Trip up north - Day 3 - 9 in Northland (28th December 2007 - 2nd January 2008)

Friday, 28th December 2007: As per Rob's advise, Helbert and I went to Discover Tutukaka in search for Dylan this morning. Dylan turned out to be a friendly American who was very helpful and gave use a few suggested itineraries for the days ahead. Helbert and I decided to take it easy today and just drive around the area to see what's available. Discover Tutukaka is an information centre for activities and the friendly staff there can help you book trips. It is also a shop and internet service centre.
I bought myself a set of fins for snorkelling. Helbert suggested I get the bright yellow ones so he could see and track me better should I accidentally swim slightly further away from him (we have a 1-metre agreement i.e. that's the maximum distance between us in the open water because I sometimes panic and he's aware of my deep water fear). OK, yellow ones then!
After booking a fishing, snorkelling and diving trip for the weekend, we took Dylan's advise and drove to a few beaches along the coast. Our first stop was at Matapouri Bay, a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay. Nice sandy beach with several walkways leading to other bays. If you are interested to learn surfing, drive further along Matapouri Road to Sandy Bay, the famous surfing bay in the area (though looking from the car, I couldn't see much waves i.e. low surf). Me, surfing? Hmm, probably I can pick it up after I get over my fear of the water...
We decided to head over to Russell for lunch. The drive there was up and down hills through winding and at times, narrow roads - made me felt somewhat squeezy. You probably didn't know this but Russell was declared NZ’s capital in 1840 before it was moved to Auckland a year later. A quaint and charming town with several cafes, bars and restaurants. There were lots of people in the small town when we got there. Had our car parked and strolled down the main street to have lunch at Tuk-Tuk Bangkok Thai Restaurant - hmm, the combination fried rice I had was very good and tasted authentic too (I was initially skeptical to eat Asian here since it was such a small town). Ooo, and so prettily decorated too :)
From Russell, you can take a ferry across to Paihia either on the passenger ferry or better still, the car ferry instead of driving there! Helbert and I have travelled to the South Island with a car on the Interislander ferry before but this was different - we just drove onto the Fullers Bay of Islands car ferry ramp, parked our car on the ferry and sat inside the car while we get ferried across to Paihia. Costed us $11 in total for the ride and the journey only took us 6 minutes. Oh, that was so cool!
Paihia is the main tourist town in the Bay of Islands in the far north of the North Island. It was bustling with people and reminded me a lot of Queenstown (think jetboat, para-gliding, helicopter ride etc.). We took a walk around the main street and pier, watching boats of all shape and sizes pull up to the pier. Stopped by one of the many cafes for a coffee (yep, my usual flat white and his usual long black) and did some grocery shopping for our fish BBQ tomorrow. Helbert was already salivating thinking about it - what if we didn't catch anything? "We'll not leave Tutukaka until we catch fish!" was his response. OK - I like that plan! I've never fished before so was feeling excited about tomorrow's fishing trip :) Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603898365176/detail/
Started heading back to Tutukaka around 5pm taking another route passing through Whangarei instead of the winding road back. I remembered passing by a waterfall when we drove through Whangarei yesterday. Can we stop there if we drive past it again?
Ah, so the waterfalls was actually Whangarei Falls, one of the most picturesque waterfalls in NZ, and is a very popular absailing and swimming spot in summer. There are walking tracks through native bush and sheltered picnic areas which adds to this park's appeal. The Whangarei Falls is 26.3 metres high and falls over steep basalt cliffs. Photos taken at the falls: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603901942255/detail/
The sun was still shining brightly by the time we arrived back at the holiday park so took a drive towards Whangaumu Bay (locally known as Wellington Bay) located at the end of Tutukaka Block road. The intention was to have a look but not go down to the beach. Besides, it was almost 8pm even though the sun was still shining as if only 4pm. There were lots of holiday homes and resorts along this road. The rest of our evening was spent relaxing at the holiday park, chatting with Rob and few other campers.
