A glimpse of Northland

Just like Southland is the region at the very south of New Zealand, Northland is the region at the very north of the country. Surprised? I didn’t think so.

It’s one of the regions I explored the least – I spent only 5 days there with Vivien, at the end of our trip round the North Island. Considering the long drives that included, it was not nearly enough, especially with the shortened winter days. Nevertheless, we saw some wonders, and that’s what I want to show you right now.

Well, I won’t show you the first one, because I didn’t take any picture of it.

Our first stop was Waipu, known for its glowworm cave and its Fairy terns (Sternula nereis). That’s possibly the rarest bird in New Zealand, with a tiny population heavily monitored but restricted to about 40 birds, including about 10 pairs. Yep, that’s less than the Black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae). The nuance is that it’s “only” a subspecies, there are other Fairy tern populations in Australia and New Caledonia… but still, it would be a terrible loss if the New Zealand birds were to be wiped out. As often, the threats are multiple but well identified: disturbances during nesting (if you see a fence while you’re exploring dunes or beach, please stop!), loss of habitat, introduced predators…

As a side note, one single Australian cat was suspected of bringing breeding to a halt in a 40-pair colony. Not only did it kill chicks by itself, but its presence and the looming threat of further attacks pushed the whole colony to stop caring about eggs and chicks, effectively nullifying a whole breeding season. My point is: keep you cats inside. Please! In New Zealand or elsewhere, they are a threat. Thank you.

We were lucky to meet a local birder who took us to the Kaipara Harbour to look for them. We were outside breeding period, but after a bit of walking through water, mud and sand, we found two terns among other resting birds, on a beautifully warm and sunny day. Thank you, Darren!

In the evening, we had a lot of fun exploring the glowworm caves, with the following picture as a result. I claim no merit for the idea, I saw something similar much better executed on Instagram.
Here’s how we did it. The problem was that, in that dark cave, I needed a long exposure to see anything of the glowworms. On the other hand, a long exposure of Vivien would have completely burnt her out, resulting in just a big white spot. So I planned a long exposure and asked her to blow the match after only a handful of seconds. Easy enough, except that it made her move a little bit, resulting in a blurred picture in the end.

What I should have done (but I realized it only after) was make two exposure, a short one for Vivien holding the match (no blowing, she could do that after the picture was taken), and a longer one for the glowworms. I could have then combined them easily in post-production. Alas, I didn’t think about that option while we were there, and thus remained stuck with this lesser image. Next time maybe? 😉

A constellation of glowworms

North we went on the morrow, to Waipoua and its famous kauri forest. Kauri trees are giant of the forests in the north of New Zealand, with a straight, wide trunk shooting up vertically and a somewhat “diminutive” canopy. Well, “were” would have maybe made for a better verb, because most of them have been cut down to make houses or ship masts (among other usages). Only a few remain, but now they are dying of “kauri dieback”, a disease for which no cure is known, spread by soil unknowingly transported by visitors  from forest to forest. Thus, many trails have been closed, and where access is allowed, one needs to spray disinfectant on their soles and stick to the boardwalks exclusively.

Kauri are sacred to the Maori, who consider them the great protectors of the forest – Te Whakaruruhau. In the mythology, Tāne, son of Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother), separated his parents to create light and life – his legs were giant kauri trees. The two largest kauri (in volume) are Tāne Mahuta (God of the Forest, named after Tāne) and Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest), and they are both found in the Waipoua Forest. The first one is 51-meters tall, with a total volume of 516 m³. The second one has the largest girth, about 16 meters! They are thought to be between 1500 and 3000 years old… Needless to say, one feels small when looking at them.

Tāne Mahuta

Te Matua Ngahere

Further north, on the way to Cape Reinga, we stopped at the Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes, a spectacle not unlike what can be seen in the north of Denmark!

Unfortunately, we reached Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of mainland New Zealand, after dark, and didn’t see anything. We drove down the peninsula and spent the night in Karikari.

The north-eastern part of Northland is rich with history, as it’s where the first European settlers established themselves, in places like Russel. It’s also there that the Waitangi Treaty, between the Bristish and the Maori, was signed (not that the British abided by it, but it’s still an important milestone). Again, we didn’t see much of it, but we enjoyed the somewhat warmer weather, and the relaxed off-season vibes. Then we drove back to Auckland.

Kelp gull (Larus dominicanus)

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BIRD INVENTORY

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