New Zealand Diary: Muriwai, Waipoua, Opononi

Bird watching, tree hugging and sunset over Hokianga. This was the start of our road trip.

DAY 3, DECEMBER 16, 2017

First, allow me to introduce you to our trusty Jucy rental car. After all, we drove about 5500 km with it.
I guess my sister drove three quarters of that – you should know that I hadn’t driven for about 20 years before that. So you can imagine what an adventure it was to start again in left-hand traffic and with a reversed car…. at least it had automatic transmission 😉
In return, I made all our accommodation bookings – and I was a very good navigator!

First we went to Muriwai Beach – not to swim, but to look at the gannet colony.
Let me explain something: I have a phobia of birds. And I don’t find them particularly pretty most of the time, to be honest. My sister, on the other hand, is something of an amateur ornithologist. She almost always has binoculars with her and loves to watch birds. So you will often see birds in my photos, because I had the better camera with me and photographed some species for my sister 🙂

Tākapu, the Australasian gannet. About 1,200 pairs of gannets return from Australia and nest here in Muriwai each year from August to March.

We were there at the right time to see newly hatched chicks.
Personally, I was more interested in the flora…

My first sighting of the Pohutukawa – but I didn’t know that at the time, nor did I know the significance of the tree.

We drove further north past Kaipara Harbour. In my journal I noted that we took highways 16, 1, then 12 and had lunch at the junction in Wellsford.

I remember when we stopped here, I kept going round and round in my head „I can’t believe I’m really here, that we’re going to be driving around New Zealand for a whole month!!!“

In between, we drove through landscapes that could have been ours in the Bergisches Land, or on an alpine pasture in the Black Forest, if it weren’t for the Tasman Sea suddenly in the background or the vegetation that was so alien. Tree ferns! Mangroves!

We drove for quite a while through the rainforest in our search for the kauri trees, and you could really feel that it was an *old* forest. That it had been there forever. The forest as a whole had a life of its own, an ancient soul. Fangorn anyone? There were a few places that were really a bit eerie. Even inside our car. Even later, when we left, we wondered from time to time whether we would get out of there…

If you want to visit Tāne Mahuta, you have to pass through a shoe-cleaning facility beforehand and are not allowed to leave the wooden paths that have been laid out. The kauri trees are threatened with extinction, and particularly dangerous is a fungus that seems to spread through infected soils, causing the roots to rot off.

So there was no actual tree-hugging. Just awe-struck wonder. „You are in the presence of one of the most ancient of trees.“

The atmosphere actually reminded me a bit of my Stonehenge experience. You walk up to a place, tourist-like, other people around you, you hear a lot of small talk, and then suddenly it gets quiet. Whatever is going on, whatever spirit dwells there, it silences people. They take a few photos, but don’t talk, just look up.

You just stand in awe of this giant.
In Maori Cosmology, Tāne is the son of the sky father and the earth mother. Their embrace was broken by the child, Tāne, thus providing light, space and air on earth. All living beings are therefore considered children of Tāne.

„The Lord of the Forest“ is 51.5 metres high and may very well be 2000 years old, which means that he might have come into being during the lifetime of Christ. He is the oldest and most sacred living tree in New Zealand.

My abstract watercolour ‚action sketches‘ and ‚morning doodles‘ were poor attempts to express my impressions of the rainforest… and I have not yet dared to paint Tāne himself.

We had booked our accommodation from the road. We actually didn’t know exactly where we were going, but had searched within a certain radius and picked the motel we liked best from the search results (in this case it was the Opononi Lighthouse Motel). The Hokianga region was not originally on our list, but since we had decided that we really wanted to see the kauri trees, it was an obvious choice on the route to the Bay of Islands.
Only then did we learn about the rich heritage of Hokianga. About Kupe the Navigator, and about the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

So we didn’t know what to expect and what it would look like when we went over the last hill. Hokianga Harbour took us by surprise.

We did not expect this beautiful coastline, and these luminous sand dunes. The precious villages and small communities full of peace and tranquility.

We spent a beautiful evening in the seaside village of Opononi and had Thai food at the Landing Café.

I captured Hokianga in my sketchbook with this abstract, expressive watercolour ‚action sketch‘:

It’s not easy to make art when you’re travelling through a country at – frankly – a crazy pace. Especially when you normally work with materials that are not at all suitable for taking along on a journey. I had been practising with paper, watercolour and ink in the months leading up to our road trip to find a way to capture my impressions and strengthen my memory. Because the latter was basically what I was after: it wasn’t so much about detail or realism but about being able to remember the situation more deeply. Using the connection between eyes, hand and brain enhances your memory.
And I had this vague idea that I wanted to make a body of work out of all my ‚memorabilia‘ at some point.

Btw, If you look closely, you can see the salt I sprinkled on the page…. (I didn’t have any salt in my luggage – I was saved by the little paper sachets of sea salt that you can find in those in-room tea, coffee & sugar holders in every motel).