Mayor Island is in the Bay of Plenty (Pacific Ocean), about 35 kilometres north of Mount Maunganui. It's a wildlife sanctuary, home to many native New Zealand birds. Some of the water surrounding Tuhua has been declared a marine reserve making for great diving and snorkelling with excellent fishing beyond. Permission is required to land and stay on Tuhua.
Along with 70 of our friends, we were booked into visit Tuhua in January 2017, but rough seas meant the journey would not be safe so the trip was rebooked for 35 people over Easter. That's when Cyclone Cook hit making the journey impossible once more. Determined to make it, four families booked again for December and the mermaids threw us a Calm Seas and Sunshine party. Hooray!
Early one morning, we piled into the fisher charter with a whole lot of fishermen, many of whom were not particularly impressed with our punctuality and general preparedness. Apparently 7am departure actually means 6:30am! Only fifteen minutes behind schedule, the boat departed from the marina. Once we left the Tauranga Harbour, the wind on the open sea caused the ship to bounce around a lot. Most of the children laughed with glee at the rough seas and made their way around the deck, careful to avoid the fishing lines trawling behind the boat. Many of the adults, however, found the sailing to be much less delightful. Going below to the fish scented and altogether too warm cabin, even for a moment, was a recipe for sea sickness.
Along the way, the fishermen caught some fish and the children watched with interested as the first catch was reeled in. "Ew! That's gross!" shouted one of the children, who is a vegetarian. "Yuck! I'm going to be vegetarian, too!" chimed in another. The possibility of friendly relations with the fishermen faded further.
Three hours later we arrived in Opo Bay, our home for the next four nights. We'd heard rumours of having to walk the plank on arrival and sure enough when the boat reached as close to the shore as possible, they lowered the plank. Each person descended over a ladder at the bow, then balanced along a wooden board that led to the beach. A wet start to our island adventure! The kaitiaki and her family meet us on the beach to greet us, help with the unloading of our gear, brief us, and go through biosecurity measures. As a wildlife sanctuary, we are all keen to preserve Tuhua without any invasive species, such as rodents and non-native plants.
Two families set up their tents in the campground, while the other two set up in two of the 4-person berths. Berths are basic cabins with bunk beds, concrete block walls, and sliding glass doors, maximising the southeastern view into Opo Bay. Included in the amenities are his and her flush toilets and a showers that are sometimes hot, depending on when the wood was added to the hot water heater. There is also a covered kitchen area with a fireplace and BBQ. Instead of waiting for the adults to set up, the children set off to explore. Along the beach, they discovered rope swings, beach glass, and the precious obsidian for which the island is named.
We celebrated Christmas morning on the island. Stockings were strung in the berth or between Pohutukawa trees. A BBQ feast was enjoyed by all. Holiday treat scavenger hunts were a hit with the kids.
Many of the walks around the island needed maintenance so were closed, but there were certainly enough to keep us going for our visit. The short walk from Opo Bay to Omapu Bay was our most frequent jaunt and the site of our first treasure - paper nautilus. More fragile than seashells, paper nautilus are the egg cases made by the female argonaut, a type of octopus. On one of our return trips from Omapu Bay, we found a native North Island Robin in a trap and became a successful rescue crew with help from the kaitiaki's whānau.
We divided into small groups to tackle the Tutaretare Trig Walk. For most people, the gem of this walk is the stunning view from the top where you can see tiny Mount Maunganui to the south, Lake Aroarotamahine (green) and Lake Te Paritu (black) in the sunken crater below, and nothing but shining sea to the north. But on this day, for those with eagle eyes, it was the four rurus (morepork) sitting on the branch that took the cake. When the adult walkers returned with news of the sighting, two of the children agreed it would be worth a long walk for the chance to see them, too. They were rewarded for their 40 minute walk as two of the rurus sat waiting for them.
Every island holiday needs at least one rainy day. On ours, the Devil's Staircase was calling. The advice we'd received had been mixed. The kaitiaki suggested that with support and supervision, the walk was safe for children. A day visitor from one of the sailboats moored in Opo Bay discouraged us and said that she was "hanging down a cliff with only a wire to hang onto." Upon further discussion, we learned that the sailor wasn't as experienced in tramping as our children, having not completed tramps with the same distance, elevation gain, or technical difficulty as they had on previous trips. Nevertheless, we were cautious especially given the wet conditions and our remote location.
While it wasn't raining when we left the campground, it started up again not too far into our hike. For a couple of hours, we walked along the well marked track through native bush, getting soggy in the unrelenting downpour. We frequently stopped for water, snacks, and to check our progress on the map. The family with the youngest child, who was still travelling in the backpack-style child carrier, decided to turn around because despite the appropriate gear, it was too cold and wet for the immobile baby. Eventually, we reached the sign for the start of the Devil's Staircase and the sun began to peak out from behind a cloud. Some children still shivered from the rain, while others were excited to press on. The adults discussed whether or not to continue and each family decided for themselves.
With appropriate solemnity, the children carefully climbed down the large boulders, using the chains as they needed. In some cases, it was easier for them to climb down the boulders as the chains were a better height for taller people. Past the first set of chains there was the long stainless steel ladder. From the top of the ladder looking right you could see the sea crashing against the cliff a hundred metres below. Looking left you could see the forest and lakes of the caldera. Rung by rung the children climbed down. Beyond the only ladder, there were quite a few more sets of chains amongst the boulders. We stopped for a snack at what we dubbed Obsidian Window, a natural archway with a lookout to the native bush and lakes below. The area around Obsidian window was covered in beautiful, sharp, black obsidian. The children and the adults navigated the remaining boulders and chains with ease and soon found ourselves surrounded by native forest again, just minutes away from the picnic table at Lake Aroarotamahine. We followed the same route back as the alternate route back through Ruru Pass was closed.
We expected to be joined by more campers on our second to last day on the island, but rough sea conditions meant their boat was docked. Opo Bay is quite sheltered so the big waves in the open ocean meant perfect little waves for boogie boarding, making for a day of splashing in the surf. Our very last day was spent packing up with a few spare minutes to walk to Panui Lighthouse Beacon before loading our gear back on the boat for home. Who ever heard of walking the plank to get on the boat?
Three tries and totally worth it!