Matapouri and Mermaid Pools
Posted by Iain on Jan. 18, 2012, 3:49 p.m. in Living
Happy New Year and can I take this opportunity of wishing you all the very best for 2012.
So where to begin with this, my first Letter from New Zealand in 2012?
We could talk immigration policy, pass marks and so on but that would be a bit dull.
Although I have only been away for three weeks it seems like months. Over my summer (such as summer has been up this end of the country this year) I once again realised that the more time I spend travelling around this country the more I appreciate how lucky my family and I were being born here. And I love to share it with you…….
I couldn’t get out of the office fast enough toward the end of December. For Immagine NZ, 2011 was most definitely a year of two halves. The first presented difficult trading conditions given the ongoing (but still unofficial) cuts to migrant numbers and the difficulties many potential clients continued to experience selling up their homes in order to free up the cash to make migrating possible, but the second half was strong with December being our best in 23 years. Either world property markets are starting to free up or people are just a little more desperate to get somewhere civilised and are taking whatever equity they can extract from their houses and just doing it. Possibly before things get worse.
We appear to have hit the ground running in 2012 with a busy first week. Having a working knowledge of the crazy Australian General Skills Category and related visa categories has allowed us to offer clients greater ‘offerings’ and as I have mentioned before I enjoy using Australia as a backdoor to New Zealand as it often presents a far less complex visa pathway than coming directly to New Zealand.
I want to tell you a little more about a special part of New Zealand where my family and I spent a few days last week with close friends.
Matapouri Bay. Shortly after finishing posting this I am heading back up there for a few more days (the sun is out – what am I to do?) to pick up my youngest son and enjoy a friend’s 50th birthday tonight. Alfresco dining under a balmy summer sky, big trestle tables with brightly coloured tablecloths groaning under a heavy load of barbequed meats and seafood, with crisp salads prepared from local gardens, sweet hot summer corn dripping in melted butter, lit by large candles , a few beers and wine – I cannot wait!
For me there is nothing like spending time around a barbeque (braai to our South African friends) at night with close friends and family, a good local boutique brewery produced beer or world class local wine in one hand eating the best of the local produce and kai moana (seafood) with the other.
The fishing, when the weather has allowed, has been fantastic the past few weeks. They are biting and biting hard and we have eaten and given away many a good sized snapper over the past ten days. So many I confess I am almost all fished out. Catching and consuming I mean. Well, almost…….
Matapouri is an absolute gem. If I could upload a few photos to The Letter you could see what I am talking about but as I can’t(!) you will need to rely on http://www.tutukakacoastnz.com/matapouri-bay/ in the meantime. Check it out.
A smallish coastal village about two and a half hours drive north of Auckland on the East coast (my favourite side of the island) this sickle shaped bay is protected from the open ocean that lies beyond its two headlands. An estuary flows out at one end and is guarded by mangrove forests which are the spawning grounds for many types of inshore fish including sharks (yes, really), home to sting rays and provide predator free nesting sites for many native birds. The headlands are covered in dense native forest.
Last Thursday we took a walk around the northern end of the bay to visit and swim in the (locally famous) Mermaid Pools. Virtually inaccessible to all but mountain goats and very determined humans the afternoon began with a wander though a reserve covered in regenerating and mature native forest. The sun was out and the humidity was high as it always is at this time of year. It was a 25 degree day and the humidity was probably around 90%. The enormous trees acting to keep the sun off us also provided thick, sultry warm air – the type you can feel when you breathe it in. With the village on one side and steep forested hills on the other, a great track has been carved into the soft dark soils by the local Council making the initial climb somewhat comfortable but none the less by the time we got to the top of the first hill after perhaps 10 minutes the heart was pumping pretty hard.
From the top we enjoyed a spectacular view north all the way up to Cape Brett (home to the Hole in the Rock for those of you that have been to the Bay of Islands) which was shimmering blue on a distant horizon. Five minutes or so of further walking along the ridge we arrived at the first lookout and rest stop. Picture sheer cliffs on both sides of you with trees clinging by their root systems (if they were humans I’d be thinking toenails) and a drop of probably 100 metres to the roiling sea, whitecaps and swells generated by a strong ocean breeze lining up to throw themselves at the shoreline. The two metre swells crashed against the craggy greywacke rocks that lined the pebble strewn beaches. Below us Gannets wheeled and dived into the bay, like bunker busting bombs, popping up to the surface with a plump wiggling silver fish in their beaks more often than not. A cooling breeze demanded rest and a few holiday snapshots.
