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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 1

Status on 22 April 2016

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Introduction

We flew with Cathay Pacific again because they fly through Hong Kong rather than the USA and avoids suffering the senseless abuse from American immigration. They were also one of the cheapest of the major carriers and we had been impressed with them a couple of years ago when flew with them on a dual coded flight where the first part was on one of their own Boeing 777-200s and the second part was also on an Air New Zealand 777-200. It was interesting to contrast the two airlines and unfortunately Cathay Pacific came out better in almost every respect at that time. The Cathay Pacific aircraft were much newer and had a much better audio video system, the service was better as were the meals.

This time we were slightly disappointed as the service and meals seemed to have been cut back to the bare minimum with plastic cutlery and not even salt and pepper anymore. Over night service disappeared and I did not even see a single pass through the cabin offering water on the Hong Kong to Auckland leg. The food nothing exciting and one could easily get tired of rice and noodles - in compensation the helpings of wine were huge and drinkable even if the choice was very limited to red or white. Hand luggage was limited to 7 kgs but a slim laptop bag was allowed in addition and they seemed very flexible with weight in the additional items. The positives was that the 777-300 seemed to have an even better Video system and the seats reclined better than on the 777-200. We had a sensible connection time in Hong Kong allowing a couple of spare hours by the time we had cleared security where Pauline's new Kathmandu bag was taken apart. We had lounge passes courtesy of Barclays in Heathrow but the time in HK did not merit using two more of them.

We landed on time and cleared customs and the MAF inspections in reasonable time although Pauline's bag was stripped a second time and as soon as it was all back together the sniffer dog spotted it and wrapped himself round it in ecstasy at the thought of a treat so it was stripped down a third time. And Pete had been picked for the full body [X-ray scan] at Heathrow which meant he even lost the paper handkerchiefs and his DVT socks from his pockets . Do we look that suspicious?

We picked up an airport shuttle to take us to Rental Car Village to collect our van. Grant had previously emailed to say he had picked out a good van with two side doors for us. We have been using Rental Car Village (used to be Thomlinson) for many years and they have always given us excellent service. The vans are not new but are well maintained and we have done huge mileages and taken them everywhere with far less problems than our cars at home doing far less miles. We generally do not actually sleep in them but that is because we have so much kit stored in NZ which includes a tent which is probably big enough to drive the van into! Again we have written a lot in the past so will just keep to repeating than we are very happy to recommend them.

January 23, 24, and 25

The first three days were spent with my niece Christine in her house near Riverhead – she has a large plot of land with huge possibilities and stunning views through 270 degrees as it is high in the hills. Once more we woke up to see the valleys filled with mist giving a spectacular view especially with a full moon still visible above. It currently has a workable sized Lockwood house and the land is sufficient to support a few cows or sheep as well as her new geese - last time supper was from one of her own sheep. She has now seen all the seasons so can make informed plans on building. We ended up in doing very little other than a brief shopping trip to the Albany Mall where Pete checked the best options for the new Smart Phones with Vodafone NZ as well as a lot of Window Shopping - the sole purchases were calendars to send back home. Chris lives close to Kumeu - the area round Kumeu is one of the original wine areas in New Zealand where the wines were largely planted and tended by Dalmatian immigrants. Many of the larger wine firms still have their headquarters and main wineries in the Auckland and Kumeu area.

January 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29

It was then time to head to my other niece Jenny and Kev, Kerri and Jaz on Waiheke Island. We went across on one of the Sealink ferries from Half Moon Bay. We turned up early just as loading was being completed on an earlier ferry and were able to drive straight on. Our tickets were cheap as there is currently a little publicised special deal for rental vehicles which is as cheap as the residents deal for trips starting in Waiheke. What was even better is that it covers the drive through ferries whilst other cheap deals often involve the reverse on freight oriented ferries.

Jenny and Kev's house is set on the hillside above Takirau bay, a deserted beach beside a reserve with the most magnificent Pohutakawa trees. The beach has excellent swimming and the rocks at either end are supposed to be very good for fishing. Kev keeps a canoe down by the beach so one is never short of things to do. The house has a separate flat underneath which we usually make use of.

Waiheke is the largest of the Islands in the Hauraki Gulf other than the Barrier Islands with a permanent population of about 7000. Frequent passenger ferries serve it from downtown Auckland allowing commuting for work as well as the car ferries from Half Moon Bay, which we used. It is primarily a holiday destination with the population quadrupling or more in the summer with many baches as well as more conventional accommodation. Jenny and Kev now have a series of baches, which are available on short, and long term lets as well as the flat under their house.

