NEW ZEALAND, North Island, 2016.
A Trip Cut Short.
Sixteen and a half hours in one plane is a long time, but that’s how long it takes from Dubai to Auckland. Even with eating, sleeping and watching films and the first series of Happy Valley, it is still a long time!! We left Glasgow on Wednesday and arrived in Auckland on Friday. Where did Thursday go?
Re-united with our luggage (phew) we were collected by the car hire company and introduced to our “pre-loved” Mitsubishi Gallant Auto, which was to be a good friend to us over the coming 3 weeks.
Courtesy of Google Maps on my i-Pad (how modern is that?) we easily located our motel, nice place, nice room and, apart from the divorce going on full volume next door, quiet too!! Having unpacked and made a cuppa, our first task was to head over the iconic Harbour Bridge to Smales Farm Business Park to register for our Big Day on Sunday. It was great to put faces to the names with whom we’d swapped e-mails during the planning for our trip!!
Saturday, our first full day, we drove south to the suburb of Onehunga, parked Rentawreck which didn’t look out of place at all among the locals’ vehicles, caught the train through to The Britomart Station in the City Centre whence, after a delightful coffee, we set off to walk the 9 mile Coast to Coast Route back to our car. The route took us through many, varied suburbs and parks, past extinct volcanoes and the Uni and up Auckland’s Highest Point, One Tree Hill. A great way to experience lots of slices of city life and shake off the jet lag.
Back in the car it was an easy drive to meet Bruce at Adventure Cycles with whom we’d arranged our bike hire for Sunday’s Big Event. First impressions? Hmmm. The place had looked good on the Internet and, in the end, everything turned out just fine.
Sunday our Big Day and we were out of our beds at before 4.00 am. Irene’s Bed Tea was followed by a quick brekkie, into the cycling gear and off back to Smales Farm, where we met John whom Bruce had entrusted with our bikes; we were taking part in the Annual Bike the Bridge Event, one of 4 things we had planned to do to raise funds for Maggie’s Cancer Care in Inverness. It is the only day of the year when you can cycle across the bridge – we’d been told about it by two guests of ours some years ago, so were very excited at being able join in.
The Event is very well organised and supported, with over 4000 bikers taking part – tandems, trikes, lying down bikes, racers, shoppers, kids in trailer buggies – you name it. At 06.00 sharp and with dawn just breaking at last, we were off. Our route into the city took us along a specially built Bus Route before heading over the Bridge itself where a long line of corporation buses protected us from the traffic in the other lanes – great idea. Safely over the Bridge, we were all corralled, offered refreshments and, once everyone was on that side, it was off back over the Bridge to Smales Farm. The sun was well up by this point; the clouds rolled away, entertainers on stage, victuals available from various charities and Irene even got to blend her own smoothie using pedal power!! A great morning out, with tremendous camaraderie, which we’ve definitely put on the list to do again. 2018 anyone!!
Moving on North
Monday saw us set off north via a coffee break in Warkworth (which has a very helpful lady in the tourist office). No day, though is allowed to pass without a walk, that is one of Mrs E’s rules. A few miles north of the town we found two things – the Dome Valley Viewpoint Walk – a “gentle” stroll, and a car dressed up as a rabbit. Hmmm. We also met a couple who were walking the Te Araroa Trail, a 3000 km route running from the tip of North Island to the toe of South. Not for them the challenge of doing it all in one go, they were sensibly undertaking it in week-long stretches.
Thence to the Kauri Museum in Matakohe. You know me, I don’t do museums, but this one is very special, offering so much more than you might think, giving us not just an insight into these endangered enormous plants but also teaching us a great deal about New Zealand’s history. Re-created rooms from dwellings through the ages, gargantuan machinery used in the logging and gum extraction, the largest collection of Kauri Gum in the world, details of the lives of the loggers and gum-diggers (many of whom were Croatian would you believe?), it is all there and more. If you’re ever going that way, don’t pass it by.
That evening, from our caravan park further north near Trounson, we took a guided night tramp through Kauri Forest, where we learnt a lot about the Kiwi Bird though, sadly did not see any – you takes your chances, eh?
The Kauri Tree, whilst not as tall as the American Redwoods and Sequoias, is amongst the largest trees, by volume, in the world. The trunks grow straight and true with branches sprouting only from the top. The wood is, therefore, free of knots and, as such, ideal for many uses, building houses, furniture, planks, ships’ masts, you get the idea. Accordingly and as you’d expect, they were forested to within an inch of extinction. The remaining stands of trees are vigorously protected but they’re now having to contend with another threat – die back. The hygiene controls that are in place as you enter and leave the copses are strictly enforced – quite rightly.
