The Cape Run - dormir a bord
That 'other day' has arrived and we are bound for Cape Reinga - the adventure starting with a one night stop at the DOC Bland Bay camp site on the east coast near Whangarei. This is to test our camping skills and how we survive a California night.
Coming over the Helena Bay hills in pouring rain with small rivers running down the roadsides we are seriously considering a local motel, but as the rain eases our courage rises and we pull into the camp ground in dry conditions and strong winds. Very few other campers on site and only a couple of permanents so we easily find a position near the foreshore, close enough to a mains power outlet. We don't need to hook up but I want to test our 240 volt systems and of course everything works perfectly in classic VW style. At the press of a button up goes our hydraulic roof, I am sure watched enviously from a couple of older van conversions nearby. Time for a walk on the beach so under lowering sky and howling wind we persuade Tammy that a walk is a good pre dinner idea. She obviously doesn't agree, firmly sitting down after about 50 metres. I can't say I blame her as conditions are adverse to say the least, so I pick her up and we continue on our way. The wind dies out after a while and Tammy decides walking might be more interesting so the rest of the beach could be investigated at ground level. Threatening heavy rain again from the south encourages us to pick up our pace back to the California. Full agreement from Tammy as normal dinnertime is past. Once back in California comfort, first things first though - a compensating glass of Cotes du Rhone and some 'Proper' (healthier - maybe?) potato chips. Tammy is soon occupied dealing to a plate of chicken and brown rice - her favourite.
We soon have our dinner ready too, enjoyed while watching Edith Piaf - 'La Vie en Rose' which a friend had lent us. Fully engaging with Edith's fraught 1930s Paris life and another glass of Cotes du Rhone, we quickly forget about the weather outside. Tammy with full tum, now sound asleep.
Time to set up for the night and very fortunately still not much rain but wind that sounds like a full scale typhoon. Not being seasoned campers I had forgotten how black the night is when outside city limits but I had remembered to refresh the torch batteries. With the rising wind we decide to turn the California about 30 degrees left so as to be head on, not broadside and this eases the buffeting somewhat.
I leave Linda to test the portapotti and Tammy and I head into the night in search of the ablutions block. Tammy thinks this is a wonderful adventure and is at the full 5 metre extent of her lead the whole way. The faint light we could see away to the left proves to be the kitchen block with the showers and toilets next door. I must say the facilities at Bland are adequate but very basic and I could not see Linda taking a shower in the morning. Back at the California we find Linda had been busy with the downstairs bed, having no trouble with the simple VW seat mechanisms - a few more minutes the downstairs bed is also madeup, Tammy is settled and I am climbing into the upstairs double which is a very classy Scandanavian slatbed design housed within the opening roof. I open the lee side mesh window for ventilation - there are 3 windows upstairs which gives great choice depending on the weather. The night is a real test for the integrity of the roof - the wind howls, the rain pours with the beach waves sounding like tsunamis and in the morning turning out to be just ripples! Eventually drifting off to an uneasy doze only to be woken, seemingly minutes later by rain lashing the side of the roof enclosure. But inside, totally snug and waterproof making the alarming conditions like a walk in the park for the California. All experiences end with time moving on and so dawn breaks, bleak and grey but a lighter hint away to the east. Avoiding the not so inviting shower block we make do with a quick face wash which reminds me of an old friend who always boasted he could be 'up and out' in 10 minutes - well, at Bland Bay we better this; on the sand in under 10. During our half hour walk Linda hatchs a plan to toast some lovely croissants we had bought at La Nonna Bakery in Kaiwaka the day before. Slicing the croissants in half length ways and setting them side on the stainless steel camp toaster over the gas flame, in a few seconds we have warm lightly grilled croissants - delicious. On the other burner our trusty Alessi espresso pot is doing it's thing, delivering a strong espresso in about 5 minutes.
