A unique & award-winning Kauri Museum for your bucket-list

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After breakfast at the delightful and historic Commercial Hotel I head out of Dargaville on SH12 to Matakohe – it’s 45ks to the award-winning Kauri Museum.

It was many years ago that I first visited this area and in the fifty years since the community started the museum it has grown in status and size. I suspect it’s unprecedented that a museum with no government funding, is run by a small rural community trust, and whose governance structure are all volunteers, becomes an acclaimed museum with international university studies centred there. The Kauri Museum ticks all those features.

Its latest award, in “The New Zealand Museum Awards” was last month (April 2013) where they won the award for ‘an outstanding innovative project that contributes to the best practice in the Museum Sector in New Zealand’.  The project was for Achieving CarboNZero Certification – Now there is no doubt – it’s a world-leading, sustainable, museum operation.

kauri museum 13The goal of becoming the world’s first carboNZero certified museum was driven by a desire for integrity and their chief executive Bet Nelley said,

“It’s our answer to long distance travellers who find the story of the demise of the kauri tree sad. And, as environmental responsibility is one of our core values, it made sense for us to get a recognised measure of our carbon emissions that we could work to reduce and offset.”
The museum also provides a base for a scientific research project into dendrochronology – a huge word that means tree-ring dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings!

Dendrochronologist Dr Jonathan Palmer (supported by Exeter University (UK) and University of Auckland) is developing an archive of ancient kauri samples to help unlock secrets from the past, and museum displays to chronicle scientific research into kauri.

Over a coffee with the three scientists (Jonathon Palmer, Gerd Helle, Alan Hogg) they tell me their research with the rings, pollen and carbon dating is proving really useful as the age of the trees give a longer time period to look at the effects of climate change especially in the southern hemisphere and which has implications for the northern hemisphere research too.

L to R. Alan, Gerd, Jonoathan
L to R. Alan, Gerd, Jonathon

They were at The Kauri Museum to discuss how best to glean the most informative climate data from buried kauri tree-rings. Dr Alan Hogg from Waikato University was helping to give a date of when the trees were growing by radiocarbon dating. The museum’s resident scientist, Dr Jonathan Palmer is looking at the ring-widths to consider past climate patterns (such as El Nino / La Nina frequency) while Dr Gerd Helle (Potsdam, Germany) is specialised at “using isotopes of oxygen and carbon to determine past temperature and moisture levels.”

The three are intending to work together on a particular time period of abrupt climate change so that the most climate information can be obtained from these amazing native New Zealand trees.

This social history museum tells the fascinating story of the kauri and local pioneering days via the use of kauri timber and kauri gum, starting when the settlers came to the area in 1862 – this museum was born 100 years later in 1962.

With exceptional displays and dedicated galleries this is a must do for your Northland bucket-list. These including a magnificent collection of antique kauri furniture, restored machinery (including NZ’s earliest tractor) a turning Steam Sawmill and fabulously, the world’s largest collection of kauri gum.

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an example of some of the old kauri furniture
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Beautiful artwork : a native kauri snail in kauri
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kauri goods for sale 🙂

I wasn’t sure what the difference between amber and kauri gum was – but can now describe it for you: amber is older, so harder, than kauri gum with amber 25 – 200+ million years old, while the gum is a baby at only 43 million years old! I also learnt that kauri timber ranges from gold and golden brown through to green, yellow, browns and blacks. Kauri is one of New Zealand’s treasures – the other is pounamu – greenstone (jade).

Most Kauri were felled in the 1800 – 1900’s for timber for houses and today owners of those old homes treasure their polished kauri floors while tourists buy souvenirs or art works made from swamp kauri or recycled wood from old buildings. Unfortunately there are only about 4% of kauri forest left and they are at risk of kauri dieback disease. The Kauri Coast is the only place to see New Zealand’s ancient trees and is a must-do while traveling the Twin Coast Highway.

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This beautiful piece recently came from ‘The Duke’ in Russell – see an earlier pieces from this Twin Coast Discovery series of blogs

My souvenir from this exceptional museum is a beautiful gift – a piece of kauri gum which lives in on top of my very old walnut writing desk. Very special and, thank you Betty.

I recommend you allow at least 1 ½ hours to browse around this fascinating place – see what Trip Advisor members say about the museum. (A hint – it’s ‘excellent’)

My Northland road-trip was in a NZ Rent A Car vehicle and I can endorse both, and this unique museum – I shall return!

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The Commercial Hotel and Blah Blah Blah!

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Before checking into The Commercial Hotel in Dargaville I grab lunch after spending time in The Woodturners Studio with NZ’s master woodturner Rick Taylor. Seems people here have a good sense of humour and I can’t resist eating at Blah Blah Blah in Victoria Street – the name alone called me in!