I learnt that to maximise the use of the shower and your 50 cents worth, you first need to undress, then go to the coin machine to put in your coin, and then quickly run back to your cubicle to shower. Many of the female campers didn't know how the light button works (the button pops up after about 15 minutes or so and you need to press it again) and showered in the dark! Poor things, I had a show a few where the button was...

Saturday, 29th December 2007: We spent the day with Sea Safaris Tutukaka on a snorkelling and fishing tour around the Poor Knights Islands. Costed us $100 per person for this trip. We were up early to prepare our packed lunches and headed for the marina by 9am where we met up with skipper Mike and 2 other couples who were also booked on the trip.
The Poor Knights Islands are a group of uninhabited islands off the east coast of the Northland Region. The islands are protected as a nature reserve and a permit is required to land or tie boats up. The waters for 800 metres around the islands are a marine reserve in which it is prohibited to disturb marine life or remove rocks or shells. No commercial fishing is permitted within one nautical mile (1,852 metres). The islands are a popular diving location due to the variety of marine fauna found there, and are popular also for their intriguing landforms, which include natural arches and caves. So many boats head out to the islands daily!
Our tour begun with a 45-minute boat ride from the marina to the islands, followed by a tiki tour ("tiki tour" means a scenic tour in NZ context) around the islands with Mike telling us interesting stories and information about the islands and marine reserve. Frankly speaking, the boat was smaller than I expected it to be and I was a little worried I may get seasick - I'm not prone to seasickness but if the sea was rough, I'm sure anyone would feel pretty shaken and have a tendency of wanting to throw up.
It is said that Captain James Cook sailed past the islands and named them after a popular European and English breakfast dish, known at the time as the 'Poor Knights Pudding'. Today, the pudding is known as French toast. But don't you think the islands look like a human form lying down and looking towards the sky?
Along the tour, we saw many dive boats and several private charters dropping people off to dive sites for snorkelling and diving. There are about 60 dive sites in this area - divers are totally spoilt for choice :) We even saw our Swiss friend, Chris, whom we got to know at the holiday park on one of the dive boats - hey, Chris!
The islands tour went on for probably an hour, with me doing most of the videocamera recording. I don't think I'll be able to remember all the names of the arches and caves we've visited when I get home - we saw so many during the short time! The good thing about being on a small boat meant that we could go through arches and into caves, something that Helbert fears a lot (he's afraid an earthquake might suddenly occur and the arch would fall on him). Come on, don't be silly! Photos taken on our tiki tour: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603902715605/detail/
It was time for us to do some snorkelling and Mike took us to a little secluded site called Nursery Cove. The cove is a fascinating playground for semi-tame juvenile fish (thus the label "nursery"). It is said to be a particularly good site for snorkelling with an interesting feature called the Labyrinth off the southern point which Helbert and I didn't explore as we were too busy snorkelling and taking photos with his digital underwater camera. Helbert had bought himself an Olympus digital camera for Christmas that had waterproof features (yes, you don't need a waterproof casing) and allows him to snap photos to the depth of 10 metres below the surface. How cool is that?
Brrr!! The water temperature was cold! Despite wearing wetsuits provided by Mike, it was still quite chilly in the water (I was shivering!). Helbert and I snorkelled just a short distance away from the boat and took lots of photos of the colourful fishes. Oh, this place was a bit of a landmine because there were jellyfish in the water i.e. we had to be careful and avoid them. But the fish must be quite used to human presence - they were fearless, swimming very close to Helbert as he skin dived and I took photos!
Ahhhh...it was so nice to come back to the boat and enjoy a hot beverage or soup to warm up. Mike also provided us with some muffins with our hot drinks (it was part of the package). For those of you who prefer to stay dry, Mike also provides a glass bin that you can use to see the underwater life from the boat.
