24 November 2018
Waking the Toddler was going to be tough, but it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. Ian and I were up at 06:00, dressed and prepared breakfast, and I had opened her curtains to the grey morning, and given her a good morning kiss. I decided to mention Baldy, the ball she’d freaked out about yesterday, to encourage her up, and it sort of worked. She managed to drag herself up and let me dress her, before starting to eat a croissant. We were determined to leave by 06:45, and we left on the dot, despite a few grumbles from Cornelia. She was put up on Daddy’s shoulders and we marched down to the wharf while she polished off her croissant. It was 06:58 as we boarded. Result!
The ferry had only two other passengers and the skipper, and it was a calm fifteen minute crossing to Paihia, from where the coach collected us, driven by Huey. Initially, we climbed aboard a different bus, but when the host saw Cornelia, she said she thought we would probably be on the next bus! Our bus was two-thirds full by the time we had collected all the passengers from the other pick-up points, and was a mix of people and nations, which always makes for an interesting dynamic.
The weather stayed miserable, and in fact just became worse as the morning wore on. Our first stop was at the Puketi Kauri Forest, where Cornelia and I did the short circular walk around the boardwalk, that had been constructed for the Queen’s visit some years ago. Apparently, she looked at the trees, said “That’s nice” and left. But the general feeling was that it was good to have the new boardwalk as a legacy! Ian was speaking to Matthew as we walked around, so missed most of the larger kauri trees, some of which are over 600 years old. They were quite beautiful, even in the mist and drizzle!
We continued to Taipa, a small seaside town which, I suspect, in the sunshine is quite stunning. However, we were unable to enjoy the view due to the torrential rain. We stopped off at the Ramada Hotel briefly for a coffee, and we could see a man struggling to pack away his small stall in the wind and rain. Probably not a busy day for him!
Cornelia settled herself on her Kindle singing some Disney tunes to me, and playing some games to pass the time, while we listened to Huey talk about the local areas we were driving past. He left his microphone on while he wasn’t talking, and his breathing sounded very peculiar, like a deep growl and then two small grunty intakes of air. Ian and I found this very funny!
Lunch was very early – 11:00 – and I shared Cornelia’s fish and chips, as we only had vouchers for two lunches, despite ordering three. She scoffed it all down AND managed a chocolate ice cream, all within our 40 minute stopping period. The service was quick as they dished out the meals one after the other. Three coaches visiting every day must be their main income source, and they have perfected the art of efficiency! I had a quick look around outside to admire the lake, mountain (complete with obligatory low cloud hanging over it) and beautifully-shaped trees, before it was time to move on once more.
We had a longer stretch of driving as we headed towards Te Paki Stream, through large farmlands which Huey told us had been bought up by a “rich man” paying farmers more than twice the value of their land, so he could bank them. He has great plans for colossal avocado plantations.
Te Paki Stream is the only way to access Ninety Mile Beach from the north, but can be restricted if there has been heavy rainfall. Huey wasn’t taking any chances so we were going to approach from another road once we’d been to Cape Reinga. Back at Te Paki, we were surrounded by incredible sand dunes, and we parked up, grabbed our sand boards from the back of the coach, and climbed up the hill. Cornelia was very excited to be boarding…”I’ve been looking forward to this all day!” she exclaimed happily! And with no nerves whatsoever, she lay on the board Huey had carried up for her and she whizzed on down, whooping with delight! If she could’ve, she’d have sprinted back up, but she worked her way back up as quickly as she could, and managed to fit in another two rides before it was time to go. She walked up by herself each time, which was pretty hard work and everyone was very impressed with her energy and enthusiasm!
The next stop was Cape Reinga, which was a bit underwhelming because of the mist. There is a lighthouse here, which was visible from about 25 metres away, and the Tasman Sea from the west meets the Pacific Ocean from the east, but although we could hear the crash of waves, we could see nothing! On the walk back up the hill to the car park, we saw a family with three kids walking down. Although the parents had hold of the hands of the two older children, their littlest had wandered off the path onto the cliff edge and was looking in one direction whilst heading for the edge. Oh my God! I ran forward and grabbed him and yelled to the parents, who didn’t seem to realise the real danger he’d just been in. Our hearts were beating a bit faster after that, when the horror of what might have been hit us!
Back at the car park, our Chinese neighbour (with whom we had been chatting at lunchtime), walked up to Cornelia and just started taking photos of her. I’m never quite sure what to say or do when this happens, but she stood still and forced a smile, before pulling some funny faces, much to the woman’s great amusement. Thankfully, we were rescued by the sound of the bus engine starting up, and we all climbed on board again.
The fascination with Cornelia continued, as she tried to AirDrop the photos to us. She was very sweet but our inability to communicate clearly left me and Ian slightly confused and uncertain as to her interest. We don’t want to spend our lives being paranoid but equally we wouldn’t want to be careless with her. Such is the modern parenting dilemma!
Onwards to Ninety Mile Beach, a highway literally on a beach. We pulled over to run down to the sea and take photos, but as Cornelia was now sound asleep with her head on my lap, Ian got off first and had a brief wander around, before I delicately removed Bugsy’s heavy head from my legs and dashed out for a few photo opportunities. I managed to dip my hand in the sea which was surprisingly warm, unlike one of my fellow passengers who was unable to race the waves and her smart-and-not-very-sensible shoes were soaked as she yelled in horror, and I chuckled quietly to myself.
With some shells I’d chosen for Cornelia, it was time to get back on board and listen to Huey describe the problems he’s encountered over the last few years driving along this beach. The rising tide has meant that on more than one occasion, he has been unable to access the beach at all, and 4x4s which used to be able to drive onto the beach from anywhere over the dunes are no longer able to do so. He also told us that he came from a family of fourteen children. He had six brothers and seven sisters! Of them, there were three sets of twins. Imagine! Sadly, he had buried his six brothers and one of his sisters in the last few years – there is a horrifying rate of cancer amongst Maoris apparently. How devastating.
Cornelia conveniently woke up just as we pulled into Awanui, where we stopped again for tea and chocolate-chip cookies, which were scrummy. There is a store attached to the cafe selling kauri objects, crafted from wood that is 45,000 years old. I took off without telling Ian my intentions, and did a bit of Christmas shopping. ‘tis the season ‘n’ all that!
Cookies eaten, and off we went again for our final long drive to Paihia. Huey told us more local stories, including pointing out where his brother was buried, on top of a hill, for which Huey had had to argue with the chief of his tribe, as it is tradition that he should be buried next to his mother, not somewhere else. While he taught us much about local traditions and told us about his family, Cornelia and I played dressing up, sang some nursery rhymes and had a pretend tea party. She then went to sit on Ian’s lap for the last had an hour of the journey, while Huey tried very hard to get us back in time for the ferry back to Russell. He radioed ahead to the skipper, Chris, and we charged down the jetty arriving with seconds to spare, with everyone yelling farewells to Cornelia, who had really been the star of the day.
Chris was a lovely guy, and made time for Cornelia to feed the pigeon that hung around – a very fat pigeon he was too, on account of his regular feeding! A handful of bird seed was put down for “Widgy” who pecked away at it, as Cornelia and Chris came back on board together.
Twenty minutes later, we were back over to our side of the bay, and we walked the ten minutes back to our unit. I went ahead to cook tea while Cornelia had some more Ninja Warrior time.
It was our quick and easy supper if frankfurters, beans and mash tonight and we all cleared our plates quickly. She had her bedtime stories and said she didn’t even need a cuddle from me, before settling herself down.