Next day, our boots duly sanitised, we hiked in to see the 4 Sisters, four magnificent trees which look to have all grown from one root. The trail then led us to Te Matua Ngahere, the 2nd largest living Kauri Tree with a massive 52 foot girth. Boots duly washed again on our exit, it was on, ever northwards, via the Ferry from Rawene to Kohukohu, up to the small coastal village of Ahipara.
Here we were warmly welcomed into Lyall’s home, an upside-down house with the living accommodation on the upper floor, better to take advantage of the utterly magnificent views over the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach. It was our Anniversary and happened to be Lyall’s Birthday so we all celebrated with tea, cheese and cakes in his apartment. A vigorous, windswept march along the beach as the sun set, being gently sandblasted all the way, preceded our Anniversary Dinner in town.
Up and out next morning to drive all the way to the very north – Cape Reinga. Next stop the Polynesian Islands. The scenery was not the sand, sand and more sand which we were expecting at all, instead very rural, very pastoral, sheep and cattle galore plus, in Te Kao, at the most northerly shop in NZ, some of the world’s best ice cream!!
Cape Reinga is considered the separation marker between the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. From the lighthouse it is possible to watch the tidal race, as the two seas clash to create unsettled waters just off the coast. It is a place of real significance for the Mauri people - the spirits of their dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife to leap off the headland and climb the roots of the 800-year-old Pohutukawa tree and descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki, using the Te Ara Wairua, the 'Spirits' Pathway'. At Cape Reinga they depart the mainland, they turn briefly at the Three Kings Islands for one last look back towards the land, then continue on their journey. It is, indeed, a very special place to take your leave of your time on earth.
Heading back to Ahipara, we dropped in at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, just so that Irene could have a “Tourist Moment” with her photo taken on the staircase carved inside the trunk of a Kauri!!
Our next destination would be Paihia, a delightful seaside town recommended to us by guests of ours Eva & Martin. Our thanks to both of them - it lived up in every way to the billing they gave it and did not disappoint, which was a good thing, as you’ll see.
En route we stopped over in Manganui, where, after the obligatory coffee, we hiked round the village’s splendid Heritage Trail, a lovely and informative hour or so in the sun. What more could anyone want? Lunch? Oh, all right then, takeaway Hoki and Chips just had to be sampled. And, of course, it had to be walked off. You know the rules.
My diligent researches, in the sole interest of saving my marriage by finding those pesky daily walks, led us to Totara North and to the Wairakau Stream Trail. Boy, was this a tad tricky in parts? There had been recent rain on parts of the trail, which had been turned into slime lined drains – great care needed to be taken. Nervous, Moi? Oui. Treading very carefully, we made it down to the stream, which sadly was in flood so there was nothing for it but to turn back.
Onwards then to Paihia, passing through the tiny settlement of Kaeo, famous for its fence adorned with hundreds of Jandals – flip flops to you & I!! You’ve got to see it to believe it.
On the recommendation of another of our guests, Michael, our next day, our second Friday in country, was on board the R Tucker Thomson, a sail training ship which plies its way around the Bay of Islands. A quick ferry took us over to Russell where we were welcomed on board by the Skipper, Sirana, and her crew.
The R Tucker Thomson is run by Fullers Great Sights and takes paying day trippers to raise funds for its main raison d’etre, which is as a sail training ship for young people who are facing various challenges. Crewing the ship, with all that entails, teaches them about discipline, hard work, teamwork, respecting others and social skills. Good job, Fullers!
A Sail, a Slip and a Rescue
Casting off in light winds, away we went, using the ship’s motors aided by a sail or two. Your intrepid author was invited to take the helm and so spent the rest of the morning happy as a sand boy, pointing the vessel wherever I was told. Don’t be fooled, it isn’t as easy as it looks; goodness knows what it’d be like in high winds and heavy seas!!
Alex in the galley had produced tea, coffee and scones for mid-morning refreshment and the aromas wafting up to my nostrils indicated that lunch was in preparation too. Anchor was dropped in a jewel of a bay on Waiwaitorea, one of the many islands in the Bay. The Butty Boat was lowered; off to the beach we went, some for a pre-lunch swim, some, like us, to hike up a delightful grassy hill to take in the impressive 360 degree panorama over the Bay of Islands.
