Our camping trip, Jan 2013, near the top of New Zealand's North Island.
Thankfully the Metservice predictions proved accurate and the day dawned clear and sunny. Christmas had been damp, but it seemed summer had finally arrived. We packed everything into the tray of the ute, leaving just enough room for Emma. She didn't know where we were going, but it didn't matter, she loved going for a drive. Poor Smudge was left behind, but we gave her lots of attention and put food down for her. She wouldn't have wanted to come anyway, cats don't enjoy car trips like dogs do. Steve's mum and dad would make sure Smudge was fed while we were away.
I couldn't stop grinning. Ten whole days camping. I went over the lists with the kids again - you've packed your sleeping bag? Your pillow? Your clothes? The books you got for Christmas? Your togs? Finally, we set off.
Despite knowing that Steve likes to listen to the radio for as long as we can possibly get reception, I quickly plugged my iphone into the stereo and set my playlist going. I had songs for everyone on there - everything from the theme song to Fraggle Rock to Metallica, ACDC to Enya. Soon we were singing along at the top of our lungs to John Farnham's You’re The Voice, the windows down and people looking strangely at us. Life was good.
Our first stop was the 142nd Highland Games in Waipu. Waipu is a small town (about 1500 people) about two hours drive north of Auckland. I remember attending the Highland Games there as a child, and my interest had recently been regained through my genealogy research. I had a lot of Scottish ancestry on my dad's side of the family. We'd been to the Auckland Highland Games in November which had been a much smaller affair, but interesting. We'd eaten scotch pie and drunk Irn Bru. The Waipu games were much bigger, the largest in New Zealand. The main reason we were going though was because each year they held a fashion contest called 'Tartan In The Park', and Caitlin loved fashion. She was often drawing new creations in the book we'd given her for her birthday containing figure outlines ready to be clothed. She'd placed second in the Trash To Fashion contest run by the Auckland Explorers group we belonged to. In preparation for today, she and Steve's mum had gone shopping for tartan, and made a top, skirt and bag. It was a pink and green tartan and Caitie was very proud of it.
We found a parking space in Waipu and put Emma on the lead. Finding the games was easy - Waipu is a tiny place and everyone was headed in the same direction. We were paying at the gate when the man told us that dogs were not permitted in the park. Uh oh. Now what? After all the effort that had gone into the tartan creation, we could hardly leave. It was about ten o’clock and the contest started at one o’clock. What could we do with the dog in the meantime? Thankfully a kind woman at the entrance offered her backyard for Emma. “My dog isn’t home at the moment, and it’s fully fenced. Put her in there.” She gave Steve the address and after many thank yous, Steve took Emma off and the kids and I headed into the games.
We listened to bagpipes, watched strongmen compete, spoke to Scotsmen, watched the Highland dancers and sweated in the heat. We found a few kids’ activities and sheltered from the sun while the kids rock climbed and bounced their way through inflatable obstacle courses. Finally one o’clock arrived.
We were sitting in the bleachers with the rest of the audience in preparation for the start of Tartan In The Park, and I helped Caitie get her outfit on. Unfortunately the seam on the shoulder strap didn’t hold and we sent Steve off to find a pin. $10 later Caitie had a Scottish thistle holding her strap in place. Meanwhile I’d discovered that one of the other girls entered every year, and her mother had made her outfit. I felt angry about that – at least Caitie had made hers, albeit with help from Nana.
The announcer came on stage, and advised the audience that Tartan In The Park was all about encouraging people to learn about the tartan. “The contestants will come up on stage, model their creations and tell us about the tartan they’ve chosen to use. “ Um, what? No one told us that she had to know anything about the tartan. Oh dear, oh dear. I shared a panicked glance with Steve who shrugged helplessly. We weren’t even sure it was a real tartan – it was pink and green for goodness sake! I quickly whispered to Caitie that while we didn’t know anything about the tartan she was wearing, she was a descendant of the Bruce clan, and her great-grandmother was a Bruce. It was all I could do, because she had to go up on stage. I was so nervous. I felt like I’d entered her in a talent contest without letting her learn an act.
Thankfully Caitie isn’t shy, and she’s cute enough that people find her endearing. She charmed the audience with her story about her ‘great-godmother’ being a Bruce, and confessed to not knowing the tartan. The announcer commented on her sunglasses (a present from Santa) and she proudly informed them that she was wearing them because they matched her outfit.
She came second in the end. Not knowing the tartan let her down. I felt bad that the girl whose mother had made her outfit won, but Caitie was pleased with second place. Even if there were only three entrants in her division, she was pleased, and that was all that mattered. She was given a Scottish-themed pencil and pad, and she beamed all the way back to the car. We collected Emma and piled back into the ute. Next stop, Pukenui.