Baches (also called cribs in some areas) were, and still are, are a very Kiwi thing. They started as extremely basic holiday accommodation in deserted areas, often coastal, built out of wood, fibrolite and corrugated iron (or whatever came to hand). Many have been in the same family for many generations and progressively extended. The Oxford Dictionary tells us the term Bach is derived from the same root as bachelor - an undomesticated person living alone in simple surroundings. Baches are very much DIY enterprises and are often camouflaged to blend into the surroundings and built by those with empathy for the land. There was a brief period when there were moves to close some of them down but the important part they have played in the heritage of NZ is now recognised.

Baches were places to get away from it all, for fishing not phones and books not TV. The originals were without electricity and with a long drop hidden nearby. Water came from a tank filled from the roof and the more sophisticated added an outside washtub and mangle. They were a place for lace curtains, candlewick bedspreads and homemade rugs on a varnished floor. Bunks were the norm and curtains closed off doorways. Outside would be a shower on the wall, a smoker for fish and a barbecue or a fire pit. As time went on some gained electricity and a Zip heater with its steam whistle and cutout - many live on. Some baches even gained a huge curved front fridge, more for the fish than anything else and gradually oil lights and candles have been replaced by electric lights, even if the bulbs remain bare. Baches often started out as something else - an old caravan or tram, extended and surrounded till the original disappeared.

Jenny and Kev have a number of baches used as rental properties and they had been good enough to store all our kit in a dry ‘cellar’ under one of those. We keep almost everything in large storage bins which keep out most of the dirt, water and wild life and can be moved straight into the van and we also have a few round totally waterproof containers for more sensitive items and the kit we take sailing. That only leaves big items like fishing rods and folding chairs loose are at risk. This time we did not have to wait to collect our kit from under the bach where it is kept secure and dry as we were staying in it as Jenny and Kev had another visitor already using the flat under their house.

We did not do very much worth writing about here - the usual spare ribs lunch out at Charlie Farley's and Ajadz's for an Indian on Thursday. We also had a walk along the coast near Orapiu where we were able to look at a patch of ground we had wondered about in the past, a workable site but in the back of beyond. The sea was almost like a mirror with the most amazing colour against the dark clouds behind.

Saturday 30 January 2016

Yesterday evening we crossed back on the ferry from Waiheke and stayed again with Chris. This morning we left Chris at 0900 intending to get well ahead of the expected traffic from Auckland heading north. This weekend is Auckland Anniversary weekend, so everyone has Monday as a bank holiday. We made good time up to Orewa on local roads, then joined SH1 which was not busy. Driving through Orewa town was slow because there was an American old car weekend “Show and Shine” with American flags flying and when we passed there were already about a hundred cars on display on the grass by the ocean. All the motels were full but, surprisingly, there were still parking places.

We climbed the road up out of Orewa and into the hilly countryside and to the top of the Dome, then down into flatter farmland. We like good cheese and always stop at the Dutch cheese shop in Kaiwaka. They sell Dutch cheese and NZ made copies which we prefer. They also sell excellent salamis. The 4-square supermarket opposite gave the opportunity for a first stocking of supplies. Our first target for this holiday was to revisit the Kauri trees on the west coast, so we turned towards Matakohe and onwards to Dargaville. Normally we would stop to visit the Kauri museum at Matakohe but because it was Anniversary weekend we wanted to make distance from Auckland. We stopped at the butcher at Ruawai but they were closed. Many small shops had gone away for the the weekend, and most places close at 1200 on Saturday in small villages. We reached Ruawai at 1220. The nearby 4-square supermarket was open, and better stocked than the one in Kaiwaka, so we bought a smoked chicken in case there were no other options later. Smoked chickens are between 11 and 16 NZ$ depending on brand and will last a long time in a fridge. We usually buy one to take sailing in case we don't catch enough fish then take it back!

Approaching Dargaville there are several stalls selling bags of Kumara. These are the local sweet potatoes which were a major part of Maori diet and are grown in the area. The new seasons small kumara were only $10 for a 5kg bag, which is half the price of the supermarkets and anyway it is always better to buy locally. We found a little cabin at the Dargaville Holiday Park (NZ$75-10% for Kiwi HP card) so obviously Aucklanders don't come to Dargaville for weekend holidays. We decided to stay for 2 nights.

It was an unexpectedly long walk through the deserted city to reach our favourite Corner Shop so we could get our first (double) scoop ice-cream of the holiday and sit watching the river. Only two cheap oriental shops were open, as well as a cafe, petrol stations, and a good Countdown supermarket. We had last fuelled near Half Moon Bay at NZ$166.9 (minus NZ$10 for AA fuel card) so the prices in the north were a shock, but it always is more expensive in remote areas.

Countdown is open from 7 to 9 every day, including Sunday, so we will take the car and complete our shopping tomorrow. The Holiday Park has friendly owners, and a nice communal BBQ area. The BBQ was an electric one which tends to be slow so we just cooked our bargain steaks in a pan. Tomorrow we plan to use our own BBQ and make sure everything works properly.

