Monthly Archives: February 2014

Kings of the North

After a great two weeks in Matakana, and having spent a month in New Zealand already, we finally broke off on our own and did some travelling. It was a bit difficult saying goodbye to my wall, not too mention all the happy hours, but we’ve had an awesome few days since.

When we were in Thailand, a Kiwi guy we met suggested that we explore the north of the North Island, as not a lot of people make it that far up. Many of the guests we met at the Lodge had gone to the Bay of Islands, and only ventured further on organised tours. We don’t have the time constraints that they faced, so we decided that we’d spend 10 days driving around, exploring and doing a bit more work in Northland.

The Falcon

The Falcon

Thanks to some good researching by Mrs H, we picked up a cheap hire car from Whangarei, a bright red Ford Falcon with almost 300,000km on the clock. Almost instantly, the bags opened and we filled all available space. We then filled up the New Zealand essential item, a chilly bin, with some food and bits and drove off.

Our first stop was the Waipoua Forest, home to some of the largest and oldest trees on earth, Kauri trees. Some are between 1200 and 2000 years old, and are vast – the diameter of the biggest was over 15 metres. We stayed the night at a campground in the forest, and the next morning explored around. Our timing was pretty good, and we avoided all the tour groups. The size and age of the trees was incredible and the quiet made it a pretty magical experience…

Kauri tree

Kauri tree

Laura gets emotional

Laura gets emotional

… Until the last tree we visited, the very famous, largest and most easily accessible Te Matua Ngahere, which was surrounded by tourists. The sign near the tree states that it was alive and growing at the time of Christ.

With avoiding tour buses being the objective, we got up early the following day and drove up to the top of the North Island, Cape Reinga. There is a lighthouse at the end of the headland that you can walk out to, and a handy sign that tells you just how far you are from things. The most amazing aspect was that this is the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. We’d read about this, and heard it was supposed to be impressive, but the actual effect was breathtaking. You can actually see them coming together and forming waves, breaking into different directions. The seas are even different colours. Words and pictures really don’t do it justice, and we were glad to be up there with so few people.

The Tasman and Pacific say hello

The Tasman and Pacific say hello

As close as we'll be to home for a while

As close as we’ll be to home for a while

That afternoon, we visited the huge Te Paki sand dunes, and once again avoiding the crowds we climbed up to the top (exhausting), and surrounded by Tatooine / Lawrence of Arabia views, did the natural thing and lay down on boogie boards and zoomed to the bottom. Laura was a lot better than me and I still have sand in my hair. To finish the day off, we drove over to the west coast and went to 90 Mile Beach, which as it sounds is a huge long beach that stretches all the way to Cape (it’s actually only about 65 miles long, buts it’s still pretty darn impressive). It’s possible to drive on it but a lot of tourists have lost vehicles to it over the years, so I parked at the edge, but just standing on it was pretty cool. Nothing but beach as far the eye could see in either direction, and then out of the distance a 4×4 truck appeared, cruising in and out of the surf and flew by us. Damn boy racers…

Cool boarder

Cool boarder

Omar Sharif style on 90 Mile Beach

Omar Sharif style on 90 Mile Beach

The following two days we spent just outside of Mangonui, and Law found us an amazing place to stay. It was an awesome little caravan in a mini orchard, with spectacular views and really friendly owners. They’d stocked the fridge and cupboards, gave us a basket of their fresh fruit and veg, and the some fish fillets that they’d caught for dinner. Amazing.

Classy caravaning

Classy caravaning

Whilst it was tempting to just chill out there, we did venture out to do a walk nearby. We drove out to Totara North and did the Wairakau Stream Track, a 5km walk through forest and alongside a river. We stopped off for swim at one point, and once again were surrounded by amazing views and no people. The highlight was at the end of the track, with an optional 750 metre climb up the side of a mountain and out onto a rock known as the Duke’s Nose, named after Wellington. It was generally okay but steep, until the last section which is a 10 metre abseil straight up using a chain stuck in the cliff face. The panoramic views of Whangoroa harbour were beautiful and decent place for lunch.

It was steeper than it looks

It was steeper than it looks

Top of the Duke's Nose

Top of the Duke’s Nose

After a week of road tripping, it was time to go back to work for a bit. Along with motel running, bed and breakfast-ing and wall building, fruit picking and selling can now go on the CVs. We have just spent a few days living on a farm near Kerikeri, where in exchange for food and accommodation we have to do 4 hours work a day. This being New Zealand, I’m outside in the fields whilst Law has the easy job of looking after the roadside shop. Typical.

Nice melons

Nice melons

We’ve had an awesome time in the Northland, and are really glad we came up here for a few days. Every beach we went too was idyllic (and abandoned), the vistas are amazing and the roads are practically empty. If this is the busier, less spectacular of the two islands, the South Island slideshow could be a long one…

Northland...

Northland…

Is...

Is…

Awesome.

Awesome.

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Living it up in Matakana

For the last two weeks we have been carrying on with our helpx-ing in New Zealand, except we have now swapped our truck stop motel for a 5 star luxury lodge in Matakana; an area where Auckland’s rich and powerful come to play. It’s super nice! The massive lodge has three beautiful bedrooms, a pool, a hot tub (which we get to use) and amazing views out over the countryside and out to many of the small islands in The Hauraki Gulf.

The Mantakana Country Lodge

The Mantakana Country Lodge

Susan and Garth own the lodge and have been so lovely and welcoming to us. They are the epitome of hard working kiwis! They never stop, Susan runs the lodge and works at two other jobs, whilst Garth seems to be able to make and fix anything! So we have gotten stuck in to help as well, particularly Sam. Whilst I have enjoyed serving up Susan’s delicious breakfasts, chatting with guests and cleaning just three rooms, Sam has been building a gabion wall in the orchard. This involves constructing tricky wire cages, digging ditches and hefting bricks around.

