Archive for March, 2012

After leaving the field day we’d left ourselves witha  bit of a challenge.  We didn’t really have a destination in mind, but we did want to get over the Hokianga Car Ferry before stopping for the night.

We topped off with petrol and caffeinated drinks in Dargaville and then pressed on North.  The drive soon took us through very beautiful country side which eventually became hilly forrest.  Part of the planning for this route was the inclusion of a visit to Tane Mahuta.  Tane Mahuta is a tree.  A famous tree in New Zealand.  Some may say a celebri-tree… Ithankyou.

So this tree… according to Wikipedia (so it must be true!) “Its age is unknown but is estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. It is the largest kauri known to stand today.”   So there you go.  And I have to say that it’s an impressive piece of wood to look at.

The tree is just a few minutes walk from the main road.  There is a boardwalk to guide you through and around the trunks of equally lovely but much smaller trees, which allow a sprinkling of sun light through to ground level.  Kiwi’s are not prone to over-developing tourist attractions and this is no different.  There is a modest information board and the boardwalk itself is only there because it’s crucial to protect the forrest.  As we learned (from the modest information board), Kauri roots are shallow, so trampling them with a multitude of boots and shoes with an international heritage will end up killing these huge huge trees.  And there’s not many of them left really.  Not, considering the place used to be covered with them!  However, looking at a big Kauri you can easily understand why the ship builders of previous centuries (lacking somewhat in their appreciation of the impact us people can have on the planet) thought they’d be great trees to chop down and make stuff out of.

After visiting Tane Mahuta it really was time to push on for the ferry.  We dropped out of the forrest shortly after setting off again and started to follow the coast round through Opononi and on to Rawene where the Hokianga Car Ferry departs from.

Opononi is famous (for NZ values of famous) for having a friendly dolphin.  It’s dead now.  The dolphin that is, not the town.  Although I’m not sure about the last statement really – we just passed through, taking with us just memories of the beginning of the Hokianga harbour and the immense sand dunes on the other side of the harbour entrance.

Eventually we ran out of road.  Rawene is teeny tiny.  We got in the ferry queue seemingly near the front.  It must be very frustrating to miss a ferry as they come just once an hour.  Imagine being the last car in the queue and there not quite being enough space to squeeze you on…  Anyway, that didn’t happen to us.  We got on, about 20 minutes or so after we arrived.  The crossing takes about 20 minutes and the kids (which automatically means Josie as well of course) loved getting out of the car and exploring the area for the foot passengers.  It reminded us very much of a little ferry we used to get in the Scottish Highlands – the Corram ferry, which just like our current vessel cut out hours of driving around the end of an inlet in exchange for a short hop on a boat.

Whilst traversing the harbour we planned the remainder of the day.  The plan was to eat as soon as we could after the ferry docked then push on to Ahipara at the bottom of 90 Mile Beach.  It’s impossible to know how long it will take to get anywhere, because up here what looks like a normal road on the map may turn out to be super windey or unsealed or full of cows…

Leaving the ferry we pulled up minutes later to grab some almost unbelievably good food at a little cafe called KB Cafaway.  We really just wanted to throw some food at the kids and crack on, but the very friendly lady serving us made some stunning fish and chips from locally caught fresh fish and the seafood platter was an amazing selection of yummy sea food with a generous salad and big bowl of chips.  We stopped without any expectations at all, and left delighted, very full and ready for our beds.

In the end it wasn’t too long until we got to our beds, as the remainder of the journey to Ahipara turned out to a quick one.  We arrived at the Ahipara Holiday Park in the light, but our tree-sheltered pitch got very dark very quickly and we were putting the last pegs in with torches. And that wasn;t easy… why do some campsites use a light sprinkling of rocks as their base layer. Thankfully there were plenty of stones around to use as make-shift mallets. I wasn’t sure we’d get the pegs out again in the morning, but that was a problem for another day.

There was a brief pause whilst Lucy demonstrated that you should always take a child at her word.  Emily ran off to the loo – enjoying the freedom that being a (nearly) 7 year old brings and Lucy declared that she needed the loo to.  “No you don’t” we reply, keen to get the tent up and convinced she just wanted to be a big girl like Emily.  Well, how wrong we were as she developed a vacant, slightly strained expression, wobbled her knees a bit and set about her business where she stood.  So we did take a break from putting up the tent in the end to sort out our lumberjack daughter and the small log she felled.

As we settled down, there was no chatting, no sitting up late, drinking whisky, looking at stars.  We just crashed big time.  It was a long day but promised dreams of diggers, ferries and huge fish and chips.  Tomorrow?  Tomorrow we planned to complete the part of our journey where we head north – then turn around come back again.

