Tinopai to Tauranga

We are stuck in Tauranga. We were all ready to move out, caravan packed, ute hitched up, then on a last inspection around the caravan Dave noticed that one of the springs was not where it should be, safely tucked up out of sight – instead it was on the ground behind and between the left rear wheels. So we can’t move, even carefully and slowly. The caravan will probably have to be loaded on a trailer and taken to a repair shop. We are supposed to be in Wellington in a week’s time -we put our ferry booking forward only the other day…!

Of course it is a Saturday and all possible useful businesses are closed, and even the big RV centre simply said – come back Monday. Luckily we still have a reasonable amount of fresh water – although we do regret having had showers this morning in anticipation of filling up the tank later today and also emptying the black and grey water tanks.

This is one time I am thankful we have a caravan and not a motorhome. With the latter we would be REALLY stuck. But with the ute we can still drive around, visit friends and shopping centres, etc. Even drive home leaving the caravan here if necessary. We are well stocked with food. The weather of course is still not co-operating, Today is grey and showery but not nearly as dreary as yesterday with its heavy rain. The ground is very soggy.

SO – a good time to catch up on the blog! And I have been neglecting it ….

Last I wrote we were in Tinopai. From there we drove through Matakohe to Auckland in the usual grey weather, deciding to keep going on the motorway all the way to Ardmore, where we caught up with the laundry. Then we were off heading east on minor roads to the western side of the Firth of Thames. There was a free camp along the shore but we decided to press on and it was good we did as the weather closed in yet again. We continued to Te Aroha.

Disappointingly the wonderful little Italian restaurant we visited some years ago is no longer there, the Info centre said they had ‘retired’. Rain, rain! A drive to Morrinsville to look at their “Herd of Cows” provided some entertainment! The first one is “Bonnie McCow”

After 2 rainy nights we shifted to Paeroa. By then I had developed a bad toothache but luckily had a prescription for antibiotic which my dentist had given me in anticipation of this happening, and thankfully it worked. Extensive dental treatment awaits me on our return home.

Paeroa is a lovely town. We were there years ago for the Highland Games and also the Street Racing, which was cancelled due to … rain! The main street is as full of antique shops as ever, it would take all day to check them all out.

On to the Coromandel via Thames without mishap. There were few signs of the recent cyclonic weather which caused so much damage. We negotiated the narrow twisty road up to Coromandel Town and were glad to nestle into the near-deserted NZMCA camp, found with much difficulty down an obscure laneway.

The Driving Creek railway which we visited years ago was still an irresistible attraction. It is the fantastic achievement of one man who spent years hacking through dense bush and at the same time starting a pottery which still attracts people from all over the world. We spent a happy morning on board the little train … zigzagging our way through bushland and coming upon quirky pottery objects in unexpected places

We did not drive right up to the tip of the peninsula, but we did explore some of the bays closer to Coromandel Town, and enjoyed a long mussels-in-cream-and-wine Mothers’ Day lunch at one of the many cafes. Quite a few of the mussels were still bearded but when mentioned to the waiter he simply said – “We can’t do much about them.”(!!) But they were so delicious it didn’t seem to matter. That was one of the few fine days as well …

From the Town we took the “main” road to Whitianga where we stayed several days. Normally absolutely packed with tourists, judging by the number of cafes, restaurants, gift shops, hotels, motels and holiday flats/houses, it was strangely quiet. It s actually winter up here!

There is another rather famous road between Coromandel Town and the east coast of the peninsula, called the 309 Road – we made it more or less a day trip. Extremely narrow and twisty the gravel road gores up and up and up … there are various attractions along the way, the closest back to Coromandel Town being a place where there are numerous pigs which feed on the roadside – signs everywhere exhorted people NOT to feed them – and a large collection of extremely decrepit old caravans and cars all covered with green slime and moss.According to Dave the pigs are descended from the original ‘Captain Cookers’ left in NZ by that esteemed gentleman to provide food for castaways etc in the future.

