North of the Bay of Islands everything gets a lot quieter. There are few towns of any consequence along the coast and it is the peace and slow pace that attract visitors to an array of glorious beaches and the lovely Whangaroa Harbour. The first stop north of Kerikeri is tiny Matauri Bay, where a hilltop memorial commemorates the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, which now lies off the coast. A sealed but winding back road continues north, offering fabulous sea views and passing gorgeous headlands and beaches before delivering you to Whangaroa Harbour, one of the most beautiful in Northland, and an excellent place to go sailing or kayaking. Further north is the idyllic surfing and fishing hideaway of Taupo Bay.
Continuing north brings you to the huge bite out of the coast called Doubtless Bay, which had two celebrated discoverers: Kupe, said to have first set foot on Aotearoa in Taipa; and Cook, who sailed past in 1769 and pronounced it “doubtless, a bay”. Bounded on the west and north by the sheltering Karikari Peninsula, the bay offers safe boating and is popular with Kiwi vacationers. In January you can barely move here and you’ll struggle to find accommodation, but the shoulder seasons can be surprisingly quiet, and outside December, January and February room prices drop considerably. Most of the bay’s facilities cluster along the southern shore of the peninsula in a string of beachside settlements – Coopers Beach, Cable Bay and Taipa Bay – running west from picturesque Mangonui.Read More
West of Matauri Bay, the virtually landlocked and sheltered Whangaroa Harbour is the perfect antidote to Bay of Islands’ commercialism. The scenery, albeit on a smaller scale, is easily a match for its southern cousin and, despite the limited facilities, you can still get out on a cruise or to join the big-game fishers. Narrow inlets forge between cliffs and steep hills, most notably the two bald volcanic plugs, St Paul and St Peter, which rise behind the harbour’s two settlements, WHANGAROA on the south side, and TOTARA NORTH opposite.
Whangaroa Harbour was among the first areas in New Zealand to be visited by European pioneers, most famously those aboard the Boyd, which called here in 1809 to load kauri spars for shipping to Britain. A couple of days after its arrival, all 66 crew were killed and the ship burned by local Maori in retribution for the crew’s mistreatment of Tara, a high-born Maori sailor who had apparently transgressed the ship’s rules. A British whaler avenged the incident by burning the entire Maori village, sparking off a series of skirmishes that spread over the north for five years. Later the vast stands of kauri were hacked down and milled, some at Totara North. Even if you’re just passing through, it’s worth driving the 4km along the northern shore of the harbour to Totara North, passing the remains of this historic community’s last sawmills, which ceased operation a few years back.
French nuclear testing in the Pacific
French nuclear testing in the Pacific
Claiming that nuclear testing was completely safe, the French government for decades conducted tests on the tiny Pacific atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, a comfortable 15,000km from Paris, but only 4000km northeast of New Zealand.
In 1966 France turned its back on the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, which outlawed atmospheric testing, and relocated Pacific islanders away from their ancestral villages to make way for a barrage of tests over the next eight years. The French authorities claimed that “Not a single particle of radioactive fallout will ever reach an inhabited island” – and yet radiation was routinely detected as far away as Samoa, Fiji and even New Zealand. Increasingly antagonistic public opinion forced the French to conduct their tests underground in deep shafts, where another 200 detonations took place, threatening the geological stability of these fragile coral atolls.
In 1985, Greenpeace coordinated a New Zealand-based protest flotilla, headed by its flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, but before the fleet could set sail from Auckland, the French secret service sabotaged the Rainbow Warrior, detonating two bombs below the waterline. As rescuers recovered the body of Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira, two French secret service agents posing as tourists were arrested. Flatly denying all knowledge at first, the French government was finally forced to admit to what then Prime Minister David Lange described as “a sordid act of international state-backed terrorism”. The two captured agents were sentenced to ten years in jail, but France used all its international muscle to have them serve their sentences on a French Pacific island; they both served less than two years before being honoured and returning to France.
In 1995, to worldwide opprobrium, France announced a further series of tests. Greenpeace duly dispatched Rainbow Warrior II, which was impounded by the French navy on the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the original Rainbow Warrior. In early 1996 the French finally agreed to stop nuclear testing in the Pacific.