Dargaville sits on the banks of the Northern Wairoa River and is the largest town on the Kauri Coast and is the gateway to the Kauri Coast in Northland, New Zealand

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Ernie starts the show!

The Kumara Box and Ernie are about 10 minutes’ drive (from Dargaville) heading south on Pouto Rd and once there, for about an hour I watch the live Kumara show!  Ernie, the kumara, shares his stories and interesting facts about the history and people of the Kaipara area and this much-loved, tasty, sweet potato. (Seems there are ten varieties grown but supermarkets only want 3 of them!)

According to ‘Ernie’ the vegetable came to NZ via an American ship in 1850 where one of the crew gave three to a Māori – luckily he planted them and now they are a kiwi staple.

Kumara growing in NZ's 'kumara capital.'
Kumara growing in NZ’s ‘kumara capital.’

I enjoy a cuppa, (along with scones made with kumara) with this couple who almost fell into tourism and now thrive on their new job. They now leave it to others (family)to plant the 1½ million plants each year. The ‘train’ that takes guests around the farm was wisely not started up for just one person but I get a tour to see the farm and what I suspect is the smallest church in New Zealand on a quad bike. Note: bookings are essential to visit the Kumara Box and the vegetable has taken on a new life in my mind making shopping for them enjoyable.

Continuing south on Pouto Road I next visit Zizania Paper Products on Turkey Flat Rd where a weed (pest?) is being given a new life.

It seems the Manchurian ricegrass came into the area in either ballast water, or bricks from China which were then used to build stables – the rest as they say is history. Manchurian wild rice (Zizania latifolia) is a giant semi-aquatic grass that has smothered riverbanks, invaded pastures, and run rampant through drainage channels in parts of the North Island from Northland to the Kapiti Coast – now it’s being used for beautiful paper. “It’s the only good thing about it’ I’m told, and Zizania Paper now creates acid-free papers for artists and other lovers of fine products – using also material from red-hot pokers; flax, cabbage tree, and of course in keeping with this area, kumara. See more on their Facebook page.

paper making from an unwanted weed
paper making from an unwanted weed
View from The Pavilion
View from The Pavilion

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Alongside Zizania is The Pavilion – a one-Queen-sized bedroom, kitchen, and lounge is a  self-contained cottage that’s ideally placed for a relaxing stay in the area. A historic cricket club-house that was relocated here in 2006 and  sits nicely in the gardens with its lake – home to frogs, black swans and herons and other birds. However, my accommodation is already booked so I head back to town to the  John Logan Campbell kauri-built  Commercial Hotel, on River Road.

This is completely refurbished heritage-listed waterfront pub was built during  the 1880s, overlooking the mighty Northern Wairoa River. Peter & Pam Kelly spent some 35 years farming sheep and beef farming in the northwest of Dargaville before they took on the task of restoring this fabulous building. They’re people-people and with a love of travel they are the ideal hosts for this charming building – and the care with which it’s been restored is clear. I’m not surprised it’s being used for weddings and other gatherings!

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My room was comfortable and with the room overlooking the river it was great watching the river traffic from there and on the veranda where I had a ‘cuppa’ with my hosts as the sun went down. This is an ideal starting point a road trip on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway – the 800km circular route from Auckland that takes you around Northland, and the big sky here makes for fabulous photos too!

The (5-hour) Historic River Walk has the 1867-built Commercial as #14 on the map and says “perhaps a notorious watering hole but a historical part of the pioneer days – gory stories and a fascinating past.

detail - Commercial Hotel
detail – Commercial Hotel
Detail - Commercial Hotel
Detail – Commercial Hotel

This is my last night on my 2 week trip ‘up north’, so if you are planning to visit this fabulous part of New Zealand, I suggest you a search on ‘Northland’ in the categories to the right on this blog and find out about places that could be added to your must-see, must-do bucket-list.

The bombed - by the French - Rainbow Warrior masts are at the Dargaville Museum
The masts from the bombed – by the French – Rainbow Warrior  are at the Dargaville Museum

Many thanks to Destination Northland  for sorting out much of my trip and NZ Rent A Car  for the car. I took my TomTom GPS and was often told, when I took a side turning “Mate! Turn around wherever possible and let’s find a mean steak and cheese pie.” Perhaps you can tell I have a kiwi voice guiding me wherever I go!

My last blog (of this Northland series) will be about the award-winning Kauri Museum so come back in a day or 2!

Sunset - see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.
Sunset – see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.

The night sky, NZ’s longest drivable beach, and a kauri pen!

Warning!
Warning!

