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.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

10 April 2018 - Whangarei Central Holiday Park, Northland

We had thought to have spent our last few weeks about Whangarei back out on Jumbo, but a day trip about a week ago showed us that the sun was already travelling too low across the sky to spend much effort shining upon solar panels on our motorhome roof, if we were to settle back there. The opportunity had passed and we had missed the boat, the story of our time back in New Zealand this summer. So we stayed on here in central Whangarei enjoying the mod-cons a commercial camping ground offers, and will do so for another week yet. We are already considered “permanents” here by the management, and as such enjoy the discounted weekly rates. While the other permanent residents are a pleasant lot, I did not really want to be tossed into the same basket, but after this length of stay, why should we not be? 

My mother’s health problems have not gone away and serve instead to heap the guilt on as we work toward our departure for the northern hemisphere. The one consolation is that if we were required to return at short notice, we would not be rendered destitute by the unbudgeted expense.

We have continued to enjoy lunch, dinner and in-between dates with our friends and family, even popping down to Auckland for the day over Easter to share our middle grandson’s 10th birthday cake. He was more intent on enjoying his new Xbox rather than hang about with oldies such as ourselves, but then we were happy to pass the hours with his parents who we see so little of.

Easter saw the annual New Zealand Motorhome & Caravan Association Rally here in Whangarei, a marvellous event for the area having over a thousand vanners descend upon the region. The holiday park here saw a number of these stay for a night or two before and after the event; to replenish their batteries and pantries and to make use of the more generous water supply. We have never attended an annual rally, only regional events and of course the “Music in the Mountains”  at Tapawera last year. This Easter we had family commitments, however we did make the effort to attend the Annual General Meeting. Now we do have a few shares in this company and that, and when we have turned up at a shareholders’ meeting have had the impression that many have turned up for the refreshments laid on. Up at Whangarei’s Barge Park, under the massive marquee there were no sausage rolls or cups of tea on offer, just a large crowd of passionate association members who had come to have their say or show their appreciation for the volunteers that give so much of their time and effort. We were most impressed with the calibre of office bearers and the keen interest of the lesser members, there for the “business” not the cream cakes. 

Even after all these weeks we are still ticking our way through a list of to-dos before our leaving; it may well be seen as rather tragic that we are spending our days planning for our ensuing trip rather than enjoying the moments of the present. Well actually we are doing some of that too.

Kiekie reaching for the sunlight
Just last weekend, apart from wining and dining family, all of which does little for one’s weight, we did undertake a walk which I have been looking forward to re-doing for some time. In an attempt to reckon when we did last do this particular walk, we tried to gauge how old our youngest son would have been when we dragged him along with us. Given that he will be thirty years old this year and he was hard to drag along after the legal age of being left home alone, it must have been at least sixteen years ago; I would hazard a guess that it was nearer twenty years ago. 

On Sunday we packed our lunch and set off up Three Mile Bush Road, on the north western edge of Whangarei, or more correctly, Kamo, and found our way to the Pukenui Forest Loop Walk. When we last did this, we parked on the grass verge of the more significant rural road and walked across a farm to access the forest. Nowadays one turns up a side road and parks in a well-defined car park, before walking along a manicured gravel walkway bordered with formal stone walls, skirting cattle filled lush green fields dotted with well-established native trees,  before entering the wilder reaches of the forest, fenced off to keep the kiwi in, if fences do confine kiwis. Obviously there is a hope, or even belief that such fences keep kiwi eating dogs out.

The Pukenui Forest bounds on to the Western Hills Forest, making for a 1,500 hectare expanse of green bird sanctuary. The Pukenui State Forest itself covers 592 hectares and was last logged in the 1920s. Since then there has been healthy regeneration and happily, the logging rapists chose to leave many kauri and other fine specimen of native trees. Evidence of DOC’s trap setters is all along the walking trail which I find encouraging although my more suspicious husband would say they put them near the trail to woo the public into thinking they are doing a better job than the reality. Whatever the truth, the population of stoats, weasels, rats and possums must in part be decimated by even the smallest of efforts.

There are two walking tracks for the average walker, who must, at the very least, be sure footed because there are roots and rises to discourage many. There are also other trails that wend their way through to others in the Western Hills, poorly marked and only for serious trampers, which we are not. 

Pausing for a picnic lunch
For those who do persevere on this walk, advertised to take between three and  four hours, much of it follows the Mangere Stream, sometimes climbing away and then back again guided by orange triangle markers. These days the trail is easier to follow than it was twenty years or whatever ago, and certainly lovelier. But then I do believe I am fitter these days despite being that much older; modern medications mean that sufferers of COPD can manage their active lives better now than before.

There are also some stretches of steps and board walks, mainly near fine old kauri which might be affected by die-back disease if we were allowed to wander willy-nilly about off the trail. Nikau, punga, kahikatea, totara, supple jack, kiekie and rewarewa dominate the forest, or at least that alongside the track.

Posing near one of the kauri
We paused to lunch beside the stream, seating ourselves upon fallen nikau palm fronds and enjoying the peace of the New Zealand bush. Below us we watched a languid eel, at least a metre long, make its way upstream, a fat wood pigeon land clumsily on a bough on the opposite rise, a fantail dart about making the most of the insects we had disturbed on our arrival. Later we traced the flow of the stream on our maps and found that it flows generally westward, joining the Wairoa River and eventually out into the Kaipara Harbour by Dargaville; I do enjoy tracing river routes from their source on maps, happy to leave the physical exploration to the likes of Livingstone and his ilk.

The last part of the 8.2 kilometre loop trail, given that we walked it in a clockwise direction, follows an old logging tramline. This stretch of relatively flat walkway is a relief after labouring up and down hill. We returned to the car park just within three and a half hours, quite an effort for us who have been so very lazy of late.

Lately I have been making an effort to walk into town to the supermarket, the library, the shops and my parents who live just across the river, in a poor attempt to train for our time in London. Of course this is all countered by the stocks of left over ice-cream and other calorie laden foods lingering in our fridge since entertaining family members and friends. 

My hair is overdue for a cut but I must bear with it for another week when I shall indulge myself with cut and colour, also in preparation for the travelling public. We already have a stock pile of prescription drugs ready for our trip, although I do wonder how there will be space for shoes and other necessities in our bags; still we have managed in other years. Just one more week and we will leave Whangarei for our trip down to Ruatiti; it will be cold further south and I should be worrying about preparations for our more rustic stay in the mountain ranges rather than our months in more civilised counties of England.