I spent the night in Whitianga, the name of which comes from "Te Whitianga a Kupe," or "The Crossing Place of Kupe." Kupe was a legendary Polynesian explorer and seafarer who landed in the region in 950 AD. Original Maori place names were common in many of the areas I visited in New Zealand. In the morning, I drove south along the coast of the Bay of Plenty, heading toward Whakatane. I stopped first when I saw a sign for "Bird Gardens," hoping to see native birdlife, but found that it was a pretty garden with many domestic birds that came charging at you, hopeful for food. When various species of goose and duck were not chasing me down, I was able to enjoy a pleasant walk through the gardens. It felt like a warm autumn day at home, and the sunlight accentuated the many-colored leaves.
After leaving the Bird Gardens, I continued driving along the coast until I reached Mount Maunganui, also known as "Mauao," which means "caught by the light of day." I walked to the top of the 232-meter-high peak of the old volcano. The track wound through sheep pasture with views of the ocean. From one point, my height gave me a unique perspective on the sea below me, and I could visibly see that the world is round. As with many places in New Zealand, the combination of ocean, farmland, and forests filled with tree ferns was uniquely beautiful.
After lunch in Mount Maunganui at the base of Mauao, I continued my drive toward Whakatane, stopping along the road by a little inlet to add Purple Swamphen, Paradise Shelduck, Black Swan, Pied Stilt, Grey Teal, White-faced Heron, and even Canada Goose (I really did feel like I was at home!) to my list. Whakatane, the sunniest city in New Zealand, sits across the water from an active volcano, White Island.
I had some views of the island as I left in the morning for a long 323 kilometer drive along the East Cape on the Pacific Coast Highway from Opotiki to Gisborne. With stupendous views, my drive was filled with rainbows, kingfishers, and pleasant isolation. The road wound at times past the coolly colored blue-green ocean, at times through farmland, and at times through both, occasionally climbing winding hills and dropping back down along the coast. The hills were speckled with sheep. Empty Heineken bottles and fearless Myna birds littered the roadside, the latter scattering at the last minute as I drove by. The kingfishers were perched at intervals on the telephone wires and flew quickly away before I could get close. The hills were perfect and green. At times, I drove with my windows down to smell the ocean, and the whole place was both oddly desolate and amazingly idyllic.