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
And the animals just won’t leave me alone. The fourth and last full day of my roadtrip dawned, or rather shattered, around six thirty or so when, as if by planning, the roosters and rain both arrived at the same time. The roosters were a trio who, it seems, had been abandoned on the side of the road by their farmers, and had grown up as a trio who worked to keep travelers awake in the early morning. The rain… well, it was pretty wet. Other than that it was exactly what one would expect rain to act like.
After trying to ignore the roosters for an hour, I finally gave up and succumed to the combined forces of my mattress deflating and the roosters crying. It took a bit of time for the Europeans to actually get themselves out of bed (something in the range of an hour, actually, spent mostly stretching and watching a movie on their computer), but once they were mobile we got breakfast going quite quickly – toasting up the bread and heating up the coffee and tea in record time. We actually got onto the road earlier than most other days, thanks to the animals and rain driving us away from relaxing in the forest, and so we pushed on towards the next town on our trip.
We took a quick stop in a seaside town, quite similar to Paihia, for a bathroom break, some information, and to search for some showers. The bathroom situation was first on my mind, but that in and of itself turned into a bit of an adventure, as the girls were quite occupied in the bathroom applying a few layers of road makeup. Seriously, mascara and everything. So I took a bit of time to explore the town and see what it had to offer, which fell cleanly into the category of “well, not much at all”. However, while I was gone the girls did find a small sign for a “Christian Workers” house a bit up the hill that offered Emergency housing to anyone in need… this they took to mean “open showers”, and so we headed up into the town after giving the house a quick call to make sure they were available. (Note: This again ties into the “Americans vs Europeans” post that will follow this one. Please read it, especially to understand why my roadtrip partners decided on this course of action).
The Claire House was the name of the Christian Workers house, and the woman living and working there was an amazing host to us, even though it was clearly non-standard for travelers to stop into the house just to use her showers. I ended up taking the first shower, since everyone else was having difficulty extricating their shower gear from the van, and so I was able to spend a good bit of time chatting with the people living there – we shared stories, I learned about the Christian Workers movement, and we generally had a most-excellent time there. I was honestly quite impressed at their hospitality; more than once I had to turn down an extra cup of coffee, a sandwich, or some other small gift or piece of food, and I honestly felt a bit bad about infringing on their time as much as we did, especially since their hot water was purely drawn from a wood fire that also heated the house and the kitchen stove.
But we had a great time, and I think that the folks there enjoyed the company for the short time we were there, in the end. They lived an amazingly simple and clean lifestyle, though I have to note that it was quite a “Western” style of life, instead of a native New Zealand style. They farmed, raised goats, and cooked food on a wood stove, clearing the land as they needed for the fields and grazing land. They honestly most reminded me of what I’ve heard of the old pioneers in the Mid West United States, back before electricity or cars, and I would have loved to spend a week there, tilling the fields and helping with the goats. But we did have to push on, and so we started eating through the rest of the main highway to a place called the Kauri Forest.
The Kauri Forest is, unsurprisingly, made up on Kauri Trees – also known as “Great Kauri Trees”, and some of the largest and oldest trees in the world, second only in height to the Sequoia and Redwood of California, as far as I could tell. Adrien had been talking about these trees since we started the road trip, and I was quite excited to see them myself as well – but when we finally got to see them nothing could have prepared me for how majestically giant they are. These trees, while not as tall as some others I’ve seen, are giants in girth with huge broad tops. Instead of tapering to a point like most trees you see in the Northern Hemisphere, the Great Kauri stay relatively cylindrical up to the very top of the tree, at which point they explode outwards like a clawed hand, making a large and flat top that would make an amazing tree-fort.
We spent a few hours just wandering around the forest itself, walking the paths and seeing some of the more famous trees – The “Lord of the Forest”, the “Father of the Forest”, and the “Four Sisters”. The Lord of the Forest is a named tree, which is to date the largest Kauri ever found, measuring nearly 17 Meters (about 54 feet) in diameter. The Father of the Forest is the second biggest, loosing to the Lord of the Forest by a mere meter or two, and the Four Sisters are four smaller, yet still giant, Kauri that are growing nearly from the same stump, with their roots only a few feet apart.
