1st June 2012 – Campbell’s Bay, Auckland

We woke up in the morning at Hot Water Beach after hearing the rain against the roof of the camper all night, and were pretty sure we knew the answer about diving! But Chris got up anyway and went to the campsite office to phone the dive company, who confirmed the weather was too bad to get the boat out. So Chris came back to bed and we had another hour’s snooze, then breakfast in bed and a lazy morning – so it all worked out quite well in the end! And by the time we’d sorted ourselves out and were ready to leave, the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out.

We decided to take the scenic route off to Auckland, so we headed for the middle of the Coromandel coast, and a road called the 309 Road which runs across the middle of the Peninsula from Whitianga to Coromandel Town. It’s so called because when the road was first completed, it took 3 hours and 9 minutes to get from one end to the other (presumably by horse-drawn coach, as it’s only about a 25km road!) It was a fun drive, and very lush forest scenery. We also found the most wonderful little ‘theme park’ along the way – it’s called the Waterworks, and is full of weird and wonderful exhibits that run purely on water power – a water powered clock, lots of different pumps run by pedal power or spinning or whatever – very interactive! We bounced around from one thing to another, shooting water guns at each other and having a lovely time. They also had all sorts of adult-sized playground equipment – see-saws, swings, a pair of flying bikes, two flying foxes, a huge tyre swing, one of those rotating hamster wheel type things – so we had a brilliant time playing on all of those, too! As usual, there was almost no one else there, so we had all the games to ourselves!

Cycle powered water pistol with the water powered clock in the background

Flying bikes, ET style

Chris in a hamster wheel

Wheeeeee – Nicki on the flying fox/commando slide

Kiwi fruit growing on the vine

Nicki in a tractor tyre swing

We had a lovely lazy drive out along the peninsula coast road, stopped in Coromandel Town for a lunch-time pie, and stopped somewhere else for an ice cream, and then started heading towards Auckland. The roads got bigger and bigger as we got closer – multi-lane motorways, for the first time in a month! We arrived at Barbara’s at about half past six, just after dark, and drove down her road shining our headlights onto each of her neighbours’ mailboxes in turn, until we found the right house! Barbara and Phil built the house and it’s just wonderful – there are so many things about it that are just exactly what I can imagine Chris and I, or my parents, putting into a house. The kitchen is lovely and high-ceilinged, with a breakfast bar for sitting and chatting while someone cooks (we have actually eaten breakfast on it every morning, too!) and there are huge full-length windows everywhere, and wonderful views out into the garden, which is all unspoilt bush, with a creek running along at the bottom of it. There are paintings all over the house that remind me of home – either my parents have very similar tastes, or some of the paintings are from the same artists in Bahrain!

Barbara has made us feel totally at home here, and it’s been a wonderful little break from being on the road – it really feels just like staying with my mum, we’ve been so relaxed and have loved just chatting to Barbara for hours at a time. Chris has been thrilled to have a Scrabble opponent and he and Barbara have played a game or two every night (I haven’t joined in, I don’t have the patience – I’ve been acting as arbitrator for dubious words!) Barbara has cooked wonderful meals for us, which is a double treat – firstly, to have meals cooked for us, and secondly to have all sorts of delicious things we haven’t been able to make on a camping stove! The night we arrived, we had a yummy beef hotpot with dumplings and mash and veggies, and hokey pokey ice cream with fantastic home-made crab-apple jelly (I’m a big fan!), the next night we had lasagne, and lovely chocolate cake – last night we had a corned beef bake and then an apple and rhubarb crumble. Feeling very spoilt! We’ve also loved sleeping in a proper comfy warm bed, and using a shower that isn’t shared with everyone else on the campsite, and just generally feeling at home – it’s been such a lovely few days. We’ve also really loved getting to know Barbara properly – I was 4 last time I saw her! – and also her son, Stephen, who’s lovely (although not 3 years old anymore, which I found momentarily confusing!). We spent some time one evening looking through old photos of Bahrain, and it’s just amazing to imagine that it’s now 25 years later and I’m here – I keep thinking about what it would be like to not see one of our friends’ children for years, and then meet them when they’re nearly 30! It’s very cool, and I just wish we’d been able to meet Phil, as well – we’ve loved chatting to Barbara about him and their life in New Zealand.

