Monday, 12 February 2018

13 February 2018 - Whangarei Central Holiday Park, Northland

Here we are back again at one of our many bases in Northland, just having paid for a further week in our formal surroundings, in as much as a “budget” camping ground can be considered “formal”. The camp has been busy over the past week as the country has undergone a series of rain storms, all at odds with the dry weather February usually offers in this part of the world.

For all those readers who may feel sorry for us holed up in our motorhome in such inclement weather, we have been even more sorry for those travellers who hole up in far less sophisticated cocoons: little pup-tents, whizz-bank vans with little ventilation and cars with even less. Rain free spaces in the mornings see colourful collections of bedding and clothing hung on makeshift lines and fences in rather futile attempts to dry. How glad we are to have our space and our ventilation hatches; everything is relative.

But with the warm temperatures, still not a patch on those being experienced on Australia right now, comes incredibly high humidity and this seems to be nationwide; the sort that makes a shower all rather pointless, rendering one as wet with perspiration or even more than when one stepped into the cubicle.

We are no further to leaving Whangarei for even the briefest of tikki tours, as the leak problems at the Big House are no further resolved than when I last posted. The men with their fancy cameras came and hovered about, clocking up their chargeable hours, then left with no resolution and yet with no invoice. That is a little joy we may still anticipate.

However we did manage to track down the son of the people who built the house, then sold it to us over twenty years ago. He was but a young single apprentice then, now a tradesman in his own right. While he had no magical answers, he was able to speak with authority about the building process and offer new insight into forward planning. As a result of this, my husband, who is not as young as he used to be, spent the greater part of yesterday digging coffin-depth trenches beside the house, and has a plan which he hopes to have endorsed tonight when yet another “expert” comes to inspect the problem. Oh the joys of property ownership! Oh the joys of relying on others who prove to be no cleverer than oneself!

Speaking of coffins, I had the opportunity to “holiday” away with my parents for a few days, travelling south to the King Country for the funeral of my mother’s older sister. Perhaps I should say “her last sibling” because that is the sad truth; but an innings of nearly ninety eight years is more a matter of celebration rather than tragedy. It was yet another opportunity for family to come together, travelling from all over the country and one from the other side of the world, a reunion of cousins, most of us a little greyer but more determined to make the most of the time left for us. Plans are being made for a pilgrimage to the sisters’ childhood stamping ground around ANZAC time, so many of us will reconvene around a country lodge dining table after a day in the wilderness sometime soon.

My parents and I spent a couple of nights in the little motel in Piopio, the only accommodation aside from B&B’s further out from the township. We were one day late for the proprietors’ wedding which was just as well as we surveyed the chaos still being sorted late the next afternoon. Considering all that, we found the accommodation quite acceptable, although we were disappointed a team of cyclists saw fit to consume our bread, margarine, yoghurt and milk; no one had explained to them that the contents of the communal fridge were not so communal. Still we did not starve and made up for the scant breakfast with a massive morning tea at a quaint little tearoom beside the Waikato River at Taupiri on our return north.

A fine resting place
Piopio and the surrounding district is my father’s hometown, if you disregard the fact he left the area when he was barely of age, but it is where his whanau have dwelled for the last one hundred and a bit years. It is also where many of his family are buried, and where he and my mother will end up, hopefully later than sooner. While we waited for the hearse to arrive with my aunt, Dad showed me their plots and I had to agree that it will be a delightful spot to rise up in the morning and watch the sun come over the limestone cliffs, if you believe that sort of thing.

Mum and I went for a wander down Piopio’s  main street, and she pointed out the blacksmith (now the museum, open by appointment) where she, and presumably her siblings, used to ride their horses in from Waitunguru, a distance just short of thirty kilometres by road these days. Funny to hear about such things because I’d never really thought of my mother as a horsewoman; that moniker was given to her sister.

Way back in history, Piopio itself was never a significant Maori settlement, although there were plenty of Pa nearby that were. European settlement came in the very late 1800s, swelled by the rehab sections that were balloted out to returned soldiers, first from the Boer war, then the World Wars that duly followed,  including that taken up by my great uncle. He soon died and it was his father , my great grandfather,  that soon busied himself with establishing a school and stirring up community matters. So it is no surprise that I too have ties with this little village.