The morning is starting to look grey and gloomy again with rain threatening. Time to pack up and get on the road. Not too much to do - just ensure all loose items are correctly stowed, the frig restacked with all liquids in securely lidded containers. Dropping the roof is a simple button pressing exercise, first making sure the windows are zipped closed and the bed mattress properly positioned. Even if, in a rush, you forget to check these things, no harm done as the VW computer stops the roof closure at the halfway point and sounds a chime which calls your attention to the computer screen which reminds you of this check. Nothing amiss, the roof slides back into it's closed and sealed position. One last thing which I thought about during the night - don't drive off with the mains power still hooked up. If this happens you would want it to be in private, not with many 'oldhand' campers looking on! Saved by VW again as there is an alarm for this too.
Driving out the gate with only footprints left behind and it starts to pour down. Aren't we lucky? Turning north on the Old Russell Rd we are soon passing the Rawhiti turnoff to the right and a few kms further we turn left on the gravel road to Waikare which bypasses the Opua ferry, joining us up with SH 10 to Paihia. There is so much water falling now I am very grateful for the VW's 4motion which gives a secure footing in these adverse conditions. Each side of the road is a small stream and potholes enlarge in front of my eyes. Fortunately there is zero other traffic so pothole evasive action is possible. I can recall driving the Waikare Road 45 years ago in an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire and I tell you what - it is just the same, nothing's changed. Still rough gravel, still badly corrugated, still axle killing potholes. Oh well, the VW handles it in style and we are quite soon coming down the hill into Paihia.
Paihia is an 'on again - off again' place, sometimes buzzing, sometimes forlorn and today it is buzzing. People everywhere, buses, no parking - what is going on? We look to starboard and all is revealed - 2 huge cruise ships anchored in the stream between Paihia and Russell. Obviously most of the cruisers had been tendered ashore and are now condensed into Paihia's small and odious CBD area. No lunch here for us so back to the California and onwards to Kerikeri. What a good decision with lunch at Cafe Blue exceeding all our expectations and our Kerigold Chalet accomodation welcoming and luxurious. We are positioned at the rear of the complex of about 10 - 12 self contained, freestanding chalets which allows us a large grass area for Tammy to enjoy. Kerigold is only about 1km from the main KeriKeri township - easily walkable or, if you need to visit a supermarket as we do then a brief drive. Nothing like a shower at 2:30 in the afternoon to revive and we arrive at the local New World in sparkling condition. There are plenty of restaurants to choose between in KeriKeri but we decide on a quiet night in. The VW frig already contains most of what we need so our purchases are only 3 or 4 top ups and a few snacks.
Just a bit further on past the CBD is the historic part of KeriKeri with the Old Stone Store and Kemp House, prettily located by the river and small marina. A nasty footbridge has been built across the river and I want to shoot this in relation to the Stone Store. Task complete in between showers, leaving us just time for a quick inspection of the main street shops. Mainstreet is bright and pleasant, a nice place for a stroll but the shopping is nothing you would detour for. Not being too pressed for time the opportunity to top up the VW's diesel is at Caltex just on the outskirts of Mainstreet. I never have much to say about gas stations but this one - never again. Fill with diesel, no trouble, go into the shop to pay with my Amex card and am then informed that a creditcard surcharge of 2% would be imposed. Bit awkward to remove the diesel so I have to wear it. These people obviously don't need any more business so I'll make their day and not give them any more of mine.
We enjoy a very comfortable night at the Kerigold Chalets, not a peep from Tammy and after our Bland Bay buffeting, not a peep from us. Getting away in the morning is easy and relaxed with the VW parked right at the door. The Kerigold proprietor recommended the next door bakery for some breakfast but the fare is only average, although there is a nice central courtyard where we can have Tammy with us.
On the road north (SH10) about 10am with 3/4 hour to Kaeo where we take a right hand turn towards the coast visiting Matauri Bay, Te Ngaire Bay and Tauranga Bay, then taking a short detour to pretty Whangaroa from where, many years ago we remembered piling the kids into a boat for the brief trip to Kingfish Lodge for lunch. Whangaroa has spectacular visual geology with 2 spherical knobs of solid hard basalt crowning the hills behind the village. Getting on towards 2pm now and lunch is proving elusive with us giving the slip to a number of dodgy looking establishments along the way. The over the water Whangaroa store saves the day with 2 dark chocolate magnums - not our normal diet but instant energy when needed.
