Last Wednesday six of us were tourists in our own part of the world.

We first visited the giant kauri grove and swamp forest traversed by the Manginangina Kauri Walk. Who would not be inspired by the majesty of the magnificent arboreal sentinels towering overhead? These trees are repositories of the history of this land and their fervent whispers can be heard (or felt) if one listens with an open heart.

Kauri 2

Mangingagina walk


Next stop was the Puketi Forest recreation area and the one hour nature trail circuit. Alongside more giant kauri are equally majestic specimens of totara, rimu, kahikatea (New Zealand’s tallest tree) and other citizens of the Far North’s podocarp forest. Many of the trees are labelled so it is an opportunity to learn a little every time one visits. I was particularly taken with gorgeous leaves of ramarama.

Pat, Richard and Kauri

Pat, Richard and Kauri

The growth and form of the mountain neinei pictured below (a photo I took in the Waipoua Forest a couple of years ago) makes me wonder if Theodore Geisel (Dr Seuss) visited these forests as inspiration for his depiction of trees in his widely read illustrated children’s books.


After a most civilized lunch at a picnic table in the campground (entertained by Bill, his unique travel-anywhere-coffee-maker and the tent-erecting antics of four young European visitors) we entered another rugged back-country Puketi Forest track.

Bill's Camp Coffee

Bill’s Camp Coffee

Afterwards Richard went off with Pat as she needed to get home as soon as possible to shower and eat before heading off for a Bay of Islands Singers practice.

That left Bill, Brian, Lucia and me to meander home.

The last time our Wednesday Walkers visited Puketi Forest (the Waihoanga Gorge Kauri Walk) we finished the day with blueberry ice cream at Blue River Orchard in Waipapa. That late summer visit took place just two days before the orchard’s cafe was to close for the season. Fortuitously yesterday’s visit came just two days after the cafe reopened for the new season of blueberries!

There’s something special about eating an ice cream or a pure blueberry sorbet alongside blocked plantings of the very bushes the blueberries come from. And it is equally special to watch the young people (WWOOFERs?) sorting the fruit on conveyors as we made our purchases.

But it was what happened next which demonstrated that in New Zealand we experience only two degrees of separation.

We joined two women, Betty and her daughter Pauline, already seated at a shaded picnic table. Betty McPherson (nee Murray) recently celebrated her 80th birthday and moved back to the Far North from Auckland. She was born and raised in Whangape and as we worked our way through our delicious cones Betty regaled us with tales of her youth.

“We had none of those big water tanks to catch rain water like houses have today and the winter stream would dry up when the rains stopped.” Each year summer droughts (I wonder if the earlier deforestation contributed to this) drove local Maori families over a daunting hill to the coast north of the Whangape Harbour where permanent fresh water cascaded from the cliffs. Summer shelters (whare) were constructed of nikau palm fronds. Betty’s brothers fished and everyone gathered shell fish. A red frilly seaweed, Pterocladia lucida, was picked and sold for agar production.

There were no cars. Everyone walked or travelled on horseback. There was little reason for theft as everyone worked together and shared. As Betty explained, that beautiful way of life withered and disappeared with the urbanization of Maori beginning in the 1950s.

Betty grew up with the Lunjevich family (Lucia’s brother’s relations). That’s part of the two degrees of separation. The other part had to do with some connection Betty had (which I can’t quite remember) with Boy Yates, Bill’s neighbour in Parapara.

Back in her training college days Betty was part of a contingent sent to China. That three week trip in the Chinese summer of 1976 coincided with the earthquake that struck Tangshan, a shoddily built mining city, and killed half a million people. That same trip coincided with the death of Chairman Mao. How’s that for timing on your only trip to China?

We warmly bid farewell to Betty and Pauline and made a final stop at the Kahoe Farm Hostel past the Otangaroa turnoff on State Highway 10. Here we bumped into (2 degrees of separation?) Mike Johansen, a font of local knowledge and the man owning the farm we walk through when visiting the Kahoe Rock Pools. He told me of, amongst other things, a cold water volcano situated on the roadside just at the turnoff to Whangape after having passed through Broadwood. Whangape again. Mike said that geologists from the University of Auckland regularly visit this unique example of tectonic activity. I’d like to investigate this.

Many thanks to Bill Guthrie for the photos.



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Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See

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