Piopio's "Green"
I spent two years at the school here back in the sixties, and then the town had a post office, banks, shops, doctor’s surgery, chemist, and everything else a thriving settlement might boast in those days. But these days the locals commute into Te Kuiti for their groceries and probably on further to Hamilton for their fancy clothes and consumables. Piopio is just hanging on with about four hundred inhabitants, my elderly uncle one of them,  and the few food outlets closed on Sundays. The Cloverleaf Dairy is open on Mondays and does excellent fish and chips.

There is also an excellent little craft shop that sells handmade jewellery my mother struggled to resist. She has already accumulated a little trove of treasures from here and surely will add to it next time she is down.  I could easily have been tempted but for lack of space to squirrel such gems away.

Piopio is undergoing rejuvenation, fuelled in part from hosting Tolkien fans; part of the Hobbit films was set just up the road in the Mangaotaki Valley and cyclists obviously see this as a good place to pass through if you’re on a big cycling safari.

Back here, The Boss’s ribs are healing well which is just as well, with all this digging on offer, and did I mention it? We have booked our flights to the United Kingdom. My husband decided it was probably better to fly direct rather than detour through the USA. I told him that was a good idea. Perhaps he is learning to read my mind?

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

23 January 2018 - Whau Valley, Whangarei

We have temporarily settled ourselves in the centre of the city, just metres away from a busy intersection of the main highway north and the main arterial route to Kamo. We intend to only stay little more than a week, readying this rental property for reoccupation; a little gardening, a few paint touch ups, the tightening of door handles here and windows there, the unplugging of drains, the sort of thing that landlords do when they have the opportunity to note there is a need and the time to personally attend to these sundry maintenance matters. Fortunately for us there is space to park our motorhome although we do not have the advantage of double glazing that graces the road frontage windows of the house; city traffic, even in this regional back water, is more than we are used to.
Having said that, we thought we would miss the wonderful birdlife of Parua Bay; the wood pigeons, the tuis, the silver-eyes, quail, kaka, fantails, pheasants and so on, but the garden at the rear of the property, surrounded in fine specimens of native trees is full of many of these same birds. And even here in the city, the possums create havoc;  I found the plastic rubbish sack holed after the first night and this morning discovered a road killed glossy coated possum cozied up against our road side fence, a rather dignified death scene although by tomorrow no doubt odorous. I did ring the council who expressed a willingness to come gather the corpse, but they have yet to turn up.

It’s been a strange month since I last considered posting. Christmas Day passed rather pleasantly as guests of our older son and his family. We ate well and enjoyed the family atmosphere and were still both sober and sensibly fed to enjoy a light evening meal with my parents. And while this all may have caused me to be drawn back into the family fold for future Christmases, I still reckon our best Christmases have been those spent in the bush, just the two of us cooking a chook in a dodgy gas oven, a few bottles of the  grape and no one else to consider.

My husband continued to procrastinate regarding the repainting of the Big House’s roof, and I felt as if we were hanging in a limbo state. Finally he took the plunge and risked his aging body on the multi-tiered roof, et voila! All was done. But while we have in the main enjoyed an excellent summer here in the north, we have also had a few extreme rain storms and these have played havoc with the drainage system of that same house. Some years ago we had similar problems and my very clever husband dreamed up a pump system to deal with the excess water, but even this has not been  able to cope with the extreme rainfall from a certain direction and I guess with all this Global Warming going on, it will only get worse. So this is an issue we are currently dealing with apart from luring a suitable tenant to caste us from our current camping spot.

The highlight of our recent life, having little to do with travel on our part but more to do with that of our children, was to arrange a get together of our entire progeny at this address, making the most of having a suitable venue, for the first time in more than eight years. Needless to say, the youngest of our grandchildren was not even born then, so we have grown by one in number since that last gathering and in size by too many kilos.

Our children, their partners and our grandchildren with us
We dug furniture and sundry chattels from under the Big House and engaged the assistance of a caterer to add a classy edge to the feast, and were duly rewarded. We spent two wonderful days enjoying our family and most of all for me, delighting in various members touching base with each other and hopefully rebuilding relationships that have sadly been neglected for too many years.
It all coincided with our daughter, the oldest of the tribe heading further north to enjoy a week in Paihia with her family, so it was not too much of an imposition to swing by us here in Whangarei. The youngest and his family came up and “glamped” on site with their fancy airbed and the middle “child” drove across town to complete the scene. On the Sunday when Larissa and her crew had moved on to enjoy their holiday in the Bay of Islands, my parents drove across town to join us for brunch so we had yet another family group together and a long overdue catch up there for the Auckland family and their grandparents / great grandparents.

