After leaving Mangamahu, with all the animals still alive, we drove west towards the small town of Stratford. It was a cute, slightly odd little place – all the streets are named after Shakespeare characters, and the centrepiece is New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower. A few times a day, the clock tower puts on a show as wooden puppets emerge and a voiceover reads out some lines from Romeo and Juliet. We were the only audience for the 7pm. Cultural?
The reason we were there though was to see Mount Taranaki, an amazing dome shaped volcano that dominates the horizon… When it decides to emerge from the clouds. It shoots up from the flat land all around it and looks amazing, even gracing the cover of our Lonely Planet, but it attracts some wild weather too. We didn’t see it the first couple of days, and instead made do with some tramping around the forest at its base to see some waterfalls. In the afternoon we checked out a nearby nature reserve, a “mainland island” where the area has been cleared of pests to give the bush a chance to thrive. It was a very lush area with a nice loop around a lake, and the Jurassic Park style security gates were cool too.
On the day we left, it was obviously a glorious sunny day and the mountain was standing out in all it’s snow capped glory, so we took a lot of photos and then headed east. Following some excellent advice from our Wellington helpx hosts, we took a circuitous rather then straight route up to Auckland and headed off on the Forgotten World Highway.
Basically, it’s a winding and occasionally unsealed road from Stratford going northeast, through some spectacular farming country and ridges with 360 views from Taranaki to Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. It was an awesome drive, and on the way we stopped in the tiny town of Whangamomona. There was a pub, and whilst we were having a cup of tea a man rode up on his horse, without a saddle, for drink. And in the late 80s, the town declared itself a republic and you can get a passport stamp and t-shirts. Bizarre. Just after the town, you drive through a single lane tunnel of around 100 metres, that looks exactly like it must have done when the pioneers first cut through it with pick axes.
For our last night of freedom we stayed in the town of Huntly, that reminded us a lot of Kawerau. You can see why some places aren’t really on the tourist trail – however the $6 banquet of fish, sausage, burger and chips wasn’t too bad.
With our last few days on the North Island we spent them helpxing in west Auckland. We lived with Karen and another helpxer, Paul, and worked on the Ranui community garden for a few days. It was a nice and chilled out place to work, with great food too! Karen’s grandson Darius nicknamed me Fireman Sam, so I was pretty pleased with the impression I made! It was also good chatting with Paul, who has only just arrived in New Zealand with a whole year ahead of him. He’s planning to do the Te Arorea Walkway, from the Cape to Bluff which will take about 5 months. Bon chance, froggyhiker! It does make us feel like our time here is winding down though.
Way back in Wanaka, we booked some tickets to see England play the All-Blacks in Dunedin. This always seemed like months away, but after leaving Karen’s place we said goodbye to the North Island (for now) and flew South to Dunedin. We’d had a wee panic with accommodation (apparently international rugby matches are fairly popular) but fortunately got contacted by a helpx host just north of the city. So, we picked up our final hire car and drove off into the wilds of Otago, to our final helpx with Duncan, Georgie and 16 month old Maggie. These guys bought their farm just a couple of months ago, so there were loads of jobs for us to get into!
After a full days work of breaking up a wall and moving rocks, which just felt wrong after the wall I built in Matakana, we had a day off for the rugby. There was a really nice atmosphere in the city, with fans in the black and the white hanging out and drinking together. We had a few beersies in the Octagon and then headed off to the stadium, and were seriously glad of the multiple layers we were wearing. Tis some bleddy cold compared to the north! Not sure how the shirtless England fans with the St George’s Cross body paint survived.
The game was brilliant, England were so unlucky to only lose by a point but the whole experience was just fantastic. I can’t decide what the highlight was – seeing the Haka, England’s first try going down right in front of us, or seeing a streaker get absolutely smashed by a flying steward. Seriously, search on YouTube for it – they were talking about the tackle on the news for days afterwards.
Since then we’ve done some more work on the farm, from making apple pie and crumble (Laura), to moving more rocks and gardening (me). But we have been having a really good time here, living it up and watching World Cup highlights and filling out my wall chart in our own cottage (all the games are very early morning here), and exploring the farm and playing with Maggie. I can now list quad bike and truck driving on my CV, but not yet reversing with a trailer. The landscape is amazing, and this has been a great final helpx.
Less than two months left of the gap yah now, and while it sort of feels like we’re winding down a bit, writing this has made me realise that we are still doing awesome stuff pretty much everyday. New Zealand is sweet as bro, sweet as.