Friday 16 Feb, 2018
We collected our hire-car at 9 ‘o clock sharp, a cute, bright red Holden Trax (that is Australia’s one indigenous car brand). It is small, though perfectly formed, and contains us and our belongings with consummate ease. The hardest step of any journey is whether to turn left or right out of the driveway. Suddenly confronted with Auckland’s morning rush-hour traffic, alien road signs (colour, shape, conventions and so on) we wend our way roughly north to pick up Highway 1 and bid farewell to Auckland and its sea of morning commuters coming into the city. It is a fine day, 25 °C. clear and sunny with little fluffy clouds to complement the lapis blue sky. (Aren’t Polaroid sunglasses wonderful?).
We are heading to Kerikeri – Maori for “dig, dig” referring, presumably, to the very fertile soil on which now grow oranges, kiwi fruits, melons and vegetables galore. Kerikeri abuts the north east coastal feature called the Bay of Islands – a large fractal shaped collection of inlets and riddled with, well, islands. Sue tells me, with all the authority of a geography teacher, that this coast-line is a ria type, river basins flooded by rising sea levels, and the islands are the exposed tops of former hills. So now you know. It takes a fair while to drive the 240 km from Auckland as the road is a two lane only with occasional passing lanes and there are numerous slower vehicles in front of us. We see many camping vans going our way and dozens of heavy log-laden trucks coming south. Seemingly there is a large lumber industry in the north of North Island.
The land is green – much grazing of cattle – and gently rolling. It looks fertile and productive.
Habitations are few, all single storey with weatherboard cladding and corrugated iron roofs – very noisy when it rains which it does, a lot. The small towns (big villages) we pass through have the characteristic Australian / New Zealand main street of single storey, “mom and pop” stores. How dissimilar to the cloned high streets in the UK each with a Boots, a WH Smith, a Greggs, a Specsavers and so on. I adore the signs extolling the virtues of various trade suppliers e.g. a pipes and pumps supplier “If it flows, we can fix it”. E.g. a general builder and construction company, Messrs Rhodes: “Rhodes for roads” etc. This place is an advertising copy-writers paradise.
There is suddenly a strange clicking / flapping sound from the rear of our car and it slews to the right. As I pull to the road side I discover that Murphy’s law has struck again and a huge, 4” nail has pierced the tread of our rear tyre and emerged through the side wall. That tyre is dead. Well it’s not my car, so I call Messrs. Europcar and make sad noises down the phone. Within 10 minutes (yes 10 only) an AA van rolls up, a super-efficient AA man changes the wheel to the spare, one of those speed limited things, and leads us, shepherd-like, to a branch of Bridgestones Tyres who are the agents for my Continental tyres. Sadly, they don’t have the requisite size, but order one to shipped to their branch in Kerikeri to be fitted the following day. Though the remainder of our journeys is now governed to 50 mph I am so impressed by the alacrity, courtesy and kind help of all whom we deal with. They empathise, want to know where and when we hail from, personal experiences of visits to UK, relatives and so on. These people are just lovely.
We arrive in Kerikeri, a little dusty and tired still with 13 time zones worth of jet-lag, to our delightful hotel cottage set in lush Mediterranean style gardens. A sun-downer (for we have been shopping en-route) on the veranda looking at sloping green pastures and listening to chirruping cicadas cheers us up. We are at first base.