New Zealand part four: North Island part two, Saturday December 21st 2019 – Friday 10th January 2020

We took the night bus from Wellington back up to Auckland where we were collected by our friend Graz, after making time for some breakfast gelato! We were somewhat overwhelmed by the variety of vegan options available, and were very restrained to only have two scoops each. We stopped off at One Tree Hill to stretch our legs and enjoy the views out over the bays around Auckland before the journey up to Northland.

 

After an afternoon nap to make up for having little sleep on the night bus, we walked into the town to see Maungatoro’s annual christmas parade. It was weird.

We finished the evening off with a lovely visit to a nearby estuary (with bizarrely warm water!), a delicious dinner and rather too much Polish vodka, before falling into a deep sleep in our blessedly comfy room. After weeks of sleeping in the back of a car, in dorm rooms or on the bus, it was a welcome relief!

Over the next few days we were shown around the area, firstly visiting the lovely local surf beach, which had a beautiful clifftop walk and chilly 14º water. We braved it for all of about two minutes!

We had some lovely meals out and also saw some excellent live local reggae. Even the city has beautiful views and lovely mangrove walks.

Christmas eve saw us prepping nut roast, mince pies and sausage rolls, to a backdrop of carols and wine.

We opted to start christmas day with a swim, since that is not usually an option at home! At 7:30am we set off to the beautiful nearby beach and braved the chilly water (Maeve proudly wearing her new xmas kiwi hat!) After a refreshing dip we got changed under the christmassy Pohutukawa tree which is covered in crimson flowers during December, then it was back home for buck’s fizz and presents.

We were very generously invited to spend christmas day with some of Wol’s extended family. It was lovely spending the day with so many people, but very surreal. We ate dinner outside trying to hide from the sun, and not the usual roast, because it was too hot! Then Jay made himself very popular by creating an impromptu bar and dishing out cocktails, so everyone drank themselves into a stupor before we spent the afternoon in the pool!

We spent the night at Wol’s sister’s house where Jay, to his ecstatic delight, has his first and much anticipated contact with a Giant Weta! These insects are enormous and look like prehistoric grasshoppers, which they kind of are. Although they can bite, this one was more concerned with having a good explore. It made Jay’s christmas.

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The following morning we dropped our friends at Auckland airport so they could start their summer holiday, and took a scenic drive back to Northland to look after their lovely home and indifferent but endearing cats. It was the first time we’d really had our own place in a long time, and we spent much of it staying in our PJs, doing jigsaws and catching up on christmas specials. We also took up a couple of jobs around the place. Most notably, sorting an exciting psychotherapy and psychology library, and bringing some additional order to the most extensive collection of Magic The Gathering cards either of us had ever seen. One of  our greatest joys was when Maeve finally finished sorting through them after more than 30 hours surrounded by the cards, and we took an entire car load of newly emptied boxes to the tip at Dargaville!

We made the most of having a large kitchen with hobs and ovens to cook things that you just can’t cook in a hostel microwave, or on a single camping gas stove. We made a sumptuous christmas roast dinner, had our first go at aloo parathas, and drank wine pretty much every day. It felt like a proper restful break from the demands of the constant stream of decision making which travelling involves.

Despite our general lethargy, Jay got back into running, managing at least 5km every day, and we had some exciting trips out in our loaned cars (one of which was electric, woohoo!). Maeve also spent some time with a local midwife to learn more about midwifery in New Zealand. Independent midwifery is well established here, and far more integrated into the wider health system than in the UK. Maternity care is all fully funded (except, weirdly, anomaly scans, which are only partly paid for), including independent midwifery. Thus families can opt to have continuity of carer without having to pay for it. Midwives are also able to follow their clients into hospital, to provide labour and birth care in a high-risk setting if required. The experience has definitely given Maeve things to think about in terms of future work options.

We made lots of trips were to the local surf beach. Few of New Zealand’s beaches are truly safe for swimming, and this one had the added reassurance of lifeguards, although they never felt needed. On New Years Eve we headed down there to arrive just before midnight. Huddled under a blanket against the icy winds that blasted in directly from the open Pacific ocean, we drank prosecco and marveled at the incredible night sky. It was pitch black and the stars blazed overhead. The Milky Way was glorious, and other smaller distant galaxies were visible as hazy patches of lighter sky against the rich depth of the unbroken infinite darkness between. We saw shooting stars, and then at midnight the sky was lit by flashes from fireworks we couldn’t see as they were behind the cliffs we sheltered under. Suddenly a huge and powerful searchlight glared from the nearby lifeguard hut, out into the black breakers rolling in from the ocean. The air which had been broken only by the wind and waves moments before was full of howling laughter, and people began pouring from the surf lifesaving hut where they had apparently been having a party. They flew into the surf lit by the immense torch-light, and as they frolicked in the breakers we noticed that they were all naked. The beach was full of folks who’d gone there for New Year, but the surf lifeguards were oblivious, and having a great time. It was a hilarious start to 2020.

Although we’d tried to complete the cliff walk at the surf beach a couple of times, the beach section is only safe at low tide and we’d repeatedly managed to get there at the wrong time. We were very excited when we did finally manage it though, and enjoyed the birds, the rocks, and the native plant-life on the 7km hike around the beach and cliffs.

