Almost time to go home…

Day 35. Sunday 10 December.

We’ve reached the five week mark – and it really is time to be home. The sky suggests that the drought may be about to end, which has a sort of slowing effect on us, adding to the sense of an end of journey, and of course some tiredness from the activities of the reunion. By mutual agreement this will be slow day. It didn’t start all that well as we’d allowed the milk supply to dry up so our morning cup of tea was threatened – and the bread for breakfast had become mouldy. A quick trip down the street to pick up supplies was extended by meeting some of our friends and joining them at their breakfast for a cup of tea and sharing the SMH quiz. What is the largest island in the Society Islands group? What was Cheryl Crow’s only #1 hit in Australia? What were the two films that starred Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp? Can the questions be any more obscure? Overall, the collective mind power did pretty well.

T went out for a slow waterfront amble leaving D to be slow at our digs. A perfect morning for a stroll, with a bit of cloud cover. Sunday families at the beach, folk strolling, cafes doing good business, gallery staff passing time on screens…

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In next to no time it was bbq o’clock at Clarence St again. How did people still have chatting energy? But, energy there still was in abundance. Tony hosted, food and wine was shared, laughs rolled on and the Auckland skyline, cloudy all day, put on a golden show to finish the celebrations. It has been a marvelous 3 days in Devonport.

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Day 36. Monday 11 December.

The reunion is over, but another celebration takes over: today is T’s birthday. We have a day to ourselves, and plan to catch the ferry across to Auckland to visit the Maritime Museum, to do a cruise of the harbour, do some galleries, have lunch …and whatever else takes our fancy.

We stopped at the ticket counter and missed the ferry by a whisker. Just as well: the security guard gave us detailed advice on what we should do, some of which was a bit confusing, but which boiled down to a recommendation to take the ferry to Whaiheke Island, about 30 minutes down the harbour, do a walk and catch a later ferry back. So we took his advice and paid the ferry man (actually a woman) for a round trip Devonport – Whaiheke – Auckland – Devonport, and then had just a short wait to catch the boat.

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The harbor was beautiful. Whaiheke was much, much larger than we’d imagined – and full of creative art outlets. A comprehensive guide on these art offerings was available, so after a bus ride into the village, and a coffee overlooking the water, we set out to visit a few of them. Glass, jewellery, wood…and jandals.

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At the public library/Arts Centre, T noticed a poster advertising a NZ film released this year called ‘Human Traces’ and decided that it looked interesting: a dark thriller. T was feeling her hot feet and figured a movie would be cooling/soothing. Google told us the film was screening in Auckland at the Academy Cinemas so back on the bus, catch the waiting ferry, hurriedly walk up Queen St, dodging cruise traffic, to arrive at the 3.30 start time. Perfectly timed! There were 3 filmgoers in a large cinema!

A stroll back to the ferry terminal, punctuated by short stops to dissect the film and discuss meanings and the occasional doge to avoid the scurrying passengers from the cruise liner docked on the very edge of the city. The end of a working day saw a fairly full ferry heading back to Devonport. Needless to say there was a passenger sitting immediately behind who shared with us all a private call involving the probate of a relative’s will all the way across the harbour. Technology manners please!

T had hankered for a French Rose in a green wine glass since Saturday when a couple of the ladies had ordered it on the wharf at midday (in preparation for Saturday night). So we stopped in for that and a beer for D before heading up town to look for a dinner spot.

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Passed the Esplanade Hotel and couldn’t believe our eyes that a couple of our reunion mates from Canberra were still here too, and were enjoying a quiet drink looking towards the water.

After a chat we found Manuka Café and liked the look of the menu. T ordered scallops on a parsnip/kumara mash and D fried calamari on a rocket salad, which we shared. Delicious. T then had seared tuna and D grilled salmon. These dishes were just about perfectly cooked, so together with fresh wines and excellent service this was a wonderful way to head towards the end of a lovely day.

Back to our motel to try and fit everything back into our suitcases. Oh dear!

The Reunion

Day 33. Friday 8 December.

A day to ourselves before the first event of the reunion in the evening. We drove to Takapuna, a shopping precinct about 5 km north of Devonport for a spot of browsing in an area which is remarkably similar to Manuka or Bondi. T was in serch of some hot weather clothing. So much for the bag of thermals from Canberra! Traffic was intense and on street parking impossible. We left as soon as we could!

