Mister E had a desire to visit the Northern tip of New Zealand, so we headed North in a small Toyota Yaris. I'm not too sure why we failed to upgrade the rental car as we subsequently did on South Island, but it felt somewhat Bohemian setting out with the bootspace fully laden in such a small vehicle especially when we bounced over every pothole, crawled uphill and proceeded gingerly over gravel roads. There was even one point where we were stopped by a Police Officer who suggested we were going a little slowly (80kph when the speed limit was 100kph) but it all added to the sense of adventure.
We had decided in advance to proceed in a leisurely fashion towards Cape Reinga. Even so we still moved on every night, except in Pahia. It did detract from a sense of leisure and relaxation as we repeatedly packed and unpacked but then this was no beach vacation.
Our first stop was Puhoi, a small village settled by Catholics from what is now the Czech Republic, beautifully preserved and worth the coffee stop and exploration which we paid it.
We proceeded onwards exploring Leigh and the empty sands on the wonderful beach at Pakiri after lunching in style overlooking a pond of water lilies at the Brick Bay Sculpture Park. There the menu proved that New Zealand can serve up superb salad even if there were days when we struggled to find an alternative option to fish and chips or pies.
We discovered that a harbour in New Zealand is very much a natural sheltered entity with no added protection from a breakwater or other construction. We also learnt that when people say the country's weather is changeable, they mean by the hour and not by the day; we quickly got into the hang of layering up and then shedding.
Our first night on the road was spent at a little bed and breakfast in Warkworth. So many places in New Zealand have English namesakes but bear very little resemblance to them. During our trip we found bed and breakfast to be of an extremely high standard although we were curious as to the reason for electric blankets on the beds; perhaps they have been unused over the winter and need airing, we mused. One cold night later and we understood!
Our room had a patio overlooking lemon trees laden with fruit. Nearby there were daffodils and other spring bulbs in flower. Roses were blooming, together with lavender and a magnolia tree; strawberry plants were fruiting whilst fuschia plants hung heavy with clusters of red bells. On the verges there were masses of white altar lilies and red hot pokers, growing completely wild. Cherry blossom, however, was only just beginning to flourish. With the sun passing through the Northern sky too, the brain begins to ache trying to understand how all of this can be "normal."
Meeting up with the eldest and his girlfriend again the next day we took in a Farmers' Market (quite a musical affair with bands and singers competing to entertain) and then later a coastal walk over stacked limestone formations or "pancake rocks."
We all stayed that night near Waipu settled by Scottish immigrants with an interesting history outlined on boards in the square as well as in a local museum. One of the advantages of jetlag however was that we were up early to catch a magnificent sunrise over Bream Bay (so called because Captain Cook caught caught fish of that species there).
That set us up well for a magnificent day which we spent together in and around Whangarei, enjoying the waterfall, sculptures around the harbour, and the scenery at Whangarei Heads. We parted mid afternoon when they returned to Auckland for work and Mister E and I headed ever Northwards.
We stopped at Kawakawa. Everyone raves about the Hundertwasser toilets there but forgets to tell you that the main street too shows the hallmarks of his modern art. He was the pioneer of what he called transautomatism, where art focuses on the fantasy of the viewer rather than of the artist. The town and toilets were certainly colourful.
We finished our day at Paihia where even the oyster catchers failed to shy away from us, just like a kingfisher earlier in the day. Ultimately we checked into another excellent Bed and Breakfast, Morepork Riverside Lodge approximately 8 km out of the town.
Fortunately we had made the excellent decision to stay there 2 nights (we ought to have made it 3) and the owners, Paul and Barbara, who went out of their way to make us welcome, recommended and organised for us a day out on the Bay of Islands. It meant an early start the next day (easy with jetlag) and, if you ever visit, then getting out onto the water is a must.
We saw fur seals and dolphins which entertained with their playful antics especially racing the boat when it finally sped away, leaping higher and higher in their effort to keep up. I managed to film a fantail which was almost mobbing me and then we spotted our first Tui when exploring Russell where we disembarked; poor Russell, once decried as the hell hole of the South Pacific, is now a genteel and charming settlement across the bay from Paihia.
You might think that day had turned into a bit of a wildlife safari and it ended in the same way because, when we returned to Morepork Riverside, Paul was about to feed his alpacas and chickens, so yours truly could not resist going to help.
To be continued.............