of lush green jungle, small winding roads, and minor villages, all backed up to the outer suburbs of Greater Auckland. If the amazing forests in this lovely area were not enough the whole regional park system is surrounded by oceans, bays, and beaches. Given how friendly and welcoming the locals are it is hard to find a more attractive place in the world.
Today Julia and I drove to Whatipu where we walked six miles up and back a stupendous sparkling black-sand beach. Three of these miles we walked barefoot paddling in the warm, but tumultuous waters of this invigorating coastline.
This was our last hike in a place we think we could spend the rest of our lives in. Given how our homeland has fallen into a dark and dismal time, driven by America’s overwhelming self-interest and greed, perhaps we will return to live here; only time will tell.