Day 17 – Bay of Islands, New Zealand
While we have been to New Zealand before, this is our first visit to the Bay of Islands, in the far north of the country. The bay is named for the 100 + islands which dot the sea inside the bay, and is perhaps the most historic place in the country. It was in this area, at Waitangi, that New Zealand’s most significant document, The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between Maori Chiefs and the British Crown. The treaty became the basis for life in New Zealand as it exists today. This area has many small villages, but no large towns or cities, and is a resort and retirement area.
As we pulled into the bay we anchored and prepared for tender operations. Most ports, we tie up at a pier, but some do not have a pier large enough for the ship, or a harbor deep enough, so we go ashore using the life boats to ferry us.
We boarded our tour bus and headed out on our excursion of the area, past the treaty grounds area. The Maori are Polynesian people who migrated originally from Taiwan, to Melanesia, to the Society Islands (Tahiti) and eventually arrived in New Zealand in about 1250 AD. As they populated the north and south islands of New Zealand, they divided into tribes conducting fierce, but hand to hand, combat. When Europeans arrived in the 1700’s, muskets were introduced, and the tribal war casualties escalated dramatically causing severe decimation of the Maori. The Europeans also introduced diseases from which the Maori had no immunity, causing further losses. The treaty, when signed in 1840 made New Zealand a British Colony, and eventually led to a relatively peaceful coexistence – with the exception of the inevitable land ownership disputes. New Zealand is continually beset with friction between the government and Maori, primarily in the area of natural resource ownership. The Maori represent the largest minority in the country at 15% of the population.
New Zealand gained its right of dominion over its own affairs in 1907. They were the first country in the world to grant the right to vote to women, in 1893.
As our bus left the pier area, we passed various Maori sites, and missionary sites. The missionaries played a big part in the history of this country – they did indeed convert the Maori to Christianity, but they, and particularly their children, were quick to take advantage of the lands being sold to Europeans. Many of the early fortunes in New Zealand were amassed by missionaries’ children.
This is one of the oldest structures in New Zealand – the Stone Store, built by an early merchant.
We stopped briefly in the town of Kerikeri, a quite affluent town near the coast, populated primarily by retired folks. Back on the bus, we headed for our first stop, the Puteki Forest, passing many small farms, that the driver referred to as “life style plots” (what we would call gentlemen’s farms”) of about 5 to 10 acres with a few cattle or sheep.
The Puteki Forest is one of the few remaining virgin forests in the country – it is truly a jungle like rain forest, and is home to the last few protected Kauri Trees. The Kauri tree lives for up to 2,000 years and grows quite large and straight. The tree only grows in height until it reaches out of the top of the rain forest (about 150 feet) and then grows in girth. It also has the attribute that it “shucks off” its limbs, rather than growing around them, therefore there are no knots in the wood, and it is very strong. These trees were initially prized as replacement masts for sailing ships, and in later years, after the demise of sail power, it was discovered that the sap of the tree was useful in varnishes and glues. The tapping of these trees, plus the continued use of the wood in building eventually destroyed 98% of the trees. The remaining trees are obviously strongly protected. The only Kauri wood that can be purchased currently is that which is excavated from swamps and is 40,000-60,000 years old and is perfectly preserved – a testament to the strength of the wood.
Our forest guide standing next to a felled Kauri tree.
Sally and I, next to a 600 year old Kauri.
After leaving the forest we bussed to a small town for a brief break. One seldom encounters a restroom that becomes the primary focus of tourists taking pictures.
After our brief break, we reloaded the bus for a trip to the Kawiti Glow Worm Cave. This cave has been owned by the same Maori family (the Kawati family) for 13 generations and has been operated as tourist attraction by them for the past fifty years.
As we walked through the cave and reached the center, the guides turned off their lights and we could see the glow worms on the ceiling. They wouldn’t allow pictures in the cave – this is a picture of their post card.
These worms have chemicals which react and create the “glow” which attracts small flying insects which they trap and feed on. After 11 months they hatch as flies, mate, and die in three days, and the whole thing starts over.
The cave was an easy walk, but the return was up and over the mountain which was exhausting. Here is Sally on the “downside”.
We collapsed in the bus for the return trip and reboarded the tender to the ship.
As we sailed out, dozens of sailboats were heading into the harbor – this is truly a nation obsessed with sailing.
On to Auckland.