NZ Day 2: Kayaking Around Limestone Island

We flew in to Whangarei (actually pronounced more like “Phongaray” due to some interesting linguistic shenanigans) because there are a lot of different outdoorsy things to do in only a short distance. The closest among these is kayaking, and for that we made a reservation with Mark (pronounced more like “Mahk” due some cool kiwi accent shenanigans) of Pacific Coast Kayaks.

We were both pretty tired, but game for an adventure. Plus it would be a nice break from tinkering with bicycle parts.

He picked us up right from the hotel with all the gear we needed, and it was only a few minutes to the beach. Along the way we chatted about ourselves. “You’re a musician of some kind, aren’t you?” he asked. “I like to think I am,” I said. “Great! I thought so,” he said. “There’s something we’ll see during the tour that I think you’ll like a lot.” Intriguing!

Colorful beaches!

First find of the day!

The beach itself was quite colorful, and littered with many shells that would have been snatched up by curious kids in an instant if they’d been spotted back home in the Bay Area.

While we got ready, a few birds checked us out. They lingered next to a dead crab that washed ashore near the kayaks, until one bird in particular landed and scared the rest of them away, by ducking its head down, fluffing its wings up, and charging straight across the ground at the other birds, screaming “RAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!”

I could easily imagine a flightless dinosaur doing the same thing, millions of years ago. Coincidence?

Eventually, we were all ready to go. Look at those goofy excited grins!

Our first ride on the kayaks went directly across the bay towards the east side of Limestone Island to check out the ruins of the old lime refinery. The sea was a bit choppy, and we were too nervous to get our cameras out, but we made it to the shore without incident and went strolling around.

There were some handy signs around to tell us about the restoration efforts, and the geography of the island. They also warned us about the animal traps:

As a human you’d have to work pretty hard to injure yourself in that, but stoats can just walk right in…

The ruins were gorgeous, even on this overcast day. It was interesting to see the different styles of architecture and engineering used during the two phases of the refinery’s history, in the 1850’s and the 1880’s. Everything made of wood is of course long gone, but with some imagination you could almost see how the structures came together. Mark pointed out a barracks, and a cement foundation that was all that remained of a dance hall.

In fact, Mark knew a great deal about the island, from the Māori occupation all the way up to the present-day ecological efforts, and he told it to us while we hiked around taking pictures. In the above photo he’s explaining how that mound of dirt was deliberately shoved in front of the furnace opening to try and keep tourists from wandering inside and getting hit by loose masonry. Not a complete success, given how the plastic fence is bent out of shape. Hah!

One of the main attractions was the giant multi-chamber processing tank, built right next to a hillside with unrefined chunks of limestone practically spilling out of it. We looked at those for a while and then wandered inside, where we discovered the surprise that Mark told me about: Inside the high walls of the tank, you can play the exposed rebar like a xylophone!

So, of course, we jammed for a while.

The next attraction was even more amazing, I think. We left Limestone Island and set out on a hard route into the wind, east and then south, and eventually reached the entrance to a mangrove forest. The tide was rushing inward, and from there we mostly set our oars aside, and rode on the current all the way through the forest, from east to west. I took out my phone and made a time-lapse recording of part of the journey.

It was amazing. And as we went deeper into the forest, the weird mixing of ocean and sky intensified, until it was like drifting around inside an optical illusion.

You know that scene in Spirited Away where the main character travels across a water-drowned landscape while piano music plays? This was that, in real life.

You know that scene in Spirited Away where the main character travels across a water-drowned landscape while piano music plays? This was that, in real life.

I would have taken the kayak deeper, but the scrape and crunch of branches turned me away.

Eventually we emerged into an area about the size of a football field where the water was about 10 inches deep, clear, and dotted with tiny emerging mangrove shrubs. It was there I encountered my first piece of rare New Zealand litter (and compared to the Bay Area, it really is rare) – a large glass bottle, about the size of a wine bottle, filled with sand and plant debris. I reached down and pried it out, rinsed it a few times, and stowed it inside the kayak for recycling.

Just keeping things tidy for the next guy…

Our next stop was back on Limestone Island, for lunch. Mark made us some very tasty sandwiches. We also met the resident groundskeeper, and I spotted one of the ten zillion cicadas hiding in the foliage.

What the sheep won't eat, the tractor shaves down!

From there we went on, circling the rest of the island.

We checked out some cool rock formations …

We made it to Limestone island!

The island beach was a massive heap of colorful mussel shells.

… and landed at another beach so we could check out the remains of the foreman’s residence.

When all the walls were plastered and the windows were intact, it must have been quite lovely. Now instead it looks mysterious and gloomy. It makes me imagine that there’s some unsolved murder haunting the place, or a buried treasure somewhere on the island with half-destroyed clues still visible on the crumbling mantelpieces or sneakily encoded in the geometry of the rooms!

The inspiration for the halls or Erebor, no doubt.

The basement was especially spooky. And, the inspiration for the halls or Erebor, no doubt.

This car is a "Carry 4WD". Here's Kerry next to it!

Kerry also found a “Carry” car. Cute!

Kayaking victory!

After that, we headed for the mainland, and the spot where we launched. Then we spent the rest of the day lounging around in the pool, napping, and eating more food, trying to shake off the rest of the jet lag and prepare for our first bicycle ride.


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