A little further back towards Whitianga a sort of fun place called the Waterworks full of quirky water-operated things made from old junk which children undoubtedly enjoy but we found rather so-so.

Back towards Whitianga there is a really nice little waterfall, the Waiau Falls, well worth the few minutes walk from the road.

We had booked a 2 hour cruise in a glass bottomed boat for the next morning. About half an hour before check-in time Dave received a phone call – a pod of orca (dolphins or ‘killer whales’) had been sighted in the harbour – if we could get to the wharf early, there was a good chance we would see them. There were 10 people booked in and all turned up within 10 minutes, and then we were off! 2 Kiwis (us), 2 Germans, 3 Welsh, 3 Americans … a motley crew.

We saw a couple of orca at a distance but after chasing around for some time we continued with the cruise proper, which took us some way down the east coast to a huge natural cave with a ceiling 40 metres high and in water 40 metres deep and absolutely teeming with fish. Awesome!

Then back a way to the famed Cathedral Cove, a natural rock formation with a curious peaked arch.

We also visited Seal Cove with a couple of resident NZ fur seals (not usually found that far north), and to the boundary of the Marine Reserve where seaweed still grew prolifically – in other areas previously fished out of lobster and crayfish, the Kina (spiky sea urchins) have taken over and eaten all the seaweed leaving a barren wasteland which is slowly regenerating.

The huge Mercury Bay is full of rocky islets and would take days to fully explore.

On the way back – orca!! This time we got up really close to a small pod which were grazing the rocks along the shoreline. One swam right up to and under our boat. One of the three young Welsh girls managed to capture the whole thing on video and was in tears afterwards, so overcome with emotion.

Then we went back to a fairly secluded beach where anyone who wanted to swim/snrorkel could do so – only the young German man decided to brave the cold water – and he had a wetsuit. He swam among huge snapper and obviously had a wonderful time.

Leaving next morning we first went to a nearby grey/black water dump point and were surprised to see a woman running after us – we still had the jockey wheel attached. Fortunately it was just off the ground so not damaged. Finally off to Waihi Beach, along the usual narrow twisty road, used by cars and large heavy vehicles alike. Always a little unnerving to round a sharp corner not sure of what lies ahead.

And so to Tauranga where we are in a NZMCA camp at Welcome Bay, some way out of town. Next morning, first a visit to Dave’s sister Beverley and her husband Bruce in a retirement village complex, then to our ex-neighbour Barbara and her menagerie of two, who we last caught up with when she was homesitting on the other side of the north island at Palmerston North.

And now we are stuck …..

Russell to Tinopai

The weather gods are still frowning on us, it seems.

We left Russell in reasonable weather but with huge storms forecast for the far north east coast, so reluctantly abandoned all plans for a stay at a camp right on the beach at Tokerau on the Karikari Peninsula, and a day visit to Cape Reinga.

Instead we headed straight across country to the west coast, where we stopped at Opononi for provisions at the very well stocked 4-Square and where Dave had a long conversation with the cashier whose Uncle had just received a cochlear implant!

Then down south for the Waipoua Kauri Forest Camp only to find it closed. On the way we bypassed the giant totara Tane Mahuta which we have visited more than once before. The interminable (but very beautiful) twisty road eventually led us to the Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park, in a broad valley surrounded by kauri forest and bounded by two rivers. It looked to be a safe site so we decided to stay for several days during the expected severe weather, a wise decision as it turned out. The camp is very well maintained with awesome spots to pitch tents etc, a swimming hole, etc and was practically deserted at that time of year.

That first night it REALLY rained hard; we stayed warm and dry apart from a leak where rain was driven into the top of the slider, resulting in some wet carpet on one side of the bed – mine, of course. We tilted the caravan slightly sideways and had no more problems. Full laundry facilities, power and Wifi made our enforced stay over the next few days quite enjoyable.

The river rose until it was half way over the flying fox course and one end was smothered with debris. Curiously the ‘lawn’ near the normal river edge was littered with small freshwater mussels, many still alive. I’m not sure how many km we were inland from the river mouth (apparently around 80 km!). We stayed high and dry of course – we were still about 4 or 5 metres above flood level.