Our first catch up was at the organiser’s house in Devonport, where he put on drinks and nibbles for the 51 participants and quite a few others from family and associates. Our greatest fear was not being able to recognize people from 45 years ago – but although there were a couple of minor moments, it was all ok. The babble continued for 4 hours, with continuous food platters and liquid refreshments and of course some photo bombers prevailed. The hosts were indeed generous.

Day 34. Saturday 9 December.

The NZ heat wave continues. D joined the walking tour of the North Head Historic Reserve (basically artillery batteries built to defend against invaders, including the Russians, Germans and Japanese, none of whom came) organized for the group.

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T wandered into town for a coffee – catching up with whoever arrived at 1100 outside The Esplanade. The town band was playing Carols outside the Library and a different Christmas tree had been positioned next to the NZ Christmas Trees that are just coming into red bloom (Pohutukawa trees).

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A trio of girls adjourned to the shade of the wharf coffee shop and got down to verbal exercise. Another pair arrived and the workout got more energetic. Later, after D had spent 45 minutes trying to track down the verbal exercising T who was not at the designated meeting spot, we lunched with long time friends, the two men having been best man and groomsman at our wedding 45 years ago (anniversary is on Thursday 14 December) before heading back to the motel for a ‘nana nap’ ahead of the dinner tonight.

Drinks in the bar pre-dinner: ‘Is this a conference?’ asked a bewildered customer as he tried to buy a drink. ‘No, it’s much worse – it’s a reunion’. We were moved into the dining room, transferring a rising babble of conversation and laughter that never seemed to peak.

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Few speeches, wonderfully short, toasts to the members of the class, to their partners and to those who have passed on. The meal was excellent, the wine flowed, the stories poured out, possibly embellished, histories updated… Hotel staff were excellent, managed by a young woman who gave lots of cheek. One class mate remarked to her that she reminded him of his daughter. She replied that he reminded her of her great grandfather!

The night ended at Cinderella time as the Hotel Esplanade called last drinks. There will be hoarse voices, possibly a few sore heads, but great memories to add to the store.’

Last borrowed bed….

Day 32. Thursday 7 December.

Google maps told us the drive from Paihia to 11 Buchanan Street in Devonport, our last accommodation before getting back to our own bed next week, would take 3 hours and 12 minutes. That was without multiple roadworks, heavy transport traffic, slow motorhomes – and of course a stop for coffee at Bianca’s at 1956 The Coast Discovery Highway (SH Route 1) in Kaiwaka. D had asked T when did she want coffee. A good hour past the preferred time, a suitable stop was found. As T got out of the car, D said, ‘I need to talk to you about our renovations’. T was amazed as D NEVER wants to hear about reno plans. Then as she turned around, all became clear! He then added, ‘Well, we’re almost there’.

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Bianca’s was a delight.

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Excellent coffee, wait staff with big (good) attitude and a little clothing room to rummage in. Then onward to the big city.

On arrival (after just over four hours – well done, Google maps) we had to search for our motel, picturing from the booking site a ground-level block within a garden. Everything in the street was either 2 storeys or very colonial period. D paced the street, upsetting a yappy dog; there was nothing that looked like our booking. Eventually, seeing some signage, he approached the front door of #11, upsetting the dog again. There was a note for Unit 1, but not for us. Eventually, a young woman wrapped only in a towel and lathered in soap answered; yes, we were expected and the motel turns out to be two units behind a large old residence, with no on- site parking. The rooms are old, self-contained, neat, well looked after and comfortable, but very small; although D remarked that the space is much bigger than the van.

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As we departed to walk in the town, our motel neighbours arrived, and ‘Ove’ D was able to direct them to their room, where to park, who was at home etc. They were followed in short order by ‘Prue’s mum’ – who was also put in the picture although she didn’t seem all that interested – so now we’ve met two of the three generations: just waiting for the proprietor. We’re only a street back from the beachfront and the shopping strip in Devonport, dinner has been sourced from the deli in New World (Coles), the afternoon is balmy and the beer, brie and Sicilian olives in the garden taste very good.

Day 31. Wednesday 6 December.