The brunching brigade
This really was such a delight to both Chris and I, although marred by a silly accident in the week building up to the event. We were parked up out on our section, with our “front entrance” a rather steep affair with steps balanced on timbers and rubber mats. Our caterer called by to confirm certain points which we discussed over a bottle of wine, reminiscing past acquaintances and mutually attended events. Heavy rain started to fall and it was time for the lady to depart. My husband, always the gentleman, stepped out to help her down, and slipped on the wet mats and came down hard on the step. He had in fact broken a rib in his back, but he continued on over the next few days until the surgeries reopened after the weekend when pain and sleepless nights drove him to seek confirmation and a bottle of more effective painkillers. And in the midst of this, on the Sunday morning while sampling one of his delicious bacon croissants, he broke one of his front teeth. Alas he is falling to bits, which is all most inconvenient; we have so many places yet to go, too much living to do, and still a room or two here to repaint, and hedges to be trimmed at the Big House.

My adoption of the term  “Big House” has arisen from comments made by one of my dear friends who came for lunch subsequent to the Big Party weekend, to help us hoover up the leftovers. She referred to the home we previously lived in prior to taking to the road as the “Big House” and I thought this was all so very appropriate, because as the centre of our earlier family life and memories, and the fact it is at least three times the size of any other properties we own, it is so very appropriate. Hence I shall refer to the house on the hill at Onerahi as the Big House from here on in.

The last couple of days have been taken up with babysitting our local granddaughters, such well-behaved delightful children, who fill our days with their laughter and beauty. There is one day left of this “task” and we have volunteered to repeat the exercise in a couple of months. Our efforts are but a drop in the ocean compared to their other grandparents; I should feel guilty that we have so little input, but I am so aware that the years are slipping by and we have a diminishing number of years to pursue our travelling life. Hopefully these little girls, even grown, will choose to remember us. Thus speaks a very selfish grandparent.

So while we are yet to add to our travel diaries in any meaningful sense, we have progressed  beyond the stalled mentality we were suffering in our own ways, now intending to set off north as soon as this central city property is let and the residual problems and rampant flora at the Big House have been attended to. And of course we have yet to book our return flights for the northern hemisphere.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

21 December 2017 - Parua Bay, Whangarei Harbour, Northland

I remember seven or so years ago my younger son asking what I would do with myself now I was divesting myself of my business and occupation in order to retire. I guess that after having had a frantically busy mother all his life, sometimes, or even too often, to the detriment of family time, he could not imagine me being anything else. Of course the intervening years have been filled in the main with travel, and while overseas, every minute of every day, doing so. I bring this all up because I have to confess that most of our days since returning from the United Kingdom at the end of November have been all too idle. I have consumed dozens of books from the library and book swapping spots, done more cooking than the last six years combined and little else. How sad is that!?

But there have been some little excursions and it is that this blog is particularly reserved for, not my self-pity and reports of lazy idleness. But even before we popped away from Whangarei, we did spend one delightful afternoon doing what many grandparents do; attending a grandchild’s cultural performance. Our youngest, who is not yet six, takes dance classes and the dance school puts on an annual recital at year end, a collection of numbers by the students, 99.9% of them female aged from three to fifty three at least. While the choreography and costume were without fault, the execution of the routines by the tiny tots was a scene of pure comedy. To see a clutch of tinies in exquisite tutus and headwear, wander upon the stage of Whangarei’s Bougainville Theatre, pause, look lost, then be rescued by black clad “invisible” prompts, was absolutely hilarious. But I can report that our own little Aurelia performed well, without too much hesitation and without requiring rescue.

Days later we left Whangarei once more and headed to Auckland, or Henderson more specifically, to deliver our unimaginative Christmas presents to our youngest and his family. He and his partner were doing their best to make the most of a childless weekend, their two sons having been taken down to Nelson by their wonderful other-grandmother  for a brief break in the sunshine and seaside. The first childless and otherwise very private day was interrupted by the other-grandfather who is also a wonderfully supportive figure in their life, but could have been more absent this particular weekend.  And then there was us, who did arrive with notice duly given, to be dined and entertained. We did not stay too long but my heart went out to this couple, who, with primary age children and one live-in parent, have so little private space.

