After a lovely nights sleep the previous night it was always likely to happen that the next night would be awful and so it was. I am not sure if it was the bed, the fact I knew we had set an alarm for 7am for the long drive ahead or the fact I had two drinks of Coke during the evening. My money is on the latter. You would think I would have learnt by now. The caffeine makes my mind race all night meaning I felt as though I was awake all night whereas I am sure I wasn’t in reality.
Consequently though by 6.30am I was wide awake and reading the BBC News site on my phone. Karen woke up just before the alarm went off and we were showered, breakfasted, packed and in the car by 8am.
Our plan this morning was to drive all the way up to Cape Reinga which is the very top of New Zealand. The Sat Nav suggested it was a 3 ½ hour journey followed by another 1½ drive back to our motel for the night. I was not looking forward to the drive.
The first hour was slow going and hard work. Karen had mentioned she would like to visit Kerikeri and places around that area but I had said it would be probably be too much extra driving to go the non direct route. However after that first hour I suggested we perhaps change our plan and just visit that line of coast instead. Karen agreed. For some reason as soon as I pulled off the main highway 1, the road and driving got easier. It was only a few miles off to Kerikeri and it looked a pleasant enough town as we drove through it to Rainbow Falls which was just outside the Town Centre.
The falls were quite impressive. We followed a short trail along the top before walking down quite a steep trail to the bottom. The trail to the bottom warned we were entering Kiwi territory which excited Karen. We also had to walk through some kind of shoe wash to prevent us from taking in some weird tropical disease on our feet. The falls did look better from the bottom. I was disappointed that the water spray did not produce a Rainbow effect or have a crock of gold under themas I assume that is why is they were so named.
We then went back into Kerikeri to find a hot drink. We parked easily and were making our way to a coffee shop when Karen spotted a Possum/Merino wool shop. She had decided previously that she rather fancied a jumper made of this for as her birthday present. We went in and were greeted by a lovely lady who put us under no pressure to buy anything. In a very gentle and friendly way she helped Karen look at a couple of them. I just looked at the prices of them and thought we could have another holiday at the cost. The last who turned out to be the shop owner said that she was originally from the UK and was going back for a visit again in September. I was getting bored with being asked what I thought by Karen of about 20 jumpers and cardigans and so instead I asked where in the UK the lady was from. As soon as she said Norfolk, I knew that my credit card would be taking a hammering in her shop. Angela (the shop owner) used to run an antiques shop on Elm Hill. Of all the places and chances that had taken us to here today was remarkable. Of course then Karen found a jumper that apparently was just what she wanted and degreed that I could buy it for her birthday which as the dutiful husband I did.
Finally we made it to the next door but one coffee shop. It was rather nice and as it was late morning we thought we would have some brunch of poached eggs with our drinks. They were lovely. Feeling refreshed I suggested that we keep on the minor coastal road and see where it took us. If it wasn’t too bad then we might even make it by this more circulous route up to Cape Reinga after all.
We drove for about another hour until we came to Coppers Beach where I pulled in for a stop. There was a picnic bench and so we stopped and had some snacks from our cool bag.
Erik made his daily appearance. Today he had his work cutout chasing off an increasing number of his gull mates from trying to steal what he had decided would be his crumbs. He was constantly nipping, biting, chasing and squawking the fact that these humans were his and he was following us everywhere. I tried not to look into his evil white eyes. Karen was eating some blueberries and threw an 'off' one to him as a reward for his persistence. He took it and flew off. Perhaps that was all we needed to do all along. We’ll see if he makes another appearance.
We went for yet another lovely but short walk on the beach which was large but almost completely deserted. We thought the bay was really nice until we got back in the car and drove for just another 5 minutes and found that we could have stopped somewhere even nicer. Having never been here before you never know what lies around the corner.
However we kept on driving and decided to carry on all the way up the peninsula to the top of New Zealand. It was only another 60 miles but it was again hard driving. After another 1½ hours we finally made it. And boy was it worth it.
There were a surprising number of other cars already parked but we found a space. I needed a cold drink from our bag before getting out of the car. The walk down to the lighthouse was fabulous. Not only is it considered to be the most northerly point of NZ and called the Top of NZ, but it is also where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The guidebook said you could see where they meet as there was a ‘line’ in the water and the seas were of a different colour. I was very sceptical but it was absolutely true. The Pacific was much darker and the Tasman lighter and more greener in colour.
The weather now was glorious and we took lots of the usual photos with the lighthouse and multi directional signpost. I tried to argue that the mileage shown for London was wrong but Karen pointed out that for some reason it was showing nautical miles. We then slowly made our way back up the steep path back to the car park.
We were almost at the top when I saw a thick plume of white smoke coming up from the cliff the other side of the path about 50m away. There was another couple who stopped and looked at it as well. As we were all watching suddenly there were massive flames bursting through the smoke and we could see that this was the scrub burning. We were unsure of whether it was deliberate or an real bushfire as such.
I thought that we should report it as it looked like it had just started. The other couple who had seen it with us were much quicker ups the steep trail than us and I could see where pointing it out to the only volunteer warden who was at the car park. I went and stood on a bank overlooking the car park and could see that the fire was already bigger and spreading.
I heard the warden on the radio calling for help. She was saying that there was not much she could do on her own but was worried that it might be heading to the car park and that everyone may have to be evacuated. She asked the first couple to start turning cars away. I am glad I wasn’t asked to do that as I’m sure everyone who had just driven a minimum of 1½ hours to get there would not be too happy at having to turn around without actually seeing anything.
By now, there was a gathering of other visitors returning to their cars watching the fire, many of them filming it on their phones. I said to Karen that it could take at least a hour for any help to arrive from anywhere. The danger was that if it did spread in the direction of the car park we could be stranded and not able to leave. There was nothing practical we could do to help and there were now lots of other people aware but instead we should just get out of the way. So we left whilst we could. It was after 20 minutes driving when we finally passed a police car lights flashing in the opposite direction, then over the next hour of driving we had 6 fire engines also pass us heading up the Peninsula. As I write this I have checked the Interweb and the fire is still burning the morning after and now covers 4 acres. Helicopters are now helping to tackle the blaze, and everyone did have to be evacuated from the car meaning we did the right thing getting out when we did.
To think we saw the fire start and that if we had been any later getting here then we would not have been able to visit at all . All very sobering.
We eventually got to our motel in Kaitaia for the night. Another one that was actually better inside than out, but it was fine for the night. Clean, safe and had everything we needed.
The town did not offer any restaurants or bars that appealed to us and to be honest we didn’t feel like just going to one for the sake of it. So we went and got a Pizza takeaway for me and a Fillet of Fish from McDonalds for Karen and ate them on the chairs outside of our room. It was all rather pleasant.
We also started a plan an itinerary for our next visit, meaning that I guess we will be back. My starter for 10 was a relaxed tour but Karen immediately changed it to something much for aggressive in terms of driving and nightly moves. I think it will require much more thought and negotiation.