Moving on, we drove the relatively short distance to Dargaville and after inspecting the NZMCA camp and noting the sign warning it could flood, we spent 2 nights in another camp perched up on a hill and right next to the famed Gumdiggers Museum. We have been to the museum before but it is one I was happy to explore again. I wrote about it at some length in a much earlier blog. As before, I was awed by the collection of spades each labelled with its owners’ name and often a photograph. Mostly men from Dalmatia and nearby European countries.

The sunset the first evening was about the only decent one we have seen for weeks. The view looking north next morning was awesome – the mighty Wairoa Rver, the longest and biggest in Northland NZ, is 150 km long and the majority is tidal. It feeds into the Kaipara Harbour, the largest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere. The little huts in the foreground of one photo are part of a Gumdiggers Camp.

The museum has a large display about the tragic bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour and also displays, outside, the two masts from Greenpeace’s nuclear and whaling protest vessel. The masts give some indication of the sheer size of the vessel.

Nearby are the remains of a small lighthouse, first erected at Pouto Point in 1907 “… to guide sailing vessels to a safe anchorage …”, and also a monument to a fisherman father and daughter lost at sea. Nearby is the site of a large Pa (Maori village) and a cemetery on the very steep hillside.

We had two new front tyres fitted to the ute – they had to be sent up from Auckland. Safety first in the coming wet weather.

I should mention the NZMCA camp again. Many camps have been beautified by local members, but Dargaville’s surely takes the prize. At the end of the camp is a beautiful, quirky little garden and a pathway leading to a seat with a fabulous view of the river.

From Dargaville we drove on to Tinopai, first stopping at the famed Kauri Museum. I wrote about it at some length in a previous blog. Like the Gumdiggers museum it is another one I was happy to visit again. Almost all the life-sized figures in the various tableaux were modelled on actual people descended from early settlers in the district. Note thedetail of the carpenter’s hands. There was also an excellent Anzac display.

The cafe where we had a memorable Devonshire tea some years ago is no longer there but there is a new, bright and modern cafe where I had an excellent mussel chowder with gluten-free bread – a brand I had not heard of before which the cook was happy to talk about.

Tinopai is a lovely little town at the head of the Kaipara Harbour. Of course it rained most of the time! We were parked right on the waterfront.

We did a Tiki tour of the nearby inlets, at one of which was this beautiful old house, first spotted from the other side of the bay..

Unfortunately while the Tinopai camp had a washing machine there was no dryer, and by now we had a huge load of washing, so off we set again for Ardmore and the Laundromat and shopping at nearby Papakura. Next morning we were off again ….

To be continued.

Auckland & Environs to Russell

This will be a catch-up blog – it’s now over 2 weeks later. Amazing how time flies …

We stayed at Ardmore, just south of Auckland, for five days. I was still feeling the effects of the food poisoning/gastro and stayed ‘home’ while Dave took off for a day at one of his favourite museums – MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) which I HAVE seen and done(!)

We paid two visits to the Papakura Library with its free WiFi and were almost the last to leave one day. A local ukulele group which meets at the Library every week kept us entertained part of the time. It was good to catch up with email etc and work on the travel blog and 52 Ancestors. I really should fix my website so there are two separate blogs… We also caught up with a huge load of washing at a modern new laundromat.

The day before we left (Sunday) we went to Dave’s brother’s lovely home in Devonport for a family lunch with John, El and all four of their sons plus one of the wives. It has been some years since I saw them all and lovely to catch up. All the boys are SO different! We washed our flanelette sheets and gratefully accepted two cotton sheets From El – I’d forgotten to pack any.

