The penultimate leg took us from Turangi to Greytown. It was perfect conditions for the desert road and the view of the mountain was spectacular. After negotiating a way out of Palmy (I bet there are residents that were once just driving through, and couldn’t find the road out). We stopped off at an award winning butchers on State Highway One in Woodville, to load up for the new year BBQ with ‘the best steaks in the country’. In Taihape, (the gumboot capital of the world) Science Guy purchased a Big Wednesday ticket from a large, one-eyed woman called Buddha. How could we go wrong? Stopping in Eketahuna: not recommended. There is only one cafe which seems to be straight out of 1952. As it turned out, was the chicken in my salad sandwich.
We finally arrived in Greytown mid afternoon. Science Guy had suggested, as this is likely to be our last night staying away before London, that we treat ourselves for New Years Eve in Greytown. So we arrived at The White Swan and were shown to our room: the Bombay Suite. Beautifully decorated in saris and a massive carved wooden four poster – gorgeous!
I spent the next 18 hours in that room (specifically the bathroom) due the aforementioned Ekatahuna chicken sandwich. I heard the new year rung in from the bar downstairs as I was finally drifting off to sleep, praying I would live to see daylight.
Is a long long way. Like, its most of the North Island. It takes over eight hours (with stops). Yes that long. Trapped in a car together. As a consequence, I am withdrawing payment of my licence fee. The only real use I get from it is National Radio. And could we get the stereo to find the bloody station? Could we bollocks. Static and crap reception prevented any decent listening pleasure that may have been derived from whatever Noelle McCarthy had plagiarised from publications worldwide. On the plus side, Science Guy attempted to teach me to drive a manual car via theory. This involved a 387 minute explanation of how an internal combustion engine works.
We found a room in the Sportsmans Lodge, next to the river in Turangi. After sharing a cold bottle of wine and hot pizza in the Four Fish Pub and a very long game of pool, we realised we could barely focus and had an early night.
First, a quiz: when is the most inconvenient time EVER to have your car battery unexpectedly die? a) in your driveway, b) within a few metres of a garage/friendly mechanic, c) on the open road after a pit stop or d) in the middle of a car ferry with vehicles behind you, and a very grumpy ferry driver (did I mention it was raining)?
After resolving that that small disaster with jumper leads, we were on our way up to the Cape. It took us over three hours to negotiate the tourist drivers and gravel road but we made it! Cape Reinga is a stunning headland and the sun and wind and the sound of the sea roaring below battered us, as we made our way down to the lighthouse. It is difficult not to be slightly overwhelmed by the sight of the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east merging together at the last jagged extremity of the island.
I have been researching online the significance of Te Reinga as the information at the site is ridiculously scant. The new car park and toilet block is lovely but come on DoC! Do we really want people visiting this place knowing close to nothing of its significance? Anyway, rant over: the Cape is where Te Moana-a-Rehua, the man-sea of the Maori, meets the woman-sea, Te Tai-o-Whitirea. It is a Tapu (sacred) sight. Cape Reinga is known as Te Rerenga Wairua; the leaping-place of the spirits. Here the spirits of the dead depart the island to return to Hawaiki. There is an 800 year old pohutukawa tree (Maurianuku) jutting out from the northern cliff face. Legend has it that spirits use woven flax ropes to climb down the tree and follow the roots. Maurianuku leads the spirits out to Manawatawhi, the largest of the Three Kings Islands. The Maori name for the island means, ‘last breath’ as at Manawatawhi the spirits came up for the last glimpse of their island home. Then the way is theirs alone, into the unknown.
Sunday morning was spent driving up to the Bay of Islands, stopping briefly in Kawakawa so I could go for a wee in the ‘world famous’ Hundertwasser designed loo (definitely a trip highlight).
