Saturday, 1 December 2018

2 December 2018 - Whangarei Central Holiday Park, Northland

It’s almost two months since I returned to New Zealand with matters other than travel filling my days. I flew into Auckland on 7 October, exactly four weeks earlier than our original itinerary, leaving my husband to follow en schedule.  My father lay in hospital having been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, and the family was still struggling to accept this shocking news. Had my intrepid father, fast approaching his 90th birthday, not stumbled on his way back from the library and been carted off to A&E to be stitched up, we may have been none the wiser until matters had progressed another month or so. We sisters gathered at the bedside to support my shattered mother, groping for some sort of direction. While death was always going to be on the future agenda, the reality is always a surprise. I have mouthed these words in sympathy to clients, friends and family over the decades; this time I was to heed them myself.

The reality is that almost two months on; my father is still with us, the centre of attention and care demands, but with us all the same. We gather about his bed, the restrictions of which are very recent, and reminisce and fuss and adapt our own schedules. My mother clutches at the limited intimacy left between her and her husband of almost sixty six years. Carers and Hospice nurses, all with hearts of gold and years of practical experience surround us with support as we grope our way through this journey, one we have not taken before.

I spent the first four weeks staying with my parents in their beautiful apartment beside the Hatea River, enjoying the view down over the marina and Loop Walk, watching the hundreds of walkers and runners who take advantage of this wonderful feature of Whangarei’s Town Basin. 

One day we ventured forth, my mother and I on either side of my father tottering along on his walker, across the Canopy Bridge and along as far as the Hunterwasser folly. We managed to shuffle him to the top of the viewpoint, hoping to observe the progress on the Hunterwasser  Gallery. High security fences precluded this but we were buoyed by the fact we had succeeded with the outing, accepting this is far from the intrepid adventures these two elderly folk have enjoyed in the not too distant past; rafting down the Clarence River, bungee jumping off the Kawarau Bridge, 4WD safaris across the South Island high country, circumnavigation of these southern islands we call home, and so much more. How life is diminished at such times.

I met up with a few of my friends, all of whose lives have been complete and busy in my absence, and continue to be so. I was glad they could find time to accommodate my erratic schedule. I walked the Loop myself on several occasions and would still be doing so these days if my husband had not brought back a gift on his own arrival a month ago. 

It is not the first time either of us has contracted a ‘flu like bug on an international flight, and I was very thankful that I had avoided doing so on my way back in early October. I had found my mother’s own health much depleted on arrival, and while this was due to poor medication management of her chronic condition, it took most of that live-in month to restore her to normality. Had I arrived with a bug of my own, I may have caused her early death. As it was, Chris came down within a few days of arrival with a nasty cold, which he duly passed on to me and my own dicky chest. What a pathetic lot we are! 

Our children and grandchildren have not been entirely ignored since our return; we spent a couple of days with our Waihi Beach family after picking up the motorhome and getting it road-ready again. Chris and I settled back into our motorhome, relearning where our possessions are stowed and relearning routines, different from those in our caravan in the UK. We parked up in the Whangarei Central Holiday Park and have been here for a month now, joining the other permanent and semi-permanent occupants. Although we have no intention of settling here for good, its proximity to my parents’ dwelling serves us well. We can respond within ten minutes to a call for help and have done so on several occasions. It is also an easy distance if I had the stamina to make the twenty five minute walk; hopefully I will manage this soon.

One Sunday we popped down to West Auckland to collect our trailer and to catch up with our grandsons, their mother and our son and his new partner; rearranged family situations since we left in early May. We drove back up the west coast road through Helensville to Wellsford before continuing on up Highway One, a route we have not taken for several years and one which could be done in a more leisurely fashion in the motorhome, perhaps pausing or overnighting at Port Albert or the Atiu Creek Regional Park.

Today we took our Whangarei granddaughters to see the remake of The Grinch, probably appreciating it more than these reserved young ladies. We delivered them home to their parents who were clearing their overgrown garden; here in Whangarei the native vegetation thrives in the humidity, the sunshine and frequent rain.

