An Extinct Possibility
Day 9 - Pakiri Beach to Mangawhai Heads
The day started with a he-man act.
High tide was at nine, so we figured there was no need to rush up the beach. Why fight an incoming tide when we could say goodbye to an outgoing one.
The only problem with this plan was that we had the Pakiri Stream to cross.
As we double-bagged all our gear and stripped down to our gruts on its banks we watched a surfer cruise across the narrow but deep-looking stream. The flow was too gentle to practice the river crossing technique Whiona had recently learned on a course with Outdoor Training NZ so she struck out solo. Not only did she live to tell the tale, but she marked my eventual exit point with her walking pole.
We were never going to drown, but chest high (on Whiona) water is always a bit nerve racking - my nerves were largely caused by a lack of faith in my ability to secure my camera gear against a slip and a dip. I’ve dropped an expensive lens in a river before...as it sank, my brain scrambled to find Control Z. It’s a fear I’ve lived with ever since.
With Whiona watching on I got to play the tall guy. Holding her pack on my shoulders I worked my way slowly through and across the stream.
I obviously made it out in one piece because I'm writing this. I even made it back and forth two more times. Once for my pack and once for my Lancewood walking pole.
It took us ages to dry ourselves down and dress. Sand in the socks can be a foot killer on a long distance hike, so we take great care to wipe off every grain each time we remove and redo our shoes after a swim. It takes ages...which is why we aren't having as many swims as we'd like. Yes, trampers don’t usually care about such things - but hiking is different, and this crossing was at the start of the day.
By the time we started up the beach it was raining again. Whiona waited patiently as I re-rebagged my camera. Her patience stretched almost imperceptibly as I also dispensed with my hiking kilt and donned my ultralight rain kilt.
The beach walk is 12ks of smooth sand-walking that we figured would be a really good practice for Ninety Mile Beach. Our plan to take advantage of a lowering tide worked well and I got to use my sand gators for the first time. Whiona, who had been wearing hers since we left Auckland, waited patiently as I figured out how my ones worked.
By the time we left the beach at the Tara Iti Golf Resort, we felt like we'd achieved something.
From a distance Tara Iti just looks like a classic New Zealand beach...sand, pine trees and a dribbling little stream that melts into the sand. As we neared, things started to look a little different. A huge plastic-covered building towered above the trees as a large and seriously expensive looking luxury helicopter swept in from Auckland.
We had arrived at New Zealand’s most exclusive golf course - apparently it’s the sixth most awesome golf course in the world. Which...unless they play golf in some far off distant galaxy, makes it the sixth most fabutastic golf course in the entire freakin universe!
John Key has played there. President Obama has squeezed in a round.
It’s such an amazing golf course that its designer said this:
“A golf course is a living thing that organically changes over time. That’s exactly what you want to happen, too.”
TOM DOAK, Renaissance Golf Design
I’ve been moved to comment too:
“It’s clearly an iconic place that revels in its singularity.”
ANTHONY BEHRENS, Jealous hiker
Tara Iti is also the name of something that isn’t quite as rare...there’s only one Tara Iti Golf Course, but there are about 40 Tara Iti (New Zealand Fairy Tern) birds left alive. I guess this means that they’re not as special as the golf course, and disappointingly, people are trying to make these lovely little birds less special by protecting them and encouraging them to breed.
They used to live around the Mangawhai/Pakiri area and beyond in good numbers, but as with most of New Zealand’s indigenous and native birds, they are having huge difficulties living anywhere. But the news isn’t all bad - because Tara Iti the bird are well on their way to becoming more unique than Tara Iti the golf course.
Alright...I’ll stop being sarcastic.
When I started writing this post there were officially 40 Tara Iti left in the universe. Since then their numbers have been revised down to 36. A 10 percent drop.
The golf course raises money with a yearly charity golf tournament with the goal of saving Tara Iti. At the time of writing, the trust that the money goes to has nearly half a million dollars in its coffers. The golf course uses the money to service a network of predator traps, but the golf course has annoyed local conservationists with some of its other activities. Activities that include the obstruction of a stream that is a food source for the fairy tern, and the continuing pressure to develop the area for housing. Golf courses need lots of fresh water - guess where that’s coming from. The local council has given the golf course authority to remove nearly 1000 cubic metres of water from the stream a day. In winter this probably isn’t too much of a problem. Global warming is making Northland’s summers drier every year - 1000 cubic metres is a lot in a drought.
Gee. Have I got it in for rich people and their golf obsession.
Well ordinary locals and innocent hikers...it’s your turn
Dogs are banned along the beach to protect bird breeding areas, but we could see no sign of dog owners giving a stuff.
One woman wandered along a “protected” area with a couple of beautiful bull terriers. They chased each other and gulls in the surf. At one stage one of them disappeared into the dunes - the very place the birds once called home.
Well...ahem...Te Araroa hikers aren’t much better:
The local Department of Conservation “have observed issues in the past where Te Araroa trail walkers arrive at Waipu or Ruakaka high tide and find they cannot cross the estuary, or they arrive at Te Arai at high tide and end up walking along the beach high tide mark which disturbs the roosting birds."
I think "disturb" is a nice way of saying "frightens the parents and potentially stands on the chicks that look rather like stones and shells."
But even DoC have been struggling to find Tara Iti worthwhile. Not so long ago there was a national recovery programme for the birds. Then DoC decided that they wouldn’t bother any more. Apparently they’ve changed their mind again and the programme is being reinstated.
It looks like an almost complete lack of coordinated and consistent protection from government agencies - national and regional - is about to consign yet another natural treasure to history - memorialised as a place where billionaires and presidents like to play.
Prediction: The Tara Iti, the New Zealand Ferry Tern is doomed.
The feelings of golfers, tourists, trail hikers like us, housing developers and dogs are clearly much more important than the last 36 Tara Iti in the universe.
I hope I'm wrong.
As we left the beach we walked past a wedding party being photographed in the golf course’s pine forest. The groom lifted his new bride with a proud smile as her maids and his best men grinned on. The photographer zoomed in for the money shot. As we walked past we couldn’t help but think that their future looked bright.
The walk into Mangawhai was on a long, hot gravel road...and I suddenly realised that I had really sunburnt legs. Note to self: My rain kilt doesn't have the same shading properties as my actual kilt.
We got into Mangawhai just after 5pm, had a mince pie each then ploughed on to the Campground at Mangawhai Heads.
We detest walking on busy roads, but the two Mangawhais have a brilliant shared path between them - this is what trail walking should be like. The locals liked it too. We passed several cyclists and walkers as the sun cooled off.
Because this had been our biggest and hottest day we splashed out on a bottle of Lindauer at the 4 Square and set ourselves up on a beachfront tentsite next to the only other muscle-powered tourist we could see amongst the sea of campervans and cars.
Astrid from the Netherlands was in the last two weeks of a cycle tour of New Zealand. She and her Dutch bike had travelled 6000ks around Aotearoa and she'd just suffered her first puncture.
We sat together talking and laughing as it fell dark. She politely sipped on red wine from a plastic bottle - we inhaled our bubbly before stumbling off to bed.
Note: It should be mentioned that aside from all the doom and gloom I've just all over you there is a bunch of hardworking local volunteers who are doing all they can to save this delicate little critter from extinction. Check out their website and Facebook page here:
Some good background stories
21/7/2019 11:05:29 am
Fantastic article Anthony. You nailed it.
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Anthony Behrens likes to go on long walks with Fiona Burleigh...and write about it.
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