We set off along the trail again and as we walked stole glimpses of the ocean to our left. Sheep grazed in the fields to our right – the old New Zealand and the new. I definitely prefer the old.
Having picked our way down onto the sand dunes we enjoyed a different assortment of native plants – the sand was covered in native flax and blankets of grasses with seed pods that look and feel like rabbits’ tails waving in the breeze.
Then up the next headland and on toward the Mermaid Pools. I suspect this headland is an abandoned Maori pa (fortified village). What appeared to be old kumara (sweet potato) pits were dotted throughout this forest but now trees grow where once the food was stored. These sorts of headlands were popular with Maori as they were easy to defend thanks to their extremely (death defying actually) steep slopes. So steep in places we were hauling ourselves up for 30 metres on (and between) the twisted root systems of ancient Pohutukawa trees and thinking crampons may have been the order of the day! Saplings provided handholds. You hoped like hell you didn’t slip.
When we got to the top and had caught our breath I marvelled at the power of nature to take back what is hers when we leave her to it. Now covered in regenerating forest of Nikau palms, Karaka and Kowhai trees the light filtered through and provided us with an explosion of differently hued greens courtesy of the trees around us. The ground was thick with seedlings wherever there was enough light and I stopped and collected seeds of some of my favourite native trees for planting back at my beach house. There was that pleasant, mother earth smell of rainforest – damp soils, sweating vegetation and rotting wood.
When we emerged on the other side of the summit the view was magnificent – directly out to sea lies the Poor Knights Islands – a marine reserve and one of the top ten dive sites in the world. The sea a deep deep blue, the rocks jagged, intimidating and unforgiving. The spray of the waves as they crashed onto their hardness the purest white. And below us the Mermaid Pools. Two swimming pool size rock pools that lie just above the high tide mark they have only one opening to the ocean. The pools themselves were about 3 metres deep in their middle. Just for a second I thought I saw two mermaids swimming in the largest pool but they turned out to be a couple of female German tourists – close, but no cigar……
We wound our way carefully down the path toward the ocean and the very inviting looking pools. Slipping and sliding, grabbing at the flaxes that lined the path we were being beaten by the sun again but fanned by the ocean breeze. Ahead of us the land disappeared abruptly into the deep churning Pacific Ocean.
Off with the shirt, Raybans and Fedora and into the pool!
Because the ocean never reaches it but the sea gently flushes it through one narrow opening the water never stagnates and was as clear as any seawater I have ever been in. There were kina (prickly sea eggs) and crabs a plenty. Strands of smooth seaweed provided shelter for tiny fish and shrimp that had been washed in on a passing swell. The walls of the pool were dotted with limpets, cats-eyes and other assorted molluscs. Surrounded by sharp angular rocks the pools themselves were very conveniently full of small motorcar sized boulders covered in a light salmon coloured seaweed. Pale, soft on the feet and very inviting.
A truly wonderful place to cool off.
At the end of the pool where the rock face heads back up the headland is the ‘jumping rock’. It doesn’t – you are meant to. Wedged like a gargoyle about 20 metres above the deep water below it is a favourite place for teenage lads to impress the girls by jumping, bombing or to really make a statement, dive off. Shades of cliff diving at Acapulco and no less scary.
Although my days of being interested in impressing teenage girls are far behind me I none the less had to fight the urge to at least make one jump myself. I’ve jumped out of planes enough to think this couldn’t be scarier. Just wetter. However with the words of my far more sensible wife ringing in my ears I resisted the temptation.
A truly amazing spot and one you should try and visit on a hot summer’s day.
As close to paradise as I suspect there is.
On a slightly more mundane and back to work note I am returning to South Africa for seminars in early February. Click here for details. For those of you in Malaysia and Singapore, click here.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod – Southern Man
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Fantastic, awesome, majestic that's all l can say
Awesome is the right word, and all these can only be found in New Zealand!