And back in the UK our Sorrento remains unsold, the lack of active marketing the problem rather than price; I am sure we will end up almost giving it away, as we did with the caravan. However we did have three years of fabulous travel and regret nothing.

Friday, 4 May 2018

5 May 2018 - Paeroa, Hauraki Plains

So here we are back again in the home of L&P, but this time parked up in the more formal RV Centre, a simple camp full of many shareholding permanents, with excellent though simple facilities, which supplements its income from storing motorhomes and offering overnight sites to the travelling public. We are here to ready our motorhome for its six months in storage and to ready ourselves for our departure tomorrow.

We did manage to escape a few days this last week, firstly on a day trip to Auckland to deliver our granddaughter to the “Spirit of Adventure”. Her mother lent us her car and we spent the whole day enjoying India’s company; given that she is now just seventeen, we realise such opportunities will become more rare and are to be cherished. 

Arriving at the Quay
Lunch was had in the Food Court of Manukau’s Westfield Shopping Centre, our white faces in a sea of various shades of brown. I do enjoy spending time here, observing the multitude of races which enrich South Auckland, and I say this in a positive way. I was reminded of the bus rides from our camp at Abbey Wood, through Brixton and on to central London last year; a busload of fabulously coiffed and gaily dressed woman with glorious glossy complexions, so unlike my own pasty fairness. On Tuesday we watched small groups of immaculately dressed petite Asian women dine daintily, large Polynesians consuming diabetic encouraging food, sleeveless young people exposing their intricate tattoos and an assortment of types, as you find in malls about Britain, and not so much in the smarter malls of Sylvia Park, St Luke’s or Botany Downs in Auckland. Our own dishes of tikka masala and naans went down a treat.

A friend already

Still with hours to fill we found our way to the Auckland Museum and wandered a little aimlessly until we spotted directions to the exhibition, titled “Let Me Be Myself – The Life Story of Anne Frank” on the top floor. India was quite absorbed by the display or at least made a good show of being so; both Chris and I were familiar with the subject matter but were no less interested. After that we continued on through several galleries relating to service in the various wars New Zealand has paid a part in, with emphasis on the two World Wars. I was disappointed that there was nothing here on the Maori Land wars or the Musket wars, but then these are possibly dealt with on the ground floor which is all about the people of Pacifica. 

Soon it was time to find our way down to the waterfront, and with street closures this was not without its drama. Several times we found ourselves stopped across bus lanes or in the wrong lane, however no one died and we arrived in the Downtown car park without damage to Larissa’s car or ourselves.

We were early, as usual, but were able to stand above the vessel and admire her form, and tell India that tomorrow she would be scrubbing decks and climbing masts. This was all said in jest; however I do think it may have turned out to be reality. The young people taken on these ten day youth development voyages are not namby-pambied and our granddaughter will meet challenges as never before.

An opportunity for a family photo
The “Spirit” is a 45.2 metre three-masted Barquentine, with a mast height of 31.3 metres. At top speed she can travel at 13 knots under power or 15 knots under sail. That latter fact surprised me; here was I thinking motor was more powerful than sail; apparently not. She carries a crew of fourteen and the trainees normally number forty; twenty boys and twenty girls aged from sixteen to eighteen.

Another would-be sailor was waiting near the door of the Trust office, having flown up from Dunedin with her mother. The older woman asked if we would keep her daughter company as she needed to catch a flight home, so young Sam joined us as we wandered about the Viaduct Basin, admiring the city skyline, the super-yachts and the restaurants and bars that offer hospitality to the city dwellers and visitors.

Back at the ship, the trainees had congegated, and the girls, now joined by another from Hokitika who was happy for the company, gathered their luggage and made their way on-board. Phones and other communication devices were confiscated at the gangway and the girls disappeared down into the bowels of the boat. So with that we headed home, leaving the centre of the city at about 4.30pm and arriving back in Paeroa two hours later; a surprisingly good trip.