Still on SH10, as we reach the northern side of the harbour is the righthand turnoff to Totara North. We are very soon at the pretty Totara North wharf which affords a nice view back to Whangaroa and it's spectacular knobs of rock. There is nothing at Totara North except the wharf, the old postoffice - now a restaurant which seems to be open sometimes but not now or anytime today. A bit further back from the wharf is an old, but massive collection of adjoined timber and corrugated, leanto type buildings. Possibly an old sawmill, now from the signage, in Maori ownership. Looking through some cracks I could see a couple of canoes inside. On the other side of the road is a well preserved 19th century residence looking very comfortable in it's surroundings. Totara North is one of those little last century backwaters which make touring the north so facsinating - more so on the Hokianga (west) coast than the east. Another 20kms on and we are driving into Mangonui situated on the western edge of Mangonui harbour which is inside the greater area of Doubtless Bay. A bypass now runs past the back of Mangonui, taking most of the northern traffic and I am sure the town has suffered a downturn economically from this. The old charm is still there but an air of contrivance prevails which doesn't entice lingering. We are planning fish for our dinner and Mangonui always had good fish - still does but only snapper. This is the only offering besides prepackaged prawn / shrimp cocktail offerings. Not what you expect from the home of fresh locally caught fish. Disappointing and very expensive with a small piece of snapper costing $6.00. We need 3, so $18 and we would have had less then 500 grams! No crayfish, no flounder, no john dory - the 'old days' but a memory of this choice, however we can only deal with today and our snapper is excellent, very fresh and delicious.
Our next 2 nights are at Whatawhiwhi on the KariKari Peninsula, where we want to arrive with good daylight to spare. Only about 35kms from Mangonui, so not a great distance, but 4:30pm and time to point the California northwards once more. As our southerly route, 2 days later, was to be the same we do not stop at Coopers or Taipa beach, turning onto the KariKari road soon after leaving the Taipa area. Arrival at our little rented cottage for the next 2 days is quite straightforward, easily found on the Matai Bay Road. Our location looks west over the Carrington golf course to the Rangiputa side of the peninsula - a pleasant but very distant outlook. We walked along the road later to check the Carrington dinner options mentioned in the locale notes at our cottage. Not at all impressed - the restaurant and associated lodge, managed by Heritage is not welcoming, appearing very artificial and pseudo. We had thought maybe an option for our second night dinner but not for us.
The modern little house was burning hot with the fierce westerly afternoon sun when we arrived so we threw everything open for cool air to flow. Little did we know the local mosquitos had spotted our arrival and were lying in wait. Anecdotely Northland's mozzies are prodigious, but we had forgotten our teenage years Spirits Bay adventures where the local breed seem the size of wasps and attack without mercy. Our mistake was putting too much faith in the insect screens which were secure on the inside of all windows and doors enabling the windows and sliding doors to be left open behind - essential with the heat. As night fell and a cooling breeze became established, closing the windows was a normal progression. Opening the screens slightly to close the windows behind allowed legions of biters access to our domain. We spent the next 2 hours eliminating vast numbers, before any rest was possible. Next morning we reviewed the itchy welts suffered during the night and developed a counter attack plan of insect spray and early window closing for our next night.
