Te Kaha and East Cape Lighthouse, New ZealandNEW ZEALAND, ROAD TRIPS, SERIES, STAFF — By JM Merchant on March 6, 2012 at 01:06
Story by staff writer JM Merchant. Photos Copyright © Joanna Abram.
After a short time, we veered off the main road and continued towards the most eastern point of New Zealand, East Cape Lighthouse. Despite the lighthouse being quite a tourist draw, the roads are dusty and bumpy and you feel like you’re heading off the beaten track.
When we reached the lighthouse car park, Walter warned us that it was a long walk. He pointed us in the right direction and settled down with his newspaper.
He wasn’t kidding. “A long walk” turned out to mean 765 steps, most of them pretty steep, and boy was I feeling the burn by the time I got to the top. But as with all the uphill tramps (hikes) that I took in New Zealand, the view was well worth it.
The East Cape Lighthouse was originally built on East Island in 1900, a little way off the coast, but a succession of earthquakes saw the cliffs starting to crumble into the sea. So in 1922 the 14-metre high cast-iron tower was relocated to its current position on the mainland, 154 metres above sea level.
After tripping back down the 765 steps, we headed back to SH35 and on to our final night’s stopover, Te Kaha. For a good portion of the journey myself and the token Aussie, Cassi, were having the great Marmite vs. Vegemite debate, and how best to prepare a Vegemite/Marmite sandwich.
(Editor’s note: Having lived in Australia for 25 years I must weigh in on this debate. I love my staff writer—and I especially love Jo for bringing New Zealand to this blog—but her taste buds are mixed up. It’s Marmite that’s vile. Vegemite is more-ish!)
We arrived at the Homestead Lodge around mid-afternoon and were greeted by the lodge dog and a German man who helps the O’Brien family run the lodge whenever they’re busy at their nearby kiwifruit orchard.
With 20 plus beds, the dorm room we were shown to was by far the biggest I saw my entire time in New Zealand.
For once there was no squabbling about who got the bottom bunk. The novelty of the top bunk wore off very quickly on this trip. Hostel beds are notoriously squeaky, you risk disturbing people climbing up and down from a top bunk, the ladder rungs are tough on your feet after a hard day’s tramping—and quite difficult to navigate after a couple of drinks!
We dumped our bags and quickly changed into our swim gear to go explore the coast out back of the house.
The garden backs onto the edge of a lava rock cliff, into which the family have had steps built allowing easy access down to the beach. The black rocks stretch off into the water and they provided us with some great tide pools to explore. As the tide came in, our challenge was to see who could get the furthest out without getting into the water. Eventually we just gave up and went for a swim.
The hot tub (see feature photo) was a nice way to relax after our playtime, although it wasn’t a particularly hot tub when we used it. Still, the view was awesome as the sun was starting to set.
The combination of the early morning start in Rangitukia, the climb up to the lighthouse, the long drive and the swim resulted in eight very tired backpackers. Making the most of being in a different country with amazing culture and scenery to explore we . . . crashed out on the sofas watching Top Gear on the O’Brien’s mahoosive TV, some of us dozing off as the sunlight began to fade.
We couldn’t crash for long, though. It was the last day of the golden kiwifruit harvest so there was to be a big barbecue for all the families that had helped on the land over the season. Being guests of the house, we were invited.
When the O’Brien family returned they welcomed us into Te Whanau a Apanui, the local Maori tribe, and we received the hongi over sizzling burgers and sausages. The hongi is the traditional Maori welcome: with a hand on each other’s shoulders you press noses together, allowing your breath, or ha, to exchange and blend.
A little Maori fact for you that still amuses me. A lot of Maori families have Irish or Scottish names. So don’t be surprised to meet a big bad Maori warrior whose name turns out to be Paul O’Connor!
The food at the barbecue was good and plentiful. But being so tired we didn’t have much energy to mingle and soon shuffled off to our dorm.
The next day we had a lazy start. After breakfast we reloaded the little green bus for the last time.
But we weren’t allowed to leave yet, without giving the O’Brien family a song. I’ve been trying for a week to think of what song we sang, but I simply can’t remember. All I know is that the family were impressed. They then borrowed our guitar and bid us farewell with a traditional Maori song.
In a way the song was also a farewell to each other. Getting back on the bus marked our last couple of hours together as we drove back to Rotorua. Some of us would stay there the night before moving on to more adventures, while the rest would board the big green bus at the hostel to go on to Taupo.
Some good friends were made in those three days, more of whom I wish I’d stayed in touch with.
Also in this series by JM Merchant:
JM Merchant (or Jo Abram to most) lives in the North End of London, although she aspires to the West End. An occasionally employed sound engineer and stage manager, most of her time is currently spent reading pirate tales as she works on her first novel. She blogs and posts short stories at Am I A Writer Yet? and tweets as @JMMerchant86.