Next up was some fishing for the group. As part of the packaged tour, bait and fishing rods were provided. Ladies, you would have to get your hands dirty for this activity because you have to cut up the bait (we were given frozen bait of squid and pilchards) and place them on your hook - eww, slimy and smelly! I do hope we'll get a good sized fish for dinner tonight :)
Helbert said that I would feel the fish biting my bait when I held the rod. This was my first fishing experience but I couldn't feel the fish biting the bait much. How is it supposed to feel like? My fishing rod moving?? Tension on the fishing line???
I learnt that to prevent the dreaded backlash or birds' nest when casting (that is your fishing line getting all bundled up on the reel), you have to lightly put a thumb on the reel and 'guide' your line. And once you feel your sinker touch the bottom of the sea, reel it about 3-4 winds up. The rest is just patiently waiting for your fish.
Hmm, no luck so far...we've moved several locations to fish but have only caught small fishes (there are regulations to the size of fish you can take from NZ waters - if smaller than the regulated size, you have to put it back or be penalized if caught). Caught several kelp fish and I got a small snapper (yay!) but none good enough to take back with us (boo!). Even though my snapper was small, it sure was hard work reeling it in - the fish felt so heavy and reeling seemed to take like forever! Oh, and Mike suspected that I may have caught a moray eel but the fish was smart to swim into the rocks and my line got caught, resulting in a painful tug-of-war that I had to ask Helbert for help. You should have seen my fishing rod - it looked as if it would snap anytime! We had to cut off my line, let go of the sinker and start over. Ops, I hope Mike's not mad at me...so far, I've been nothing but trouble, birds' nest and all...
Another try at a new location nearer to the coast but still no fish. Oh well, no fish for dinner tonight. Looks to me Helbert and I will be going on another fishing trip this week (he's not giving up just yet!). It was still a nice trip out at sea and I had fun :) Photos taken snorkelling and fishing today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603902907411/detail/

Sunday, 30th December 2007: Helbert and I had booked a diving trip with Dive!Tutukaka previously for a 2-tank dive at the Poor Knights Islands today. Costed us $225 per person and is by far, the most expensive dive I've paid to date (even diving in Fiji was cheaper!). I guess the reason for the high cost was because the Poor Knights Islands was ranked by Jacques Cousteau (world-reknown marine conservationist and explorer) as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world offering the best sub-tropical dive. It was a full gear hire, air in tank for 2 dives and return boat trip for that cost. For an extra $10, you also get a packed lunch on board.
The Poor Knights Islands are washed by a warm current that sweeps down from the Coral Sea. Water temperatures are warmer and visibility is clearer than on the New Zealand coast. The Islands have volcanis origins that provide a myriad of spectacular drop-offs, walls, caves, arches and tunnels. This complex underwater landscape results in a unique environment in which subtropical and temperate marine life co-exist with extraordinary diversity, beauty and density.
We were told that a dive at the Poor Knights is once-in-a-lifetime experience - very different to coral reef diving or diving on the New Zealand coast. The islands are a total marine reserve, allowing the fullest proliferation of nature’s underwater wonderland. Every thing is alive, thriving and colourful.
Helbert and I had an early start today and was at the dive centre by 8am to get ourselves kitted with the appropriate equipment. By 8.30am, we started boarding. We were put on one of the 3 dive boats heading out this morning called the El Tigre, accompanied by their qualified skipper, dive master and instructors on board together with some 20 other divers. It was about a 45-60 minute boat ride out to the islands, taking a bit longer than our previous trip out with Sea Safaris because this was a MUCH bigger vessel.
Our skipper was hilarious and made me laugh so much! He had us all lined up to use the toilet on board before getting into our wetsuits - warned us that he would not let us off if caught peeing inside the wetsuit. :P Gave us a briefing of our first dive site, Landing Bay Pinnacles, where we were all told to swim to the front of the vessel and use the anchor line as reference when descending. The pinnacle comes up from 45 metres to within 5 metres of the surface. Deep...
