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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: -35.2821, 174.091After regaining my land legs after the harrowing SkyTower walk DH made me do, we left Auckland with the idea of visiting DH's cousin Ian and his charming wife, Margaret, and then heading further north to start our quest for the quintessential Kiwi experience- trying all of the common and weird Kiwi sports (new ones are invented on an almost monthly basis), viewing a professional rugby game (the NZ All-Blacks are the current world champs as evidenced by the copious numbers of T-Shirts bearing the slogan, "there's no crying in rugby....except in Australia"😉, and discovering that stereotypical field filled with sheep as far as the eye can see, to go along with the many rocks and trees DH is very keen to see. To satisfy the insatiable demand of her fan club, DH wrestles the pen out of my hand for her version of the story:
Our relationship will be put to the test, yet again. This small camper van, just the two of us, one month, the steering wheel is on the other side, they drive on the other side, it is a standard and neither Vic or I can remember the last time we drove a stick, with,
as you guessed it, the gear shift also on the other side. Throw in my dyslexia which kicks in every time I even hold a map and we could be in for quite the experience- yikes! I have tracked down my cousin Ian despite antiquated address information (I was here 24 years ago and he lives in the exact same house....he just jacked it up on wheels and moved it to a completely different township) and an incorrect email ID. I am so excited to see him- we can't get to his house fast enough. Wonderful visit, stories of my Dads childhood, life at "161" (think Coronation Street), stories of my Grandfather "Right Hook" Harper- loved them all (it seems extraordinarily colourful to be connected to someone named Peg Leg Billy who used to lean against the wall of the pub when a fight broke out, and whack people with his wooden leg/weapon)!!!!! (editors note: we also confirmed that DH is indeed of Irish stock and not the English lass she thought she was). Ian and Margaret also treated us to lunch and dinner (given the pricing we are experiencing in NZ, that generosity was roughly equivalent to buying someone
a car in Toronto) and, after freedom camping in their driveway for the night, they pointed us in the right direction for our trip to the north of the North Island.
Out on the open road first thing next day. Vic does a great job of driving, tough, winding roads, narrow bridges and manages to keep us on the left. This is the some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen, so lush, green hills dotted with sheep and cattle, ragged coastline, stunning beaches and it is all endless! " Forewarned is forearmed"- the saying goes something like that. Vic knows about my issues with the map(s) and yet I find myself sitting here under a pile of maps and pamphlets (they are pamphlet happy here), trying to "fake it". I am going to put the question out there- does anyone know how to become a qualified "map reader"? Is there a course, a google site I should look at, download something? Someone please, I am at a loss (editors note: not using our old Philippines map in NZ would be a start!!). We stock up on groceries in the hopes of saving some money and the fact
that, believe it or not, one can get tired of restaurant food when one has it for eight months.
Our first campsite was in Tutukaka (most of the NZ towns have Maori names which are proving difficult to remember)- it was here that Vic was hoping to get a dive in near the Poor Knights Island which is supposed to be the site of one of the best subtropical dives in the world. Because of sinister 3 metre swells, two of the dive shops aren't taking people out and the third, which has a larger boat, is taking people on the one hour journey out but is virtually guaranteeing seasickness and it's going to lesser, but sheltered dive sites. They also advised us that the weather would only stay the same or worsen in the near term. Now, I think I am starting to sound like a weenie here, nervous diver, can't handle those tiny confined crawl spaces in the bottom of caves, paralyzing fear on a SkyTower walk, and now I'm desperately trying to think of a graceful way out of this joy, BUT, the Vicmiester proposes that we may want to hold off until the winds die down and
maybe continue north and hit this dive spot on the way back. (editors note: our new friends, Sukhia and Alex will probably stop speaking to us now since nothing short of a Category 4 Typhoon would keep them from diving but visions of the princess hanging over the rail of a dive boat for over an hour was clearly unacceptable- that's the kind of romantic guy I am)
Back to the campsite- I liked it. We are surrounded on two sides by emerald green hills and beside a beautiful pasture with about 50 or more cows milling about. Cows....cows it turns out, are the roosters of NZ!! The competitive mooing started at about 4am- thank goodness the clocks went back an hour for daylight savings so we seemed to get an extra hour sleep???
The next day has us lost- go figure but you can't fake running out of land. Now the woman in the tourist booth said "everyone misses that road, even a GPS will send you that way". I did get a sense that she picked up on the flared nostrils Vic was sporting and was trying to help a 'sister' out. Women will do that you know
(editors note: to be fair we didn't have the greatest map but following the directions of my flustered navigator put us squarely on the end of a short pier admiring a large body of water that was between us and where we wanted to go- this resulted in immediate termination with cause, and a GPS unit was hired on although, eager to continue playing a role, DH now dutifully repeats everything the GPS girl says?).
Russell, not Paihia, for lunch it is. Two coffees and two bowls of excellent seafood chowder which set us back $36 NZ which is roughly $30 CDN- Vic wanted me to put that in the blog. Did I mention though that it was excellent soup and it did come with a large slice of homemade bread? After finishing our Gucci soup, putting us back on track did involve taking a car ferry- is that a new benchmark in getting lost- we have to take to the seas to get back on the right road?? We have decided to call it a day at 1:30 in the afternoon (don't ask). We found a nice holiday park close to the Bay Of Islands where we had hoped
to take sailing lessons but once again the weather gods weren't playing nice- we are told the winds are just too strong right now for "beginners". Oh well, they have WiFi here at the campsite so blogging, photo editing, laundry are all taken care of, and Vic wants cereal for dinner- good times.....
We were batting zero for two in Kiwi sports on the eastern coast so we crossed to the other side of the island in search of better weather only to be informed that the surfing lessons we had hoped to sign up for at Ahipara would not be happening due to downpours. Knowing when we were beat, we spun the camper van around and started to head south in an effort to outrun the storm activity. Along the way we came across Captain Pete and his trusty boat in Opononi who, for a small fee, would ferry us over to a number of large sand dunes for some serious sandboarding action. The only guidance provided was to "close your mouth" on the way down and it was a lot of work climbing sand dunes for a relatively quick ride down but, given the recent string of canceled activities,
we jumped at this fun in the dirt.
Taking advise from one of the local Tourist Information girls, we then headed for the "must-see" Waipoua Forest or more specifically, the giant kauri trees Tane Mahuta, Te Matua Ngahere and Yakas. Te Matua Ngahere or Lord Of The Forest, in particular, is a notable kauri tree that is the largest in New Zealand by girth and the second largest by volume, and is estimated to be from 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Vic mumbles "nice tree" and we were off again.
Since we were now heading south back through Auckland we did the rel'ees thing again with Ian and Margaret and even had a chance to share a glass of wine with second cousins Jess and Sean (and his wife Catherine), and third cousins Ian and Liam, and even Fudge, the dog. On the other side of Auckland we dropped in to see another cousin, Robert, and his wife, June, the dancing machine. Another round of great/funny stories, both old and new, made it really tough to leave. These visits made me see how much I probably missed in not having extended family nearby while growing up. Great people that I'll
never really get a chance to know as well as I would like to.
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