After breaking free from the small and winding roads of the Kauri Forest, our path headed almost straight towards a small town, and a place called Baylys Beach. The town was first of the agenda, so as to get ourselves some food, and so we found ourselves a good-looking Fish and Chips shop on the side of the road, and stepped on in. And it was exactly what I’ve gotten used to in Christchurch – a small shop with a cool Asian couple behind the counter, with a large chalk menu showing off $2 chips, $3 fish, and $4 burgers. Cheap, delicious, and horribly fattening I’m sure, but we all ordered up a great feast fit for poor travelers; I had a burger, chicken wings, and a milkshake, coming to a grand-total of $9. Yes. I am ok with that.
After gorging on fried food, thus proving my heritage as a citizen of the United States, we piled back into the van and backtracked to Baylys Beach – a place that even the guy at the fish and chips shop told us we had to explore. And his description… did not even come close to doing that beach justice. It was amazing in every sense of the word; only the attached pictures can truly describe it. The beach went on into the distance farther than my eyes could hope to see, and the sand trailed off into cloudy mist as the sand dunes reared up, seeming in challenge against the might of the ocean. The sand was hard-packed, indeed hard-packed enough for trucks and ATVs to drive around on, and so in the hour that we gave ourselves on the beach we were able to walk nearly a full mile down the shore – yet the beach just kept on going, farther and farther into the shrouding mists.
But we did have to leave, and so we finally tore ourselves back from the amazing beach at Baylys. It was a hard thing to do, but we finally got back into the van with full water bottles from a convenient station near the car park, and tore off onto the highway again. After a quick grocery and diesel stop we pushed almost flat out for the rest of the night, only stopping for a short while to watch the sunset and finalize our plans on where we were going to sleep, and who would be driving back to Auckland in the morning.
The total plan, as it stood, was that we’d camp out at a major intersection near a WWOOFing place, where Heloise and Adrien were planning on working, and then Alissa and I would drive on towards Auckland early in the morning, leaving camp around 4:30 to make sure that I could be in the city in time to make my flight at 10:30. It was a good plan, although it left me precious little time for sleep that night, and so we all agreed on pushing through until we finally arrived at a good spot to camp by that intersection.
And so… we did. It was a long drive though, but finally we did arrive around 10:30, setting up camp quickly before starting dinner and cleaning out the van for Anais. I didn’t bother setting up my tent that night, thanks to a small camping awning next to the van, and so I was able to help get dinner ready faster, getting us some more time to hang out and party for our last night as a road trip team. Everything was excellent – Dinner was an amazing pasta mix of fresh fruits and veggies with bowtie pasta, with a big Boston Cream Pie for dessert as a little “taste of home” for me (Ed Note: Ben won’t admit it, but this was actually the first time he had ever eaten Boston Cream Pie). We killed off the remainder of the beer, and I drifted off into content sleep just after the midnight bell rang out. (Another Note: There was no actual midnight bell. Ben just likes being poetic)
I am a smart man, and thus I hadn’t fully inflated my sleeping pad the night before, thus setting a sort of “secondary alarm clock” for myself. I figured that, even after dealing with sleeping on concrete in Sao Paulo (See “My life in an Airport”) I would be forcibly awakened by the pad deflating enough to drop me onto the cold concrete. And it worked like a charm, although I did still try to keep sleeping for nearly 10minutes after my actual phone alarm went off.
Instead of an actual breakfast we all ate a quick bite of pastry or bread that we had saved from the grocery the day before, and Heloise and Adrien moved their gear into the small tent they had set up the night before. Alissa and I then said our goodbyes, exchanged contact information, and jumped into the van, driving through the mist towards Auckland. And by “mist”, I mean “crushingly dense fog”. And by “crushingly dense fog”, I mean “less than 10m (30f) visibility in the good parts”. It was rough, and made for slow driving… but I had expected that and so we arrived in Auckland only a few minutes late for my next airport adventure…