And on the subject of Christmas presents and the celebration itself, I will repeat what I have surely conveyed before. Neither my husband nor I enjoy “celebrating” this highly commercialised religious festival, nor the anxiety caused by the build up of The Day which heralds the close down of all commercial and practical life for three weeks down here at the bottom of the Pacific. The idea of gifting for all at once is not only financially challenging to most, but for me an exercise in total confusion. I wandered about the stores some days before the aforementioned trip trying to imagine what “normal” little girls liked, having never been a fluffy dizzy frilly girly child myself, nor mother to the same; it was sons I spent my parenting days raising, and boys are very different to girls no matter what these “gender-equal” advocates may say.

We spent a night at the NZMCA Park at Tui Glen, that wonderful little hideaway in very urban Henderson. There is a fabulous playground in the public section of the park, which is well used by locals at the weekend. As we wandered through the park threading our way past dozens of immigrant families, we spied one in particular who had come with two large barbeque arrangements and great big pots for the traditional “boil-ups”. Chris remarked that there seemed to be no lack of food, a comment overheard and met with great mirth from the large Polynesian men sitting around waiting for the feast.

The Westfield Mall in Henderson was full of Christmas shoppers and the expected queue of parents waiting with their little treasures to be photographed on Santa’s knee; one does wonder why parents will still insist that their children be caressed by a strange man in a gaudy costume, despite the horror stories that come out these days via media and the law courts.

Did I hear you utter – “Christmas Grinch?” Be honest, how many folk really really embrace  Christmas?

Our other nights were spent down in South Auckland staying at the Ardmore NZMCA Park which we found less crowded than normal. From here we visited Armstrong Locksmiths up in Otahuhu where we were finally able to have spare keys cut for our toilet hatch, a task better appreciated by those who have experienced the loss than trying to imagine the situation.

 From here we took the opportunity to revisit the Onehunga foreshore at Mangere Bridge, a beautiful and underrated spot in Auckland. Certainly Mangere Bridge has only been more attractive since the sewerage works upwind were decommissioned; such stench hardly makes for sought after real estate.
We walked along the winding pathway that extends from Ambury Farm Park to the old Mangere Bridge and on up the northern shore of the estuary, a cycle trail we have completed in the past. The bird life is wonderful along this shore, particularly here along the Kiwi Esplanade.

Views along the Mangere foreshore
The landscape here has been shaped largely by Mangere Mountain, a volcano which erupted some 30,000 years ago. The mountain is one of the largest and best preserved of Auckland’s fifty three cones and craters. All of these volcanoes are the product of hot rock rising from one hundred kilometres below the city. That source is still active and another volcano is sure to erupt in Auckland area in the future, truly a scary thought.
The lava spewed out during the eruption, is solidified and exposed here on Kiwi Esplanade, making a strange surface known as “pahoehoe”, a smooth, billowy or ropey surface formed as the lava chilled. It develops where very fluid lava has continued to flow beneath a flexible crust, which twists and wrinkles into ridged shapes.

The Manukau Harbour and Mangere foreshore provides habitat for important international and national migratory wading birds, as well as other local birdlife. The harbour supports more than 20% of New Zealand’s total wading bird population. Each summer between September and march approximately 7,500 Bar-tailed Godwits and 7,000 Red (lesser) Knots travel  12,000 kilometres from northern hemisphere to take advantage of the Manukau Harbour’s extensive  feeding grounds. These birds nest in the tundra regions of Siberia and Alaska, but are driven south at the approach of winter as their habitats begin to freeze. The waders arrive in their thousands to spend summer feeding on the mudflats of the Manukau Harbour. The harbour provides a rich source of food including marine molluscs, worms and other invertebrates.

The South Island Pied Oystercatchers nest only in the South Island, but after nesting, migrate to the harbour here and other North Island coastal areas during the winter. Non-breeding birds remain in the North Island throughout the year, while breeding adult birds return to the South Island nesting sites. At high tide thousands of Oyster catchers gather on the grassy reserve here beside the shore, a site that never fails to impress us.

As I said this is an underrated place; Mangere does not generally inspire excitement amongst most of the Pakeha population of Auckland and further afield.

