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HOME AT FIRST's-

NEW ZEALAND

NORTHLAND

IN A NUTSHELL

A Great Half-Day Walk and Cruise in Tony Foster’s Unknown New Zealand Paradise.

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN 2008.               MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2015.                                      Photo © Home At First

W  

hen Tony Foster’s aluminum skiff

slammed across the wake of a fast-

moving powerboat, I wished I were

wearing a mouth guard. Tony had

the 90hp Honda outboard wound up, and his little metal cruiser hydroplaned the extraordinarily deep turquoise waters of placid Whangaroa Harbour on a perfect late-summer’s day in early March.
          Tony was in more of a hurry than I was to get back to civilization. I would have been content to laze about on one of Tony’s rented houseboats anchored on one of the remoter lobes of the isolated harbor. But this particular

Tony Foster and his aluminum skiff mooring in Whangaroa Harbour. Photo © Home At First.
Tony Foster and his aluminum skiff mooring in
 Whangaroa Harbour. Nice office if you can get it.
Photo © Home At First

slice of paradise is Tony Foster’s office, and he

 

has lots of managing to do in his one-man wilderness experience.

 

          Among other responsibilities, Tony is an


Crossing the Wairakau Flats with Duke's
Nose headland in the background
Photo
courtesy Tony Foster/Bushmansfriend

expert trekking guide. We’d just come out of the New Zealand bush, crossing through the  mountainous rain forest of Northland’s convoluted Pacific coast from Whangaroa Harbour’s broad interior to one of its secret, fjord-like arms. Along the way, Tony served up a remarkably complete course in New Zealand history, geology, botany, and native Maori culture. The trail had been good, but occasionally steep, and a little muddy, with plenty of mountain streams to cross along the way. I was glad I wore hiking boots for the rugged terrain, but there were cascading brooks, several waterfalls, and, at the walk's end, an

 

empty beach that invited barefoot walking. The

crossing didn’t require great fitness, any more

 

than it required much time. The three and a half miles of walking was anything but flat, but easily accomplished in about 4 hours, even with many stops for Tony’s commentary, refreshments, and assorted detours for exploring historical sites, climbing to vistas, visiting waterfalls, and, finally, for wading or swimming at the beach by Lane Cove.
          The walk begins along an old farm road that climbs up and over a watershed between two arms of the harbor. Then the marked pathway enters the rainforest and follows the Wairakau Stream down to its entry into a remote western arm of the harbor. The

A slight detour to one of several tributary waterfalls of the Wairakau Stream. Photo courtesy Tony Foster.
A slight detour to one of several tributary
waterfalls of the Wairakau Stream
Photo courtesy Tony Foster/Bushmansfriend

rainforest here is a rare remnant of Northland's

 

 

original coastal ecosystem: mixed conifers, broadleaf trees,

New Zealand's native Kauri trees maintain a foothold in protected areas of Northland. Photo © Home At First.
New Zealand's native kauri  trees
are trying for a  resurgence
in
protected areas of Northland.
Photo © Home At First

and the mighty Kauri: tall, thick, primitive hardwood conifers trees that brought shipwrights and lumbermen to Northland. These broccoli-shaped giants have been cut almost to the point of extinction over the last two centuries: whaling ships used kauri to refit their masts and spars; European colonists built their towns with kauri and exported it throughout the world. The kauri-rich forests of Northland brought the first European settlers to New Zealand and the inevitable conflict with the region’s native Maori tribes. Tony — who earned a bachelor’s degree in botany for his former career as a high school science teacher — loves to teach walkers about the flora and fauna of the coastal rainforest. Tony’s background in Northland’s natural history is complimented by his enthusiasm for its social and political history. Having lived in these parts for more than eighteen years, Tony considers himself a local boy now. Whatever worldly prejudices he brought with him when he first came to this part of New Zealand are now long gone, and replaced with a full-blown set of local

 

attitudes and beliefs:

 

 

— TONY FOSTER'S WHANGAROA CODE —

• Hard work earns a subsistence living at best along Northland’s undeveloped rugged coastal environment.

• Subsistence living in paradise is better than ritz and glitz anywhere else.

• Going green is optional only for those not connected to Nature.

• Living green is the only choice available for those living in a natural setting, and is the only long-term strategy for continued existence on earth.

• Outsiders don’t understand, and aren’t to be trusted.

• Outsiders attempting to develop this fragile coastal region always try to change Nature, and are doomed to failure.

• The Maori knew this paradise could support only a few humans, but that it was worth fighting and dying for.

Tony Foster: botanist, trekking guide, harbor pilot, amateur historian, entrepreneur, and backwoods philosopher. Photo © Home At First.
Tony Foster
Photo © Home At First

 

 

Northland Maori carving. Photo © Home At First.