It took us about four hours to drive from Waipu to Pukenui, and the kids behaved pretty well considering. I munched on Salt and Vinegar chips at various intervals to keep my car sickness at bay, and the kids sang and talked. We ended up stopping at a wee convenience store about halfway there, and getting ice creams for everyone. We were feeling happy to be on holiday, so we generously bought double scoops. The girl serving behind the counter handed us enormous ice creams that were more like four scoops than two. There was no way we would be able to finish them. We ended up buying a pack of baby wipes from the store just to clean up the mess. The kids were happy though.
We finally arrived in Pukenui at about six o’clock and were directed to a tent site. The site was large and flat, everything we could have hoped for. We quickly unpacked the ute to find the tent… we had to get it up before it got too dark to see. It was a brand new tent and we’d never put it up before. I’d tried to tell Steve that we needed to, if only to make sure all the pieces were there, but he insisted we’d never get it back into the bag….so now we were trying to put it up for the first time as the light faded.
We finally found the tent bag and hauled it to a suitable position on the grass. We started to open it when a grey haired man approached us. “New tent is it?” We nodded and smiled politely. “The last folks who camped here had a new tent too. After watching them trying to put it up for three hours, we finally had to help just so the kids had somewhere to sleep.”
Steve and I looked at each other in amusement. “I did suggest we do a trial run at home,” I informed the stranger, “but Steve refused because he said it would never go back into the bag again.”
“He’s right,” agreed the man. “They never do go back in the bag. Well, it will be interesting to see how long it takes you lot. Three hours is the time to beat!” He walked off, leaving Steve and I chuckling to ourselves.
Once we’ve taken everything out of the bag, we found a set of instructions. I read them all aloud, then went back to the first step. “We have to peg down the grey part of the tent first,” I advised Steve. He nodded and grabbed a handful of pegs. I followed him around the prone tent, pegging the grey base into the ground. It had been a long time since I’d put up a tent, but I still remembered to angle the pegs so the wind couldn’t pull them out easily. Some things you don’t forget.
“Right, now we need to put the grey poles through the grey tabs,” I said, looking back over the instructions.
“Well, that’s impressive,” said another strange man from behind us. We both turned to look at him questioningly. “You’re actually listening to your wife!” he chortled. Steve grinned and I couldn’t help but smile. “Listen,” said the man, “it’s a bit later than it was last time, so I’m not going to give you three hours. I don’t mind if you two suffer, but I won’t see the kids suffer. I’ll give you an hour, then you better holler for us to help.”
As the man walked away to a nearby campervan, Steve and I looked at each other, trying desperately not to burst into laughter. Just what had we gotten ourselves into when we’d chosen this campsite?
“Quick, do the grey poles,” said Steve. “It’s a challenge now and I’m gonna get this tent up in an hour if it kills me.” I laughed and started assembly the grey poles as fast as I could.
We got the tent up and boiled some water on the camp stove atop our new camping table. I heated some Weight Watchers meals in the boiling water and we ate. It was surprisingly tasty, and a very simple dinner to end a long day.
As soon as we were snuggled up in our sleeping bags, the possums came out for the night. Steve and I were well acquainted with the raucous wee pests, but the kids weren’t. It sounded like someone trying to murder a cat. We didn’t trust Emma out there with the possums, so we ended up bringing her inside the tent. Thankfully there were three ‘rooms’ in the tent; Steve and I had one room, the kids had the far one and Emma ended up in the middle.
January 2nd, 2013
We had a very quiet day. The kids found a playground across the road at a local school that was closed for the holidays. That gave them somewhere to burn off energy. We all read our books. The kids had both received books from Steve and I, and Santa, for Christmas, for this very purpose, and Steve had given me a Kindle. I was happily curled up with my Scottish historical romance novels, the kids were reading or playing and Steve was reading Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. We lazed about all day, and it was wonderful. Perfect. Restful. Just what a holiday should be.
January 3rd, 2013
I would have been happy to spend the entire ten days reading and lazing, but of course Steve and the kids got restless. We decided to do a bit of a tiki tour and see some of the local sites. I love road trips where you just drive as you please with no set destination and Steve has a natural sense of direction that ensures we don’t get lost.
We found ourselves at Henderson Bay on the east coast, just a short drive north of the campground. The kids love the beach, but this one was quite different to the ones at home – it had rock pools. Oh, the excitement! Steve threw a tennis ball for Emma and I snapped photos while the kids proceeded to spend hours (yes, I’m not exaggerating) looking for crabs, shellfish and small fish in the rock pools. They loved it.