Today is The Cape Run and like a lot of New Zealand scenic journeys, not so many kilometres are involved, but due to the roading it is definitely an all-day drive from KariKari to the cape and back with not too much time spent dawdling along the way. One important tip - take food that you want to eat as there is nothing worthwhile on offer north of Awanui. Stop 1 of the day is Tokerau beach which faces east into Doubtless Bay. A long, curving, windswept, uninviting place. From here, a hop over to the west coast of the KariKari Peninsula - to Rangiputa. A delightful spot with a small enclave of quite upmarket homes - more than the average Kiwi bach usual in these parts. The on shore wind kept us off the beach except for a very brief stroll on what is the whitest sand I have seen . Definitely in the book of return visits. Passing through Awanui and turn right for the run up to Cape Reinga with the next tiny bit of civilization being Houhora. Here lies a cafe come grill house, come chip shop, but unless you like stinking of old frying fat, don't stop here. We had missed the short road out to the Houhora Harbour Heads which turns off to the right a few kilometres before Houhora itself. This was where Wagener's museum was - don't miss it for the scenic beauty of the harbour and it's entrance is unique. The tide was in for us which makes all the difference as I imagine the area would have low tide mudflats exposed. We enjoyed a smooth Alessi espresso and some homemade anzacs looking out over the turquoise waters. Suitably revived we could now push on to the Cape where we arrived around 3 pm to find the main carpark about 2 thirds full. It has been nearly 30 years since our last visit and vast manmade change has made the experience less of the pioneering type - more like a European guided tour without the guide.
The construction of a sombre monolithic entranceway which takes you to wide, edged walkways with seating and stonewalls, detracts from the significance of the lighthouse itself and the plainly visible meeting of the Tasman sea and the Pacific ocean. Surely it is not about the entranceway and the paths, it is about the lighthouse and where you are. Certainly walkways are needed but they are secondary to the location. 30 years ago there was a little Cape Post office from where you could send a postcard with the Cape Reinga post mark. A delight for tourists and quite something to add to the Cape experience, but gone now. We are lucky with the weather - fine and clear with not too much wind and this is a seriously windy spot. We're at the Cape for just under an hour and as dogs are not allowed on the 'hallowed' ground we are concerned about Tammy in the California. Not too hot a day and with the interior volume and shady areas inside, heat buildup is only moderate.
With the 20km trip to Spirits Bay being an important retro-journey for us we need to move. Turning off to the left about 15kms back from the carpark puts us on the Spirits Bay road which quickly degenerates into corrugated gravel, so although only 20kms this is slow driving. Descending down to the bay gives a full view of the majestic headland from where, Maori legend has it, the spirits of the dead departed for the afterlife. We do remember, none too fondly, the enormous, vicious Spirits Bay mozzies which no insect repellent of the day seemed able to deter. The camp ground, which didn't exist 45 years ago is well set up with modern looking facilities readily available, but the creek which meanders through the wetland behind the beach looked similarly stagnant as before and I could imagine a perfect mozzie haven. We didn't stay long enough to find out - a quick walk on the beach then away up the road again rejoining the main peninsula road south after a rough, hour's drive. Approaching Houhora, dinner choices are being discussed - there aren't many, which made the little Houhora store next to the grill/chip shop worthy of investigation. What a surprise, impressively stocked and after a bit of poking about we had gathered up ingredients as good as we might find in some Auckland shops. Priced up of course, but this we can understand as it's a long way from anywhere to here. Diesel at Awanui - about 40kms further on then non stop to our cottage at Whatawhiwhi, arriving just on dark. The cottage is much cooler than our arrival the previous day and after our pre departure spray in the morning, nothing moves. Quick, close all windows and doors before turning on lights - we can sense victory.
With the mandatory glass of pinot calling, Tammy reminds us it is way past her usual dinner time then we can quietly set about preparing our's - tasty and mainly vegetarian. A string of loud and quite vicious sounding growls and barks erupt from somewhere nearby which puts Tammy off her stride completely, then she answers. A canine conversation is definitely underway as the reply from outside has quite a different tone now.
TV reception is very restricted in this area and we don't bother beyond flicking through the available channels. Nothing worthwhile so we are soon in bed with our books but not before another brief mozzie battle taking Tammy outside for a walk. Of course a door had to be opened - lets say 50 mozzies, probably many more, rushed in. I think I got 49 of them as the morning proved with only a couple of itchy welts.
Today's planned run to Auckland would take about 51/2 - 6 hours nonstop and with a few things to see on the way we had cleaned up, packed up and were driving out the gate around 9:30. Not bad for us. First stop was Whatawhiwhi beach itself then Matai Bay at the top of the peninsula, both shortish side trips. Heading east along the Matai Bay Rd we passed KariKari Estate winery on our right hand side - looked interesting and noticing a sign near the gate announcing open 11:30, we thought on our way back past this spot we could take a look. Not too confident the sign wasn't a relic of some long past age!
