Saturday, December 27, 2008

A very merry kauri Christmas

PhotobucketWell, that was a whirlwind Christmas trip -- less than 48 hours out of Auckland -- but we had to negotiate work schedules and so forth and were pleased with what we got. We drove on up to Opononi, a flyspeck hamlet perched on the shore of the Hokianga Harbour about three hours north of Auckland. It's a place I last passed through in 2003 on our trip to Cape Reinga, and we'd been wanting to see more of.

The big attraction in this part of NZ is the kauri forest, the remnants of trees that once spanned most of the country (little-known fact: the lovely green rolling hills most people think of when they think New Zealand are actually the legacy of clear-cutting by man). Kauri are basically the redwood trees of New Zealand, and among the biggest trees on earth. As I've said before, I love redwoods and I quite like kauri too. They don't quite reach the heights of redwoods -- 160 feet or so max as opposed to nearly 400 feet for reddies, but they do have an astounding girth -- the biggest is 50 feet around. Running across some of the few remaining giant kauri is a bit like coming across a solid wood wall in the middle of the forest. The pictures don't quite do them justice in terms of scale.

PhotobucketThis time we stopped at the most excellent Kauri Museum in Matakohe along the way. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, it's one of the better museums I've seen in NZ, with a look at kauri logging and its role in the pioneer settlements, in Maori legend, and its ecology. It's a huge sprawling place with a replica of a working sawmill and tons of big machines which Peter loved.

Also featured is a display of all kinds of kauri gum, which is a gorgeous glowing golden amber and was a prized resource. The museum had nifty displays of gum, included some carved into strange shapes (the kauri gum carved into the shapes of Christian Bibles is a nice statement of the 19th-century mindset).

Photobucket Of course, despite it being summer in New Zealand, we had a mostly rainy getaway to Opononi, but it was still nice. The damp lends an evocative atmosphere to the kauri bush anyway, which is full of kiwis and such. (Not that we saw one -- actually, has anyone reading outside of biologists actually seen a kiwi in the wild? They're very stealthy.) We wandered on the great beaches of Hokianga Harbour, ate too much fish, chips and chocolate for our own good, opened Christmas prezzies and then came back to Auckland and opened still more! My kind of holiday, mate!

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