New Zealand January 2020 travel blog


Start of trip. . .

Since Mom's plane landed at the beastly hour of 0555, and Auckland is a solid five hour drive from my quarter acre of Eden, Roofus and I drove up the night before and stayed at an emu and fruit farm, amidst some rolling hills about half an hour from the airport. . . it was a cozy little cottage with a view down the hillside, over the tops of grapevines and with the advertised emus strutting about in a paddock to the left. Fortunately, emus do not greet the dawn with thunderous cries. Unfortunately the roosters who shared the paddock did, so I was up well before Mom's plane landed.

(Our esoteric choice of bed was owing to the fact that the second half of the party was a dog, and so my choice of accoms was limited!)

We got to the airport a little after Mom had sailed through Customs and Passport Control, and we had arranged for her to meet my by the shuttle buses. Unfortunately, I hadn't specified the shuttle buses at the end of the terinal where weary tourists disembark, and someone at the airport sent her to the other end of the building--where the shuttles stop after coming from the domestic terminal.

This wouldn't have been an issue, but for the psychological fact that we see what we are looking for, and we look for what we expect to see.

Mom expected to see me driving up in my red car (well, red and grey primer--it took me a while to get used to sitting on the wrong side of the car while driving, and I scraped more than a few concrete poles in parking garages while I got the hang of it). I, on the other hand, was expecting to see Mom at the far end of the terminal.

As it was, I parked my car and walked straight to the terminal--hitting it at the south end, but looking towards the north--where I expected Mom to be. As we later learned, she was literally a dozen feet to my left as a I walked by--and while I was looking to the north, she was looking to the south, at the oncoming cars, looking for a lumpy red job with a small dog riding shotgun.

She never noticed the handsome fellow striding past, and I never noticed my own dear monther sitting next to six vertical feet of suitcases almost within kicking distance (not that I would ever kick my mother, that's mean).

I walked up and down the terminal, visited every bus stop at my end, and wondering why she was so hard to spot. We exchanged texts, but there was a long delay in the messages arriving, so a couple of times we missed each other in transit. At last, we coordinated our directions and I found her and we soon got under way.

It has been warm and dry at the top of the North Island, and it wasn't going to change on our account, and as we motored eastwards we passed some parched and stressed foliage, but also some of the tallest corn this side of a blue ribbon at an Iowa 4-H show. We cut across the base of the Coromandel Peninsula, and saw the majority of the traffic leaving us behind as holiday makers zoomed up to that fabled bit of scenery and fine beaches. This was the New Zealand equivalent of Labour Day--the last weekend before the youth head back to school, so lots of holiday makers were about.

Fortunately, we were heading to a less in-demand part of the country, although it had plent to recommend it. We drove though a few small towns, including Patea, the Antique Capital of New Zealand--which certainly rated a stop. It also has the honour of being the home of L&P Soda--'World Famous in New Zealand,' as the ads proudly say.

This is an ultra popular local beverage, which tastes like a very tangy 7-Up. The P in L&P stands for Patea Water, while the L is for lemon--and with a bit of sugar, that is what the drink was originally made from, back when Patea was a spa-town,

Nowdays the water comes from Auckland, but Patea still hosts a giant cement bottle of L&P near the main drag, and every shop in town sells bottles of the stuff to quench thirsts.

At any case, we visited a couple antique shops, got a delicious lunch, and let Roofus stretch his legs in a local park. From there we drove on, stopping at an old gold mining town, where the tallest hill resembles some fantastic tropical volcano--it having had the top sheared off and then excavations for decades and decades having hollowed out a gigantic pit hundreds of feet deep, while all around the lip grown mighty trees and towering ferns. Trucks the size of two story houses haul 20 tons of ore per trip--which yields two tablespoons of gold and twenty of silver. Apparently that is worth it, because they still work the diggings, at least part time.

It was too hot to leave Roof in the car while we investigate the local museum, as there was no shade on the stubby main street, so after walking him up to the mine pit and through some shady trees, it was us for the road again.

Eventually we found our way to the small town of Te Aroha--which means, roughly, 'the blessing.' It sits at the foot of a mountain of the same name, and is a few streets of lovely old homes and a smattering of businesses. Our business was with finding a bed, of course, and I had booked us at the only place that took dogs--a strawberry farm with a converted milk-shed for guests

The creamery was up top, and was a self contained cottage reached by a short ramp, as it sat on a bump of earth too small to be a hill, but big enough to count as more than a dirt clod. Underneath, and built back into the ground, were the old milking stalls, a sequence of four rooms facing out, each self contained. The first two were bedrooms, then a bath, and lastly a kitchen and lounge. A field that was empty at night and full of cows in the morning was the principal view, along with a row of tall poplars.

Mom ate a mess of fresh strawberries for breakfast the next day. .and the two days after that, courtesy the owners, who run a small berry stand next to the accomms and sold me a big tray for a pittance. The mosquitoes are fierce up there in the Northland, but the place was dead quiet and quite comfortable, and we all slept well.

Of note, the owners had a dog who looked like Roofus, only with about ten years head start, so the young fellow got a glimpse of his grey muzzled future! Seeing the two of them standing nose to nose was like looking at the canine Dorian Grey admiring his portrait.

The next AM, post strawberries and yogurt, we stopped at a little market we had read about in the town paper the night before. It featured local crafts and a big selection of books, and while we were perusing we happened to meet the reporter who inked the story that had brought us there. She was a pleasant gal who is in recovery from alcohol, and ending up haivng a long chat with me about services in rural areas (better than the States, that's for sure) and her work on beginning to tell more people about her battle with addiciton in hopes of reducing stigma and getting more folks to seek help.

Eventually we loaded up on several used books on New Zealand history and hard to find mysteries by a New Zealand author that Mom likes, and shoved off for the next stage on the journey--the pleasant ski-town of Okahune, a few hours to the south,



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