It’s a winding road from Kaitaia over to the east side of Northland. We are coming over a big pass slowly and it’s nice to make the top and pick up a little speed, except the van is not slowing down. I down-shift and drive slowly around the turns when the van starts to make a strange knocking noise. That’s it, I pull over and getting the thing to fully stop takes some effort. After wiping the sweat off my brow we decide it would be best to stop at the next service station we come to. This happens to be in Kapiro, a little town outside of Kerikeri and right next to the Bay of Islands.
Our man Martyn is an older lad and has been in the country about a year now, from the UK. He looks at the van and remarks about how he thought he’d escaped those beasts when he left, having worked in a Bedford motor pool for some company in London. His mate tells us of buying one for 35 quid and selling it for 200, running the crap out of it the meanwhile and really enjoying the thing.
It’s going to be awhile and we get a ride from the girlfriend of Martyn’s son to Karikari and the Top 10 Holiday Park. We grab some beer and dinner from the store and watch Martha Stewarts’ Apprentice with some of the others, yelling at the screen. The kitchen is set up like a test kitchen and makes us feel exposed to the scrutiny of all the other backpackers cooking their pasta dinners.
There’s a nice path along the river that we walk through dense vegetation to a lovely waterfall. We visit Rewa’s fishing village. It’s a mock-up of an old Maori town and full of information and native plants.
It’s across from the Stone Store, one of the original Pakeha (the Maori word for Anglo) buildings built by a missionary a couple hundred years ago. We start learning of the brutal Maori warrior spirit and of tribes taking each other out through the country. With the introduction of the musket they can go from hand-combat to point-and-click killing.
It’s going to be awhile on the van as Martyn cannot locate the parts needed and we decide to hitch a ride towards Paihia, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. This was the treaty put forth by the British for the Maori tribes to give sovereignty to the Queen. They were led to believe that no land would be taken away, when in reality shady land deals and a policy of assimilation was rapidly depleting the traditional lands. It made the Maori just a little mad, there were violent land wars, and disputes are still brewing today. Written in 1840 the Treaty wasn’t officially recognized until 1975.
The first guys to pull over are hard working, mullet-wearing men out of the bush with a sunny attitude dragging a trailer laden with construction equipment. They are very chatty and interested in our story and question us the whole ride. They are going a different way and drop us at a big intersection where we easily pick up another ride.
The driver is an older man in an immaculate Kia that he drives all around for business. He used to have a postal route and so did his wife, but they have sold those and now he writes travel articles about different holiday parks.
Writing an article about a holiday park at the base of Haruru Falls he asks if we’ve heard about the couple being abducted and insists on driving us there. Although he’s “not a racist”, he speculates that it was probably “the fucking blacks” that carried out the crime.
We stay quiet as he drives us past his little house. More than happy to fill in the silence with his own diatribe, probably confusing our shock with awe and a willingness to hear all he has to say on any matter. But he does take us right to the ferry for Russell; a town he thinks is a lot nicer than Paihia.
He turns out to be right. Looking for accommodation we’re pointed in the direction of the End-of-the-Road backpackers. It’s up a steep hill climbing past an old church, overlooking the harbor. The sliding glass door is wide open, and a note informs us that Moana will call later to see how you’re going. It’s a cozy two-bedroom home and the type of place you wish was yours.
It’s time to wander back down the hill and have a look around. We are in the travel booking office and I notice the name badge has Moana on it, so I ask if she’s the one with the place. Turns out she is and introductions are made and then a nice trip among the islands is booked.
Next we go in to the liquor store/video shop to browse the booze and flicks. I ask if there are DVD players available. Coughing and spewing phlegm in to a wad of tissue the woman at the front desk tries to tell me that there are only video players. Appalled by her actions and wondering why she won’t just turn her back and deal, we slink out of the shop with her hacking away.
It’s a little grey out for our trip among the islands, delivering mail to boat-access only homes. We lunch in a little bay with lambs and their scat dotting the grass and take the Underwater Adventure! in a cheesy little submarine, decked out with silly submarine crew banter and sound effects. It’s really a hulking boat with most of it below the water line and windows looking out.
Since it’s a little stormy out the water is occluded but we can still see large snapper chomping on the bait flung out by the staff as we slide about 200 yards from the wharf and back.
We get back in and Moana finally calls at the house. We chat for awhile and Erica mentions that she’s a teacher. Turns out the town is looking for a teacher for one year and encourages us to go to the area schools’ garage sale the following day. We do before heading to the ferry and learn the job comes with a house situated at the top of the hill and the principal encourages Erica to apply.
After exiting the ferry we get two quick hitches back to the garage, which is fortunate because of the rain. The first talks of his experiences in Canada. He was obviously wowed by the wildlife and we swap stories of the Canadian Rockies. The second is a younger man, recently married and is hard at work selling the area when we tell him we’re looking around for a place to live. All the Kiwis are rightly proud of the area they live in and are convinced it’s the best the country has to offer.