Today it was time to touch base with some historical matters, so a short drive to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (the birthplace of NZ). A cultural tour gave us the overview and the context for slower exploration of the site and the story. It was hardly surprising to learn that the melding of Maori and European cultures has involved pain, compromise, pragmatism, leadership…. and time. It was fascinating to learn of the linguistic variation between the English and Maori versions of the Treaty that led to bitter conflict and that still resonates today in the area of ‘land rights’. The Museum presented a clear chronology of the Treaty and was supplemented with a video re-enactment of the signing. The restored house of James Busby and the beautifully crafted Marae, the flagstaff and the grounds provided us with several hours of quiet information.

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Inside the Marae not all members of the group of visiting high school students were engaged in their excursion. The teacher told the students to touch the carvings, absorb them for ’they are your story’….a couple of boys muttered and went outside, presumably they had better things to talk about.

With a few hours to fill we then set off to Kerikeri, a ‘normal’ working town 25 kms up the road. What a difference! Unlike Paihia (totally tourist), Kerikeri is productive: food, wine, engineering, fabrication, medical facilities, lingerie shops etc etc

We had been told about a walk/drive in a kauri forest just out of Kerikeri, so with minimal signage we headed in a rough direction. Found it and the boardwalk of 5 mins took the best part of a most enjoyable hour while we marveled at nature and those magnificent tress – and practiced our newly acquired photographic tecniques.

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Kauri trees are being attacked by a die-back caused by a virus or parasite that gets into the root system and then kills the trees. Apparently many national parks/forests are now closed to bushwalkers, who are not happy, and those that are open require visitors to shed their footwear before entering. Our walk of 390 metres was entirely on a raised boardwalk.

Back into town to meet up for dinner with the first of the Duntroon contingent, 2 of whom we had run into in the Countdown grocery aisle yesterday afternoon, who had in turn met the next two at a coffee shop across the bay in Russell. A lovely meal was shared at Charlotte’s on the wharf – we all chose the deep sea fish, which was lovely, washed down with NZ wines. The reunion has officially begun!

 

Ahoy there!

Day 30 Tuesday 5 December

The morning looked a bit cloudy and as we set off to walk to the wharf for our sailing expedition, T said ‘I can hear thunder!’ But no, it was only the sound of the high tide striking rocks in the bay. Phew!

A cruise ship was in, so the craft stalls had set up near the wharf and would stay all day…beads, possum clothing, metal art, wood and leather…because we’d arrived early enough there were a few minutes to browse. T wondered just how successful these markets are.

There was a stiff breeze, unlike previous mornings and T wondered whether she should do a fast shop for Kwells, but skipper Mike assured that we’d be as flat as a tack once we’d cleared the bay and got behind the islands.

There were 11 passengers: Germans, Americans, and lads from Italy (Venice), Denmark and Japan and Melissa from US (who came here as a tourist and fell in love, and stayed) was the deckie. Mike is a Canadian expat (now a NZ citizen, but only just) who has spent the last 20+ years living in the Bay of Islands, doing the tourist season with his 65 foot yacht. In May he goes to Fiji, presumably to do the same. For 6 hours he kept up a constant chatter and patter, telling sailor anecdotes and giving local information on everything from NZ politics, social structure, environment, real estate…and regularly contrasted with his North American roots. Interestingly, he said he had only ever worked on boats; at age 16 he started in the commercial fishing business in Alaska and still divides his time between the around-the-clock fishing on his boat in Alaska for 3 months, making enough money in a good season to live for 2 years, then flies back to NZ. He and his wife +2 babies had set off from Vancouver on their boat in 1978 and spent 10 years at sea, raising the 2 daughters within yachting communities: with all those cruising retirees, missing their grandkids, baby sitters were always available. Some time was spent in Tahiti for the girls to attend high school. Eventually they decided that the Bay of Islands was a good place to put down some land roots and it was easy to buy a shack with million-dollar water views – that has since appreciated as investors realized the value of these views. How things have changed over 20 years.

The young lads and D fiddled with ropes, under Melissa’s directions, while the rest of us just lapped up the day.

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We dropped anchor for a beach/ island walk.

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This was a barefoot thing: Mike had explained that the Dept of Conservation required that no shoes & no backpacks could go onto some of the islands. T had a partial exemption; elegant pink crocs while on board and sneakers worn on the beach would be washed upon return to the boat.

 

 

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There was a greast view from the hills above – but barefoot through the long grass…

 

 

 

 

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While the group climbed the grassy hill, T just did the beach.

