Saturday, March 19, 2011

3/11 - Cape Reinga, the public toilet, and Treehouse

I woke up this morning with a somewhat fuzzy plan to drive to what the New Zealanders call Northland, the area of the North Island to the north of Auckland. With climes ever more mild as one goes north, there are many beaches and sights to see, but many seem a bit too touristy for this boy. I tend to go for things a little off the beaten path. I had the Bay of Islands recommended to me, but it seemed quite tourist heavy. Day cruises among the islands, swimming with dolphins, all for a pretty penny, did not really appeal. So even though it was significantly further away, I decided to try to go all the way up to the tip of the North Island, a place called Cape Reinga. The cape is known as the traditional jumping off point of the souls of the dead Maori to paradise. There is a tree there sacred to the Maori, upon whose roots the souls of the dead are supposed to slide down to enter the sea of the next world. 

I arrived after a long car trip to a brilliantly clear day, and began walking down to the Cape from the car park. The point just out in the water is also significant because of the meeting of two bodies of water - the Tasman Sea, the body of water between New Zealand and Australia, and the South Pacific. The waters churn together, forming difficult currents and apparently, in rough weather, whirlpools. There are three islands to the north just visible on the horizon. Apparently a Maori chief swam there and named them the "Out of Breath" islands, since he was quite out of breath upon reaching them. Initially I thought this would be because he had swum 6 or 7 miles, since the islands were visible. It turned out that I was off by roughly a factor of 10. The islands were about 60 miles away. "Out of Breath", indeed!

On the way to the Cape, I stopped in a village called Kawakawa, close to where my favorite architect ever Friedensreich Hundertwasser 
lived out the end of his life. Each little town in New Zealand has a "public toilet" for travelers. As a favor to the town, Hundertwasser designed a public toilet which has become a tourist attraction. It was, as with all of his work, both beautiful and careful use of space, and even though it looks odd on its own, the building both fits into, and enhances the space unobtrusively. 

After visiting the Cape, I travelled down to the Hokianga harbor on the less touristy, quietly beautiful west coast. The hostel I stayed in was recommended to me by Hilary and Erik's housemate, John, who had visited New Zealand several years ago. The place was called The Treehouse. It's main building was built in the middle of a stand of trees, and there's a large skylight in it, that really makes you feel like you are sleeping up in a tree. It was wonderful and quiet. And not touristy. Yay!

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