We were fortunate to have a fantastic friend and tour guide for our first full day in New Zealand – Sheree Fenwick had picked us up at the airport on Wednesday, given us a brief windshield tour of Auckland, and offered to show us the North Shore on Thursday. We had perfect weather, and Sheree showed us the beautiful (and quite windy) beach in the town of Orewa, where she had grown up.
Orewa is on the east coast 40 minutes drive north of New Zealand’s largest city, and the 3 km (2 mile) long sand beach is perfect for swimming, surfing and wind-/kite-surfing. The wind was up around 20 kts, and the beach was busy; kids are still out of school for the Christmas/New Year’s/summer holiday.
Sheree then took us to the Alice Eaves Scenic Reserve, a 16-hectare (40 acre) remnant of coastal kauri-broadleaf forest. Here is Your Humble Correspondent inspecting a kauri tree. Kauri (Agathis australis) is only found north of 38 degrees South latitude in the northern districts of the North Island. Kauri forests are among the most ancient in the world, having arisen during the Jurassic period (190 to 135 million years ago). The tree’s flaking bark defends it against parasitic plants, and accumulates around the base of the trunk; on large trees the shed bark may pile up to a height of 6 feet or more.
In previous centuries, kauri was used for shipbuilding and furniture. Today it is protected, especially because of a disease called kauri collar rot spread by feral pigs. In fact, while going through customs, the agriculture inspector made sure our hiking boots were free of any specks of dirt or mud, and anyone having been on a farm recently was subjected to extra scrutiny. Other trees and plants were thick in the preserve; travel across country must have been very difficult when the island was first settled.
This lovely beach has a small island, Sugarloaf, as its backdrop. Water sports play a big part in New Zealand; Auckland has the largest number of boats per capita in the world, and the Kiwis’ performance in offshore sailing is legendary, as Dennis Connor is aware… (Think back to the America’s Cup, which New Zealand won in 1995 and successfully defended in 1999.)
Our next stop was the village of Puhoi, the site of New Zealand’s earliest Bohemian settlement, and just a mile or so from Sheree’s home. (In this case, Bohemian refers to those Roman Catholic immigrants from Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, back in the 1860s.) We had a pleasant lunch of fish, oysters and chips at the local grocery/post office/deli. (Suzanne wishes me to clarify that she is not stuffing her face, but making an “Isn’t this delicious!” gesture! Whatever you say, dear.)
Our day with Sheree was highlighted by a visit to her home, which is located on a beautiful plot of land along the Puoi River, where kayakers and canoeists paddle by when the tide is right. Sheree and her late husband Warren had built this home themselves, even felling trees that were used in the construction. At the time they were dairy farmers, obviously used to hard work.
Sheree was particularly proud of her kitchen, custom-built around an English diesel stove. All of the wood you see was harvested from their land and the cabinetry built by her husband Warren.
Before heading back to the city, we enjoyed a spot of strong “mud boot” tea on Sheree’s verandha. The ladies had a chance to catch up on spiritual topics; Sheree is a budding medium, having studied at Arthur Findlay College in England as well.
On the way back to the city, we had a chance to admire the Auckland skyline across the water. There were few boats out due to the high winds. Sheree had been a Kiwi Angel by showing us around her home and the North Shore. It was a fun day, and made all the more special by having our own local tour guide to show us the area.