The Northland region of New Zealand is full of legends and stories significant to Kiwi culture. Professor Kimberly O’Leary got to recently travel in the Northland region. She embraced the land – rich with beauty and meaning. Despite the possible difficulty to traverse the mountainous, hilly New Zealand terrain, she and her husband forged ahead to conquer Mount Manaia, located in the Whangerai Heads, like so many other travelers do each year.
The hike, consisting of over 1000 stairs, makes a short but steep trail through New Zealand bush, ferns, mangrove trees, and blooming flowers. The mountain is the remnants of a volcano that erupted 20 million years ago. At it’s top are five vertical stones that can be seen for miles around. Legend says that Chief Manaia, the Chief’s children, a rival Chief, and the rival Chief’s wife all turned to stone by the God of Thunder.
The hard climb was well worth the hardship and time. Professor O’Leary and her husband were rewarded at the top with stunning view of the bays and the surrounding area. Travelers also enjoy the walk through the tropical bush, replete with birdsong and the magnificent blooms of the Pahutakawa trees, often called by locals as the New Zealand Christmas tree due to its bedazzling red foliage during the holiday season.
The nearby Bay of Islands is considered the birthplace of New Zealand; home to Maori origin legends and the first Maori encounters with western sailors. Professor O’Leary ventured out by boat, traveling past the black rocks, nesting sea birds, beautiful islands, several pods of dolphins, and the famous Motu Kokako, also known as the “Hole in the Rock.” Motu Kokako represents strength through adversity after all it had endured to withstand the sea. The Urupukapuka Island water is so clear and translucent that you can see all the way to the bottom. All are treated to another stunning view of the bay, blooming pahutakawa, and jacaranda trees after a climb to the top.
The trip to Cape Reinga had a breathtaking view of 90 mile beach. The Cape is at the upper most tip of New Zealand, and the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The Maori believe this spot is the place where souls leap into the afterlife. Along the Tasman Sea coast, unspoiled beach extends for dozens of miles. It is said that the beach is 90 nautical miles from the Cape to Dargaville, hence the name “90-mile beach.” You get to ride a special “dune bus” about 40 miles on the sand of this beach.
Also in the region is the largest known living kauri tree. Kauri trees existed along with dinosaurs, formerly growing all over the world. The only living kauri trees are now in New Zealand, with sub-species growing in Australia. These trees are known for growing very large – second only to giant redwoods. They were harvested aggressively in the 19th century, and are now protected. The largest living tree is called Tane Mahuta, which is a Maori name meaning “Lord of the Forest.”
Tane Mahuta is estimated to be between 1500 and 2000 years old. Ancient fossilized remains of these trees produces amber, and speculators came from all over the world in the 19th century to mine for amber. Tane Mahuta grows in the Waipoua forest – a protected forest of native trees and plants and a special place.
Finding herself in the midst of ferns, birds, mountain tracks, dolphins, volcanic formations, the meeting of oceans, unspoiled beach and towering ancient trees, Professor Kimberly O’Leary found her own center, clear on the other side of the world.