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Waitakere Ranges Waitomo Caves

13th December 2011

A Lovely Trip Down Waikato District and Popping into the Radio Station in Laid Back Raglan

The Broad Waikato River
    It didn't rain through the night, thank God, but the ground was absolutely sodden. I made an early departure from Pahi. Tanya, the manager of the campsite, wished me good luck, with a parting comment of, "Don't worry about this spot of bad weather. We normally have this around December, and it clears up after a week or so." Kind of her to inform me.
    I climbed back up to the top of the Waitakere Ranges again, but it was like driving through pea soup up there. I dispelled all ideas of hiking here; a pity really since photos I had seen of it in sunlight made it out to be a pretty area to be in. I followed the rest of the Scenic Drive. Occasionally I came across pull-ins for viewing points, but the views were grey voids.
Spot the Surfers on Manu Bay
    I skirted around the southwest and then south of Auckland, just a mass of sprawling suburbs, eventually crossing over the Mangere Inlet and bypassed the airport. I had forgotten what traffic was like over the last few days. These were busy roads, and even busier when I picked up the SH1 heading south.
    At last I reached Pokeno, where I left the main highway. This sleepy little village comprised a garage, cafe, takeaway and an assortment of dwellings. I pulled in at the garage to get a top up, and started to perform the top up myself. One of the two women who ran the place came up to me and said, "I'll do that for you if you like." "It's OK, I can manage," I replied, not knowing whether I was helping her or insulting her. Once topped up, I went into the station to pay. The lady who had offered to help me with the refill was now busy getting the stations Christmas decorations organised. I approached the other lady on the till. "I suppose you're going to charge me 3% if I use my card," I said, half-jokingly. "Why no," she replied, "we would never do that. We'd lose all our customers if we did." "But most places charge 3% for cards, that's what it costs them, so they tell me. Then, if I try and use an ATM to get cash to make a payment, the ATM will charge me 3%. I can't win either way." She looked at me dumbfounded. I figure I have still got a bit to learn about financial transactions in this country. We chatted about Christmas and the snow back in England. She said the bad weather here normally clears up by Christmas. It gets better by the minute!
Manu Bay Surfers
    I then grabbed a coffee in the one and only cafe, a clean well run place, popular with locals and doing good trade. It was brightly decorated, and the Christmas tree had a clutch of presents strewn around its base. Fortunately, there were no carols being played out, that would have made the effect surreal.
Mount Karioi Overlooking Raglan and Kaitoke Creek
    Turakau was my next waypoint, from where I picked up the 22 due south. Soon I was crossing a long bridge which spanned the Waikato River, New Zealand's longest. This mighty stretch of water threaded its way from Taupo in the south, through the Waikato district, to meet the Tasman Sea at Port Waikato in the northwest, with townships lining its course. At 425 kilometres from end to end, it provides recreational opportunities and drives eight hydro-electric dams.
Downtown Raglan
    Waikato district is the birthplace and home of the Kingitanga, the Maori King movement. It is rich in natural resources, wilderness reserves, community history and Maori culture. People of Waikato are often nicknamed Mooloo, particularly in relation to sporting endeavours. The word was likely first applied to the Waikato provincial rugby team. Its origin is related to the mascot of a pantomime-like milking cow used in parades, public events and sports matches, reflecting the importance of the dairy industry to the region.
    My next 50km took me through Waikato territory; a landscape liberally peppered with giant green molehills on which sheep and cattle grazed. A few scattered farmsteads provided the sparse human element to this area. I was on a back-road, preferring to take this route in order to get an appreciation of this countryside. The added bonus was that I only saw two other vehicles in the whole 50km. At the bottom end of 22, I turned off west and wound my way down to Raglan
The Hotel
