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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 1

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

I’m beginning to get some first impressions of New Zealand. Auckland has very little to do with the wider NZ, but already I can see that life is taken at a more leisurely pace. The in-town speed limit is 40km/h (25mph) and people stick to it. Everyone you meet has time to chat and they take that time to ask where you’re from, what you’ve done today and what your plans are. Everyone is friendly and everyone smiles.

Day 4 – Auckland to Paihia (Bay of Islands)

It’s quite a trek from Auckland up to the Bay of Islands (230 miles) so we set off fairly early after a small snack in our motel room for breakfast. Everywhere we go, our motel rooms have ‘the makings’ and we’re given a small carton of milk. They also have a toaster, so it’s no trouble to knock up toasted crumpets with jam and couple of cups of coffee or tea for breakfast. This becomes a bit of a ‘ritual’ for us, and we breakfast like this most morning on the trip.

On our way, we stop off to take a look at the Whangarei Falls since it’s only just off of the road. It’s a pretty spot with a sheer drop of over 100 feet of water into a deep pool below. A good platform has been built so that we can get a good view. We also stop for brunch at a roadside café – it’s really the “all day breakfast”, but its breakfast for us!. It’s a rural area, and the café is intended for locals rather than travellers …. The price reflects that; we pay $5 each for a breakfast of bacon, two eggs, sausage and a potato cake. The coffee was extra ($2 each), but you can get refills for free. We tuck in to our breakfast whilst watching Guernsey cows tucking into their grass.

Whangarei (said Fhan – ga – ray) is Auckland’s equivalent of London’s Watford, as in, if it’s north of Watford, its “Up North”. We are well north of Whangarei as we pull into Paihia – a seaside resort on the Bay of Islands.

Bay of Islands is a ‘must do’ tourist location in New Zealand, and I’ve picked Paihia because it’s as close as I could get to Waitangi, everywhere else being fully booked. Waitangi is where the treaty between HM Government and the Maori was signed and which lead to the creation of New Zealand as part of the then British Empire. The treaty was signed on 6th February 1840 – our Day 6 is 6th February, and my plan is to attend the treaty signing anniversary celebrations. But, I’m getting ahead of myself..

After checking into our motel – the Ash Grove - we spend the balance of the day looking around the beachfront shops and cafes in Paihia and select a café called “Nine” for dinner. There’s good reason to remember Nine because they got Chris’s order wrong! What was memorable was the way they managed their mistake. I’d ordered seared fillets of Blue Nosed Cod, and Chris had ordered lamb rump. My cod arrived but Chris got a lamb shank (and a big one too). Chris told the lad who delivered it that it was wrong – poor lad had only arrived from Suffolk a month ago – so he took it away. The waitress returned, said it was her fault, apologised and said that the rump would be a few minutes because it was being cooked from fresh. Eventually, the Suffolk lad returned with Chris’s rump (I’d finished) and said, “Now I have to hope that it was worth waiting for”. The head waiter checked with us to confirm that everything was now okay and, finally, the waitress that cleared the table asks, “Did everything turn out okay?” It did, the food was delicious.

We’d first noticed NZ car number plates in Auckland. They are generally three letters + three numbers; our car is BQB 322. But it appears you can have any combination of 1 – 6 letters or numbers providing it’s unique. As a result NZ’ers have their fun coming up with personal, funny or meaningful number plates. In the last few days we’ve seen “GOOFY”, “JJ” on a Jaguar, “HO HO HO” and “BEST MA”. We resolve to keep our eyes open for others on our travels.

Day 5 – Paihia

We’d planned to go to the beach for the day for a picnic and some sun, but the weather’s not good – there’s cloud and a bit of a wind blowing, a portend of things to come ……

Plan B is a trip to the historic town of Russell. Its just across the bay from Paihia but is separated from it by the outlet of the Waitangi River. As a result, it’s a 30km drive around the river estuary or a short car ferry across it to get to Russell – we take the ferry. In the Kiwi’s normal ‘no nonsense’ way, the ferry pulls into the car ramp, cars leave and we drive on without chaperoning; and all the time the ferry’s not tied up, just held in place by the engines and the skill of the skipper. Russell’s a pretty little town with many of its original buildings. The Navy’s in town for the treaty celebrations, so there’s an impromptu band concert on the green. But, the weather’s too cold for a dip in sea so we spend our time walking around the town, looking in the quaint little shops and eating our picnic of cheese rolls, fruit, cake and pineapple juice.

On the way back to the motel, we stop at Woolworth’s (see Note 1 below) and get some pasta and sauce for a dinner ‘in’. Its’ Superbowl day so I spend the balance of the evening watching the 4th Quarter and doing some route planning while Chris reads her book.

Day 6 – Waitangi Day

It’s Waitangi Day and we’re within walking distance of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the anniversary of the signing is to be celebrated. Since it’s a public holiday for all New Zealanders, it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale, literally. Nonetheless, we head for the treaty grounds to see what’s going on …… In theory we can look forward to Maori dance and music, loads of food and craft stalls, a 21-gun salute by a NZ Navy frigate moored off shore, some more music from the NZ Navy Band and a flag flying ceremony at the very spot the treaty was signed.

In reality, much of this is washed out! The 21-gun salute can be heard but no ship can be seen, the rain is too dense. Most of stalls have not opened.

We’d not known before we’d arrived, but the treaty signing celebrations are much un-loved by the non-Maori New Zealanders, and the celebrations at Waitangi have often been more like riots. Maoris have used the day as a day of protest … In the past, these have mostly been about unjust treatment, poor or non-existent compensation for the use of Maori land, and the lack of recognition for Maori culture and traditions.

This year, the protest is about the Tino Rangitiratanga – the Maori Flag. The Maoris want it erected at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds alongside the other flags (see Note 2 below), and the local council have refused permission. Maoris nationwide are protesting the decision and Waitangi Day provides a focus for their protests.

=============== Note 1: In New Zealand, the biggest supermarkets are 4-Square, Countdown, Woolworth’s, New World and Foodtown.

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