After spending a few days in Auckland with Couch Surfers, I was planning on finding a nice Hostel and bunkering down to explore the city for a few days before my flight took me to Honolulu. Plans changed, however, when my CS host offered to lend her van to myself and two other Couch Surfers. We had debated renting a car and exploring the far-Northern peninsula, but I wasn’t planning on spending the money to rent a car for that long… but when Anais offered to give us her van for free, my decision was made up in an instant – the chance to drive and explore for only the cost of diesel fuel? Yes please! The following is a quick account of our journeys:
The main actors – See Days 1 and 2
Keeping with the theme from the day before, my mattress was nicely deflated by eight in the morning, and by eight thirty I was forced out of my sleeping bag with the option of getting up, or somehow re-inflating my pad. I took the first approach, and soon enough the gas stove on the van was burning bright and toast with jam was being cooked up next to a pot of coffee. It was a nice morning – not a true English breakfast by far, but a nice introduction to a standard French breakfast; nice and light, with a small cup of coffee.
We started off the day by wandering around Paihia a bit, with the pipe dream of finding a nice and cheap Kayak rental place. You see, we were in whats known as the “Bay of Islands”, an aptly named bay that has seven or eight big islands in the middle of it, most of which are great for a bit of rock climbing or a nice picnic lunch. Unfortunately the Kayak places weren’t anywhere near our price range (or, I should say, the price range of Heloise and Adrien… I was tempted to go for it solo) and were anywhere from $15 to $20 per person per hour. Not that bad, but there Francs were on quite a tight budget I learned, and so we decided to skip out on Kayaking in favor of pushing on and finding ourselves some awesome beaches farther North along the coast.
And so, we drove. I took to the wheel again quietly singing “turn the page” to myself as I hauled the trucker-style wheel around, and we started making quite good time onwards. One of our longer stops was at a place called Haruru falls, a place that quite reminded me of a small version of Niagara Falls. It was the same iconic horseshoe shape of the North American falls, and it even had a neat little pool right by the edge where you could sit and look over the edge, but the real thing that drew my gaze was the pristine rock over the edge, away from the falls themselves. Perfect cracks ran vertically all over the rock, with small ledges standing out horizontally to make excellent footholds. I would have grabbed by climbing shoes then and there if I could, but unfortunately we still had more than a few miles to make up by the end of the day, and I didn’t really feel that the Europeans would be too interested in watching me climb for an hour or so, unfortunately.
Pushing on from Haruru we stopped in at a small chocolate shop, met a hitchhiker from France, and even stopped in at a beach town called Matauri Bay for some most excellent beach relaxation. The afternoon was full of relaxing, in my mind, but I started to really notice the difference in mindset between myself and my companions as we pushed off from Matauri Bay. Namely, I guess I’ve become quite good at driving long distances, or tightening my belt when there’s no lunch in the immediate future, whereas my compatriots are… less willing to cope with hardships, it seems. I think I have to attribute my acceptance of discomfort to hanging out with one too many Army guys (primarily my buddy Dave), but either way I found myself starting to get a bit annoyed at our inability to drive for more than an hour without having people asking to stop for food or a break.
But we pressed on – one advantage to being stuck in a small van together is that people can overlook certain annoyances for the good of the trip, and fitting four people into this one van was definitely something that counted as a small space. Thankfully after Matauri Bay we were able to find some rather excellent food stops and beach stops to clear peoples appetite for rest and stretching, and I was even able to play in the ocean with a whole family of Maori kids down at a place called Coopers Beach. In return for giving them rides on my back as I swam around the kids gave me a whole handful of clams that they had been gathering for dinner, a gift which I was most thankful for… especially when dinner rolled around and Heloise cooked them up for us all. A perfect four clams for four people – sometimes it seems the universe really does love us, doesn’t it?
The rest of the day went fairly quietly, with a few stops for pictures and a few relaxing miles passed in quiet contemplation. We ended the day in a small pullout on the side of the main highway, where we set up camp and cooked up another most excellent meal of Pasta and tuna, with the usual side of beers.
However, we soon started to notice that our chosen campsite may not have been the wisest place to camp for the evening – we were fairly far in the backwoods from what I could tell, and thus the wildlife in the area was quite curious about what was going on in its backyard. As we ate we could hear the squealing of pigs and the chattering of possums, and more than once I saw small pairs of eyes watching us from the trees. It was creepy, and more than a little worrying thinking back on the stories of wild pigs that I had heard. Capping the situation was the fact that there was a small light glimmering in the far distance across a river – a light that was self-powered and not a reflection, since it persisted even when my flashlight was doused.
And so I went to my tent tightly clutching my walking stick as a weapon, holding it as if it could somehow protect me as I fell asleep. And… it made me feel a lot better, I will admit – especially when the animals finally realized that my tent was something new and exciting for them to look at. First in line was the possum, a night-screamer who snuck up right next to the rainfly and started chittering at the top of its lungs. After like 30s of screeching it would move a bit closer to the tent, but every few minutes a car would come by and cause it to run back into the bush, starting the whole process over again… and it lasted nearly 20minutes before it finally got bored, or so I thought. Instead, I learned that it had been scared off by a wild boar, which proceeded to squeal and carry on in the brush for another 20min, before it too finally got bored and left me to sleep… alone, away from the safe metal walls of the van in my little orange tent.