Paihia, New Zealand
Bye-bye to Auckland today as we head up into Northland. The Princess liner had slipped away in the night too after no more than 12 hours docked in the capital. It’s almost as if they prefer being at sea to on land. One of the ferry crew told us that they have over 70 liners call a year, so must be a regular sight to them.The city centre light show was turned off at 12am and apparently all hell broke loose with kids and cops mixing it. Not sure if this is a normal Friday night down in the harbour front or not.
We were on the road for 9.30am and successfully navigated out of a sign-free city centre onto the harbour bridge road – Highway 1 North. It starts out as a 8-lane motorway, but gradually as the Auckland suburbs fall behind the lanes peel off one by one and were down to two-lane blacktop. Sadly the beautiful weather falls behind too and we go into a band of grey clouds and the odd spot of rain. This road is absolutely crying out for a Porsche – it twists and turns and climbs and drops through forest and farmland like the greatest driving road of all time. Sadly all I have is a red Ford Focus and a speed limit of 100kph. I do my best. Wendy hangs on through the bends. One very civilised touch is the addition of passing lanes every few km, so there is no need to sit behind slow traffic for long. Even so, a couple of ‘utes’ pull right over into the shoulder to allow us by on long stretches. I am glad to find that the capital’s aversion to road signs is not shared up here – signs in plenty, including lovely brown tourist signs. We take the northern toll road in the interests of speed. There’s no toll booths, so right after posting this I’ll have to log on to their web site and pay the toll of $2 each way. We make good time; Whangarei for coffee and our hotel in Paihia before 1pm. The sunny weather also returns by Whangarei, so much so that the heat is a shock leaving the car – 26 degrees according to the car thermometer.
The hotel is lovely, considering I picked it semi-blind off the internet. It doesn’t have a sea view, being slightly above and behind the town, but it makes up for it in comfort. The widely-spaced chalet-style blocks have rooms that are enormous – easily double the size of the one in Hong Kong and that’s without including the private garden patio with table and chairs.
We don’t stay there long though, but drive down into the village to confirm our trip to Cape Reinga tomorrow. I had tried to book this online, but the web site had spat out all my credit cards. No such problem in town and the booking clerk (who’s originally from Salford) drily informs us the coach will be waiting for us outside the lobby at 7.15am and that the sand surfing ‘”is compulsory”. “We’ll see” says Wendy. The booking office is right on the harbour jetty, a ferry to Russell is leaving in 3 mins so we get on. Hey, why not? A huge bank of black cloud chases the boat across the bay and we’ve been so fast we’ve left our coats in the hotel. Ooops! It’s still sunny in Russell for an hour or so, so we explore the old town. Russell incidentally is one of the earliest settlements in NZ and many of the houses are a couple hundred years old. They are wooden in the ‘colonial’ style and very picturesque.
Eventually the black clouds catch us and then the rain hammers down. Luckily we take refuge in Sally’s cafe overlooking the bay and partake of tea and cake for the hour or so it takes to stop and the sun to come back out. When it does we grab the ferry back to Paihia quickly. However, not before nearly taking a little 3-legged dog with us. He was very keen to join the boat, but as he had no fare the skipper was having none of it and left him looking forlorn on the jetty.
From there we made a mad dash just down the road to Waitangi, to see the treaty grounds where the original treaty between the Maori and the settlers was signed – widely regarded as the birth of NZ as a single country. However, we got there just after 4pm and it closes at 5. The lady on the desk said it wasn’t worth paying $20 for such a short time as you should allow at least an hour and a half. We took her word for it. But it does raise the whole issue of closing times in NZ – it’s amazing how early they close things here. Shops in the capital that open at 10am will shut at 4.30pm. Talk about culture shock coming from Hong Kong where everything is still very much open for business at 9pm at night! But to bring the point home, the people who look after Waitangi are currently running an appeal to raise funds to carry out urgent repairs on the treaty house. In the 15 mins or so we were there the desk lady turned away at least 12 people we could count – that’s 12 people at $20 each! Surely the answer to some of their financial problems lie right in their own hands?
Anyway, that’s it for today. Tomorrow we have an early start and apparently a very full day. Can’t wait!