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Thursday morning was a bleary-eyed and very tired one.  The wind had come up over night and the tent had been pummeled and buffeted along with squally heavy rain AND the noise from the surf on the beach down below us.  Something about the three sounds together meant that we (being me and Josie) got barely any sleep, dropping off for short periods then waking again soon after.  The girls managed to sleep through it all of course, whilst we emerged from our tent thinking that maybe we’d have been better off using all the guys and ensuring they were all pulled tight before we tucked in for the night.  Note to self:  If a tent is made with eighteen guy ropes, use eighteen guy ropes.

The previous day we’d seen a sign for ‘Northland Field Days’ just a few km away outside Dargaville and wondered what it was and if it would hold any interest for us.  We’d loosely aimed to get quite a bit further north, but decided to check out the Field Days and stay for a few hours if it was worth it.

A brief stop at an i-Site (tourist information) confirmed that the Field Days sounded hugely exciting!  A bit like a county show in the UK, Natalie was especially excited (even more so than Josie if such a thing is possible) as the whole agricultural/country-side theme is something she’s been around her whole life.

As it was the first day and still a weekday, the show wasn’t overly busy, but still very well attended.  Josie read somewhere that these Field Days, which take place around the country, are a significant economic indicator.  Farmers really do go there to buy new tractors and barns and stuff.  If people are spending money in the rural economy, the whole economy is good apparently.

The first exciting thing we stumbled across was Doug the Digger.  A mini digger set-up for kids to use.  I’m not talking a kids version – this is a proper digger you could use on a building site.  The brilliant guy manning the stand invited the girls up and Lucy charged at it.  Strapped into the seat, wearing her hi-viz, the man helped her to move the bucket and the arm.  Once Lucy had led the way, Emily reluctantly climbed up, but once she was in she forgot herself and loved it.  The man changed his patter to suit Emily’s age, a very rare skill for adults, to correctly pitch their jokes and teasing at the right level given the rapid changes kids go through as they grow.  He was more hands-off with Emily and let her control the digger without him helping.  How often do you get that kind of experience?

We split up for while leaving Rob and Nat to watch some Spanish Riding (which turned out to be english dressage by a Nana in a Spanish dress) whilst we took the kids to the Fonterra tent for some free dairy products and colouring in.  The kids managed to get some temporary tattoos all the way up their arms of various Fonterra brands whilst we were in there, which then stuck around for days and days and days.

After joining up again we were all starting to flag so headed for food with thoughts of an early exit.  Finding an angus beef stand we ordered some burgers and sausages.  It was startling how stupid the woman serving us was.  We had a ticket which quite clearly showed we had ordered 3 burgers and two sausages.  She seemed unable to match up the ticket with the food being presented to her from the grill.  First we got one burger, then two sausages, then we said we wanted two more burgers, so she tried to take the sausages away.  We explained the order was three burgers, so she gave the next two to the woman behind us in the queue.  We explained we had ordered three, so she tried to give us three more.  I was losing patience and civility by this point but thankfully (whether by coincidence or judgement) she managed to finally get our order right.

Before we left I really wanted to go and catch a fire brigade demonstration of what happens when you pur water on burning oil.  This is something everyone should see (watch the video for the critical moment!) as it’s so impressive.  Rob also had a go on a drink-driving awareness game, which involves a test of dexterity and coordination whilst wearing some goggles which disorientate you as if you were a bit drunk.  The woman who went before him showed barley any difference in her performance – used to it maybe!  Rob however, managed to entertain everyone by falling on his backside.  This attracted the attention of a local reporter who interviewed Rob for one of the smaller Northern papers.

Our final adventure of the day was to have a ride in a cherry picker owned by the power company.  A fifteen meter high ‘bucket’ used for working on live lines – the man explained to Emily and Lucy that the shaft was made of fibreglass and that his working day was spent in this ting working on live 11,000 volt power lines!  They hadn’t got a clue what he was talking about, but I was very impressed.

A few hours turned out to be enough for little people and big people who hadn’t had any sleep.  We really can’t recommend going along to one of these Field Days enough if you get the chance.  A fantastic day out and amazing value at just $10 for adults to get in.  Doug and the bucket ride were free and there were some great deals inside as well.

For us it was time to move on and strike north.  We weren’t sure how far we’d get having had our detour, but we had a full tank of gas, we were wearing shades and eating M&Ms.

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First stop on our tour was to be Baylys Beach, which is one the west coast just outside of Dargaville, at the north of the Kaipara harbour.  All we knew about Dargaville was that according to some very hand-painted signs stuck on lamp-posts around Auckland they occasionally hold a ‘Burnout Comp’ for cash prizes up there.  To most people (who don’t drive ridiculously kevved up cars)  this is not the most enticing piece of tourist information, so why would we go there?  All will be revelead.  But before we could set off there was some serious packing to do.

Wednesday morning and I’d got the whole day off, whereas Emily had not and was packed off to school for the morning.  We’d told the school that we were taking Emily out for 3 and 1/2 days for a trip with friends from overseas.  They were supportive as ever which is good because they really didn’t have a choice!

