Then back up the twisty road and on to Piha Beach. These spectacular rock formations rise up out of the black sand, with waves crashing against them and throwing up sprays of foam. The larger one is called Lion Rock, and the eye of faith can just make out a lion’s head facing out to the Tasman Sea. We walked there and back again, admiring the rescue people practicing their craft. The rip tide here is famously ferocious and will kill you as soon as look at you, so we dabbled no more than our toes in the water.
Above the beach is a variety of houses, all seeming to fit into the hillside in their different styles. This is a typical “bach,” a NZ tradition of small owner-built houses, most using whatever materials are to hand. This one featured a cast iron bath tub on the little deck, which Warren surmised was used for sitting in with a glass of wine while watching the sun set over the beach.
The rain forest was next on the agenda. To my great delight, we traveled the Hillary Trail through the forest, the very track the mountaineer trod! Not as strenuous as Everest, but still… (His wife’s family had a bach here and he spent lots of time trekking through Waitakere in training for his Everest climb. There‘s now a four-day trail you can backpack if you‘re so inclined.) Silver ferns, NZ‘s national symbol; rata trees that start out as vines, strangle their hosts and become trees that live for centuries; and of course, kauri trees.
The equivalent of our redwoods, kauri are trees that can live for 1500 years or more. They grow beautifully straight and tall and can be 12 meters around and 30 meters high - in other words, absolutely enormous. Of course, the Europeans saw them as a great source of timber and cut most of them down in the 19th century. (It’s said that Nelson’s ship at Trafalgar had a mast higher than any other because it came from a kauri tree.) The rain forest we were walking through did have kauri, but they were young and small in this second-growth woods. The kauri here had been long since been cut down and floated down the stream for shipping to Europe.
But by the side of the road on our way back, just a few steps down, we came upon a viewing platform and could gasp in amazement at a mature kauri. This photo barely gives you a glimpse. The wind was blowing hard, and other trees were swaying, but the kauri stood still, silent and tall.