On Tuesday we went on the patented ‘Parker tour of Auckland’, which was great – it’s always so nice to be introduced to a city by someone who lives there, you see totally different things than when you’re a tourist exploring on your own. We drove down to Devonport and saw all the quaint old buildings and little independent shops, and went for a walk on North Head, where Chris really enjoyed exploring all the tunnels of the old gun battery – Barbara and I went into a few of them, but mostly stayed in the sunshine, as it was a lovely day! Then we went to One Tree Hill, which sadly doesn’t have a tree on it any more, since the last one was chopped down by Maori activists in protest at the chopping down of the previous native tree that had stood there – it seems a real shame not to have one there at all! There is a huge monolith, and you can drive all the way up the hill and get out and walk around at the top, which we did (although not for very long, as it was very windy up there!) The view around on all sides was just wonderful, although none of our photos will have done it justice at all. We then drove across the Harbour Bridge and went for lunch at a little cafe just next to the bridge, where I had the most enormous Caesar salad I’ve ever had! Then we drove to Mission Bay and went for a walk along the beach, which was lovely – I can imagine it’s really crowded in the summer, with a lovely swimming beach and a big green park right along the beachfront. We stopped for ice creams as we walked back to the car, and sat in the sunshine eating them – I can’t believe how lovely the weather’s been, we’ve been very lucky.

Auckland CBD from the gun battery on North Head

Nicki and Barbara waiting patiently for Chris to finish exploring the tunnels.

Barbara pointing out local points of interest from the top of One Tree Hill

On Wednesday we were back in the van after breakfast, and said goodbye to Barbara for a day or two, to head north to Whangarei. We would have loved to spend some time exploring the far north, and I think when we come back to NZ we will definitely focus on that! As it was, we’ve run out of time a bit, but we really wanted to fit in a diving day at the Poor Knights islands, and a visit to a friend in Whangarei, so we made the effort to go up there just for a couple of days. On the way up, we had a little detour to visit a museum that Barbara had recommended, the Kauri Museum – it was fantastic, it’s full of displays about the old days of logging and gum-collecting from the giant kauri forests in the north. Chris was fascinated by the displays of sawmill machinery, and I loved the replica rooms set up with old furniture, and mannikins in old costumes. We spent a lovely couple of hours there.

Old sawmill machinery

Chris and Nicki in front of of an ancient Kauri tree

We eventually got to Whangarei at about 3pm, and drove out along the coast to Tutukaka to find the dive centre we wanted to book with for the next day. We booked in and found out we needed to be back at 8am, and then went and booked a site in the campervan park across the road, and then drove back into Whangerei to meet up with Carmeilla.

We’d been really looking forward to meeting her, although it was also a bittersweet visit. Carmeilla is the woman that our friend Kev moved to New Zealand for three years ago – it was a very romantic story, they’d been together when they were much younger, in the UK, and then they broke up, Carmeilla moved back to NZ and they lost touch. Years later they made contact again through Bebo, and then Facebook, and Kev came out to NZ to visit her, and they fell in love all over again – he came home, applied for a transfer to NZ with the company he worked for, applied for a visa, packed up his life and said goodbye to his friends and moved over there to be with Carmeilla. Hugely sadly, though, Kev died suddenly of heart failure, a year ago in July. We had been looking forward to coming to visit him while we were here, and when he died, that was something I kept thinking about – so it was a really lovely experience to visit Carmeilla and meet her and hear all about their life together here, and see where Kev had been living. She’s absolutely lovely, we really clicked and spent a lovely evening chatting away – we had been planning to pop in for an hour for a drink, but we ended up going out for dinner at 9.30pm (as the restaurant was closing – we phoned to ask if we could still go, and ended up phoning in our order!) to a lovely restaurant that was Carmeilla and Kev’s favourite, and eventually dragging ourselves away just after 11!