Over a few hours in Waitangi we wandered through Busby’s House and Te Whare Runanga (the meeting house) and saw Ngatokimatawhaorua the ceremonial war canoe built by Maori volunteers, who had to be re skilled in traditional carving techniques for the 150th commemoration of the Treaty signing. I was a bit disappointed by Waitangi. There was no real depth to the information presented, no discussion about the controversy surrounding the Treaty itself and aside from one mention of Hobson and Busby’s relationship, it all seemed a bit patronising and vanilla. In focusing on the history of the Treaty grounds, rather than the events that took place within them, it felt like a missed opportunity. I understand a new visitor’s center is to be built so maybe this will allow for a richer experience.
We stayed at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, which was the first establishment to receive a liquor licence in New Zealand. The Duke is a beautiful colonial kauri building, though it is in need of a freshen up. It is mostly staffed by people from England, which gave it the air of a British seaside pub. Slightly bizarre.
The afternoon was spent cruising around the Bay of Islands, up to the Hole in the Rock at Cape Brett and then back through the channel. Unfortunately for me there was an 18 meter swell, so I spent most of the 4 hours at sea, in the low deck, praying I wouldn’t spew.
Boxing Day has been even sunnier than Christmas. After fresh croissants for breaky, Science Guy took me on a drive around the gorgeous beaches around Whangarei (and the spot where he rolled his Mum’s car 17 years ago). We drove out to Ocean Beach and made our way along Whangarei Heads, through Ngunguru, Matapouri, Sandy Bay: each spot boasting an azure sea, white sands and blooming pohutakawa against a backdrop of native bush. What must the early settlers must have thought when they landed here?
After bosenberry icecreams on the beachfront, Science Guy pulled out the trump card and we headed to Whale Bay. We parked the car and wandered about 15 minutes down a pathway through nikau palms and totara to a secluded beach with barely a wave breaking. The afternoon was spent playing in the water with the nieces and nephews. We laughed out loud as a speedboat named ’007′ (yes really) pulled up and bikini clad wenches took turns at screaming as they jumped over the side. Mr 007 had been given an 80s hits CD from Santa and he wanted everyone to know just how cool he was. What a muppet.
This Christmas will not find me pajama clad, shaking Little Brother awake at the ungodly hour of 9.30am. The stocking I made when I was 8 will not be hanging above the fireplace stuffed with roses chocs. It will not find our little whanau of four unwrapping intentionally crap gifts with the breakfast bottle of bubbly.
Instead, I will wake to the sound of Science Guy’s nieces and nephews, and their loud and crazy wonder at the disappearance of carrots (reindeer) and beer (the big guy) and the appearance of packages under the tree (the grown-ups are currently buying into the group psychosis that is Santa). I will call at least 3 different countries and say ‘Merry Christmas! I love you and miss you’. I will spend the day in the sun (fingers and toes crossed) eating, drinking, laughing. Being part of someone else’s tradition. Being here for a kiwi Christmas.
I know that this is part of me and him making new traditions, while holding tight to the old ones. That I am blessed. That distance and separation do not diminish love.
And this is my comfort and joy.
Now I know why the greenery up here is so bloody lush: it never. stops. raining. To prevent cabin fever we took a drive via Dargaville (stopping for Science Guy to perform the obligatory doughnut on Bayleys Beach) and up through the Waipoua Forest. We visited the Kai Iwi Lakes – an idyllic camping spot full of families gearing up for the festive season.
Into the heart of the forest (where Dr Death struck again). Disappointingly the lookout station at the highest point was boarded up and we could see very little from the car park. We braved the rain and wandered through the wet bush to see Tane Mahuta. And he is breathtaking. The ‘lord of the forest’ is the largest kauri still standing. He is 51 metres (169 feet) in height, and has a circumference of 13.8 metres (45 feet). There is no proof of the tree’s age, but it is estimated to be between 1250 and 2500 years old. According to Maori mythology Tane is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. Tane was the child that tore his parent’s parental embrace and once done set about clothing his mother in the forest we have here today. All living creatures of the forest are regarded as Tane’s children.
The rain was coming down harder so we kept driving stopping briefly in Opononi to see the small memorial in honour of Opo the Dolphin, who the townsfolk killed with their love, during the summer of 1965.
By the way, if anyone is looking for a holiday house, most of the bach’s on Northland’s beautiful little beaches appear to be for sale. Sign of the times I guess.