On one particularly sunny afternoon we headed to Piroa Falls, a beautiful spot amid native New Zealand bush where people head to swim in the river. Unfortunately on that day swimming was not advised due to contamination in the water, however after a precipitous hike up the sheer sides of the gorge to the top of the falls, Maeve couldn’t resist getting in to the natural infinity pool from which the cascade poured. It was FREEZING! Luckily, thanks to some careful hygiene on the way back, she managed not to pick up any bugs from the water.

We made full use of the cars at our disposal and took an overnight trip to the most Northerly point of New Zealand, a magical place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea: Cape Reinga. As with everywhere else in NZ, the drive took significantly longer than either we, or google, expected, so when we finally got to the tip of the peninsula we headed straight to a nearby campsite for the night. The site at Spirit Bay was gorgeous, and after we’d made our bed in the back of the car, we headed to the beach. The surf there was rough and dragging, with waves crossing and the tides strong. We didn’t stay long but had a thorough soaking. Jay went for a run along the beach after, and on the way back, saw some folks who had been fishing from the beach a couple of hundred metres away  wrestling with a 4ft shark in the shallows. We didn’t go back in the water after that.

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The next morning we set off to Cape Reinga. For the Māori it is a deeply spiritual place, where the souls of the dead depart this world for the next. It was easy to see why this place was so sacred as it had an awesome atmosphere and we spent some time sat in quietude just watching the sea. Where the Ocean and Sea meet a line between them is formed and amidst this at some points the water almost boiled in the conflicting currents. During particularly strong weather huge whirlpools are formed here and the two bodies of water clash in immense spouts and cataracts.

A little down the coast we scaled the Te Paki sand dunes where people bring surf and body boards to slide down their precipitous faces. Unfortunately the one we’d bought was too small for either of us, even Jay, and when we launched ourselves from the tops of the slopes we’d slide slowly forward a few feet, before grinding to an embarrassing, almost vertical halt. It was still fun though, and just exploring the exposed dunes near the Northern tip of 90-mile beach (which is only 55 miles long, despite it’s name) and their strange shapes scoured by the coastal winds, was a joy in itself.

When we left there we headed to Ahipara at the south end of 90-mile beach and paddled in the Tasman which was surprisingly warm. But the sky was becoming ominous and so we left to make sure we’d get back before night-fall. As it happened, that wasn’t so far away. Although sunset here is about 8:40pm at this time of year, as we drove South the skies got darker and darker, and by 4pm we had our headlights on and the streetlights were flickering to life. There was no rain, and the sky had a weird, apocalyptic orange hue in the angry churning clouds ahead. We both had an inkling of what had caused this unusual phenomena, and it was confirmed when we checked online. Although we were over 2000km from the Australian bushfires ravaging the country at the moment, the smoke plume was so large it had blotted out the sun here in NZ, turned the sky orange, and dropped the temperature by about 5ºC. It was eerie and sobering, although we weren’t as freaked out as some Auckland residents who actually called the police because they were so worried about the sky. The police were, of course, not amused and took to social media to remind people to leave their emergency number free for, well, emergencies.

On one adventurous day, we took the electric car out for a long drive. It was exciting as the journey became part of the adventure, planning our stops for fast-charging and what we could do while the car was plugged in. We stopped first at Whangarei for a quick top-up and then carried on to our second location, where we were going to stop for a while to fill the battery. Kawakawa was an odd and fascinating place, which had a big sign up proudly declaring it was now ‘Meth Free’, although after spending some time there we weren’t sure if that was 100% true. We mosied around the many second hand and charity shops, and experienced the strange public toilets! They were designed and built by an Austrian-born artist, Hundertwasser, who came to call NZ his home, and reminded us both of the Rock Garden in Chandigarh.

After half an hour or so the car was full so we headed on to Waitangi to visit the Treaty Grounds, where NZ’s founding document was signed. We learnt loads about the fascinating history of this country, thanks to our enthusiastic tour guide Barb. We were surprised to learn that the various wars fought between the Māori and British were AFTER the treaty was signed, rather than the treaty being a peace-making document. Most astonishingly, the language in the treaty, initially drafted in English, was intentionally changed by the missionary translators, who knew the Māori leaders wouldn’t sign it, and thus there are two conflicting versions of the document in use. The Māori text gives governership to the British Crown, whereas the English states that the Queen will have Sovereignty. The English version recognises Māori rights to “properties”, but the Māori version refers to taonga, a much broader concept, meaning “treasures” and referring to far more than just physical property. Maeve was paticularly fascinated to discover that the Māori word for land is the same as for placenta (see picture for further info). After our tour, we were treated to a traditional performance of dance, fighting maneuvers and singing. There was some impressive use of poi as percussive instruments!

At Paihia beach a few kilometres away we had a quick dip in the Bay of Islands before heading back to Kawakawa for chips. We were really glad we had as when we got to Whangerei for our last necessary top-up, each charging point we went to was occupied by folks filling their batteries from almost empty. Great news for the electrification of the car network, bad news for us! We ended up retracing our steps and topping up near the beautiful cascade of Whangerei falls, finally getting back home for dinner after 9pm. But it had been an incredible day, where we’d learned so much about the history of NZ, particularly of colonialism in the country, and it had been worth every second.

On our last day before collecting our friends from the airport after their holiday, we hung out at the beach, made chilli and just enjoyed the space we’d been grateful to have all to ourselves for the last two weeks. We set off after 10:30pm and found that the entire landscape was bathed in a glorious silver light from the full moon that had risen overhead. It was beautiful, and a lovely way to end this chapter of our ongoing adventure in New Zealand.

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