Just another brick in the wall.

Just another brick in the wall.

I got the good side of the deal here! He’s done a great job and is just finishing now as we go to leave tomorrow. This will be a retaining wall to enable them to flatten the ground in the orchard where they want to keep some caravans.

Sam's greatest ever achievement.

Sam’s greatest ever achievement.

Fortunately, it’s not all been hard work. We’ve also had some lovely days off, cycling to the beach, visiting the weekend farmer’s markets and taking a day to drive around the coast at Goat Island and Pakiri beach. Susan and Garth also took us to a few vineyards, which this area is famous for, and which we enjoyed. A lot.

Mmmmmm wine

Mmmmmm wine

We did have a bit of drama on our cycle ride day. After eating the most delicious ice cream ever (freshly picked blueberries, wizzed with frozen yoghurt, yum!) we were cycling home when we came across a man doubled over, trying to push his bike up a steep hill. When he said “can you call and ambulance please” we thought he was joking. He had actually fallen off his bike into a ditch and hit his head on a concrete pipe 45 minutes before. When no one had passed him he tried to make his own way out and had made it about 10 metres. After calling an ambulance, waiting with him and then helping the paramedics get him onto the air ambulance they had to call, we found out that he had broken his neck and his back. Poor chap. It looked pretty nasty, but he has been in touch since and let us know that he has had some operations and is on the mend. Luckily he was wearing a helmet, I’m never riding no bike without one now.

The New Zealand air ambulance takes our new cyclist friend to hospital to fix his broken neck and back.

The New Zealand air ambulance takes our new cyclist friend to hospital to fix his broken neck and back.

After that we were definitely in need of some wine, which fortunately we can partake of every evening at “happy hour”. This is definitely an excellent invention by the NZ hospitality industry, and Garth and Susan do it every evening for their guests. Between 6pm and 7pm the guests (and us) get wine and nibbles and a some nice chitchat and we have met some lovely people in our time here, especially the 7 people who we had to cook breakfast for on our own one day. That was a bit stressy (especially trying to time everyone’s choices of eggs!) but pretty fun. A German man even said that we should run our own b&b one day… maybe a new plan for 2014??

Hiding batches 1 and 2 of the eggs when cooking breakfast on our own!

Hiding batches 1 and 2 of the eggs when cooking breakfast on our own!

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Scrubbers

When the time finally came to move on from Coromandel, we had already lined up our second week. Using a website called HelpX, we booked in to work at a place called Kawerau Thermal Motel. It was on the way to Rotorua, where the Bowers were headed, so they dropped us off there. I drove, and just like the drive earlier in the week the scenery is stunning pretty much everywhere. Through mountains and forests, along the coast or rivers and lakes – it’s basically showing off and this just in a small part of the North Island, South is supposed to be the pretty one.

Our new business...

Our new business…

When we did arrive at the motel though, after seeing a little bit of the town, it was almost reassuring to realise that not everywhere here is spectacularly beautiful! This town, and place, is bit run down by comparison to Tairua, and although our hosts Raewyn and Peter were lovely and friendly and straight away, it was slightly weird coming from the luxury of the previous week.

However, we had a really good week. We have a really nice room and all the food we need, free wifi and SKY TV in exchange for a few hours work each day. The motel hasn’t been busy at all, and it is primarily used as a stop for truck drivers. This means in the morning we make a couple of beds, and the evening we help cook a hearty 3 course dinner, usually of corn on the cob, meat or fish and potatoes and a slice of homemade cake. Nice.

Working hard...

Working hard…

Hardly working.

Hardly working.

Whilst the town itself isn’t especially nice, with a few boarded up shops and just the one mountain overlooking it (!), it’s actually been really good being here. The work is pretty easy (although I don’t want to have to clean a stainless steel shower ever again), there are no time pressures, and I get to use the 4×4 truck as well. We’ve also done a fair bit of planning, hiring a car for our USA road trip in July and booking a campervan for the South Island in March.

Our wheels

Our wheels

They gave us a whole day off to go to Rotorua (yet another spectacular drive) to spend one last day with the Bowers, where we spent the morning in various free hot springs just outside the town. The novelty of sitting a normal river, that is flowing hot instead of cold is not going to wear off quickly, even though one of the places had some German nudists swimming there…

One hot river.

One hot river.

Sightseeing AND learning

Sightseeing AND learning

Thermal wonderland!

Thermal wonderland!

After another morning of hard(ish) scrubbing, we drove off into the local Tarawera Scenic Reserve. Bouncing along the dirt roads in the 4×4 was awesome, and what the town of Kawerau lacks in beauty this place makes up for. We drove a few KM into the forest, before stopping to walk along the river to the waterfall. One of things we’ve noticed is how quiet and clean everywhere seems to be – there just isn’t litter anywhere. The forest paths and crystal clear river up to the falls were awesome…

Tarawera Reserve

Tarawera Reserve

Hole in the wall...

Hole in the wall…

… Which was good, because after only a few days of work, the owners went away for the whole weekend leaving us (and the dogs) in charge of the place. It has been quite a surreal experience – good because its been quite quiet, and we’ve been able to cook and eat and drink what we want, but slightly annoying in that we can’t leave the place unattended. Also, when the guard dog barks at nothing in the night, I’m the one who has to go outside and check it out.

The motel survived though, and they were very thankful when they got back. On our last night, we passed the baton on to the next batch of helpx people, and then lay in the thermal spring heated pool. Not too shabby for a truck stop!

In charge.

In charge.

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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