Determined to do both, Irene headed back down to the beach while I took a more leisurely approach, following the well-trodden path. Not leisurely enough as things turned out. Put simply, my left foot slipped, both my legs followed it but my right foot stubbornly stayed up the hill! Result? Two loud cracks, me on my backside, right foot pointing in a very odd direction. Ouch. Isn’t it odd that people, seeing you in such a position, are moved to ask if you’re alright!?
Word was despatched to the ship that I had a problem, but there was nothing for it but for me to get myself down the hill using my good left leg, my two hands and my bum. Task safely completed, two crew members sandwiched my foot in some corrugated cardboard and parcel tape to lend a modicum of support, then carried me in stages across the tussock grass to the beach, where I had to call a halt as the inevitable nausea of the shock swept in. Back into the butty boat (wet bum), gently manhandled through the hatch in the ship’s gunwale and propped up near the stern, I was served a much needed mug of sweet tea (a beverage that I only drink at times like these!).
To their great credit, Fuller despatched a power cruiser to fetch me back to Paihia. A quick swing back through that gunwale, down into the cruiser and, with a fond farewell to our fellow passengers, we were off - but not before Alex had passed Irene a container complete with our chicken lunch, more of which later.
One of the lovely Fullers ladies complete with wheelchair welcomed us ashore. The ambulance arrived, into the back I went, name, rank and serial number given and we were off to the Bay of Islands Hospital in Kawakawa. No names, no pack drill, our driver managed to miss the turning for the hospital so I got my first view of the Hunterwasser Toilets one of the features for which the town is famous. Irene, meanwhile had gone to recover the car and arrived at the hospital no more than 5 minutes after us!!
Kiwi Health Care
Into A & E, then to X-ray, where it was determined that I had broken both bones in my leg, just above the ankle. I received this “good” news from a Dr Alan Murray whose parents reside in Boat of Garten – small world.
Ketamine was quickly administered sending me on my first-ever “trip” while Alan, ably abetted by Nigel, set the leg straight, put it into a cast, painting my toes white in the process. Settled in bed in a ward, I tucked into both portions of Alex’s marvellous lunch, after which, with the aid of a pain killer or two, I was able to sleep. Next day, Saturday, saw me on the move again, by ambulance, to the Main Hospital In Whangarei. Sunday became a day of thumb twiddling, nil by mouth from 02.00, just in case, only to be told at 21.10 that I was not going to theatre that day! Deep joy.
Monday saw me off to theatre at 10.00 am, for the necessary repairs to the leg and ankle, an operation I was awake for, at my choice – the spinal anaesthetic was very effective and I do so hate coming round after a general!! I have nothing but praise for all the Doctors, Nurses and other staff who looked after me in my brief time in captivity. Their kindness and good humour was simply wonderful. It is a pity that the same can’t be said for the hospital food.
Meantime, Irene had been working like the Trojan that she is, contacting all the accommodation and activity providers with whom we had booked for the rest of our trip to cancel. All but one cancelled our reservations without question and without charge, my thanks to each of you for that. Irene also started the battle with the insurers, finding out what documents they needed to get things moving. Enough has been written elsewhere about just what a nightmare all this can be, so I shall not bore you with our sagas, trials and tribulations. ‘nuff said.
With the help of the Tourist Office in Whangarai, Irene had located, just down the road from the hospital, a motel with an Accessible Unit into which she moved while I was enjoying myself in Ward One. I also moved in following my release on the Tuesday and after we’d collected a rented wheelchair – just like the NHS they don’t go lending such things out.
Two Slightly Different Weeks
I was not allowed to fly for 10 to 12 days to minimise the risk of blood clots forming, and I was required to return to Whangarei Outpatients the day before flying home. We decided to spend those days back in Paihia, the scene of my crime. It’s beautiful, waterside location and small, manageable town centre commended it to us, as did Greens, the Indian/Thai restaurant where we had dined the night before my slip and where Irene had been spoiled rotten the night I was putting my feet up in Kawakawa.
Irene had dug out two motels with accessible accommodation in Paihia; we stayed 4 nights in the Edelweiss and 4 nights just round the corner in the Anchorage, just for a wee change of scenery, you understand. We decide to take the longer coastal route because we wanted to visit the Southern hemisphere’s longest footbridge at Whananaki. Irene, of course, felt the compelling desire to walk across it and, having left me on my stool by our trusty Mitsubishi, she had to walk back again. Coffee and Ice Cream were taken and here we met a couple of lads who were in the process of walking the “top to toe” Te Araroa Trail in its entirety, all in one go. We hope they made it.