I still struggled getting my dive gear on and manoeuvring my way to the back of the vessel to enter the water on a giant stride. As normally expected, I had buoyancy issues and was unable to sink despite emptying all the air from my BCD (BCD stands for Buoyancy Control Device, which is the jacket you inflate/deflate) the first time. This dive was somewhat a disaster: I couldn't sink so had to swim back to the vessel to add more weight and tried descending again. After I COULD sink, I was sinking like an anchor (way too fast) and had bouyancy issues underwater i.e. a small press of the inflator and ZOOP! I shot up to the surface. URGHHHHHH! I HATE THIS!!! Helbert was definitely not impressed - he was my dive buddy and with me having problems meant he couldn't enjoy his dive either. He couldn't take any photos during this dive so we ended up doing a 20m depth dive. I pretty much deathgripped his hand throughout the dive - sigh, perhaps you should just do the next dive alone and I'll stay on the boat. I love life underwater but my fear for deep water makes me a nuisance to partner with at times (which is why I usually buddy with the dive master or instructor knowing that I may have a mini panic or some sort of drama diving). I'm still learning (this was only my 12th dive) and trying to overcome my fear so would appreciate patience, guidance and attention from my dive buddy.
Upon return from the first dive, we were provided with our choice of hot coffee, tea, soup or Milo (hot chocolate) on board as we dried off. Lunch was provided (a brown bag consisting of a sandwich, cookie and fruit) while the skipper took us for a tour around some of the special spots of the Poor Knights, including Rikoriko Cave. The huge dome of Rikoriko is entered by boats, swimming inside a huge cathedral, 139m long, 80m wide and 35m high. It is famous for its accoustics and regularly used by musicians for a capella concerts. Try whistling or shouting inside!
A tiki tour around the island and rest some 1.5 hours later, we were taken to the 2nd dive site, Trevor's Rocks/El Torito Cave, a shallow bay with crystal clear water. I was not planning to go on this dive after such a stressful first dive but Helbert convinced me to go. He took the opportunity to teach me to control my buoyancy and left me to swim without holding his hand but still within sight. I was trying very hard to follow his instructions and managed to dive alongside him with minimal issues. Still need practice though!
Lots of photo opportunity for Helbert this time because we were no more than 9 metres below the surface. Some of the other divers who ventured to deeper waters saw stingrays and swam through an arch. The skipper did mention something about having to pay respects to a 'frog' that sits at the entrance of the arch (not sure what that's supposed to mean). Will have to check it out next time I return here to dive.
Around 3.30pm, the vessel began its journey back to shore and we chilled out at the top deck to enjoy the breeze and sun. I was glad that I took Helbert's advice and went for the 2nd dive. It was much more enjoyable this time and I felt I had learnt something (sense of accomplishment). Need to have more swimming lessons too which would help with my fear of water.
Hmm, all the swimming is making me hungry! Dinner tonight was BBQ meat, garlic bread and salad (yum!) with some new friends we made at the BBQ station. Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603905420302/detail/

Monday, 31st December 2007: Helbert and I were waiting for Discover Tutukaka to call us this morning about a possible fishing trip today. It was almost 10.30am and still no call so we headed out to look for Tutukaka's giant kauri tree. Mike and Rowan (friends we got to know last night) told us there was a giant kauri tree (NZ's largest and most famous native tree) just behind the hills of the camp site, 30 minutes by foot on a pathed bush track. Let's go check it out!
OK...looking for Goliath, Tutukaka's giant kauri tree, wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. We were told that we had to pass a few gates and that there was a clear yellow path but we somehow got to a dead end. Hmm...maybe up this way??
Half an hour into our hunt for the tree, my phone rang. Emma from Discover Tutukaka rang to say that she has organised for us to go on a fishing trip with a guy named Evan this afternoon. Yay, we're going fishing! Kauri tree hunt will have to be postponed for now. Photos taken this morning: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603905486530/detail/
Turned out we were the only 2 people going out fishing with Evan today. The fishing trip costed us $125 each which included bait and fishing rods. Helbert was teasing me that we would be going out on the smallest boat in the marina. And you know what? The smallest boat I could see was the boat we were going fishing on! We met up with Evan Daysh (fisherman and NZ police officer) by his small boat Harpoon Charters. Oh dear god! How am I going to survive half a day out at sea on the tiny boat? I guess even Helbert was a bit nervous...