 

 

 

Then it was time to bite the bullet…that water looked too good to refuse, even though it was only about 19 degrees. Snorkelled up, D & T ventured in to at least swim back to the boat. Yes, it was cool, but we stayed in long enough to take a look for marine life around the rock ledge…nothing!

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Lunch on board, then up anchor and dolphin searching. A pair performed for us at last, leaping high and were then gone. The afternoon finished with a drop off at Russell, across the bay, where the water is deeper at low tide and then we came back to Paihia on ‘the white ferry’.

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It had been another beautiful day.

 

 

Day 29. Monday 4 December.

Woken up early by a bird that sounded like a combination of an old Holden starter motor and an arthritic bell ringer, later identified as the Parson Bird. Why are we surprised that a parson has rudely interrupted our sleep? Don’t they usually manage to put us to sleep?

Bay of Islands. Paihia. Stunningly beautiful, and, thanks to Australia’s help in keeping the hail, rain and wind well to the west, perfect weather. But what to do in the three days we have here – that doesn’t involve driving, or not too much?

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Into town to a booking office, where T was immediately captivated by the all day yacht trip. That’s been booked for Tuesday. We’d seen a brochure in the accommodation about a walk/kayak to Haruru Falls, but the walk was described as one and a half hours, which we roughly calculated as about 5 km – too far for T’s feet. When asked, the booking agent said we didn’t have to do the walk…pause…so D asked ‘How do we get back, then?’ The look on the booking agent’s face said ‘Gotcha!’ You paddle back, he said.

So that’s what we did. Hired a two person kayak for half a day and paddled to the falls, oohed! and aahed! and paddled back. We did attempt to land on the mangrove flats to have some lunch on the way back, but the mud was too much of a challenge – for a while we struggled to free the kayak, and it was only beached by its nose.

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We had a bit of time left on our half day hire, but opted not to go out into the bay, as the wind had freshened and conditions were not conducive to relaxing travel.

Shopping for the ingredients for the evening meal proved another small challenge requiring assistance from the self-service checkout supervisor, not once, not twice…don’t move the bag or items till….so, we departed the store without the potatoes and red chillies. In fact we couldn’t find red chillies in any supermarket, so resorted to a canned, pre-mixed red curry (very ordinary but filling enough). While dinner simmered it was time to be introduced to the first of The Hobbit films. Well, thought T…good & evil, fear, courage, obstacles, a bit of magic and lots of costume cleverness… that’s it. We’ll have to watch films 2&3 to see just how much film time actually happens in Hobbiton.

Day 28. Sunday 3 December.

Four weeks, but not a day that has a lot to report on, as most of it was spent in the car driving from Whitianga to Paihia – about 8 hours. The Craicor Boutique Apartment is terrific so far – but yet to be tested by a night!

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D has written several times of the driving conditions on the North Island, but has not included them in the published blog because he didn’t want to appear whingy (is that a word?). But today was the last straw, with one maniac – the word is used advisedly – tailgating others then us at 100 kph for about 50 kms, with no opportunities for him to pass. In the end, he did, on a passing lane, but so impatient to get by that he was within centimetres (no exaggeration) of our rear bumper bar for about 50 metres. He was the worst of several such instances – and the traffic was heavy in both directions, so there was little to be gained from such moves. And what was worse, Fairies, was that he was driving an Outback!

So here’s what I wrote on Thursday 30 November:

‘Driving conditions on the North Island has been a startling change since the relaxed environment in the south. Firstly, there are vehicles rushing everywhere, but far fewer motorhomes, and there is very little quarter given. Secondly, tailgating seems to be an art form outperforming even Canberra: we had one vehicle, that could only have been closer if actually connected to our tow bar, following for a good 50 kms, at speeds up to 100 km/hour – and when easy opportunities to pass were available, just stayed there. Bizarre – and unsettling. And thirdly, road works speed restrictions, as reported before, are ignored. But for all the frenetic traffic activity, there has been no other ‘road rage’ of any sort – fingers, gestures, mouthed words, horns etc – at all’.

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Which is partly why T doesn’t get the wheel (and she’s mostly happy with that). She takes in the views and now that there is radio coverage, has enjoyed some lovely concerts. The winding roads and sitting down low in a Mazda3 remind her too much of ‘the gliding experience’, so the road is not nearly as comfortable as the van time.

Tonight there’s a chicken dish in the oven and the yachts in the bay provide the extra peaceful finish to the day, albeit D is still cranky at Telstra and has added to his diary of failed connections.

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