The next day was our own, so we headed away up the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, overnighting in Whangamata at the RSA. We have been to Whangamata several times before, at least one trip reported earlier in this blog, however this lovely seaside town continues to impress us, and even more so on such a lovely sunshiny autumn day. We strolled about the shopping area and on down to the wharf, and drove about the wider area, settling into the Club carpark mid-afternoon. It’s a busy club, or at least on a Wednesday evening; the carparks were full for a few hours and I suspect there are some membrs who curse the large motorhomes and their occupants who are made so very welcome.

The Spirits is an impressive vessel
Wednesday morning we drove on north then crossed back over the range south of Hikuai, the most popular route for motorists. It is a lovely drive, the bush so dense and extensive that one can imagine it might cover the entire peninsular. The mountains are so very rugged, the land so broken, the roads a credit to those surveyors of old. One of the mini-highlights of this trip was coming upon half a dozen wild suckling pigs; we wondered how far away their mother was and the fact they were so close to the road. Anyone following us may have wound up with bonus roast pork; I hope not.

In Thames we dealt with several small matters, but still had time to drive a little north to Tararu for lunch on the shoreline. The view from our “dining” window was across the calm Firth of Thames to the Hunua Ranges and up toward the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, where no doubt our India will be sailing some time over this week. 

Beyond Tararu, there was evidence of major roadworks, because it is here and further north in early January this year that a storm ripped up the Thames Coast Road. The road was pounded by waves, partly washed away, and left with chunks of asphalt on it after high winds and tides. The road from here to about twelve kilometres south of Coromandel was closed, and even now it does not invite travel, hence I was not interested to go on further.

We returned to Thames and settled into a little park over property, owned by a ninety five year old widow, a fellow NZMCA member, who has space on her front lawn for just one motorhome and offers electric hook up via a cable across the flower garden and up through her lounge window. The house was in the process of being painted, so we took great care to avoid the trestles and workman.

Whangamata estuary scenes
Yesterday we came south back to Paeroa, the road skirting the western edge of the mountain range. The sun was shining yet again and the rural vista spread out in front of us was quite lovely. Funnily enough this route has never particulary appealed, the untidy dairy farms same old, same old, but yesterday they did not seem so.

This morning arrived without the sunshine of the last few days, however remained fine enough for us to complete our chores without event. We had woken to the sound of guns; fortunately we remembered today was the first day of the duck shooting season. Later we observed flocks of refugees attempting to escape the range of the keen shotgun toting amateurs; alas no one had told then they were safer to stay on the ground.

During the morning we walked down into Paeroa’s “CBD” , found the lovely new library where we had some printing done and came away with a couple of discarded books, then on to the weekly car boot sale, an assortment of rubbish as most are, but we still managed to find half a dozen DVDs for our on-board library, and Chris sniffed out a sausage sizzle which served as his morning tea.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning and polishing the van inside and out, and packing for our six month absence, a mammoth task for the likes of us who don’t travel light, and are suspicious of the lists we made of “stuff” left in the caravan in the UK. However, as of tonight, the bags weigh less than the allowed 30 kg, which is fine for the flight but not so great for the struggle via rail to our hotel in London. Still I am sure we will manage.

The Chief Cleaner has poured me a glass of wine, unusually the first of the week; my resolve has been broken. There is little left this evening but to eat an enormous dinner of bacon, potatoes, beans and eggs, which should just about clear the last of the perishable food, and to pack this laptop away until I pull it out again to restart my UK blog.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

30 April 2018 - Paeroa, Hauraki Plains

Three generations of fixit men
The intervening weeks have whipped past with a wealth of highlights. After catching up once more with our older son and his family, and satisfying ourselves that my mother was at last on the mend, we left Whangarei on Friday 20 April and headed down to West Auckland where we camped up at Tui Glen, our ever faithful stopover place so conveniently placed for calling on our youngest and his family.  We found this intimate little NZMCA park over spot jam packed with motorhomes and caravans, made worse by the fact that a very large bus conversion had parked sideways, taking up what is normally space for three regular sized vans. Even after we lodged ourselves into a corner and hoped like mad there would be no need to leave in a hurry, others continued to arrive and my last count by nightfall was over ten parties in. Pure madness! However during the two days we remained in residence, everyone seemed to get in and out without drama, or at least any we observed.