The ride out to sea was one adrenaline rush. Evan told Helbert and I to stand up the front and held on to the boat as we 'bounced' all the way to the Poor Knights. Oh my god - I was so afraid that the boat would just do a 360 degree turn and we would all fall off the boat! My heart was pounding madly and I was gripping to the boat for dear life!!
You know, the fishing trip wasn't so bad - ok, the bouncing part was not so cool but the water was pretty calm out at sea plus Evan knew all the good places to catch fish :) He anchored at a few spots just outside the marine reserve and we were catching fish after fish, to the point we had to stop because we couldn't take them all with us! There was no point fishing and throwing the fish back just for the sake of fishing (not all fish can survive after getting hooked - some had guts coming out of its mouth and will get eaten by other fish if thrown back into the water).
Helbert caught mostly pink maomao (be careful not to rub your hand on the fish - it has scales like a zillion thorns) while I caught the 2 huge snappers (yay, we've got dinner now!). But it was hard work! Now I really appreciate fishermen who go out to sea to catch the fish - it was so tiring to reel the fish in. I had to reel it with my right hand, then left, then right again...AND I was still not finished! The boys showed me no pity and would not help. "Well, you are on your own, lady!" said both of them. Fine!
HELP!!!! I got into a tug-of-war with some monster at the end of my fishing line! Evan had to come to my rescue because my fishing rod was literally about to be pulled into the water (probably me included). He told me that I had a fish at the end of my line but lost it to a shark. Shark???!! Apparently there had been sightings of a shark in the area recently. Bad shark - how dare you eat my dinner! And my sinker too!! Poor Evan had to help fix another sinker for me. It would have been pretty amazing if I caught the shark though I'm not sure how it would fit in the boat...
Helbert also caught a huge mackerel which according to Evan was a difficult fish to catch and is great for marlin bait. He also said that it was not a nice fish to eat because it tasted bloody. Really??
Both Helbert and I would definitely recommend you to take a fishing trip out with Evan if you come to Tutukaka. We had heaps of fun! Evan took us on a short trip around the Pinnacles and to Rikoriko cave (yes, every boat takes you there) before we headed back to the marina ashore.
Helbert helped Evan dock the boat and we caught a ride back to the holiday park with him. Unfortunately Evan doesn't help to clean and fillet the fish so we had to do it on our own. We gave the mackerel to him since we won't be using it for bait - thanks Evan for a great fishing trip! Photos taken of our rewarding fishing trip today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603914686982/detail/
Helbert and I went to share with our friends, Mike and gang, our catch of the day and had fish dinner together - we had about 8 fishes, more than enough for ourselves. The hosts at the holiday park told us we could clean the fish in the dive gear cleaning room but some of the campers who wanted to wash their dive gear were not happy about it. Hey, we had permission, ok? Mike and Helbert went in full force trying to clean and fillet the fish - I have to salute the boys for it was their first attempt. Good job! One of Mike's female friends came to help and showed Helbert how to fillet the fish. I could see that he was enjoying getting his hands dirty and took the opportunity to photograph the boys at work :P
There wasn't much I could do to help but supply Helbert with beer and took one of the pink maomao to the kitchen to season for the BBQ. I had so many campers stare at me or stop to chat and ask me questions about me and my fish! Hehehe...you want to know what I put inside? It was no secret (and I learnt it from Helbert anyway). Helbert had cut open the fish and made small stabs on both sides of the fish. I had slices of onion and tomatoes slotted inside and the fish was seasoned generously with chopped garlic, salt, lemon pepper, olive oil and soy sauce, inside and out. I then wrapped the fish up in aluminium foil and left it to slowly grill on the BBQ, turning it around periodically. When the juices start to leak, it was time to cut open the foil and let the fish sit on the grill for a bit, and then ready to eat :) Simple!