On to Russell in the Bay of Islands. Dave had checked out possible camp sites on-line and apart from a very expensive commercial one there was a private POP (Park Over Property) which stated it was “suitable for large vehicles”. It turned out to be anything but! Perhaps for a smallish motorhome … but it was getting late and driver Dave was tired, and so decided to chance it. We got in through the gateway after having to steer way over to the wrong side of the road, but then were confronted with a mostly sloping site, just one place to park and almost nowhere to turn. Back and forth, back and forth … at one stage the ute and caravan were at right angles. Dave had to drive right onto the owner’s lawn in order to straighten the caravan a bit. During one of those maneouvres he managed to just clip a tree …. Which took out the entire corner panel of lights etc on one side of the rear. Eventually patched up with two rolls of duct tape. All the lights still work apart from the non-important small light at the top of the carvan. The tree of course was unscathed. The site owner was unconcerned regarding his misleading advertising.

Next morning, Anzac Day, we had a fishing date with friends Jacqui and Pete – at the Russell wharf, 8 am sharp. It was a lovely day; we motored a little closer to the harbour entrance near some rocks and Dave and Pete fished nonstop all morning. Quite a few snapper were caught but mostly undersize, then Pete hooked a large Kawahai, and soon after Dave hooked what must have been a veritable monster of a Kingfish (he saw it briefly). But after playing it for about 20 minutes and getting it very close to the boat the line must have snagged on a rock and suddenly snapped.

A huge cruise ship arrived – the “Celebrity Carnival” – definitely not my favourite sort of sailing vessel!. (For readers who don’t know my history, go to “Cornelius – a Pearling Lugger.”

In all we spent 4 days in Russell. Jacqui and Pete entertained us royally. On the Friday – my birthday – it turned cold and rainy but that did not deter us from attending the Friday Dress-Up ritual at Carl’s Coffee Cart at Long Beach. Dave wore his kilt to go with Jacqui’s newly acquired semi-vintage tartan kilt.…. Then it was a rush off to Kerikeri for a hairdressing appointment for me which Jacqui had persuasively arranged, resulting in a great new hairstyle – I felt like a new woman. We discovered a Gluten-free cafe – said to be the only one in NZ – and vsited it twice.

That afternoon was a Fox Terrier Owners’ Walk in both Kerikeri and in Christchurch. About 10 standard-size foxies including two wire-haired turned up, including the famous Charlie Browne of Facebook fame, who we had met a few years ago back home. I was given the privilege of leading (ie being led by) Miss Raven, a very cute junior champion foxie. The walk was in the park next to the Stone House, a very historical building I wrote about in an earlier blog.

Finally back home for a quick rest and then dress-up time again for a birthday dinner at the ‘Duke of Marlborough’. Which was superb. I forgot to take any photos until leaving so contented myself with two outside shots, taken from the same place.

The weather foreceast being particularly dire for the far north east coast, we reluctantly decided to forget about visiting Cape Reinga. It was probably a good idea we did!

The Forgotten World Highway

After being museumed out at Hawera and a welcome early night it was off for Taumarunui via the Forgotten World Highway (FWH), a narrow twisty wonderland said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world – and also one of the most dangerous in NZ, 149 kilometres (92.58 miles) long, “built on colonial bridle paths formed in the late19th century, the highway is remote and mysterious to the extreme”…. “There’s some extraordinary scenery along here – some of the most unspoiled bush to be seen on any New Zealand roadside” … The road took 50 years to complete from the day it was begun until the day it was opened in 1945.

For more information see

Yielding one lovely vista after another, the FWH was thankfully surfaced up to Whangamomona but there was a long unsurfaced stretch after that. We met few other vehicles and only one motorcycle.

We stopped at the Strathmore Saddle, considered the start of the “back country”, with our last view of Mt. Taranaki and dairy farming land to the east. There were once plans to build a tunnel here. The winding road at times was like a tunnel through lush ferns and at other times offered views of long ripples of mountain ranges, all clad in deep green. It would be a different picture in winter time.

Halfway along we stopped at the famed Whangamomona Pub, enjoying a coffee while observed by a possum hanging from the “chandelier” (!).

Here is a map for motorcyclists which shows how dangerous the road is for them. And we were towing a large heavy caravan!

The Tahora Saddle came next – overlooking mountains, railway tunnels, and three Maori pa sites.