 When we did eventually leave South Auckland to head north once more, we were met with traffic signs that suggested frustratingly lengthy travel times, so we came north up the Western Ring Road, joining the North-eastern Motorway via the still relatively new Waterview Tunnel. I am not sure how much longer this route is, but the fact that there is uninterrupted traffic flow and thus less stress, suggests this is a better route north in such circumstances.

That day we lunched at the Rosedale Park, a wonderful sports park near Albany where we have parked up to break our journey on many an occasion. This is every bit as convenient as the sports park we had pulled into at Warkworth on the way south. Both venues are locked up at night with notice of expensive release fees, and I do wonder whether one could dare to overnight, locked in, and stay free? This I do not know and am not personally willing to try out, or at least just yet.

The next excitement was a day on Tiritiri Matangi, one of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf but this one rather more special than most. The Gulf covers an area of 4,000 square kilometres east of Auckland,  and is part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, which itself covers an area of more than 1.2 million hectares. There are more than fifty islands within the Gulf, many of which are public conservation lands managed by the Department of Conservation.

The more well-known islands are Waiheke which is celebrated for its vineyards and restaurants, and as a destination for Gold Card holders who take advantage of free ferry rides much to the consternation of less well-heeled consumers,  Rangitoto with its recently formed volcanic cone, and Ponui Island once a refuge for Salvation Army rehabilitating drunks. 

The 360 Discovery Cat at the Tiritiri wharf
Tiritiri Matangi lies 3.4 kilometres east of the Whangaparoa Peninsula and 30 kilometres north east of Auckland, covering just 220 hectares.  It is an open wildlife sanctuary, a scientific reserve and one of New Zealand’s most important and exciting conservation projects, managed by the Department of Conservation in conjunction with the community group Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi.

The island is best noted for its birdlife, including takahe, North Island kokako and the spotted kiwi. It attracts between 30,000 and 32,000 visitors a year, the maximum allowed by the Auckland Conservation Management Strategy.

Originally the island was covered by a mixed pohutukawa forest with kohekohe and taraire dominant in sheltered valleys, however centuries of Maori occupation and subsequent European farming saw the majority of the island converted to rolling grassland with only pockets of forest remaining.
Looking back toward the wharf
Maori occupation was fraught with conflict as with most in this country; there is not, nor has ever been, harmonious tribal cohabitation. Their war-like nature, particularly before the European brought them some semblance of brotherly love cloaked in Christianity, still makes for squabbling as attempts are made to settle treaty claims.

By the time Europeans eyed up the island, physical occupation had long gone, although memories are long and never entirely accurate or harmonious. In 1841 Ngati Paoa, rightly or wrongly, sold the land to the Crown as part of the Mahurangi Block, and farming, as we understand the term, began. 

In 1864 a lighthouse was constructed at the southern end of the island and remains in operation today albeit now automated. In 1956, a xenon light was fitted to the lighthouse, creating the most powerful light-beam achieved at the time by any New Zealand lighthouse. The last lighthouse keeper arrived with his family in 1980 and after the light was automated a few years later, he remained on managing the restoration programme and was DOC Ranger on the island right through to 2006.

In the 1970s a chap from the Wildlife Service was given permission to release kakariki, or red-crowned parakeets, onto the island and that release caught the attention of a junior lecturer in zoolology at Auckland University. It was this John Craig together with Neil Mitchell, and a few other hangers-on who instigated the re planting of the island. This also required the eradication of the predators who had made their way to the island over the years and managed to further destroy the native vegetation and the birdlife; the kiore rat being the first and foremost criminal.

Between 1984 and 1994 250,000 native trees and shrubs of over thirty different species were planted. The rats were killed with aerial drops of poisoned bait which had the side effect of  decimating 90% of the pukeko population. While I might say these comical birds are a hardy lot and surely able to regain their numbers in next to no time, this should not negate the tragic lossat the time.

The earnest Gerhard and his eager pupils
Since that initial conservational and reinstatement of the island, eleven native species have been relocated to the island as part of an on-going restoration project. Today the bush is filled with the sound or evidence of kakariki, the North Island saddleback aka tieke, the whitehead aka popokotea, the stitchbird aka hihi, the North Island kokako, the spotted kiwi, the brown duck aka pateke, the rifleman, North Island tomtit and the fernbird, the last five which we failed to see on our visit. There are apparently eighty seven species on or about the island and we saw but a portion of these, but were still duly impressed.