Enjoying our camp on the Mapara Stream
We spent some of our day with Olly helping repair a fence that had fallen victim of the storm which had come through Auckland mid-April. As we had driven through the north western reaches of the city to Henderson, we had noted so many roofs and fences still in a state of disrepair, so in the big picture, Olly and Jess had come off pretty well, just with this fence and part of their garden shed roof whipped off by a neighbour’s flying trampoline.

The children were unperturbed by the fact their paternal grandparents were flying away yet again; their youthful memory banks remember little else but the fact they have a couple of rather odd travelling grandparents. They were happy to leave us with their parents who kept us well entertained with updates of their lives and work.

As we came through Hamilton we called in on a cousin, then overnighted at a lifestyle block in Tamahere just out of Cambridge. Here we learned the owners had bought a young vineyard, which yielded a disastrous result after the first harvest. I could not help but think the neighbour, a “helpful” wine grower, may have had a hand in the fact that fermentation never occurred. No matter the sentiments or reason, our young hosts gave up their dream of selling their own boutique branded wine, and more recently pulled the vines out. Today they share their charming rural oasis with the travelling public, with or without NZMCA membership.

Sunshine greeted us on ANZAC Day
Further south, as we travelled on through the King Country, we stayed at yet another fabulous rural park over property, this the Aramatai Gardens. Life is full of strange coincidences and this was one of these. I recalled visiting the farm when I was about twelve or so, when my younger sister came here to stay with her best friend. That farming family has remained on the periphery of our own family stories over the last fifty years, although they sold the property many years ago. The expansive and very beautiful gardens, with a fine arboretum, lakes and other features to be discovered another day, were developed as a public attraction by the owners that came after the Jones family, although the foundations had been laid long before.

My amazing parents ready for the day
We arrived mid-afternoon and parked up in a small paddock surrounded by some of those fine old trees, now in their autumn dress as were most this far down the country. We then set off with a laminated map up into the hills to the advertised waterfall on the Mapara Stream, partly on a long ago closed road and partly through steep sheep country. The falls did not disappoint although after this modest one and a half hour walk, we felt we had had enough exercise for the week.

The next day we continued on south through drizzle, through National Park, seeing none of the mountains and very little beyond the road. We held on to the hope that the weather would improve on the morrow. Just before Raetihi, we turned up the Ruatiti Road and headed more or less north west, up past Orautaha, a distance of some thirty eight kilometres from State Highway 4 arriving at the Ruatiti Station which these days is more a place for moneyed hunters to hang out for a day or two and bag a stag or wild boar. The lodge and an assorted collection of huts are the remains of a once functioning farm, and still does have a few beef cattle wandering about, but one is more likely to come upon fishermen, hunters, walkers or cyclists heading off to the Bridge to Nowhere, the beginning of this latter cycle trail a mere kilometres from the Lodge.

Mum already in, Chris considering his spot
We were the first of our party to arrive and were parked up adjacent to the Lodge by the time a great collection of cousins, an aunt and my parents arrived. We were a group of near on twenty, a full house and challenge for the station manager’s wife, Bridgette, who catered for us all; two breakfasts and two dinners.

Younger cousins on the farmbikes
Of course we had all arrived to join the biennial ANZAC day celebration at the Mangapurua trig, or rather at the memorial designed by my uncle Ron, just below the trig. This day and the two previous celebrations were the brain child of author Raewyn West and her supportive husband, she who has just published the most wonderful book about the soldier settlors of the Mangapurua Valley, of which my grandfather was one.

This blogger with husband and mother
But Raewyn could not have put this amazing gathering together without the assistance of so many others; there was a shelter, and food and sound and all the ATVs and farm bikes that were gathered for transport, and this was how we all managed to arrive by 10 am high up in the Whanganui National Park ready for a rather unusual ANZAC service. TV One’s Seven Sharp cameraman and journalist were there to record the event for posterity and a fine job they did too, with a cameo moment with my mother, the last of the Bettjeman children who were brought up in the valley, that last family out in 1942 when the government refused to continue the maintenance of the problematic road.