    Surrounded by water and bush, and watched over by the majestic Mount Karioi, Raglan sat on the south side of picturesque Raglan Harbour, and offered breath-taking views up and down the Kaitoke Creek. The harbour was originally named Whangaroa, but in 1855 it was renamed Raglan after the officer who led the charge of the Light Brigade. Life's a beach; Raglan's black volcanic sands lend a sense of atmosphere to the coastal landscape. Like Pahi, Raglan is a surfing mecca for wave riders, with three world-class point breaks. Manu Bay was said to offer the longest left hand rides on the planet and featured in Bruce Brown's 1964 classic surf film The Endless Summer. Further along the coastline sat the breaks of Whale Bay and Indicators. Apart from its stunning beaches, Raglan is also renowned for its "alternative" community and bohemian lifestyle.
Union Church
    Once I had established a presence in a campsite, I drove 9km out of town to Manu Bay. Half a dozen guys were out there on boards, hoping for the perfect wave. I wasn't impressed with the standard of waves today, nor were they. Within an hour they had all given up for the day. It must be a devilish place to surf. Whereas Pahi's surfers end up on a sandy beach, these guys were greeted by a shore of basalt rocks, and they had to choose their moment when to bail out and ditch into the water.
    Whilst gazing out to sea, my eyes started itching and I couldn't stop rubbing them. It irritated me. It was only later when I was walking past grass cutters operating on a sports field, and I was literally streaming, that I cottoned on; hay fever.
They Have Water Shortage Issues Too
    I returned to base, dumped my car at the campsite, and walked across a footbridge over the xxx River into downtown Raglan. Small kids were leaping 7m off the bridge into the river, which was flowing quite quickly; the tide was on the ebb. Fortunately a jetty further down the river gave them a place to aim for and return to dry land. Within 10 minutes I had seen town. This place was as laid back as the store in Pahi. Folk smiled a lot around here, and quite a lot walked in bare feet. Would I be smiling if I was walking in bare feet all the time? I think not. It is a place for the young, a category that I no longer fit into. However, its laid back style and location convinced me that it would be a good place to take time out in the coastal town atmosphere, visiting artist studios and galleries, chill out and unwind for a day.
Eddie Announcing On Air he was About to Play a 70s Billy Connolly Sketch
    The only highlight of my walk was stumbling across the local radio station. The door was open, music was pumping out, and curiosity got the better of me. I entered a room full of CDs of all genre and posters. At the complicated deck with a couple of microphones was Eddie, one of the volunteers who operate the station on 98.1 FM. Eddie, with a ready smile and easy going nature, told me how he originated from London. He spent a while in the forces before emigrating to New Zealand when he reached his thirties. He adored the country, and had spent the last fourteen years in Raglan, where he is now retired. We chatted for a while, the conversation being interspersed by his continuity spiel. He was one laid back, happy guy. Occasionally he would drop some comedy sketches into his show, and today he played out some Billy Connolly routine from the 70s. He explained that he had to go that far back, since that era did not contain the f*** word; a taboo in New Zealand's media. "Do folk understand his accent out here?" I asked. "Of course they do. He is often over here in the big cities, his wife is from Auckland," he answered. I shook hands and let him carry on spreading his words and sounds over the airwaves.
    In the evening I ventured into town to sample the food, and stopped off at Orca. It was Monday, and Raglan didn't have a lot of choice on Monday. A young woman, Gemma, served me, with an impeccable English accent. She was born near Whitney in Oxfordshire, but had moved with her parents to Dundee at the age of four. I was puzzled as to why she spoke with a perfect English accent after spending so long since childhood in Dundee. She told me, "I chose not to adopt a Scottish accent. It has paid off, now everyone can understand me." Hmmm.... maybe that is where I went wrong in life. As the evening progressed I learned that she had studied Environmental Studies as an undergraduate, and did a Masters in Environmental Studies and Computing whilst in the UK. Because she already had family living over here, she managed to obtain a full residency permit. She was now earning her way until she could get a place at the Oceanography Centre based in Raglan. Good for her. The food was exquisite, I would certainly recommend this restaurant.
    I nipped back to the campsite quickly, rain was imminent, and I made it just in time. I soon got into a laid back horizontal mode, shut my eyes, and I was gone.

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Waitakere Ranges Waitomo Caves

Uploaded from Taumarunui Campsite on 16th December at 13:45

Last updated 16.12.2011