We caught the bright yellow trimaran from Gulf Harbour which ploughed its way through the rough seas for just half an hour to the island and then took advantage of a guided walk for an additional $10 each around the island to learn much about the birds, plant and insect life that is unique to this sanctuary.  Our guide is one of the many volunteers from the mainland who offer their time, expertise and passion for the island to visitors these volunteers making up the twenty or less who are offered free travel by Fullers to facilitate this service.

Tiritiri  Matangi's lighthouse
Most of our fellow tourists were from overseas, and drank in the imparted knowledge. But we did too, and learned much about the birds we consider ourselves all too familiar with; the tui, kingfisher, bellbirds. We sampled native celery, our local version of samphire and kawakawa peppers, all adding to further understanding of our own environment.

Heading back toward the wharf
The excellent weather we have enjoyed since our return to New Zealand had changed since making our booking but then booking ahead is always fraught with such danger. I had woken several times through the preceding night and heard the showers pass over. Then just before the alarm went off at 7 am, a wild storm passed over suggesting a disastrous day. As it happened the winds did not abate which made for a less than pleasant sailing, but the rain stayed away and the day was otherwise perfect. I did however think of my sister who makes regular sorties out into the Gulf in all weathers; she and her husband have a rather grand launch moored in the Marina and have a greater appreciation of all-weather boating than I do.

We snuck away from the northern border of Auckland City after an early rising, not willing to subject ourselves to the reported streams of north bound holiday makers. As it happened the traffic seemed relatively normal, and we were back in Whangarei soon after 10 am. After attending  to half a dozen errands, such as gas refills, gathering of our mail, and attending to a week’s worth of laundry, we set up camp back out here on Jumbo expecting to remain for the next week or so. That roof still needs painting and my husband’s procrastination must have a limit. In the meantime I have received communication from my sister regarding Christmas drinks at our parents’ tomorrow night. If it comes off, it will be the only “pre-Christmas function” we will have had to deal with; a very different cup of tea from the working years!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

8 December 2017 - Parua Bay, Whangarei Harbour, Northland

The fine warm weather has continued delighting us every day although I am sure the farmers here in the north will soon be crying in their tea cups and praying for rain. The open ground here beside the bush is starting to crack open and the foliage browning off. We spent some days clearing the weeds which were waist high in places, growth and colour that elsewhere we would celebrate as wildflower meadows. I persevered for a mere hour pulling up bracken until hay fever chased me back to the van. In contrast Chris donned overalls and earmuffs to weed-eat the perimeter of the commercially mown area. In the middle of this endeavour, our mowing man turned up with his ride-on and hand mower and tidied up the central areas; hence our “garden” is now neatly manicured and spoiled for the birds which had been enjoying the wildlife.
Wild flowers on Jumbo before the big mow and slash
When we initially arrived back on to the section, we disturbed a pair of rosellas, delightful parrots and reminiscent of our time in Australia. They along with the indigenous and other introduced species continue to entertain us, serenading each end of the day and in between for good measure.  And interestingly the morning after the big mow, the pair of gorgeous Eastern Rosellas spent hours poking about in the “hay” below our elevated gaze.

Actually to say “we” bush whacked is actually very unfair to Chris, because it was he that did all the hard work, wielding the cumbersome weed-eater, and the spray wand, and most of the other exhausting stuff required to tame the wilderness. I reserved my efforts for administrative tasks such as trying to sort issues out with Chris’s new phone. (Here again the word “new” is not strictly correct because he ended up with my hand-me-down and it was I who scored the new phone.) The problems with his Apple account arose from the fact that he purchased an app in the UK, just one little app all about a cycling race, and this managed to confuse the regional settings. Spark staff, yours truly and the people on the end of chat lines and phone calls all were unable to rest this so the “fix” was quite complicated. Finally after several hours “chatting” with a very clever chap in Sydney employed by Apple, we arrived at a possible solution which I put into practice when we eventually managed to plug into mains power and endless Wi-Fi. 

Needless to say my husband is now recovered from his bout of UK flu although it was never really that; we have become all too ready to call anything that lays us low for more than a couple of days, the ‘flu. Already he is thinking about trips he would have us do away through the summer, although these will have to fit around our Christmas Day commitment and the repainting of the roof of our once-upon-a-time home.

