An almost unique natural feature, and site of an attempt to dam the wild and scenic Whanganui River

THIS post follows on from my earlier one about the Whanganui River. In this post, I zero in on one rather unusual and especially scenic feature of the river, a cut-off meander or ‘oxbow’ that is still preserved as an obvious dried-up river channel, with a skyline walk around the tops that surround it.

Image for post
Image for post
The Ātene Oxbow and skyline track, from NZ Topo Map, screenshot taken 22 October 2020, map ultimately sourced from LINZ, Crown Copyright Reserved. Scale box added for this post. North at top.

This remarkable feature is at a spot called Ātene, a missionary-bestowed name which is Maori for Athens. It is inhabited by Māori who farm the flat bottomland around the central hill and live at a small settlement called Ātene Pā. …


A region steeped in history: Part two of a two-part post

Image for post
Image for post
The southern and central parts of the Waikato region. The Waikato River is shown in blue for this post. Taumarunui is at bottom centre. The names of Lake Taupō, Waikawau Beach, Hērangi Range, Waikato River, Waitomo Caves, Maungatautari, Maungakawa, Hobbiton, Ngāruawāhia and Waingaro Hot Springs have all been added for this post. Background imagery ©2020 Landsat/Copernicus, Data SIO, NOAA, U. S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, TerraMetrics. Background map data ©2020 Google. North at top.

SOUTH of Pirongia there’s the Waitomo Caves, which are inhabited by creatures called glow-worms. There’s a European glow-worm, the larval stage of a firefly which glows yellowish-green. But the New Zealand glow worms (with relatives in Australia) are quite different and in some ways a lot weirder, like most things in New Zealand.

New Zealand glow-worms are carnivorous gnat larvae that live in caves in huge numbers, like bats. They hang sticky threads around themselves, lighting up the threads with a blue glow. Small creatures attracted by the light get tangled in the threads and devoured.

It’s a pretty supernatural experience to be in a glow-worm cave. Here’s an amazing 360-degree interactive video: don’t just watch it passively — scroll from side to side! …


What else can I say about this wonderful region?

IN the last two posts I’ve dwelt on the history of Taranaki, and the region’s famous mountain. But what of its other attractions? In this post I’ll write about those, and then finish by taking my leave on the Forgotten World Highway.

To start with, as you travel north out of Whanganui and cross the invisible frontier into the Taranaki region, the very first place you come to is the town of Waitotara and, to the left, Wai-inu Beach. This is worth remembering because not only is it an attractive beach but also, it’s an approved freedom camping area.

Image for post
Image for post

Pātea

The first major town that you get to in Taranaki is Pātea. Two posts back I mentioned the invasion of Taranaki, in the 1860s, by a military unit from Whanganui called the Patea Field Force. Well, these days, it’s fair to say that Pātea is more famous for the Pātea Maori Club’s catchy song called Poi E, released on vinyl in 1984 and the first Māori-language song to get to the top of the hit parade in New Zealand. …


Beautiful but deadly, Mount Taranaki is reasonably easy to get up. The hard part is getting down.

I’VE climbed Mount Taranaki twice, via the Northern Summit Route which starts near New Plymouth and via the Southern Summit Route which starts at Dawson Falls.

Image for post
Image for post
Mount Taranaki summit and Fanthams Peak plus Dawson Falls and East Egmont. Topographical map sourced from topomap.co.nz (17 September 2020), information from Land Information New Zealand, Crown Copyright Reserved

You get to Dawson Falls from the town of Stratford. And from there also to East Egmont and the East Ridge, where there’s a club skifield called the Manganui Ski Area. It’s beside the Manganui Gorge, which is sometimes filled in with snow from avalanches: a sobering sight.


‘When death itself is dead, I shall be alive’

THE next region I came to in my tour around the lower North Island was Taranaki, also known as the Taranaki or, very colloqually, the Naki.

Everyone in the region lives under the beautiful 2,518 metre (8,261 feet) volcano that gives the region its name, Mount Taranaki: a name that’s thought to mean ‘shining peak’, a reference to the way the mountain looks during the cooler months of the year.