After spending a good hour plus cleaning, filleting and cooking the fish, some of the fillets were seasoned with lemon pepper on the grill and the rest eaten as sashimi with soy sauce. Delicious! Everyone enjoyed a good BBQ meal under the set-up marquee in the sun, chit-chatting and drinking. Helbert and I were still waiting for our BBQ fish for dinner (the fillets were just an entree) so stayed back while the others headed to Schnappa Rock Restaurant & Bar to join in the New Year's eve celebrations. We'll catch up with you guys later! Photos of our fish dinner: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603918281217/detail/
Hmm, the BBQ pink maomao was wonderful! You guys have missed a fabulous meal :P
After cleaning up and taking a shower (phew, we smelt like fish!), it was almost 11pm. Helbert and I headed to meet up with the rest at the bar but it was too packed to get in so ended up a bar by the marina. There was a huge crowd and a live band playing. We ordered ourselves a glass of white wine each and joined the crowd counting down to the new year. 3, 2, 1...HAPPY NEW YEAR! Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and fantastic year ahead!!
We didn't stay long at the marina after the countdown as we were too tired from a long day out. Yawn...let's go back to the 'presidential suite'...zzzzsss...

Tuesday, 1st January 2008
: First day of the new year and here I am still lazing around in the 'presidential suite' in sunny Tutukaka. What a way to start the new year - ah, bliss!
You know, usually during this period of moving from one year to another, I would ponder on the things that has happened in the previous year, access how well I've done (i.e. my achievements, failures etc.) and set some new goals for the year ahead. 2007 had been a year full of ups and downs with some dramatic changes in my life. Given all that had happened in the past year, I'm not sure if I should set goals for myself this year. I have to admit that I am a goal-setter (it gives me focus) and get frustrated (and disappointed too) when I don't achieve them within my set datelines. Perhaps it's better to adopt the "wait-and-see" or "go with the flow" strategy - less opportunity for disappointment. So, there you go, no set plans for the year. Just live the day and see what happens!
Helbert and I decided to head back to look for Goliath after our unsuccessful attempt yesterday. We got some directions from Grant, one of the host at the holiday park, and set off on our search for the kauri tree. It was a nice, tranquil scenic walk through the farm and bush, and took us about 45 minutes to get to the tree. You could see the tree from afar! It was the only tree above the canopy of trees behind the hills and you would be amazed at its actual size when you see it close up - the circumference of the tree would probably need 4-5 people holding hands around it.
The kauri is a living link with the age of the dinosaurs. As you stand before these ancient trees, you are in the presence of living entities that were mature trees before any human came to these shores. The one we saw was 800 years old!! Photos taken on our trail to see Goliath: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603916524706/detail/
I'm very pleased that our trip to find the tree today was a success!
What else could we do today? Grant suggested that we check out the Mermaid Pools at Matapouri Bay which was supposed to be a beautiful hidden site. Sounds like a plan! So off we went, taking a 10 minute drive to the bay. Unfortunately we couldn’t get through to the pools due to the high tide. Well, we did try to get across, climbing on the rocks to get to the tunnel leading to the pools. We probably got half way through but couldn't get past the track that was covered in water knee-deep high so headed back to the beach. Oh, I was struggling to keep myself dry, climbing up and down the rocky track on the way back. And Helbert took pleasure laughing as he watched me hop my way to safety. You are SO cruel! Hah, but at least my shoes are dry, not like your soaking wet ones! Eww...Photos at Matapouri Bay: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603920022823/detail/
One of the campers at the holiday park told us that there was a viewing point at Whangaumu Bay (Wellington Bay) so we decided to head over to have a look. At the far end of the bay lies a walking track and you can climb the hill for a good view of the Ngunguru entrance and the sand spit. Apparently you can walk to Ngunguru from here on low waters. The waters here were quite clear even though the day was rather overcast - we should come back tomorrow to snorkel if it's a nice day! Photos taken at Whangaumu Bay: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603923827199/detail/
Headed back to the holiday park to BBQ the remaining 2 snappers in the fridge. Again, we caught the attention of many campers who were very impressed with my catch...hehe...One lucky camper who came to talk to Helbert at the BBQ station took away with him a whole cooked fish! We couldn't finish both fish so why not give one away? Sure hope that man and his party enjoyed it :)

Wednesday, 2nd January 2008
: This morning, Helbert and I went with new friends Libby and Steve to Whale Bay for the day. We drove our cars to Matapouri Bay and had the car parked here. We could have drove to Whale Bay and left our car there for the day but there had been several cases of car windows getting smashed and items stolen from parked vehicles so better safe than sorry. At the top of the hill north of Matapouri is a walking track to Whale Bay, a bay where you can laze under the pohutukawa trees (a coastal evergreen tree also known as the NZ Christmas Tree) and contemplate the vast Pacific Ocean.
