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Whangarei falls

Whangarei falls: The first test for our sterilized shoes

Three weeks after we boarded the plane that got us to New Zealand we decide it’s time to put our shoes to the test and take a hike to the Whangarei falls. Not for nothing did we spent hours in line at Auckland Airport – among other criminals – who had something to declare. In our case what we had to declare were our hiking boots. No food or plants are allowed to enter New Zealand to keep the country free from all kinds of diseases. Even little bits of pieces of grass are subjected to that rule and because we might have had them, we have to stand inline.

That line takes hours. Before us is a Chinese couple who has a suitcase full of nice smelling dishes. With big, watery eyes they watch how the border control takes out dish after dish and throws it away in a big bin. We worry a little as well, but our punishment is soft. We just have to dance with our hiking boots in a bath filled with a sterilizing chemical.

Hatea River Walk

But that’s all history. Those sterile shoes are allowed to go for a walk today. The area in and around Whangarei is dotted with shorter and longer hikes. We decide to combine three of them starting at the parking lot just outside of the city center. From here on we follow the Hatea River, which flows into the city. With the help of a long board walk we cross a swamp filled with young plants. When we’re finished crisscrossing trees covered with white fungi we end up in a suburb, where a Dutch flag waves in the wind in the garden of one of the houses. The name tag on the mailbox – Klaas Buik- shows the flag is no coincidence.

Before we know it we’re out of the suburb again and are walking in a lovely shade, shaped by the high trees of Parikhaka Forest with the river still as our companion and a group of runners overtaking us. Almost all women. On our right we see a whole variety of ferns: New Zealand’s national symbol. Some of them are shaded by trees of a type we haven’t seen before. On our left the river has got a hard time to find its way around the rocks.

Elizabeth Track

Further on, when we’ve exchanged the Hatea River Walk temporarily for the Elizabeth Track we stand eye in eye with a bright, blue bird with a very red head. We stare at him. Fascinated. But the moment we want to get our photo camera out of our backpack the bird runs of and shoots into the scrubs. We go down on our hands and knees. Our camera ready to shoot to bird, but wherever we look: no Pukeko anymore. When we get up, disappointed about missing this chance – we see the bird again. Standing behind us; watching this two crazy people crawling over the floor on their hands and knees. Wondering where they are looking for.

We follow the track over a field where the grass on both sides reaches our waist and over a little toy bridge that got the appropriate name Swing Bridge. From here on the track climbs slowly higher and higher to our goal of the day: Whangarei Falls. Long before we can see the waterfall crashing down we can hear it. Curious and in love as we are with waterfalls we speed up. When we turn another corner we see them: 26,5 meters high. The widest one a meter of four. When we get closer by we feel the haze falling down on our faces. As a cooling shower. About an hour we just stand and stare. Then we turn around and make our way back to our hostel, where a cold beer is awaiting us. Five hours after we’ve left to give our hiking boots their first big test. Many will follow.

I wrote this story in 2008; now I'm finally taking the time to translate it into English.
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