Liz Light celebrates the sun's warmth with a walk in Atiu Creek Regional Park.
Little lambs, golden kowhai, grass growing emerald, brisk wind, bright sunshine and rainbows; this, finally, is spring, welcome after a long, wet winter.
Atiu Creek Regional Park, on the Kaipara Harbour west of Wellsford, is heavenly in spring when lambs - hundreds of them - gambol on green paddocks that gently roll down to the edge of the Oruawharo River. The 843ha farm park is a painterly combination of paddocks, valleys of native bush and neat patches of exotic forest of eucalyptus, pine, cedar, and poplars. There are 12km of gravel farm roads and about the same distance of grass tracks. The park is so big that there is plenty of room for everyone, horse riders and mountain bikers are welcome, too.
I love the lambs and, with 2500 ewes, most of whom have twins, there are thousands of them. Atiu is a working farm and there's a chance that city-slickers may observe farm activities such as docking or mustering.
Atiu Creek Regional Park opened to the public in April 2008. It's a great gift (its value is about $10 million) to the people of New Zealand from Jackie and Pierre Chatelanat, who only retain the homestead.
British-born Pierre bought the property in 1952, when he was an idealistic 24-year-old who fell in love with its beautiful location. As it was all scrub back then, Pierre lived in a caravan while he set about clearing patches of scrub for pasture, eventually creating the fine farm it is today.
We walk the Oruawharo River track, a four-hour walk circling near the periphery of the property, starting high on the hill and wending west along a ridge then down to the river.
There are neat green paddocks on one side and second-growth bush on the other with manuka flowering and occasional bursts of bright white clematis. Tui sing, fantails do acrobatics on fence wires and skylarks trill high in the sky.
We picnic at Solomon's Bay, on the river. Shags perch on tall mangrove trees, kingfishers dart across the bay in a flash of blue and we listen to the urgent burble of baby waves pushed ashore by the west wind. There are dabchicks, and though we don't see them, brown kiwi in this area.
A side loop to Kauri Pt is through native bush, though it's not kauri that are the stars this season but kowhai - hundreds of them in full golden bloom, a boon for kereru who gobble the flowers until they can't eat any more.
Kereru had a hard winter in Northland; the summer drought meant many of their usual winter fruits didn't set and they went hungry.
It's a puff uphill to the carpark and once there I turn and look over the farm and across to the Kaipara shining in the low sun. It's been a sweet spring day and I give thanks to Jackie and Pierre Chatelanat for their great gift.
IF YOU GO
* Atiu Creek Regional Park is 113km from Auckland and it takes one and a half hours to drive there. Turn left into the Port Albert Rd, at the beginning of Wellsford, and follow signs. Take food and water.
* The park welcomes horse riders and mountain bikers. It's great for runners and orienteering as the paths are in excellent condition.
* Walks are outlined in a brochure available at the car park.