My initial days in Paihia had to be spent as immobile as possible, seated with leg raised. The i-Pad turned out to be a godsend, what with the e-mail “ping pong” between me and the insurance company, the claims handling and management company and their representatives in New Zealand. Cooks, broth? You get the idea.
Irene was very focussed in getting out for a good walk every day, eschewing the car wherever possible and striding into town, rucsac on her back. She mastered the camera on her i-Pad and took some pics of very interestingly decorated phone exchange boxes. She also disappeared one evening for a very pleasant hour playing tennis at a club not far up the road. As tradition now dictates, I got my holiday haircut, an excellent job by a very nice lady in Paihia.
We dined well each evening, returning to Greens on two more occasions, as well as trying out a couple of others. After a few hairy attempts, between us we mastered driving the wheelchair, a trickier and more tiring challenge than you might think. I also became a dab hand on my crutches though, again, until you get used to them, they are very tiring.
However, despite these spills and thrills, all the enforced inactivity was starting to gnaw at me, so our thinking caps were duly donned, brochures perused and we hatched a couple of plans for things to do in our remaining days.
Toilets, Trains and Dolphins
Firstly, back in Kawakawa, we inspected the Hunterwasser Toilets at closer quarters than I was able to manage from my ambulance window – very interesting they are too – odd, but interesting. The town is also bedecked with other colourful and intriguing features, either done by Hunterwasser himself or in his style. We took the opportunity of a super trip on their Heritage Railway - Irene does love her trains. This was something we’d originally had to pass on because, off season, it only runs on Sundays which simply could not be made to fit our hectic , action-packed, itinerary.
We also thought that we owed a debt of gratitude to the staff of Fullers and the crew of the R Tucker Thomson, so not only did we supply them all with some fine comestibles to thank them for looking after us so well but we also booked on their Hole in the Rock day cruise on their splendid catamaran, Dolphin Seeker.
The wheelchair was no problem at all, with plenty of room at the stern for me to whizz around, so long as I kept out of the way. Dolphins were spotted and discretely followed and our excellent Skipper was able to pilot us through the Hole in the Rock. We were, once again, looked after very well by Captain & crew, but I am embarrassed to say that the note with their names on it has done a vanishing trick – so sorry. It is a small world, though, because the Captain’s son’s girlfriend is the Skipper on the R Tucker Thomson – so he’d heard about the incident with the guy who broke his leg.
So good was our day out, we did it all again the very next day. As we were repeat customers, the Skipper took a different route around the Bay and we were all rewarded by one of the most spectacular dolphin displays we could have wished for – a team of “marine acrobats” performing spectacular gymnastics in the boat’s wake. Truly, truly memorable. Oh, and Irene finally got her swim. I must not forget to mention that!!
So our penultimate day and it was back to Whangerai to visit the Outpatient Clinic to check that all was well for me to fly home. A gentleman called Noel, who has been doing plaster casts and the like for an impressive 43 years, whipped off my cast. The doctor & nurse inspected my wounds and movement, my stitches were removed and Noel fitted me up with a stylish Black & Yellow MoonBoot, one of those magical Plastic and Velcro devices which is so much more comfortable to wear and which, because it can be adjusted, allows the leg to swell in flight.
We had another wee surprise too – when we arrived at the Outpatient Reception, the lady on duty showed me where I was to park to wait my turn for Noel and then announced to Irene that her chum at the Paihia Tennis Club had phoned and that Irene was invited to play tennis again that evening at a club not far from our motel. Needless to say, off she went for a couple of hours which she really enjoyed.
Next day, we handed in the wheelchair, drove down to Auckland to return the mighty Mitsubishi and were driven back to the airport. Emirates did us proud, with assistance all the way home. The Insurance Company had upgraded me to Business Class but not Irene. However, Emirates offered her a superb, very heavily discounted deal to upgrade for the long leg back to Dubai – all 17 hours and 15 minutes of it. My enforced upgrade qualified me for entry to the Business Lounges and, while Irene’s special fare didn’t, she was allowed in too without so much as the blink of an eye. I also achieved one of my bucket list ambitions of being whisked through an airport on one of those golf buggies going Beep, Beep, Beep. Thanks Emirates. Another small box ticked.
All in all, while the latter two weeks of our holiday were very different from what we’d planned and there are three challenges that we still have to do for our Maggie’s’ Fundraising, we have very fond memories of our trip and of the great kindness shown to us by many, many folk. We will be returning in 2018 to do all the stuff we didn’t get to do this time.
To view more of our photos, please visit the Gallery.