Whatawhiwhi and Matai are Northland beaches, little different from the others - expanses of sand sheltered or not depending on the wind, but nothing to really set them apart and demand individual description. We walk briefly on both, no dogs allowed on Whatawhiwhi which is complete nonsense if you care for your canine companion as we do, so we don't bother to comply.
Our confidence is restored at KariKari Estate - the gates are open. Turning through the substantial entranceway then driving up the steepish metal drive we arrive at an imposing concrete archwayed structure set in a high position commanding sweeping north and westerly views. Although the remains of a wedding the previous day are being taken down the cafe operation is alive and very well, with tables out on the lawn looking out over the peninsula where we could have our Tammy with us, who is delirious with joy. 2 excellent coffees, stylishly presented bread and dips and as the morning is getting on and a little later into our visit, 2 glasses of their own wine. Both the Syrah and the Pinot Noir are made on site with the Syrah being grown here too but the Pinot grapes come from Martinborough. Both wines are very good, but powerful - I like the Syrah a little better. That there is a functioning cafe at KariKari Estate is a bit obscure but now you know about it don't miss it - you won't be disappointed. Of course we have well overstayed our time, but hey, this is so enjoyable - we'll be late home, so what.
A 2014 update here - the sign at the gate declaring 'Open' is still there, but the gates are securely locked. A phonecall to the estate does not produce a helpful response.
Sadly back on the road south we pass through Taipa, Cable Bay and Coopers beach, all three quite built up now compared to when we used to stay at a small Taipa motel about 30 years ago. There are good facilities at Coopers with plenty of accommodation options - great destinations for a family holiday. Mangonui is just around the corner and we take the 'through the town' route again as the day is better and the tide is in. Mangonui's earliest times are from the late 18th century and settlers did not arrive until the mid 19th century, attracted by the safe harbour - with the tide in and lapping at the stone seawall it is indeed a pretty spot. Taking the no exit lane to the left takes us to Mill Bay, obviously named for the sawmill which once stood here. We note some quaint cottage accomodation options for a possible return to the area. Traffic and sightseers are denser today being Sunday and we are lucky to find a park near the wharf store. We pass a pleasant 1/2 hour walking to the wharf end and along the waterfrontage from where we look across to HiHi on the opposite harbourside. We have a delightful watercolor, purchased years earlier in Mangonui, the work of a local artist depicting the view towards HiHi. We have always wanted to visit, never had, so today is the day. A few kms south on Sh 10 is the lefthand turn off to HiHi, then a short drive taking us to a quiet sheltered beach, perfect for walking. Tammy comes across a forgotten tennis ball, her favourite thing besides food. A large flock of gulls hidden by a slight rise, sense our approach and take to the air in alarm, startling Tammy so much she about turns, drops the ball and helterskelter back to California safety. I try to tell her the gulls have gone the other way, more scared of us than she of them, but she's not having any of it, tucking herself into her bed ready for departure. That's HiHi for today and definitely a revisit.
Taupo Bay is our last side trip for the day and we are very pleased we made the 10km drive. A lovely sheltered spot with a massive headland at the southern end. Hawaii's Diamond Head comes to mind - h'mm maybe not but impressive anyway. Even more impressive as we pull into the small carpark is another California. The VW California is quite rare in New Zealand and you wouldn't usually see another for months on end - imagine a chance encounter at Taupo Bay ! After 5 or so minutes we get over this huge coincidence and mindful of the hour we hit the road south, very shortly passing the Taupo Bay motor camp. We venture in, buying an icecream at the shop and doing a quick reconnoitre. Very well set up, pleasantly treed which offers private areas sheltered from neighbours. We are impressed and add Taupo Bay to our increasing list of returns.
There is nothing much to get excited about from this point on to arriving back home in Mt Eden, except a dud coffee in KeriKeri around 4:30. Home, uneventfully about 7:30pm. Tammy enjoys her dinner tonight.