Pleased as punch with our "new" car
As we travel in and out along the harbour to Whangarei, we note the changes of the pohutakawa blooms; within weeks they will be amass of crimson. The flame trees have also started to their own display, not unlike the poinsettias of Christmas, all in line with the Santa parades happening all around the country. We are surprised with the number of backpacker car based travellers already populating the specially designated camping spots along the harbour; near the boat club at Parua Bay and at Tamaterau, such stunning spots to wake up to. The Whangarei Harbour is indeed one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, but then we are biased.

Lazy oldies on the beach at Matakana Is
We passed otherwise idle days attending the cinema, calling on my parents, shopping for groceries and a new car. It was time for our poor old Isuzu, the 1994 workhorse that has served us well for the last sixteen years, to retire and we replaced it with a slightly younger vehicle, a station wagon that others would use as a people carrier. Hopefully this “new” eleven year old vehicle will serve as well as her predecessor, ferrying pots of paint, ladders and scaffolding for repairs and upkeep of our rentals. Despite the utilitarian nature of the purchase, we did feel like Christmas had come early.
In fact Christmas bounty continued even the same week. We delayed heading down to Waihi Beach to see Larissa and her family with unavoidable and unalterable appointments, finally getting away on the Friday afternoon. We were still short of our destination late that afternoon having spent four and three quarters of an hour travelling from Whangarei to Paeroa, with the slowest of the trip through Auckland, with no particular obstacle slowing the traffic down; it seems that this is just normal and it is such experiences that makes one glad to be living elsewhere.

Parked up beside the Rail Trail, we happened upon a rather eccentric chap complete with earring and three bikes for sale; one each for Papa, Mama and Little Bear. We could not resist the bargain and soon the two adult bikes were secured on the back of our motorhome, on the racks that previously supported the more superior bikes stolen when we were in South Auckland two years ago. These are well below standard but should meet our modest needs, mainly filling the empty rack and providing us with a sporty look.

While children and grandchildren ski
We spent the good part of a week in Waihi Beach, firstly parked up at the local RSA Club, enjoying the wide views over the sea, out to Mayor Island and beyond, observing the odd passing of large container ships departing the Port of Tauranga further south. After the allowed three days, we spent the next two parked up near the Community Centre which is less picturesque but equally suitable, or at least at this time of the year before the onslaught of the holidaymakers. 

Chris was employed in the back yard, digging and shovelling, a task not too unlike that undertaken at our rental last summer before we left for the UK. While he does love to be useful, I am sure a little part of him was happy to wake the morning of our departure knowing that the drive north would be the most strenuous part of the day. He also endeared himself to all by taking our granddaughter out for driving lessons, a task never for the fainthearted and certainly not for one as nervous as me. I seemed to do little but eat and talk, then eat some more, attend to Chris’s phone “repair” and oversee everyone else’s hard work.

Checking for stingrays
Whilst there we spent a morning out on the water under the glorious sunshine, or more correctly, my husband and I were taken out to Matakana Island across the Tauranga Harbour and settled there to guard the picnic breakfast and observe the ski-ing talents of all and the adept boat handling skills of both father and fifteen year old son. We had set our alarm for 5 am and were heading away from the launching ramp at Tanners Point soon after 7 am, hence the need for the picnic, although Chris and I had had time to sneak in our regular cereal as we are creatures of habit and waiting for “brunch” is not something that aligns with our digestion.
Camping at Waipu's Caledonian Park
The shore was littered with sea lettuce which has hit the television news since, reported to be a foul pollutant for the more fastidious bay dwellers. I did not find it so; it was a good barrier between us landlubbers and the numerous stingrays that lurked near the shore. We watched the herons swoop in and then depart again when the noisy motorboat returned to destroy the peace of our otherwise isolated posse. It was the first time I had been to Matakana Island, although views from the mainland across the long narrow harbour to the island are hardly new. I used to pick my way about the low tide near Katikati opposite the island forty years ago, and even   before then, as a small child visiting the beach at Mt Maunganui,  the southern tip of the Island was part of the landscape, for both Mount walkers and harbour paddlers. 

When we did eventually head north again,  our progress up through Auckland on the motorway was straight forward with none of the delays experienced just days before and we continued on up, breaking our journey at Waipu where we overnighted at the Caledonian Park, the venue of the annual New Year’s Day Celtic Highland Games. Here members of the NZMCA can stay plugged into power for a modest $10 and Chris thought it might give the motorhome batteries a good boost to do so. You know me; I never turn down the opportunity to enjoy un-rationed electricity.