|At breakfast, Diane told us that she had just spoken to Ross and he said how nice we were - it's a small community so it's good that we didn't upset anyone. She'd had arranged for us to be taken back to the Wharf by a big Scotsman who told us how he'd left Scotland for New Zealand back in the 70s and didn't regret it one little bit. He wasn't the first or the last person to tell us that.
The ferry back was stuffed with primary school children and their parents, obviously heading to the big smoke for a museum trip or something. We hopped off and hung around the terminal waiting for our hire car and, after a few calls to establish that we had misunderstood the precise pick up point, we were on our way up to Northland. Getting out of Auckland was a little tricky if you wanted to go north so we found ourselves on a little detour around Waitemata Harbour. After getting back on track onto State Highway 1 we made good progress through the surprisingly hilly land north of Auckland (I had for some reason thought that Northland was largely flat).
Driving is pretty much the same as in the UK - driving on the left etc. The only peculiarity is when you are turning left that you have to give way to anything that wants to turn into the same road coming from the opposite direction. We hoped we wouldn't be tested too early into our driving.
We decided that we had time to make a detour down SH14 to the famous Kauri Museum near Matakohe. The entire museum is dedicated to the history of the Kauri wood and gum industry that thrived in the late 19th and 20th century. The Kauri is a fantastically huge tree and its wood was highly sought after because of its beauty, strength and versatility. It also produced an amber like resin when wounded (e.g. after a branch broke off), which also became highly prized for use in paints (and lino of all things) as well as being carved into ornaments. The Kauri forests were inevitably logged to near extinction until special reserves were set up, and while gum harvesting was banned from live trees, a whole industry sprang up to dig up ancient gum that had fallen to the forest floor over thousands of years. Incredibly many huge trees have also been excavated from swamps and their wood is as good as ever for use as timber. The museum actually managed to hold my interest far more than usual, mostly because I like the wood so much.
We continued our journey through Whangerei (the "wh" is pronounced like an f or ph) and on to Paihia in the Bay of Islands where we intend to stay for a little while. We were given a recommendation of the Abel Tasman motel and we are soon booked in to a reasonable one bed suite with views over the Bay. Through the hotel I manage to arrange a boat trip out to the islands for the morning and a longer tour around the far north for Thursday.
In search of food later, we notice how quite the whole town is, although it is obviously low season. We eventually go into a backpacker bar (Saltwater Lodge) and have a beer and burger. There weren't many people in but it was nice to relax next to the open fire they had. On the way back, we come across a old gentleman staring at the sky through his binoculars. We had heard on the news that Mars is at the closest point to Earth and is very bright in the night sky for the next month or so, so we stopped to chat and he let us have a look through his binos. What a nice fella.