That meant that getting up in time to be at the dive shop for 8 a.m. wasn’t much fun, but we were there bright and early anyway, bemoaning the weather, as it was raining and misty. It was a very professional dive operation – really friendly staff, who kitted us up with dive gear very efficiently and got us all on the boat and heading for the Poor Knights by 8.30. As we headed away from shore, the weather started to clear, and it was sunny by the time we got to the islands an hour later! There were seven of us diving, and two snorkelers, which was a nice manageable group. We had really impressive, thorough dive briefings from the two guides, and learned all about the rock formations and the marine life, so by the time we got underwater it all felt very familiar! The first dive wasn’t fantastic as my mask was fogging up badly, so I couldn’t really appreciate the fantastic underwater scenery for more than a few seconds at a time! For our surface interval we moored up inside a huge sea cave, and ate our lunch while we listened to the echoes of everyone talking, and watched the sunlight creeping into the cave as the sun moved around. By the time we got in for our second dive, the sun was half into the cave, and it was just an incredible dive – we crept into the back, dark part of the cave first, and then came round the rocks and swam towards the glow of the light at the mouth of the cave – I kept wishing I had a camera, as the sight of the divers silhouetted against the light was just magical. A really fantastic dive, and well worth the effort of driving up there.

“…the cave is 134m metres from front to back, 84m side to side and is the largest sea cave in the world…”

View from the back of the sea cave

Looking into the mouth of the sea cave

We got back at about 3pm and after a few bits and pieces – buying t-shirts, getting a takeaway coffee, and getting as clean and dry as we could for the drive back to Auckland – we hit the road and were back at Barbara’s just after six. We had a lovely evening with Barbara and Stephen, and an early night, as we were knackered from diving and wanted to be up reasonably early today!

This morning we joined Barbara for her usual morning walk down to the beach – it’s amazing to live so close to such a nice beach, it was really just 5 minutes down the road, and then a long walk along a couple of bays, with a lovely rocky pathway all the way along, and lots of other people walking, jogging, and walking their dogs – lovely to watch all the dogs running around! We did a big loop along the beach and back over the cliffs, and stopped for a coffee at a lovely little cafe where we sat in the sunshine. We walked home via a bush walk through the park across the road – just amazing to be in such a civilised place, close to the city, but be able to walk on the beach and in the bush every morning! I can really see why Barbara loves it here – it’s a really great lifestyle.

Barbara made bacon and eggs for brunch, while Chris and I got started on unpacking and cleaning the camper van – it was very sad, we’ve loved the van and it’s been a lovely little home for the month, so we did feel quite sad packing it up! We brought everything inside – I’ll need to go through it all and pack for the flight this afternoon! – and then cleaned the van thoroughly, I did the inside and Chris did the outside, and it looked very clean and shiny! We followed Barbara to the rental place, which was miles away at the other side of Auckland, near the airport – I feel very bad, as Barbara’s also very kindly taking us to the airport in the morning, so we’re making her traipse all over the place for us! Having her help has made it all so easy, I think it would have been a bit of a logistical puzzle to take the van back and catch our flight tomorrow if we didn’t have her here to stay with – I can just imagine unpacking the van into a hostel room, and trying to organise taxis etc, it would all have been quite a big hassle! Anyway, we eventually found the rental place in the middle of quite a dodgy area (I guess that’s why it’s cheap!), and gave the van back with no problems.

Nicki’s car never gets this sort of attention!

Barbara suggested we go out for a curry tonight for our last night in New Zealand, so that’s our plan for this evening, and then our flight is at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. tomorrow, so we have to leave at 3.30 to get to the airport! We’ve just checked in online, and I’m finishing writing this, then Chris is going to post it up with photos while I get started on packing. Barbara is doing all our laundry so we can start in Australia with everything clean, hurray!

We’ve had such a wonderful month in New Zealand – we’re both feeling really quite sad about leaving, and I suppose it makes it feel even more so that we’ve had such a nice time with Barbara for the last few days, a little holiday within our holiday! I feel almost as though it’s the end of the holiday tomorrow – but of course, tomorrow afternoon we’ll be in Cairns, and the holiday starts all over again in Australia! I haven’t even opened the Lonely Planet for Australia – that’s my plan for on the plane tomorrow! But I’m sure it’s going to be absolutely amazing.

Next post will be from Australia!

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