January 4th, 2013
We drove out to Ninety Mile Beach today, a famous beach on the west coast. It’s Maori name is Te Oneroa a Tōhē. It’s not actually ninety miles long, it’s only 55 miles long. It’s legally considered to be a road, and you can drive on it, however cars often get stuck in the sand! We drove on it, just because ‘that’s what you do’, but then the kids and Emma had a paddle in the surf. West coast beaches in New Zealand are much rougher than the east coast beaches, and it is common for there to be so we don’t let the kids go much deeper than knee height. They enjoy playing in the waves though. The sky was grey and rain was threatening, but it wasn’t cold.
We had planned to make a day trip of it, but in a spur of the moment decision we decided to drive up to Cape Reinga this afternoon. Cape Reinga marks the very tip of New Zealand. We’d never been there before, but I’d heard tales of it. The Maori people believe that when they die their souls travel to Cape Reinga and pass to the next world from there.
The reason that there is a significant difference in the east and west coast beaches in New Zealand (as mentioned above) is that there are different seas on either side of the country. On the west coast is the Tasman Sea, and on the east coast is the Pacific Ocean. At Cape Reinga, these two seas meet, and while you’d think it’s just all water, you can actually see where the two seas collide. Or so I’d been told. Today I got to see it for myself.
The drive to Cape Reinga was typical New Zealand countryside, the sort of farmland and bush that I grew up surrounded by. Lots of sheep and cattle. We spotted one large white bull that Steve and the kids oohed and ahhed over.
The views were spectacular and we were all set to walk to the famous lighthouse, but unfortunately dogs weren’t permitted. Wish someone had warned us! So we were stuck there with Emma and nowhere to leave her. I ended up staying with Emma, while Steve and the kids walked to a better vantage point. I could see the end (beginning?) of New Zealand, which was pretty magical, but it wasn’t quite the moment I intended. Steve said there were 300-400 tourists crammed around the lighthouse. I hadn’t expected it to be so busy.
On the way back, we planned to stop in Te Kao for their supposedly famous ice creams, but two (or three?) tourist buses pulled in just ahead of us, so we skipped it. We did drive past the famous Te Paki sand dunes but they were so crowded there wasn’t a single parking space left. We weren’t in the mood to deal with crowds when we could be at a beach with barely a soul in sight, so we turned around and drove back to the campground.
January 5th, 2013
Steve went down to the wharf first thing in the morning to do some fishing, while the rest of us slept in. He didn’t catch any keepers, just little ones.
The kids wanted to go for a swim, and the wind meant that none of the local beaches were particularly safe for two small kids with limited swimming abilities, so we went on the hunt for a lake. The first one we found didn’t look good for swimming – overgrown with weeds, etc. The second one, Lake Ngatu, looked so much like the lake I used to swim at as a kid. The kids enjoyed having a swim, and a couple of other kids joined them while we were there.
There was a number in the campground office for a local fisherman who does charter trips, and we arranged with him to go out tomorrow. It was good timing because the local fishing club was having a kids fishing competition over the weekend, so the kids would be able to enter any fish they caught. Then we decided to go for a drive and do some more exploring. We headed out to Doubtless Bay.
We bought some ridiculously expensive wood fired pizzas from a little mobile shop and got directions to the beach. We ate the pizzas at the beach, then headed into the water. I was wearing my glasses, which I usually do. It might look stupid, to be wearing glasses while swimming at the beach, but the fact is, I can’t see without them. I can’t see my kids, I can’t see the shore, I can’t see anything. So I wear them in the water. A wave hit me in the face, and I reached up to push my glasses back up my nose, only to realise they weren’t there. The wave had swept them off. Panic swept through me. Those were $800 glasses, and I didn’t have a spare pair. I was more than five hours drive from home, and we had a fishing charter booked for tomorrow. Besides which, I simply can’t see without them!!
I called to Steve, and he sent me up to shore (for my own safety, despite that I can swim nearly as well as he can, I just couldn’t SEE), and he looked for my glasses. It was a futile search of course – how can you find one pair of glasses on a surf beach, when they’re in the water? I was so frustrated and incredibly angry at myself. I was just about in tears.
Steve didn’t say much, but I knew he was frustrated. What a downer on our holiday. Now he had a blind wife to look after. Not fun. We drove back to Kaitaia, the nearest town with an optometrist, but it was 4:30pm and there was no way we’d make it before the shops closed at 5pm. On top of that, it was a small rural town and we weren’t even sure the optometrist would be open on a Saturday. We rang ahead, but no one answered. Unfortunately it appeared our worst fears were realised – they weren’t open on weekends. That meant there was no way I could get anything before Monday, more than 24 hours away. And I would be blind and effectively useless for the fishing trip. We rang other optometrists, even though they were several hours away in other towns, but none were open. We drove into Kaitaia anyway, but the optometrists was shut as expected. We popped into the Warehouse department store and picked up a pair of sunglasses for me, and that was the best we could do. It was a very quiet, sober drive home.