The only job we’d not managed to do was for Josie to attack my barnet with the clippers.  Just in case you are not familiar with cockney rhyming slang that means my hair… barnet fair – hair, see?  Anyway… Josie had to do some work which had taken up most of the morning, so I chucked the camping gear in the car and the roofbox.  Then she headed out to get some supplies and time was ticking on.  There was only one thing for it – “Rob, you’re cutting my hair”.  Anyone, who knows my friend Rob and how far back we go and the horrendous things we used to do to each other (ok the horrendous things we used to do to Rob), knows that entrusting him to act upon my fair locks with a set of clippers is a mark of how much our relationship has matured over the years.  Rob had never cut anyone’s hair before so I talked him through it based on understanding the theory of hairdressing and remembering what it FEELS like to have a professional do it.  Remarkably his little venture didn’t result in comedy bald patches or tramlines or a big err appendage being shaved into the back of my head which some people may have expected.

Freshly shawn and with all shopping and packing done, we shipped out and headed North.  The journey was only a couple of hours and we headed north on SH1 aiming for Brynderwyn, where we were to head west on SH12 until we hit Dargaville.

We’d been up this way before early on when we visited the Kauri Museum and whilst we weren’t planning to go back there, we certainly hoped to see some more of these magnificent trees on this trip.

Once past the Kauri museum we were into uncharted territory – for us at least.  We were now into parts of New Zealand that we’d not seen before.  From here on in – everything was new to all of us.  Very exciting!

The camp site at Baylys beach is a lovely little site and it was expectedly quiet for this point in the season.  We got a lovely flat pitch overlooking the trampoline and very ‘kiwi’ playground.  Having Rob and Natalie along in their van was brilliant because it meant we had built in baby-sitters when pitching and packing away the tent.  On arrival we were pleased to see colorful bunting all around the place.  It wasn’t until we made a closer inspection that we realised the bunting strung everywhere – walls, lamp-posts, trees – was actually a string of colorful bras.  According to the site owner they are the aftermath of a world record attempt to create the longest chain of bras. World Record Attempt – Longest Chain of Bras

The camp site is just a few minutes walk down to the actual beach which is a typical west coast surf beach.  Stunning, expansive, rugged and beautiful.  Also a public road for those with the vehicles and nerves to drive on sand.  It was blowing a fair breeze when we took a look so we didn’t stop for long (it was a good exfoliation of the legs) but we’d certainly be happy to spend some time there again in less windy conditions.

I already mentioned that we weren’t there for the burnout competitions.  No – for us the entire point of stopping off at Baylys beach was to visit Skydome, a mini-observatory open to the paying public.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t understand our intentions so wasn’t playing along.  It was the thickest cloud cover we’ve seen for ages.  There was not a scrap of sky showing, no moon and absolutely nothing to look at.  We were ever so disappointed, but the lovely lady who owns the place does a daytime/cloudy sky tour.  Basically she tells you all about the sky and stars and the big telescope and how it works.  It’s a real credit to her that she managed to get us excited about looking at stars even without any stars to look at.  We’ll certainly be going back up again when the sky is a bit clearer.

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Wow!  You can’t beat a good ROADTRIP!

I’m going to split the trip up into multiple posts and of course there will be photos and video to follow.

Today, a rough idea of the shape of the trip.

Our window was from Wednesday 29th through to Monday 5th March.  Five nights of camping (for us) and campervanning for Rob and Natalie.  This would be the last hurrah for them before drawing their mammoth world tour to a close and heading back to the UK on the 7th March.

We’ve been as far North as the Bay of Islands before but no further, so decided to explore some of the beautiful scenery in the north of the North Island.

Our trip was loosely planned out to head up to the west coast north of the Kaipara Harbour to Baylys Beach.  Just outside the dubious sounding ‘Dargaville’ (which actually doesn’t look that bad from appearances), we were interested in the surf beach and the publicly accessible observatory there.  After that we planned to head up the west coast to the Hokianga Car Ferry, taking in giant Kauri trees on the way.

After crossing the Hokianga harbour on the ferry, we would stay somewhere overnight before heading up to Cape Reinga, the most easily accessible point furthest North.  Spiritually significant to Maori and practically significant to mariners (for its lighthouse).

Then we would head back down the East Coast via the Bay of Islands (and the Waitangi Treaty House and Grounds) and spend some time on the beach, relaxing and hopefully surfing.  Finally, home on Monday sometime.

According to Google Maps the journey is around 1000km and if you drove it flat out without stopping would take 13 hours of driving.  I think that is insanely optimistic and it would be much longer based on the wiggly roads, roadworks and unsealed bits of road we encountered.  Not to mention the loo stops, the ice cream stops, the tree stops, the ferry stops etc.

I think we probably spent about 20 to 25 hours in the car over the six days we were away.  So between the travelling and sleeping under canvas, we were all delighted to see our own beds when we got back.

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