My plan had us staying at Te Araroa near the north-east tip of New Zealand tonight. By coincidence, after skipping Opotiki and going anti-clockwise rather than clockwise yesterday, we arrived at Te Araroa on schedule today. However, we are not staying there tonight. Instead we are at Waihau Bay.
When we woke just before 7:00 am this morning the inside of the van was brightening with sunshine. Peeking through the curtains we could see some blue sky with scattered cloud. Before breakfast I popped out for a photo to contrast with the one I took yesterday evening. After breakfast we packed up and were ready to move by 8:30 am with Majella taking her turn to drive. On the way out of the park we checked at Reception and a young man appeared from the nearby house so that we could pay for our accommodation. He also helped out with a hose to top up our water supply from a tap at the house.
We set off with open minds about whether we would stay overnight at Te Araroa or press on to complete the circuit to Opotiki. The total distance of 324 km was not impossible, depending on what we found to distract us along the way, and we were not sure what conditions we might find at a camping ground so remote. The excellence of Okuhane had spoiled us and was not remotely matched by Waikite Valley or Tatapouri which were both comparatively old and rundown.
Our first stop was at Tolaga Bay. As we approached, a tourist sign advertised Cooks (Captain James had landed in the vicinity in 1770) Walk and the wharf. The walk was closed for lambing season until Labour Day (October) but the wharf was open so we walked the 600 m out and back. It was built in the 1920s to support the export of flax and other goods but had deteriorated badly as concrete fell away and reinforcing rusted. It was restored with local community support for a cost of 5.5 million dollars early this century. It is an impressive structure and Majella noted that while the piers beneath had been fully restored (for safety) and some of the railings had been replaced, other parts had been left to show the historical condition.
Further along we paused at Tokomaru Bay for morning tea. We found later that the name is thought to be a corruption of the Maori description of the abundance of sandflies. Like Tolaga Bay it boasted a wharf. The signed picnic area looked too soft for parking so we headed toward the freedom camping area and found a turning bay in front of the cemetery that offered solid ground. We parked and had our morning coffee in the van. As we drove through town on our way north we spotted a wastewater dump site which we needed because we had not cleared that tank since leaving Opunake on Monday morning.
With that task completed, we followed the road along the beach to the next bay where we found the wharf. Like the wharf at Tolaga Bay it has deteriorated and there is a fundraising effort to restore it. In the meantime it is closed to access but must have been a hub of activity in its day. There is a substantial but disused and dilapidated wool store building nearby and an abandoned freezing works on the hill above. We spent some time looking around before driving on.
It was too early for lunch though we were tempted by the tavern we saw in Tokumaru Bay. As we headed north we passed through Te Puia Springs (thermal, of course) and Waipiro without stopping. All morning we had been encountering trucks carrying logs, often in 2 or 3 trailers, south. For the early part of the journey we mostly passed through pastoral country, mainly sheep with a few cattle. As we went further north we began to see more signs of forestry and occasional signs of logging. On the approach to Waipiro we were slowed by traffic control on a corner where a log carrying truck with trailers had tipped too far and spilled its load of logs into a front yard. Fortunately the yard sloped and the house was set well back but the mess was going to take some time to clear.
It was after noon when we approached Ruatoria so we decided to pause and look for lunch. We found the Hati Nati cafe open and looked no further. Majella tried and enjoyed Kaanga Waru (not kangaroo but a mix of cornflour, butter and grated kumara wrapped in alfoil and boiled) and we shared a pizza. Majella tried another mix of ginger and honey drink while I had coffee.
On the way out of Ruatoria we crossed the Waiapu River and followed it for some distance. Like so many rivers we have seen it was caramel colored with silt. We have seen rivers in high rainfall areas run clean even after heavy rain. Erosion needs soil disturbance beyond simple rain. Presumably what we have been seeing is the result of forestry work which tends to leave bare disturbed hillsides waiting replanting. The consequences cannot be good for fish in the river, sea life near the mouths, or soil productivity. At Te Araroa we saw the stain in the ocean where one of the streams emptied. At least they don’t have a Great Barrier Reef to destroy. In a couple of streams we did see series of small weir structures that slowed the water and allowed some settling but the silt was still in the river bed and a potential problem in flood.
While eating lunch at Ruatoria we had looked at the large display which claimed the wharf at Tolaga Bay was the longest in the Southern Hemisphere (perhaps it might qualify in some category but there are longer jetties or similar structures in New Zealand and Australia) and that the East Cape Lighthouse was the easternmost point in the world (not even in New Zealand if the Chatham Islands count). Regardless of the veracity of these claims, Majella decided the East Cape Lighthouse would be worth a visit.
We passed through Tikitiki without pause and soon arrived at Te Araroa where we turned right and headed out on the East Cape Road. That is 20 km of winding road along the coast. Most of it is single lane, about half of it is gravel, and some of it winds around a headland at some height with frequent washouts. We made it safely to the parking area below the hill on which the lighthouse stands but Majella found the thought of parking on what looked like soft ground more terrifying than the cliff side drive. I thought we would be OK nose in with the rear driving wheels on gravel but she played safe by parking parallel. Fortunately there was just one vehicle already parked and nobody else queueing for a space.
The sign at the entrance to the path indicated there were 800 steps. We were about 100 m up the path but had not reached the steps when Majella thought she should have brought her hiking poles. I walked back and brought hers and mine. Then we started the climb which wound up hill through lush vegetation with wooden steps to make it less slippery. There were occasional encouraging marks on steps indicating distance covered. We made it to the top and enjoyed panoramic views out to sea and into the surrounding countryside. Going down was easier on the heart and lungs but needed care to avoid slipping.
Te Araroa Holiday Park is west of town toward Hicks Bay. We almost missed it but spotted the sign, turned back, and drove in to experience deja vu. Like last night at Tatapouri the office was closed but I spotted somebody who said the boss would be back late or in the morning and pointed to where we would find powered sites. He warned that some sites were a bit soft (boggy). Majella did a drive-by assessment of the facilities and sites before we headed out the gate to look elsewhere.
The camping app I had installed before leaving home listed a couple of places along the coast and we set off to see what we could find. When I had service I searched for motels in case we found no suitable camping but they are few in these parts. Eventually we arrived here at Waihau Bay. The office was closed but I called the number posted on the door. The woman who answered was doubtful she could help since recent rain had softened the ground. They had pulled some campers out but were not keen to do that for us tomorrow morning. We could stay if we found a solid enough spot. I walked some spots and found one I thought was OK but we eventually parked across the spot with one set of wheels on the gravel track. That should ensure we can get out tomorrow morning. Our power lead was just long enough.
We set up camp and then walked across the road to the beach where the sun was low but not yet setting. It had rained on and off through the day, sometimes heavily, and we felt a few spots on the beach. We went back to the van to settle. Sometime later a short heavy shower, with thunder, passed by. We’ll see what the weather brings tomorrow as we head on west.