Northland Maori Carving
Photo © Home At First

          Oh, yes, the Maori. Tony, by his own account, feels a keen appreciation of the Polynesian colonists of New Zealand now that he has lived two decades in this isolated corner of Northland. Tony shows walkers where Maori tribes lived, worshipped and fought against other Maori and white invaders.
         The downslope portion of the walk is on protected public land managed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, but it wasn’t always the case. The Maori lived and died here. During World War II New Zealand anticipated a Japanese invasion here in this remote but large, deepwater harbor, and built forts and gun emplacements among its rugged, volcanic headlands. Interested in details? Tony will take you on a scramble along the cliffs to see where Maoris fought and died, and where the New Zealand army relaxed on what may have been the calmest backwater of World War II.

 

 

          When we popped out of the rainforest at Lane Cove our boat was waiting, but I wished we had time for a swim and a climb up the steep volcanic promontory called Duke’s Nose. But Tony had other plans for me. He wanted me to experience the harbor by boat, so I clambered aboard. We began with a look at the cove with its high cliffs covered with native podocarps and other native trees. I could just make out the sloping route we followed down to the beach from the saddle pass. The jungle looked like the perfect place for snakes and jaguars, but because this is New Zealand, we saw and heard only birds — but not the rare, nocturnal national symbol of the country: the kiwi, that Tony

Volcanic outcroppings like the Duke's Nose (left) reward climbers with a grand view of the remote bays and coves of Whangaroa Harbor. Photo © Home At First.
Volcanic outcroppings like the Duke's Nose
(left) reward climbers with a grand view of the
remote bays and coves of Whangaroa Harbour.
Photo © Home At First

assured me lived in the neighborhood.

 

 

 

Fern trees add a Jurassic Park appearance to the coastal rain forest of Northland. Photo © Home At First.
Fern trees add a 'Jurassic Park' appearance
to the coastal rain forest of Northland.
Photo © Home At First

          As we left Lane Cove and entered the more open waters of Pekapeka Bay the jagged formations of volcanic headlands rimmed the horizon like something out of Jurassic Park. This amazing scenery was all ours — almost. Moored in the middle of the bay was a solitary houseboat. Tony’s steered directly for it, slowing up and coming alongside to shouted greetings from the young couple aboard. It was one of Tony’s rentals with a young couple from Auckland out on a long weekend in paradise. My wife was back in Philadelphia, and I suddenly wished she were here. Tony said he checks up

 

on his houseboat rentals almost every

day, making sure they haven’t sunk, and that

 

the customers would be bringing them back in on time.
          Time. That’s what I didn’t have enough of. Nor Tony. Still, he raced me around Whangaroa Harbour to give me a quick look at the boat tour his walkers get after reaching Lane Cove. The harbor was — and I hate using this overused staple of threadbare travelogues — stunning. Except for the part where Tony crossed the wake of that fishing boat at speed and I almost broke my teeth.

Whangaroa village topped by St. Paul's Rock. Photo © Home At First.
Whangaroa village topped by St. Paul's Rock
Photo © Home At First

 

 

 

Covered outdoor picnic seating at the Mangonui Fish Shop. Photo © Home At First.
MANGONUI FISH SHOP

EPILOGUE: Tony had me back to the pier at Totara North where I had left my car by shortly after noon. I helped him moor his boat, then I hopped in my car for my next stop, a locally famous fish restaurant on the waterfront at the small, charming village of Mangonui, about 20 minutes north. The Mangonui Fish Shop had just what I was looking for after a fast morning in the jungle and on the water: delicious fish and chips, super sized. Great food, lovely setting, friendly service, no crowds, and inexpensive.

 

WHANGAROA

IF YOU GO:
          HOME AT FIRST
can organize a personalized, flexible, independent travel itinerary through New Zealand that includes pre-reserved activities like today’s walk in Whangaroa. Northland is one of 14 unique regions of New Zealand that offer beauty, adventure, and the opportunity to meet genuine New Zealanders really interested in showing you why they love the place.

If you wish, HOME AT FIRST can arrange your unguided walking on the Wairakau Stream Track with boat pick-up and harbor tour from Lane Cove. The 3.5-mile walk takes approximately 2-3 hours. Bring a picnic and plan a swim for Lane Cove beach. Set a time for Tony Foster’s water taxi to collect you from the beach and give you a harbor tour. Cost: NZ$20/prs.

Want to wait until you’re in Northland before booking? You’re taking a chance that Tony might be running full. Still, once in Northland, phone Tony at: 027 680 5588, at least one full day ahead of time.

 

Tony Foster’s Northland in a Nutshell half-day trip is easily
reached from
HOME AT FIRST’s lodgings in NORTHLAND.

NORTHLAND is easily reached in NEW ZEALAND.

NEW ZEALAND is easily reached from HOME AT FIRST.

ASK TO SPEAK WITH A HOME AT FIRST "NEW ZEALAND SPECIALIST"
TRAVEL CONSULTANT CERTIFIED BY THE NEW ZEALAND TOURISM BOARD.

—HOME AT FIRST—
AFFORDABLE DREAM TRAVEL WITH ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME.