The true mother land of the long white cloud
24.12.2006 - 12.01.2007 23 °C
I have reached a definite point in my travelling career where I spend more time going home that doing any real travelling. I think you could say I emigrated without even realising it. Christmas has now become the focus occassion and home the venue for my adventures. Amazingly being a tourist in your own country is eye-opening and kinda good fun - the swagger you get because you speak the lingo, understand the road rules and all the food makes sense is born of pure confidence tinged with the touristy arrogance of one who's been away far far far too long to really know whats going on!
This Christmas was one such adventure. Another occassion to be with the people I love, meet the new members (one in particular has become a personality you'd be happy to travel around the world to meet - no insipid droolers in my clan!!) and drink a lot of L&P - something I can't say I spent an enormous amount of time doing when I lived there but its funny what you miss, hey?!
Arriving in Auckland is like a relief. The accents sound weird, the people look like people should look (tanned for pities sake), and the sky is blue, bold and so far above you you just know the country has mountains! As I said its funny what you miss.
As usual the weather was tropical in comparison to the 5 degree drizzly greyness and fog that waved goodbye at Heathrow. 22 degrees, sunshine and occassional cloud said 'kai ora, welcome home'. Christmas day itself was spent at the airport in Singapore wallowing around the pool and shopping until it was time to get food or get on the plane. I highly recommend spending time at Changi airport if you can. 7 hours can easily be swallowed up by the pool, the shops, the food, the movie theatre and even a free tour of the city - its just a great place to have as your transit point.
I never quite know what touristy things should be done when I'm at home. Having seen it from the ground floor everything seems a bit too...touristy. That said I've had 5 years of being a tourist and traveller so I guess you just pick a direction and run with it. The direction chosen this time around was a tour of the north cape. Effectively one long sand dune, the north cape is a place with which I feel I am deeply connected. I spent every school holiday of my childhood and then some camping in a wonderful small spot called Houhora, my maternal great grandparents raised their family a few miles further north in Nagtaki digging for karui gum and running the local stores, and I studied archaeological digs and the prehistory of the area all the way through Uni. So a tour of the place seemed an interesting thing to do.
It hasn't changed outwardly in 25 years. The drive up to Kaitaia took us through places I either vividly remembered or didn't know at all but it was still the most beautiful thing you could wish to see. Greens and blues - sky, ocean and tree covered hill - blended into each other or clashed at a yellow strip of sand. We could hear cicadas everywhere and for the first time in 2 years I knew it was summer. Tane Mahuta - largest of the known Kauri trees still standing - was a great stop. Such a short walk from the road and you wouldn't otherwise know it was there!
Arriving in Kaitaia I was surprised at how busy it was. I can recall it being a dying area where most of the shops were boarded up and the people unemployed. Now however its got a pak n save, warehouse and postie plus - sure signs things aren't going too badly.
The bus that was to take us to the north cape arrived right on time the next morning complete with local moari tour guide, asian tourists and sleds for the sand dunes at the top of 90 Mile Beach. First stop was the Kauri cafe, then onwards north stopping every half hour or hour to expell us onto the white silica sands in admiration of their purity or the best ice creams in the north (complete with dinosaur sweet on top) or to buy the sweetest freshest sweetcorn the north has to offer (3 for $1 - a bargain). We stopped at Houhora which was very nostalgic. The guide was good friends with the former manager of the place as was my pappy. They had a good chat about old times while I watched a boat called the Cara be put on the water. Its exactly that kind of thing that gets more spiritualist people worked up about fate and coincidence!
Then we continued north driving through ever larger Avocado orchards and Tribe owned lands. Slowly but surely the roads got smaller and in rougher condition until eventually we were driving toward Cape Reinga along a metal road (for the foreigners out there thats an unsealed road) arriving just before lunch. One good thing about the poor state of the road is it discourages billions of tourists ravaging the place - only several thousand make the trip on bus and in car a year. However there must be enough to support a troupe of local Maoris - we were entertained by them breifly as they put on a show at the base of the lighthouse. From The pinnacle of the country we turned south once more (or south west I guess) heading to a nearby inlet for lunch.
I hadn't realised it but my dad had spent a bit of his youth (misspent?) travelling around the country surfing and being a pain in the butt to the locals and we visited quite a few spots he recognised from those days. As I said I have a deep connection with the area and its not all my fault! :-)
After this it was time for that oft neglected sport of sand dune sledging. I can tell you now that it's neglected because those dunes are a long way up, there aren't any rope tows and its a lot of work if you want to go down more than once!
The sledges we had were traditional snow sledges for kids. They don't work so well for folk over, say, 13 stone. On the reverse side if your on the much lighter side of 9 stone you fly down the slope watching your life flash before your eyes and wondering if the sledge has brakes or steering! Well worth the effort but possibly not a second go if you value your internal or external body parts(the sand blowing off the top of the dunes was saving me the hassle of shaving my legs and filling my lungs at the same time).
Then it was on to 90 mile beach to race along it at 80km/hr in the bus stopping here and there for that all important photo of little Timmy wading in the water or that personal exploration of the absorbant properties of dune-based sand. The beach is not infact 90 miles long - our lovely driver told us it was 76 or so. A mere short stroll one end to the other (if you walk marathons for fun)! Its the only beach I have so far come across that is a recognised highway and is governed by the same road rules as the other highways in the country. Not sure what the road rules say about mooning buses of tourists as you overtake them but I can say the older ladies on our bus thought it was hilarious...
As you can imagine we were one of many buses doing the tour that day. While we never had more than 2 other buses loads unloading at the same spot we did get to see a group get growled at for consistently being late to the bus and saw another couple of young lads be asked to apologise to their group for delaying them for 25 minutes! And - best of all - we got to see one bus stuck in the sand at the off-ramp on 90 Mile Beach. Why the driver picked the part of the ramp that was all sand and no solid base I don't know but you can bet he felt like a Wally for doing it and probably wont ever do it again!
From this part of the beach we were all of 20 minutes from the Kauri Cafe again. This is the stop where the buses all go to get the sand and salt washed off so you can bet the people who own the place are making megabucks of the double tap! Fortunately I neither need nor can afford a $62,000 Kauri Guitar or a $300 t-shirt so I stuck with el-cheapo presents like possum socks and greenstone necklaces.
While I've buzed over the trip pretty quickly here it was so cool to do this trip. Its the kind of thing locals only do if they really have to because Aunty Matildas come for her first big trip and you don't know enough about where she wants to go to be a good tour guide so I felt quite privilged to be able to walk onto the bus with that confidence and touristy arrogance that says 'Take me! Show me!' (I mentioned this earlier didn't I?!). Its truly good to be a tourist on your own doorstep. Good for the national pride! Give it a go some time. I'm sure you will surprise yourself and you meet the nicest people when you travel! :-)