Image for post
Image for post
Mount Taranaki. Whites Aviation Ltd., 1969: Photographs. Ref: WA-68672-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22305211

The area around Mount Taranaki is mostly green farmland, apart from a national park which takes in the volcano in an almost circular fashion, plus a couple of eroded volcanic peaks to its northwest, Pouakai and Kaitake. …


A region steeped in history: Part one of a two-part post

Image for post
Image for post
The southern and central parts of the Waikato region. The Waikato River is shown in blue for this post. Taumarunui is at bottom centre. The names of Lake Taupō, Waikawau Beach, Hērangi Range, Waikato River, Waitomo Caves, Maungatautari, Maungakawa, Hobbiton, Ngāruawāhia and Waingaro Hot Springs have all been added for this post. Background imagery ©2020 Landsat/Copernicus, Data SIO, NOAA, U. S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, TerraMetrics. Background map data ©2020 Google. North at top.

WHEN I got to the end of the Forgotten World Highway, I was in Taumarunui. The Whanganui River — the Rhine of New Zealand — is still quite sizable even that far inland, more than 200 km by the run of the river.

This post is about my journey into and through the lands of another river: the Waikato, which flows out of Lake Taupō and down to the sea through the Waikato plains. The Waikato River flows through eight hydroelectric dams. It’s a much more domesticated river than the Whanganui!

My starting point for this journey was Taumarunui, on the Whanganui River. Taumarunui is an old Māori settlement that evolved into a town in more recent times, first as a terminus for Whanganui riverboats. …


A landscape less often travelled

THE landscape north of Wellington, on the west side, is often overlooked by tourists and travellers. But it shouldn’t be.

Image for post
Image for post
The south-western part of the North Island of New Zealand, north of Wellington. Abbreviations are PN for the city of Palmerston North, and T for Mount Tongariro, N for Mount Ngāuruhoe and R for Mount Ruapehu. Green shows forested areas. North at top.

Check out this scene, for instance. Is it the Bastei, outside Dresden?


Rediscovering the ‘Rhine of New Zealand’

A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, New Zealand’s rivers were highways. Back then, the Whanganui River was called the Rhine of New Zealand. Goods were shipped up and down it as far as Taumarunui, 230 kilometres (140 miles) inland from the port of Whanganui.

That was one reason the river was compared to the Rhine. The other reason was the scenery.

Image for post
Image for post
The “Drop Scene” Wanganui River, 1900–1910, Whanganui, by Frederick George Radcliffe, Brown & Stewart. No known copyright restrictions. Via the online collection of Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand, Wellington (O.031110, Purchased 2007)

Like the Manawatu and the Rangitikei, the Whanganui cuts through gorges. Except that in the case of the Whanganui, it’s pretty much gorges all the way.

The stereo image, above, shows a bend in the upper reaches of the river called Aratira or ‘path of the travelling party’ by Māori. Colonials called it the Drop Scene, because they thought it looked like a stage backdrop for an opera. …


Twenty-five years ago, New Zealanders were demanding that some of their monuments be torn down. What can we learn from that experience?

ALONG with Covid, this has been the year in which Confederate Civil War monuments have fallen in America. And monuments to Christopher Columbus, and to colonialists like Cecil Rhodes and the slaver Edward Colston in Britain as well.

Well, a battle over the monuments is nothing new to New Zealand, either: a country stuffed with memorials to the now-vanished British Empire and its heroes (a comprehensive guide can be found here).

What’s been happening just lately in America and Britain has been going on for a long time in New Zealand. …


I visit New Zealand’s capital city: a cultured and beautiful town assaulted endlessly by nature’s forces at ‘the head of Māui’s fish’

Image for post
Image for post
Wellington and its surroundings. Imagery ©2020 TerraMetrics, map data ©2020 Google. North at top.

IN my last post, I mentioned that some people say New Zealand’s the ‘Saudi Arabia of Wind’. The country extends across thirteen degrees of latitude from north to south: most of it south of the fortieth parallel where the Southern Hemisphere’s ‘roaring forties’ officially begin.

The roaring forties whip through wherever there is a gap in the mountains. One of these gaps is Te Āpiti, the Manawatū Gorge, the site of all those wind farms.

But the biggest gap is Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. …

About

Mary Jane Walker

A Maverick Traveller: Kiwi adventurer, author of twelve books of travel stories, a blog, and a website (a-maverick.com).

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store