Sunday, January 14, 2007

East Cape Camping

After the chaos of Christmas and everything that has happened this past month, Brian and I decided to escape on a 6 day camping trip around the East Cape. I had never been up to the East Cape before and was looking forward to getting away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists at Mount Maunganui. The Cape is probably one of the most uninhabited areas in the country - certainly in the North Island. It is mainly Maori populated and the terrain is very rugged and wild. This first photo is from a place called Tolaga Bay. Brian farmed near there for 3 years. This is Tolaga Wharf - the longest wharf in the country? the world? I forget which. It's amazing how long it actually is. We walked out to the end and it was very windy but the water was SO blue! Lots of people fish off of this wharf. It is no longer used for shipping.

Some parts of the East Cape reminded me of home - the bushland of Northern Ontario. The houses were mainly run down shacks but you could see the remains of what once was - when the wool industry thrived and the little communities boomed. The first campsite we stayed at was in Anaura Bay (the photo to the left). It was absolutely stunning - but the campsite was horrible! It was my first Kiwi camping experience and I almost got scared off because of this campsite. It was a field and people pitched tents beside one another... like sardines. You could hardly walk between the tents. You could hear people breathing! There was absolutely no privacy. I couldn't wait to leave.

The next day we headed up toward the top of the Cape to a place that offers some of the best diving and fishing in the country - Lottin Point. We stopped at a few of the small coastal towns along the way, the first being Tokomaru Bay which had another long wharf which was used during the big wool exporting days. Tokomaru was clearly once inhabited by wealthy wool merchants, which was obvious by the impressive buildings and homes in the small town. Unfortunately now they are run down shells but the grandieur is still evident. It felt sad. I found my dream house there - unfortunately there's nothing there to sustain oneself. We stopped for lunch in Ruatoria. I was expecting to feel a bit intimidated and a little scared... there have been a string of murders and gang related killings in Ruatoria over the past few years. It's a rough Maori town... where people still ride horses instead of cars. I was disappointed. It seemed perfectly fine and I wasn't the least bit scared. I really enjoyed seeing the horses parked on the road though... and the "boy racers" created havoc on horseback.

Next we headed off the beaten path to see the East Cape Lighthouse - 21km toward the sea on a gravel road. Once we got there, we climbed the steep path up to look at the magnificent views. We were officially on the most eastern point of New Zealand... the place that first sees the sun in all of the world. Our next destination before arriving at our camp for the night was a place called Te Araroa - the home of the largest Pohutukawa tree in the world. It was big alright! Man, it would make such a great tree house. Unfortunately you can't see just how big it is in the photo - because the tree spreads quite a bit.

When we arrived at Lottin Point we didn't realize that there wasn't an actual camping site. The only place to pitch our tent was in a private paddock owned by a M. Smith. We drove up the pothole laden drive and Brian went to enquire about accomodation. They offered camping on their property and access to the beach/rocks for diving and fishing - for a koha (a donation). We gave them $20 and they told us we could stay for 4 days! We didn't have any water so they let us fill our empty bottles and Brian caught them a crayfish as thanks. It was camping at its finest - we were in the middle of a field on top of a cliff overlooking the sea. We had no running water and the toilet was a long drop (outhouse) teetering on the edge of the cliff! It was a stunning view from the toilet - overlooking the sea out into the Pohutukawa trees and the rock pools below. This was camping! Unfortunately, the mosquitos (mozzies) were the size of small birds! I got eaten alive and I'm STILL scratching.

We set up camp and Brian was off diving and fishing for the rest of the afternoon. I was happy to laze around reading a book I've been trying to read for a year. A few people came and went but it felt like we were on the edge of the world. Brian made friends with a young German surgeon who was taking time from his locum in New Plymouth Hospital to do some diving. His name was Ole (pronounced Ol-er) and we invited him to join us. The three of us spent two days diving, fishing and relaxing together. Unfortunately the fish were scarce but there were plenty of Paua and Brian knows how to cook seafood! I think Ole was happy to meet up with us. Brian taught him a lot about New Zealand fishing and they talked for hours about all kinds of stuff - fishing, diving, cultural differences, etc. We hope he'll come to see us out at Mount Maunganui when he gets time off.

It was sad leaving Lottin Point but we were only half way around the Cape with only two days to go. We drove through Waihau Bay - which I just about fell in love with. I could see myself buying a piece of land there. There's nothing much there - but it feels peaceful and would be a nice place to have a cottage. That's probably the spot I felt at home - like being in the Muskokas. We set up camp at Te Kaha in a really nice, BIG campsite with all of the ammenities - showers, kitchen, washing machines. Very different from Lottin Point - the showers were awesome! It was peaceful and I felt pretty antisocial - I stayed in the tent reading a lot while Brian went off surf casting (fishing from the beach for you city folk!). Unfortunately he had terrible luck and the only thing he caught was a huge eel - but he enjoyed himself nonetheless. I was really shocked to find out that Brian had never been camping before! He's been hunting but he's never been proper camping!!! He was in his element. I've never seen Brian so happy or so relaxed. He was a great camper. He cooked all the meals, he washed all the dishes, he kept the tent tidy. He did everything! He just wanted me to relax! It was fantastic! But Brian likes to keep busy so he was happy. It wasn't like there was much to do. I went down to the beach with him fishing a couple of times. It was relaxing. The beach was so quiet - we were the only two people on it. I love that about New Zealand. Brian stripped down to his undies and got burnt! What a wally. He was in pain for days. I kept covered - I burnt the left side of my face, neck and lips while we were at Lottin Point - so I was being careful . I can't believe Brian was foolish enough to let it happen to him! We treated ourselves to fish and chips from the local takeaway shop on our last night - we had no choice actually...

We were gone for 6 days but it felt like a month. It was a very restful trip and I'm glad we did it. We'll definitely go camping again - with the girls. I grew up camping and it's such a great thing to do with kids - they get to meet other kids and run around the campsite until dark. Sleeping in a tent is just as good as building a fort in your room and sleeping in it - maybe better! There's just nothing else like it.

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