BootsnAll Travel Network

eels, clams, and penguins, oh my!

I’m starting to settle in to this whole traveling thing. I’m getting used to the hostel/backpacker life, and am enjoying getting to know some of the other travelers. It seems like the majority of the people I’ve met are from the UK, but I’ve also met people from all over Europe as well as a couple of Canadians. However, most everyone seems to be a twenty-something Caucasian so I’m not really experiencing anything new. But New Zealand does have its little differences. Everything is a little slower paced here, and not rushed like in the U.S. Mostly everyone’s just a little more relaxed. When working with the Habitat crew, we always made sure to break for tea at exactly 10:30, and again at 3:00. And most everyone here drinks tea, not coffee. Those that do drink coffee drink instant coffee, although you can usually find espresso in the cafes and restaurants. Also, with your tea you usually have biscuits, although biscuits here are what Americans would call cookies. Another thing you can find all over are meat pies, usually mince or steak, and fish and chips. With the exception of the Maori, most of the people in the North Island are English, so this all makes sense. The prices here don’t seem too different, but gas is really expensive at over 4 bucks a gallon. That doesn’t surprise me much, though, since we are on an island. What did surprise me was that it cost $4.80 NZ, or about $3.10 US to buy a bag of ice. Beers run about $4-7 NZ a pint in the bars, and a good six pack runs about $12 in the stores. But overall, things don’t seem much different here. I am spending a bit more money than I had planned, but I’m still in a kind of vacation mode these last few weeks, so that’s not too surprising. Besides, I’m hoping I can make up the difference in Asia and Africa where things are much cheaper.

That being said, I did find an inexpensive way to get up and see Northland. I booked a trip on the Magic Bus, which is one of the local tour companies geared toward independent travelers and backpackers. It turned out to be a great deal. For about $100 US I got a round trip pass to Paihia with a day trip up to Cape Reinga. The bus picked me up yesterday morning at my backpackers around 7:00 AM and after picking up about a dozen other travelers, we started the drive up to Paihia. Our driver was a fun bloke named Steve from Kiakoura. He’s been a Magic driver for several years, and has also traveled extensively overseas, so he was pretty fun to talk to. He took us around to see several of the sights before actually arriving in Paihia around 5:00 PM. I chose a newer backpacker called the Saltwater, which is right on “backpacker row” with about four or five other backpackers. It’s crowded and full of the party crowd, but the beds are comfy and each dorm has it’s own bathroom and lockers so that’s nice. I’ll be in Paihia until Thursday so I booked the room for three nights.

We left this morning on another bus for Cape Reinga, and arrived there about 12:00. It has been raining here since Sunday, so the weather was less than ideal, but the trip was fun nonetheless. Cape Reinga is the northern most point of New Zealand, and according to Maori legend it is the departing place of the Maori spirits. It’s also the point where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet together. When we arrived at the cape, we walked out to the lighthouse where the wind was blowing so hard we could barely stand upright. We took a bunch of photos, and then got back on the bus for lunch. After lunch, we drove back down to the Te Paki stream, which is the access point for 90 Mile Beach. The stream is basically a sandbed river which empties it’s water into the ocean. The sand is very soft and wet, and it is very easy for vehicles to get stuck. In fact, when we arrived at the start of the stream there was a van that had gotten stuck there and our bus driver had to pull him out.

Our driver had mentioned that the water level in the stream was much lower than yesterday, and as we were driving up the stream we passed an eel that had washed up the stream and had gotten beached. It was still alive, so our driver retrieved it using a bucket he had on board. Honestly, though, I’m not sure if he let it go back in the ocean or if he was planning on taking it home and cooking it for dinner. We stopped mid-stream to do some sandboarding on the dunes, and even though the wind was blowing, whipping us around and pelting us with sand, it was still quite fun. We had to hike up the dune, which was no easy task, and once at the top we got on our boards and slid back down. The boards are basically body boards with a slick surface on one side, and you lay down on the boards and use your feet to steer and control your speed. On my first run down I didn’t bother trying to slow myself down, I just went for it. About 3/4 of the way down I got sideways and took a pretty good tumble down the rest of the hill. I gathered myself up, cleaned the sand out of my nose, ears, and eyes, and after making sure there were no broken bones I went for it again. This time I was a little more conservative, and used my feet to slow me down a little. I did three runs, but after that it was too much work to hike back up the hill. Where’s the chairlift when you need one?

After sandboarding we kept driving down the stream bed until we arrived on the beach known as 90 Mile Beach and drove the length of the beach until we arrived back on the main highway. As it turns out, 90 Mile Beach is only about 64 miles. Anyway, once we arrived on the beach, we got out to walk around. Our bus drivers grabbed some more buckets and the next thing I know they were digging for clams with their bare hands. Turns out there are millions of small clams buried only about 6 inches below the surface of the sand, and all you have to do is dig down and grab a handful. It was unbelievable how many there were, and we got three buckets full in only a few minutes time. We rinsed a few of them off and ate them raw right there on the beach. They weren’t quite as good as raw oysters, but they were still quite tasty and you can’t get them any fresher than that. All we needed was a little tequila and Tabasco sauce. 🙂

After dining on raw clams, we got back in the bus and kept heading south. At one point we passed a lone penguin sitting on the beach. I really wasn’t sure what it was doing there, but it almost looked like it wanted some privacy and was a little annoyed by the two busses full of tourists staring at it and taking pictures. A little further down we passed a buried Mercedes on the beach, the victim of an inexperienced driver and the high tide. According to our driver this is quite a common occurrence, with at least one vehicle a month getting stuck out on the beach. Eventually we made it back to the highway, and stopped at a Kauri shop to browse the different products made out of ancient Kauri trees. This shop retrieves old Kauri stumps, many of which are very large and can be 40,000 years old or older. One piece that caught my eye was a sofa bench made from an old Kauri stump. The price tag on it was $40,000 NZ, or about $26,000 US. After browsing around the store some more, we got back on the bus and headed back to Paihia, arriving back around 5:30 PM after making a quick stop in Mangonui to pick up some fish and chips for dinner.

The trip was great, and we did much more than I had expected. I usually don’t get on for the tours like that, but this was well worth the money. The driver was great, very friendly, and played some great music on the bus as well. The only downer was the weather, but it was only a small disappointment in an otherwise great day. Tomorrow I’m gong to chill out in Paihia, and maybe catch a ferry over to Russell, which I believe is the first point that the settlers reached when they came to NZ. I’ll leave on the Magic Bus back to Auckland on Thursday afternoon, and then start planning my trip south to New Plymouth and Opunake. I’ve only got about two and a half weeks before I want to be in Dunedin, and I feel like there’s still so much to see and do here. But for right now, I’ll be content to lay around on the beach a couple of more days.

Tane Mahuta
Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest) The largest living Kauri tree in New Zealand, with a trunk girth of 13.8 meters.

cape reinga lighthouse cape reinga stats me at cape reinga
Cape Reinga

Sandboarding on the Dunes

clamdigging bucket o' clams 90 Mile Beach Mercedes
90 Mile Beach

Kauri Sofa Kari Staircase
Kauri sofa bench, and a staricase carved into a Kauri trunk

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No Responses to “eels, clams, and penguins, oh my!”

  1. Laura Says:

    fresh clams.. mmmmm….
    Tasman Sea… cool…uh, warm, actually… 😀

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