We caught occasional glimpses of the old railway line now the basis for the Twenty Tunnels” railcart adventure. We had thought to repeat this adventure of some eight years ago but the cost deterred us.

Some way further on we stopped to admire the 180 metre long single-lane Moki Tunnel with its cathedral roof. Also known s the Hobbit’s Hole, it was hand-carved with pickaxes.

We also broke the journey to inspect the grave of Joshua Morgan, an early surveyor who blazed the trail for the road through the Tangarakau Gorge, battling incredibly dense bush and mountainous country. His wife is buried there with him.

We finally reached Taumarunui and a welcome cup of tea with friends David and Marion who had looked after our mini foxie Penny when we were touring Australia some six years ago. David, the former Secretary of Clan Johnston/e in NZ, gave the new editor of the Clan’s magazine (me) some very useful information. then on to Otorohanga and another NZNCA camp for the night. Next day was cold and overcast so we decided to forego another visit to the famed NZ bird sanctuary and its white kiwis. Perhaps on our way back south?

Bypassing Hamilton, we arrived at the NZMCA camp at Ardmore Aerodrome near Papakura in good time. We will make our home here for a few days. The camp is now strictly dog-free after some incredibly errant member took his dog for a walk not only out of the restricted NZMCA area but right on the main runway a few years ago! The NZMCA was lucky to retain permission for the camp which is a very useful resting place for caravans and motorhomes on their way north before tackling the Auckland spaghetti jungle of main roads.

Unfortunately I managed to catch a gastro bug and need to lie low for a few days, but recovered enough to visit the Papakura Library with Dave and do some much-needed computer work.

Two corrections to earlier travel blog postings:

(First blog) we drove through the Waipara vineyards (thanks to Lesley, who was a little puzzled as to how we had apparently got so far north so quickly).

(Last blog) – we were welcomed to the Tawhiti Museum by a Moa, not just a disosaur!

After the Air show – and a Special Museum

(A continuation of our travel blog)

The ferry crossing (south to north island of New Zealand) was without incident, loading and departure on time, a calm sea and a ferry only half filled with people although chock full of vehicles. Rather a relief after all the bad news concerning the ferries in preceding weeks.

We spent the night at the Plimmerton NZMCA camp, arriving at dusk and slotting into almost the last available space. Next morning we went for a brief walk around the charming village – I was not aware we were so close to an arm of the sea.

We then headed for Palmerston North and a quick cuppa in Levin with long-time Caravanners Robin and Jenny, the “Romany Ramblers” whose blogs we have followed for years. On to Palmerston North and a former neighbour who was homesitting a property with assorted animals and one small dog, which together with Barb’s Jessie (our Tiki’s old playmate) and her newer kitten Maya suddenly filled our caravan with furry faces as they all came in to keep us company in the evenings while we played ‘Frustration’ for the first time since Barb left our neighbourhood.  

Above: Robin and Jenny; Below: Barb with Jessie and Maya (and the cards!)

But then it was time to move on, heading for more friends at Taumarunui via Marton and Wanganui. The Wanganui River was behaving this time, not like the last time we were there and the river flooded part of the city! We did not stop but headed for Hawera and a famous museum which Dave has long planned to visit. We stayed at yet another NZMCA camp at Marton in the (distant) shadow of Mt. Taranaki/Mt. Egmont.

The Tawhiti Museum is often described as one of the most innovative museums in NZ, using both life sized exhibits and scale models to capture the past in a series of dioramas. The detail is simply amazing. All the figures are designed and made on the premises. It is actually in several separate parts: the main museum, a separate section called Traders and Whalers, a Farm Power hall and a Bush Railway. Also a cafe. We experienced them all – it took all day.

A dinosaur welcomed us…..

Which one is real??

This huge model of the Turuturu Mokai Pa had infinite detail. Some of the tiny figures are only a centimetre tall.

The Bush Railway…

Just part of the huge Farm Power Hall (actually a whole series of halls)…

I have run out of time at the Papakura Library where I am attempting. to post this ..