Sunday 31 January

Sunday is even quieter than Saturday afternoon. In the morning we drove up to the Dargaville Museum. It had been many years since we last visited and we remember that there is a lot to see there. Their initial video about swamp kauri and logging was made in 2009 and included narrative by Nelson, of Nelson's Kaihu Kauri. The new Kauri Gum-diggers room was completed in 2011 and was a memorial to the Dalmatian families who worked so hard in the region digging the gum. There are good displays of washed and polished gum, gum “hair” and several special carvings made from gum. It is less spectacular than the displays at the museum at Matakohe but is very important because of its local flavour. There is also a room full of Dalmatian musical instruments, a few stringed instruments but mainly Harmoniums, and a home-made 3 manual organ with pipes and a full pedal board. A large centrepiece was a mixture of model buildings of various scales alongside a model train set. There were also model ships and old canoes including a large (52 feet) canoe from a single tree trunk. The two masts of the Rainbow Warrior are standing outside and there is a new exhibit which shows the type of huts which the gum diggers would have lived in, and a typical kitchen garden. After 2 hours we left but vowed we would go back to see more another year.

Having been warned that Nelson's Kaihu Kauri was always closed on Sunday we were not surprised to find the doors shut but we continued to the DOC camping ground at Trounson Kauri Park. It was raining when we arrived but after waiting it cleared enough that we ventured into the park. Access from the DOC camping ground is good and in spite of the rains and large puddle throughout the campground the walk was drained. There seemed to be more kauri trees suffering from the dreaded kauri die-back but the walk was still very pleasant and meant Pete could start to run-in his brand new walking boots, a bargain from the Warehouse halved in price 3 times to $7.50 (£3.50). Pete has added a new section to the kauri page on Kauri Dieback.

The Corner Shop at the bottom of the road was closed on Sunday, so no more ice-creams. Instead we spent an hour in the air conditioned Countdown supermarket doing all the shopping we had avoided until now, and then finally added a tub of Top Ten Tiger Time ice-cream.

Monday 1 February

This morning we decided to head north. Although it is a Bank Holiday, and shops in Dargaville are all closed, Nelson's Kaihu Kauri shop was open. It is a family business and although it is closed on Sundays the family decided to open today. Their choice of kauri goods and souvenirs is always excellent and we always look at the slabs and planks of sawn kauri which are kept in the adjacent storeroom. The little stool we admired on previous years had been sold but there were lots of other plain ones, some totally of one piece and others which were capped. Initially their range of Party Susan's at 200, 400 and 800 NZ$ were admired. They were made of pieces of kauri and other local materials all potted in resin, then mounted onto a plywood rotating base. It is a good idea to use small pieces to make a useful souvenir. There are always beautiful tables, of all sizes.

Our next stop was at the Waipoua Forest Information Centre to check on the progress of the kauri die-back disease which was damaging the trees in the Trounson Kauri Park but today only the cafe was open, and their water supply was broken so there was no coffee and no toilet facilities. Our favourite pair of kauri trees at the single lane bridge were suffering and one of the trees looked very sad. We had noticed the problem last year. Thankfully the famous Tane Mahuta tree looked healthy and there was an information “ambassador” who talked about the trees and the problems. Her comments provoked us to search for current research later which Pete has added to the our Kauri page.

Approaching the edge of the Hokianga harbour at Omapere we remembered the rest area on the corner which has a good view down on to the Hokianga bar and the harbour and the town of Omapere. The views across to the sand dunes were good. Then it was onwards to Opononi and our lunch stop for fish and chips. Good fish in a light batter and all cooked to order and hot.

There was lots of choice of cabin at the Rawene Holiday Park. Down by their swimming pool there are three cabins, number 7 has a kitchenette and harbour view but is most expensive at $75. Otherwise number 8 is only $50 but without the kitchenette and without the view from the decking because there are rimu trees in front. Later a procession of three big Kea campervans arrived. The hard-standing has numbered powerslots for 8 campervans but when it is full it must be quite cosy.

After emptying our fridge into the larger one in the cabin we set off to visit the Clendon House in Rawene which is owned by the Historic Places Trust. We have been there several times and often found it was closed. It is open only on Saturday and Sunday, and in addition is open during the Primary School holidays. The schools go back tomorrow so we were lucky and were able to spend an hour re-acquainting ourselves with the building and gardens. The custodian made sure we looked at the wedding gown of James Clendon's wife Jane which was on display. The dress had a train and we had not realised that the train could be detached and was intended to be used later as a christening robe. A recent acquisition was the original silver pocket watch which was made in England and brought with him to New Zealand, it must have been quite intrusive as it had 5 ounces of silver.

As the afternoon progressed it began hotter and more humid and our cabin suffered from the direct heat. New neighbours arrived for cabin number 9 but quickly moved to another cabin in the shade further up the hill

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Content revised: 21 st April, 2016