Yesterday was not a great day for science…
I fear I’m trying to get sick for some reason, because the other day I started feeling queasy in the afternoon and yesterday I woke up with a headache that lasted forever. Hence, the lack of an update until now. It’s not just me being lazy, I promise. But I’ll give this post a try now.
Waterfalls are, I’ve found, one of those pieces of nature that you can never really get enough of; you can never have seen too many of them. And I know that for a fact, because New Zealand put that theory to a serious test.
It started in the Auckland area. After we came back from Rangitoto, eager to make it up for the half-assed trip to the island, we had time for lunch and then headed back to the hotel to wait for the rental car. You can imagine our disappointment when we got a scrawny Indian guy instead
Yeah, it wasn’t a rickshaw or anything, but it turned out we had to go with him to get the car from the office. Which happened to be a huge drag because the place was at least half an hour outside of Auckland, and the idiot driver had turned on the “avoid highways” option on the GPS apparently, because we took a long and winding route to get there. And he didn’t even know it before we told him about it. Anyway.
After at least an hour more, in between stiff two-fingered typing on a keyboard, a lot of gibberish in some Indian dialect and total lack of people skills, we got a car. It was a 2006 Nissan Sunny – which immediately called for a nickname, namely Sonya, the diminutive for which sounded much more appropriate in Bulgrian than little Sonya – and it looked like the first car they’ve imported in New Zealand. It’s obvious it’s not that bad, but still, coming from Switzerland you can’t help but notice that the cars in both Australia and New Zealand are significantly older, in addition to mostly being American models that we don’t get in Europe.
First impression (after already having adjusted to the right hand-side wheel) was looking at the middle console with the unsettling feeling that something is wrong. I did that for about 20 seconds before I realised – it had a DECK! A cassette deck! Anyone who doesn’t know what that is is allowed to call me “grandma” for the rest of this post.
As you can imagine, we couldn’t simply pick up a cassette tape from any convenience store or petrol station. So we relied on radio for some time. Which was fine by me, except we didn’t get any reception most of the time. I don’t know if it was the antenna of the car, the never-ending mountains on the South Island or maybe Kiwis just don’t listen to the radio anymore, but 90% of the time it was just static.
But we only discovered that after we left Auckland. Before that, we had places to go with Sonya.
First stop: Piha. Piha is a beach side region popular amongst surfers. For non-watersport-enthusiasts like ourselves, there were the falls. So we headed down there, parked the car at the entrance of the park, as it is quite common in NZ; maybe because they have so many national parks.
From the inconspicuous parking at the end of the road – no concrete, no booths, just a small square covered in gravel and a basic toilet with a separate tap for drinkable water – we started on a nice easy hike on a very well kept path. We realised we were coming late when we began walking past wet people with towels and bathing suits headed the other way. It was far from dark yet – it starts getting dark only around 9pm – but the falls and the little pool beneath it were low below the top of the mountain and in-between thick forest so it was rather chilly down there already.
They don’t look like much from afar and, honestly, I thought that was as far as you could go. There was the sign with some information about construction, there was the semi-unobstructed view. It turned out it wasn’t and that the end of the path didn’t even end at the bottom of Kitekite.
A piece of trivia I picked up from that sign was that the name probably comes form a spelling mistake. Not one as big as the one in Covent Garden but still. Apparently, “kete kete” was a call the chief of the local Maori tribe used to signal the charge against the Pakeha (or white folks) who were currently settling in the region.
I know it says in Wikipedia that the mistake is based on “kitakita”, which supposedly described the brightness of the waters, but… that’s what it said on the sign. Call me crazy, but I’d trust the locals over Wikipedia.
Nevertheless, the falls are quite nice with the three tiers that you see from the bottom and a pool too small to swim in, but large enough to get a nice refreshing dip.
After we took in that picture we continued on the other side of the river, up some very neat wooden steps.
One thing that was really impressive were the steps and footpaths New Zealanders have built throughout their parks. There’s no heavy concrete or ugly steel bars to take away from the feeling that you’re wandering through wild forests. Only soft wood in natural colour with the occasional thin mesh on top of it to prevent slipping in wet weather. (They keep it natural but they’re not stupid; it would be bad for tourism if people start breaking body parts in the most popular spots.)
We took a short hike up the mountain and then came back a loooong slope of steps on the other side of the river to go back to the car, and we headed to our next goal – Karekare Falls. You might be thinking, what’s so great about waterfalls that you’d want to drive around from one to the next. I can’t give you an exact answer to that. All I can say is that even if you think “It’s just going to be the same, but all right, we’ll have a look just because we’re here already”, nine out of ten time, you’ll be glad you did it.
At least I was. It might just be me, or there just might be something in the water. 😉