One of the greatest thrills in New Zealand is white water rafting over the breathtaking, thunderous Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River. At seven metres it is the highest commercially rafted fall in the world. Are we brave enough to go over?
My husband Roy, and I arrived in New Zealand late on a summer’s evening in February 2014. Our plan was to collect our rented motor home and travel around the north island at our own speed.
As we travelled through the north island on many days we noticed a cloud haze in the sky which reminded me that New Zealand is called “the land of the long white cloud”. This led me to look into how the name came about.
New Zealand was first settled by Polynesians in 1300 to 1600. The legend is that the explorers were guided by a white cloud and when they arrived the land had a cloud hovering over. Thus it is known as “the land of the long white cloud”.
Travelling through the peaceful country side we encountered reminders of the violent, tribal wars of the past and the legends behind them. There are many pas, terraced rock fortifications, which were built by the Polynesians to protect food stocks and villages from their warring neighbours.
Our first couple of nights were spent at Ambury which is a tranquil, working farm on the shores of Manukau Harbour, fifteen kilometres from Auckland. We explored walking trails to the shelly beaches with waves lapping.
Whangarei on the north east was our next stop. It has a sub-tropical climate. We did not see evidence of it. While we were there streaks of lightening tore the sky and lashing rain soaked us. The boats were tossed on the harbour as the breakers crashed.
The winding coastal drive to Whangarei Heads reveals spectacular views at every twist. When we arrived at Whangarei headlands we parked our motor home on the top. Overnight the gale was so strong that I thought the van would be hurled into the sea. The morning’s sky was heavy and the tempestuous sea had white horses galloping from the horizon. The east coast forecast was for dismal weather so we crossed the island.
On the west coast we visited Waitoua Forest, the home of Tane Mahuta, the oldest and largest kauri tree in New Zealand. It is 18 metres high to the first branch and four meters in diameter.
We were alone in the majestic forest with giants linking arms and leaves whispering as we walked past moss and ferns.
Nearby there are swamps where ancient fallen kauri trees are recovered for their timber. We called into many galleries and drooled over the glorious kauri furniture.
Next was a ferry crossing and a long drive to Cape Rienga. It is the north western tip of the Aupouri Peninsula. This is a spectacular place where we tramped to the lighthouse to watch the tidal race where the Pacific Ocean and The Tasman Sea collide. These places leave me in awe of the power of nature.
The Aupouri Peninsula is sacred to the Maori people. They believe this is the jumping off place for the spirits of the dead before they return to Hawaiki.
On the east coast we woke to scenes of the glittering Pacific Ocean on Tauranga Bay. A short drive took us to our kayak guide Richard Israel’s home for our first paddle in New Zealand.
Richard took us exploring on Tauranga Bay which is a natural water wonderland of rock islands, shelly beaches and hills to climb with magnificent views.
We paddled through Jellicoe which is a sea cave too small for a conventional boat but our kayaks could go through. Further on our guide took us close to one of the rock islands to see the resident huge seal sunning itself on the rock.
The coast is peaceful and unspoiled. At a break on a sandy shore we climb up a hill which showed evidence of its tribal, warring battles.
We arrived at Paihia on The Bay of Islands late in the evening. Paihia is a tourist destination with a choice of many water adventures. It is a kayaker’s heaven.
After checking the weather and wind speed Roy plotted a twenty kilometre trip to ensure we would be paddling downwind on our way back.
From the glassy beach we leisurely paddled over the bay towards the 144 islands which make up The Bay of Islands.
We paddled through a gauntlet with smashing waves rising and surging. A wave snatched my paddle. With no support we almost capsized. Leaning against the capsize I prevented catastrophe.
After a picnic lunch on a rocky shore and with ten kilometres to return the wind changed its forecasted direction. Dark clouds gathered from the west and the wind increased to twenty knots off shore. The wind whipped up the sea and white crests broke over our bow. With anxiety we dug in our paddles and fought our way back to terra firma.
In the evening we hiked the track in Puketi Rainforest, a cathedral like forest with cicadas and frogs chorusing.
There are giant kauri trees with views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and a kayak and tourist boat gliding on the river further down. We found our way out of the forest just after the orange sun slid beneath the horizon.
Next was a ferry cruised to historic Russell. Russell was New Zealand’s first capital city, first sea port and its first European settlement.
Russell used to be known as “the hell-hole of the Pacific”. It was the shore leave for whalers. Today it’s a thriving tourist destination with many of the original colonial buildings intact and a quaint village atmosphere
From there we took the adrenaline-fueled experience on the ‘Mac Attack’ jet boat, to the Hole in the Rock. On the way there was a family of orca whales, known as killer whales. The skipper stopped for tourists to watch and take photos. There was a mother and calf showing off. In the distance dad kept vigil with his tall dorsal fin standing proudly above the turquoise water. It’s hard to believe that insane people still kill these trusting mammals.
The Hole in the Rock is a natural tunnel caused over thousands of years by the ocean and winds. Until we had gone through I had no idea of its grandeur.
It is a dramatic rocky island at the northern tip of Cape Brett. The ‘Mac Attack’ slowed to enter the hole which is about fifty metres long, fifteen meters wide and approximately twenty meters high. It was an absolutely awesome experience gliding through.
Often the sea is too rough for the tour boats to enter. We were fortunate our boat could.
At Rotorua I had to persuade Roy to join me on an exhilarating, white water raft journey down the Kaituna River rapids. There is a frightening, seven meter drop called Tutea Fall. Smaller waterfalls semi prepared us.
After racing over the first falls the guide called “bunker down and hold tight”. I could hear Tutea’s roar. Swoosh! My heart stopped when the raft went over the cascades. The raft landed with a mighty splash.
Rotorua was our last town before having to leave to return to Auckland for our flight back to Australia.