Continuing my trip around Northland, along the Twin Coast Highway, which was taken in my favourite car rental company NZ Rent A Car I leave the Hokianga and head South on SH12 to check out the night sky and the wild west coast.

I stop again at Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahutu in the daylight and it’s a popular site with a number of tour buses in the car park. The road winds its way through the forest of kauri and other natives making for pleasant driving. Heading north on the same road are many campervans and I know the travellers in them will have a great time here in the north of New Zealand.

Kauri Coast road - beautiful.
Kauri Coast road – beautiful.

I eventually turn off the main road towards Baylys Beach and the vast Ripiro Beach – the longest driveable beach in New Zealand – I don’t drive on it but take a walk instead!

This west coast is lined with spectacular beaches and petrified forests: 157 sailing ships were wrecked here which lets us know just how wild the Tasman Sea can be.

Checking in at Sunset View Lodge I have great rural views and can even hear the sound of the waves.

???????????????????????????????The Lodge has free Wi-Fi J and an honesty box in the bar – I’m sure some people would be happy with that but also suspect many travellers choose a B&B so they can spend time with their hosts – however with the honestly box I guess the choice is yours! With only 3 suites, this is a relaxed place to stay and the heated pool is an added bonus  . . .  especially after horse-riding as Pam, the owner, operates a horse trekking business but I’m not doing that but will be gazing skywards tonight. (Note – The Baylys Beach Horse Treks run from 25th October to 25th April.)

Rural areas in Northland, because of the lack of light and pollution, are good places to check out the night sky – and Astronomy Adventures is the place to start. (You can even stay here too)

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The charity side of this observatory – the ‘Skydome Observers Group’ – is made up of locals and I get to join them at their Valentine’s Day meeting where the focus is on Venus – after the goddess of love. In the lounge of our host, I learn Venus is the hottest planet and so not surprisingly has the most volcanoes of any planets. Named after the Roman Goddess of beauty and love, Venus, and other planets or stars, were not visible to us because of the clouds. If you like the night sky, this would be a great place to visit – as is Tekapo just south of Christchurch, and the Carter Observatory in Wellington.

 

 

???????????????????????????????Next morning I head for Dargaville and stop at the Kauri Coast Info Centre and Woodturners Studio and Gallery on Murdoch Street – just north of Dargaville town-ship.

I meet award-winning carver Rick Taylor (and his wife, Sue, who runs the info centre) and I hear that Rick harvests ancient Kauri from swamp land on the Kauri Coast and creates it into the stunning pieces that surround me in the gallery – no wonder he wins awards!???????????????????????????????

They show me how the kauri is recovered from local swamplands and then the Kauri paper (and soap) is handmade from the kauri shavings. Along with beautiful kauri lidded treasure boxes and bowls rick also turns pens on his lathe. I watch as he goes through the many processes and at the end of the demonstration, when its’ been sanded and oiled many times, he gives me the pen! I was (am!) thrilled with it, and have had many, many comments on my fabulous reminder of his skill and the fabulous kauri coast. The kauri he uses has been taken from an area of swamp which has been carbon-dated as 3860 years at which means my pen is about that old too!

My father was a hobby wood-turner and I know he too would have loved visiting this gallery. Rick is appalled that NZ kauri is sent to China to be made into products for the New Zealand market. “Make sure your things are  made in New Zealand’ he said. “Get something that’s good stuff, cheap, not cheap stuff cheap!”

He’s a perfectionist and his work reflects that and he suggests to travellers that NZ-made kauri products are the perfect gift for yourself or friends. Wood-turning for over 30 years Rick is arguably NZ’s leading artist and has travelled to many parts of the world to demonstrate his skills and offers individual tuition. (email him for details –  kauri4u AT xtra.co.nz)

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Tonight is the last of my two-week Northland road-trip and I cannot believe that so many spend so little time in the area – even with my 14 nights up here I have had to miss out on much the area has to offer.

But now, onto my last bed for this wonderful trip – at the heritage-listed The Commercial Hotel, Dargaville.

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Great choice of accommodation in Northland – NZ’s ‘winterless north’

Thought it was time to make some recommendations about accommodation in Northland:  I stayed on a boat, in backpackers, hotels, B&B, a farm stay, villas, cottage, and a camping ground. I’m sure there is bound to be one of these that will suit you perfectly – or maybe you would like to mix and match just like I did.

Thank you to Destination Northland (@northland_nz)for helping me arrange this trip and the diverse accommodation – and to Rental Cars NZ (@rentalcarnz) for the use of a car. Where I know them, I have included Facebook pages and Twitter names – these links are to mine.