There were about a hundred of us, some of whom had come on horseback. Chris and I had thought we might return to the Lodge on foot but the track was a mire of mud. We were already mud splattered from our trip up on the ATV and by the time we returned to the Lodge, our coats and pack were no longer in any pristine readiness for their overseas trip.

Traffic jam at the Trig
I met up with children and grandchildren of cousins, two of whom assisted Mum in laying a wreath at the memorial, and all of whom I was delighted to spend time with. It was truly a splendid occasion, with great quantities of food and far too much alcohol consumed. I noted a decided pallor on several faces on that final morning as we bid farewell, and while I regretted having headed to bed earlier than many, thus missing some of the tales of yesteryear, I was glad I had not subjected myself to the wine and spirits, the empties filling a wheelbarrow on the back porch.

Time to go
And so after heartfelt farewells, most poignantly with my parents who headed back to Whangarei, we headed across the volcanic plateau, the sun shining on the three main mountains; Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngaurahoe and the scenery the best it could possibly be at this time of the year. After shopping for fresh bread at Turangi, we parked up on the shores of Lake Taupo at Stump Bay where The Chauffeur did see fit to have a nap before pressing on. (He had taken more time than I to acquaint himself with the stalwart cousins)

My mother was offered a more luxurious descent
    That night we stayed in Tokoroa, not a place that springs to mind as a must-stay-over location, once a thriving purpose built satellite town. The nearby Kinleith Mill, a pulp and paper plant commenced production in 1953, taking advantage of the extensive pine forest that had been planted back between 1925 and 1935. Prior to this industry, Tokoroa had a population of 1,100, just a centre for the surrounding farmers, but by the early 1970s, the town’s population had reached over 20,000. Since the 1980s the plant has been downscaled and the population has shrunk to about 13,500.
With the reduction of employment, there have been problems over the years with a less desirable sector of the population flexing their muscles in a less socially acceptable fashion, and as I said before, Tokoroa is hardly a must-see or visit spot. 

Over twenty four years ago, Chris had occasion to spend time in this cold inland place, for both work and pleasure and views it more positively than I, hence his suggestion we stop over, and so we did, at the Tokoroa Club, on power in a quiet spot on the northern reach of the town. One could not fault the spot and I would be happy for us to do so again, should we find ourselves looking for such accommodation in the region, however the outlook was hardly picturesque.

By the time we arrived in Waihi Beach, the weather had packed up and we spent the bits and pieces of our days with the grandchildren dodging the rain and buffeting wind. Here again we parked up on power, Chris by now concerned about the life of our batteries, those to be replaced when we return to New Zealand in November. Our daughter and her husband had decided to take advantage of a Grab-a-seat trip to Rarotonga, so we were left to be entertained by the teenagers who had been left to bach for a week.  They served us spaghetti bolognaise, then the next night we took them to dinner at the local RSA, hardly fine dining but always good value and reliably tasty.

The full day spent with the entire family, including the loopy dog, could well have been filled with walks or even a boat trip on the harbour, but instead was spent hunkered down inside doing very little, all suffering cabin fever; a day better suited for a short visit rather than a day lengthened by inactivity. 

That evening as we continued to watch the deluge, social media was alive with the state of the road through to Paeroa, the one Larissa needed to take for work the next day and the same we would as we relocated. Apparently at one point the gorge road was down to one lane, but the next day it was absolutely fine, although there was evidence of the river having been very much higher in the previous hours. We observed that the cycle way on the other side of the Ohinemuri  had, at some point, been under water.

Arriving in Paeroa, we found a spot along from the public toilets to park up and plug into power and this serves as our next immediate base. This afternoon, I pulled out the suitcase picked up from Larissa’s and started to pack, and as I did so, felt the excitement of our imminent departure mounting.