Helbert and I were prepared for our picnic by the bay - packed up our bags and chilly bin with our snorkelling gear, lunch, snacks and beer. As the tide was low, all 4 of us decided to check out the Mermaid Pools (again). Even though I didn't have to hop around to keep dry today, it was still quite a challenging track to the pools with me carrying a backpack and the fins. After we passed the rocky tracks, we had to hike a short hill and through a tunnel that had a narrow45 degree angle passage. Not sure if the pools were what we saw next (I've not seen a brochure or picture of the pools) but the place was rather rocky so we didn't venture further out to see what was behind the cliffs. Hmm, not very ideal for snorkelling though.
Oh well, let's go back and walk over to Whale Bay. According to the sign at Matapouri, the walk to Whale Bay takes 30 minutes. Yeah right, felt more like 1 hour since we had to hike up and down hill (and walking in flip-flops plus carrying our gear didn't help make our walk any faster). We shouldn't have taken so many items with us if we knew the track to be so arduous! Had a brief stop at Pebble Bay on the way. It was one very pebbly beach!
Wow, Whale Bay was more beautiful that I expected it to be. Gorgeous aqua-blue calm waters and it wasn't too congested either. Oh, thanks Steve and Libby for telling us about this place! We took turns to go snorkelling and Helbert taught me how to skin dive. He's one hell of a tough teacher, making me repeat the move again and again until I got it (or so I think I've got it). It wasn't easy for me (yes, the fear thing) plus it was something totally new. The trick to skin dive is to take a deep breathe, and from your laterel position floating face down on the surface, bend yourself at a 90 degree angle, lift your legs straight up and swim downwards. You may need to equalize your ears depending on how deep you swim. And when you feel the need for air, swim up while breathing out and blow hard into your snorkel once your break out of the water. Lucky for me I had my super snorkel - couldn't feel a single drop of water inside! Still, Helbert made me blow hard into my snorkel so I got used to doing so (and not assume that no water will ever get in). Hehe, I was so happy when I could get the move right. Felt a sense of accomplishment :) Oh, but I was embarrassed when Helbert made me show what I've learnt to Steve - you are terrible, putting me in the spot!
The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing at the beach under some shade. I hung out with Libby while the boys took a walk around the area. Us girls couldn't be bothered walking some more after the long way over - you boys have fun! Not sure what they got up to but apparently they were 'attacked' by birds??!! Hmm, you boys must have provoked the birds...
The boys were nice enough to walk back to the car and drove to the Whale Bay carpark while Libby and I took a shorter route from the beach to meet up with them. Phew, lucky we didn't park out car there - lots of shattered glass everywhere! All four of us took a slow drive back to the holiday park where we had another BBQ (back to red meat this time) for dinner. Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603924103853/detail/
It was our last night at Tutukaka and I do feel somewhat sad that we are leaving tomorrow even though the holiday hasn't officially come to an end (we are going to Rotorua for a few days). I thoroughly enjoyed my week here and would definitely recommended anyone travelling this way to take some time out and enjoy what this unique town has to offer. If you have a love for water activities, you really don't want to miss this stop!

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