Perched on the edge of the renowned Tutukaka Marina, the Oceans Resort Hotel is part of a European inspired resort destination, with a myriad of water-based activities on their doorstep, and with fabulous beaches and a lush subtropical climate you will feel as though you have escaped to paradise (www.oceansresorthotel.co.nz) with its fabulous views and breakfast. (@oceansresort)

Copthorne Hotel & Resort Bay of Islands (www.copthornebayofislands.co.nz) is located within the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, next to a scenic golf course and the historic Treaty House. Set in park-like grounds, this resort is situated beside the Bay of Isalnd harbour and enjoys views of the Bay of Islands. Service excellent. (@mchnz)

The Rock overnight cruise and bed! (www.rocktheboat.co.nz)  . . . plus target shooting, fishing, night kayaking, snorkeling, island walks and generally exploring the Bay of Islands.  BBQ dinner and breakfast included.  All the cabins are upstairs with windows to take in the incredible views and balcony access to two quiet observation sun-decks. Unbelievably downstairs has everything from a log fire, bar, piano, pool table, lounge, dining area and a large fishing and kayaking ramp.(@rocktheboatnz). Loved it!

Pickled Parrot Backpackers, www.pickledparrot.co.nz Greys Lane (just beyond Scenic Hotel) at the southern end of Paihia. This small friendly hostel has a well-appointed kitchen and is set in quiet subtropical gardens – and with breakfast included. All the rooms have New Zealand bird names – I was in the Aussie over-stayer one – rosella.

Waitangi Holiday Park, a very basic campsite for tents and campervans, some cottages too. http://www.waitangiholidaypark.co.nz/ Close to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – it’s really ideal for Waitangi Day celebrations and I loved being in the centre of the activity – celebrations that I believe all Kiwi’s should attend at least once in their lifetime!

In Kerikeri you’ll love the Wharepuke Subtropical Gardens and eco-cottages.http://www.accommodation-bay-of-islands.co.nz/

I stayed in one of the stylish self-catering, eco cottages which are nestled in 2 hectares of award-winning subtropical gardens. The accommodation also showcases original fine art prints and paintings by resident artist Mark Graver and has wonderful food at FOOD at Wharepuke.

On the recommendation of Bare Kiwi (see his video on this link)  I also stayed at Kahoe Farms Hostel (www.kahoefarms.co.nz) a fabulous homestay with an Italian flavour – a must do if you want to see real kiwi-life and a great base for many local activities such as hiking, canoeing, sailing etc.  This is a beautiful Kauri farmhouse with charming rooms of polished wood and country furnishings. The hosts give a warm welcome here at one of New Zealand’s leading farm hostels and backpackers. Footballers (what we call soccer) are especially welcome to join a game with locals and other travellers.

Doubtless Bay Villas www.doubtlessbayvillas.co.nz are beautiful as you can see by the photos and their website – and the views are fabulous too. These stylish, spacious and luxurious villa-style apartments are just a short walk down to the lovely sand beaches where I had a swim and joined locals in sampling some of the mussels clinging to the rocks.

Mainstreet Lodge in Kaitaia www.mainstreetlodge.co.nz is a very clean and friendly backpacker’s lodge in the centre of town – a good jumping of place for tours “up to the cape” or beginning walking the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa walkway.  With new ownership this old YHA is being refurbished to an even higher standard and has a variety of rooms to choose from.

The Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga, www.copthornehokianga.co.nz (@MCHNZ) is right on the water’s edge of the Hokianga Harbour, this beautiful old style kauri villa (and newer wings) has stunning views of the massive sand dunes across the bay.

I also recommend you check into the Endless Summer Lodge, on Foreshore Rd, Ahipara. www.endlesssummer.co.nz . This is a beautiful, clean, friendly 1880 wooden villa is at the end of 90-Mile Beach. Shipwreck Bay is sheltered from the prevailing wind and is home to one of the best surfing breaks in NZ – and one of the world’s best left-hand surf break – and is also a safe beach for swimming. A great country kitchen and herb garden for all to use too.

Sunset View Lodge, Baylys Beach. www.sunsetviewlodge.co.nz  is where you can hear the sound of the waves from the Lodge and is near Ripiro Beach – the longest driveable beach in New Zealand. Free Wi-Fi here and an honesty box in the bar!

The Commercial Hotel, Dargaville www.commercialhotel.co.nz is a completely refurbished (2011) heritage-listed waterfront pub that was built in the 1880s and overlooks the mighty Northern Wairoa River. Sitting, with a coffee, on the balcony watching the sand barge returning home after its days’ work, birds, and watching the sun-set, was a treat. I can well recommend this place when you are exploring the Twin Highways of Northland.