Into the North

Sunday we had another long drive ahead of us—from Waitomo to Mangawhai Heads.  But since we’d heard about the Hamilton Gardens from the docent at the Katherine Mansfield House in Wellington, we’d decided to stop for lunch in Hamilton.  A good way to break up our long drive—and a chance to see another botanical gardens. 

And what a garden it was!  By far the best one we’ve seen in New Zealand—and maybe my all-time favorite.  While we’re weren’t able to tour all of the grounds (it’s enormous!), we did see three of the largest areas.  I love the approach they’ve taken, dividing the gardens thematically.  We started in the Productive Collection, touring the Herb Garden, the Kitchen Garden, the Sustainable Backyard, and the Maori garden, called Te Parapara Garden.

Next we walked over to the Fantasy Collection, where we were soon to find the simply amazing Katherine Mansfield Garden.

I teach this short story almost every year, in either AP Brit Lit or AP Short Fiction. So wonderful to see the scene brought to life!
The wee cream puffs! Impressive verisimilitude.

In the same Fantasy area we also enjoyed the Tropical Garden, the Tudor Garden, and the just-visible topiaries of the under-construction Surrealist Garden:

We ended our visit in the Paradise Collection: the Indian Char Bingh Garden, Italian Renaissance, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Chinese Scholar’s Garden, English Flower Garden, and Modernist Garden–just a few of these pictured below.

After lunch at the café, we continued our drive north, passing through the enormous city of Auckland.  This route afforded us a first glimpse of our last stop on this New Zealand adventure.  It’s a real city, complete with traffic and skyscrapers.  We’re looking forward to exploring its sights in our final days.

Just before dinner time we arrived in Mangawhai, where we’d booked two nights at the Mangawhai Heads Holiday Park.  Our cabin there was perhaps the most luxurious we’ve yet had—spacious rooms, dining room table for six, even a washing machine!  We settled in, feeling delightfully surprised.

We’d picked up groceries in town at the tiny market, enough for breakfast and a picnic lunch for our hike the next day.  But since options for cooking were few, we opted to eat dinner at Dune, a restaurant in town.  A most delicious decision!  We enjoyed a tasting platter of twice-cooked pork belly, ribs, chicken—and another of seafood: tuna tataki, mussels, scallops, prawns, crabs, and oysters.  A veritable smorgasbord. 

After dinner, we returned home and started getting ready for bed, when to our horror we discovered the first of quite a few… cockroaches!!  Ugh.  We trapped one under a cup in the kitchen, Jeremy smooshed one underfoot, and another ran directly in between the light bulb and the fixture in the ceiling, electrocuting itself.  Penelope fell asleep while Jeremy and I googled how best to protect our luggage from hitchhiking bugs.  We eventually got some sleep, but decided we’d be moving to another campground the next morning.

On Monday morning we checked out early, and the staff assured us that cockroaches near the beach were perfectly normal, nothing to worry about—but they also refunded our second night’s stay.  Although our car was stuffed to the gills with all of our luggage, we decided we still wanted to do our planned hike before driving on.  So we drove just a few minutes up the road to the Mangawhai Cliff Walk parking lot and prepared for our hike.  We’d timed the hike so that we could walk along the cliff on the way out, and hike back along the beach for the return.  The loop is only possible at low tide, but the tide charts said we’d be in good time for the beach hike back. 

We set out with a packed picnic lunch and lots of water—though it was cloudy in the late morning, the forecast was for very warm weather later on.  The first twenty minutes or so of the hike is along the beach, on the sand. 

And then you begin to climb.  And climb.  About 300 or so stairs (and lots of switchbacks) later, we reached what we hoped was the top.  At the lookout, we paused for pictures and our picnic. 

And then continued on, now high above the sea—with simply terrific views for the next hour or so.

When you reach the end of the cliff track, you start the descent—and so down we went, another 300 or so stairs, to the end of the trail: a gorgeous arch and pebbly beach. 

Since it was low tide, there were lots of tide pools to explore—and waves to chase (or be chased by).

After a few minutes of carefully picking our way along the beach, however, we reluctantly realized that our ankles (and our footwear) weren’t really up to the challenge of the rocks along the way back. 

I’m sure you see where this is going.

Yes, we were going to have to climb back up (and then descend) those same 600+ steps. 

We were all thrilled.  Especially Penelope.

But by the time we reached the top of the cliffs once more, the sun had come out, and the views were even more spectacular.

And we did manage to maintain our good spirits all the way through.  There may have been some discussion of visiting the ice cream truck stationed in the visitor carpark… who could say whether that was the motivating factor in Penelope’s willingness to forge ahead?  🙂

And so we ended as we began: walking back along the seashore, with the tide rushing in, but this time wading happily in the surf. 

Exhausted but happy, we drove on to Whangerai, where we’d secured a single night’s stay at a Top10.  After dinner and showers—and the promised ice cream—we all collapsed into a very sound sleep.

Tuesday morning we had our planned drive to Russell, where we’d be staying for the next four nights.  But since we’d made an unexpected stop in Whangerai, we decided to explore two small parks before leaving town.  The first, the AH Reed Memorial Park, was our introduction to the magnificent kauri trees—and the associated footwear cleaning procedures. 

The kauri trees are being vigilantly protected by the NZ department of conservation, and visitors are required to clean and disinfect their shoes when entering and leaving the forests. 

Our second stop was Whangerai Falls, where we took a beautiful short loop trail all around the waterfall.

After a picnic lunch, we continued north to the Bay of Islands and checked in to our next campground, the Russell Top10.  Our cabin was at the very top of the campground, with terrific sunset views! 

Unfortunately, the forecast was for four solid days of rain… but at least we had a lovely arrival in this beautiful part of the North Island.

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