January 6th, 2013
Today was our fishing charter. We were on the boat by 6 o’clock in the morning. I had been placed in a seat and told to stay still. I felt worse than useless, but I didn’t want to miss out. I figured even if I couldn’t see properly, I could probably still take photos. I set the camera to auto, so that even if my eyes were out of focus, hopefully the photos would be in focus.
We trawled for kingfish for a little while, as Steve has never caught one and really wanted to, but although we got two on the line, we couldn’t land them. So we gave up and went off in hunt of some snapper. We ended up catching two keepers each. When it was my turn, Steve would pass me the rod and I’d just reel it in. It’s not quite the same as being in control, but when you’re as blind as a bat, you just have to do what you can.
Then the fish stopped biting, so we moved to another spot but no luck. The wind picked up and the water was getting a little rough so we headed back into the shelter of the harbour. Caitie got a stingray on the line. Steve ended up running all over the boat as it swam around us, but there were no prizes in the contest for stingrays, and it was dangerous to handle them, so we cut it loose. Then Jayden caught a kahawai. That was our last fish of the day, so we headed back to dry land. We put the fish that the kids wanted to enter in the competition aside (one snapper each and the kahawai) and offered fresh fish to some of the other folk at the campground. One of them suggested if we gave one to a certain guy, he’d fillet the whole lot for us. Can’t turn down that deal! So we kept the competition fish whole and this guy filleted the rest for us. We kept enough for our dinner and gave the rest away.
We took the kids down to the Houhora Big Game and Sports Fishing Club so the kids could weigh their fish in. Caitie’s fish weighed a whole 50g more than Jayden’s much to her delight. We hadn’t realised that we could take the fish we entered back home. With the adult fishing contests, they usually raffle off the fish that are entered, but apparently not with the kids contest. So then we had another three fish to give away.
January 7th, 2013
We headed into Kaitaia first thing this morning and went straight to the optometrists. I explained what had happened, and the lady explained that there was no way they could get me a pair of glasses quickly enough to be of any help. I had already anticipated that, and explained that I was hoping they’d have some contact lenses I could use until I could get replacement glasses. I was holding my breath that they’d have the strength of contact lenses I needed, in stock. Because the strength I needed wasn’t common, there was a chance they wouldn’t have it in stock, but oh boy, I was hoping desperately they would. They did. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. They were also nice enough to give them to us for free, even though we offered to pay for them. I put them in while we were at the optometrists, and it was such a relief to be able to see again. You have no idea.
We had a very quiet day, which finished off with Steve taking the kids to the prizegiving. I had a headache, which wasn’t really surprising after more than 24 hours without my glasses, so I stayed back at the camp. Jayden won ‘second heaviest snapper’ and got a gift certificate for a snorkel set. Caitie was distraught. How could Jayden win a prize for heaviest snapper, when her fish weighed slightly more than his and she won nothing? We didn’t have an answer for that, but assured her that we would buy her a snorkel set too. She wasn’t happy.
January 8th, 2013
We drove back into Kaitaia again to collect Jayden’s new snorkel set from the store that had donated it, and we bought Caitie a matching one. They were good quality snorkel sets. The kids wanted to go back to Henderson Bay and use them, so we headed over there. Jayden got the hang of snorkelling pretty quickly, but Caitie took a while (and lots of patient advice from Steve) to get it. By the time she did, they were starting to get cold, so we bundled them back up and headed to Te Kao for the long awaited ice cream. Having learned our lesson from last time, we only got single scoop ice creams for the kids this time, but they were still really big. Steve and I got lamingtons instead. Been ages since I had a lamington!
We ended up going into Kaitaia for dinner. Kaitaia had one decent restaurant and we weren’t setting our hopes too high, but it turned out to be okay. Steve and the kids indulged in seafood while I kept to safe choices like steak.
January 9th, 2013
It was our last day up north today, so we spent a while thinking of what to do. We decided to do the Eco Trail at Gumdigger’s Park. We weren’t really interested in the history of gumdigging in Northland, but apparently they had geckos and I knew the kids would enjoy seeing those. As it turned out, the kids were a little more interested than I had originally thought, and it turned out to be an okay (if ridiculously overpriced) little walk.
We lazed away the rest of the afternoon….our last in the sunny north.
Note: I tried to add photos to this entry, but struggled to get this to appear correctly. You can check them out here: