Trip up north - Day 2 drive to Tutukaka (27th December 2007)

Helbert and I got up early this morning to have breakfast and said our goodbyes to our friends. Hey, thanks again guys for having us over! And enjoy your day white-water rafting - how exciting!!

Left Pukehina Beach around 9am and began our drive towards Northland. It was my turn to drive today (Helbert drove most of the journey yesterday). A photo taken about 10 minutes into my drive from Pukehina:

I've never seen a whole herd of cows crossing the street! And they were very organised too, walking in 2 rows with the farmer on his quad bike behind them :) This is the kind of situation you can get in or experience when travelling in the NZ countryside (I had a previous experience travelling in a car with lots of sheep crossing the street). So cool!

Made a stop in Taupo (a town on the shore of Lake Taupo in the centre of the North Island) to grab lunch but all the eateries were packed. Guess it's still the holiday season, Helbert, that's why everyone is out! We decided to continue the drive to Rotorua for lunch instead. Helbert was craving a kebab so we drove around town in search for one. And I needed my caffeine fuel to keep alert for the rest of the drive! After a yummy falafel kebab and flat white, we continued on our drive towards Auckland.

"Fuuuuuuutttt..." - what the??! I could see Helbert grinning and pretending to be innocent (don't act all sheepish - I KNOW what you DID!!). Fortunately for him, the whole of Rotorua already smells like rotten egg due to its geothermal activity; an extra fart or two wouldn't make a difference! But still, that's just disgusting!! :P

See what I told you about having no plans when travelling with Helbert? Instead of driving straight up to Auckland on the State Highway (State Highway, or SH, is the nationwide network of roads that generally has driving speeds at 100 kmph), we took the coastal route and headed to Tauranga and Thames before cutting back to SH2 to Auckland. I don't mind, really - it wasn't as if I was in a hurry. Made a brief stop at a camping site, Ray's Rest, in Miranda Beach (I think you can camp here for free). Photos taken there:

And we also stopped at Orere, and took a drive towards Orere Point to check out the beach:

Wouldn't advise you to park your car below THAT tree...

Hmm, not a very pretty-looking beach...

Drove to Auckland (the largest urban area in NZ) and through the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Nice - I've never been to the bridge before! The bridge stretches a total length of 1,020 metres and is 43.27 metres above high water. Other than being a city icon of Auckland, the bridge also allows visitors to do 2 super-high adrenaline activities: you could do a bridge climb and/or do the AJ Hackett Bungy off the bridge, the world's first harbour bridge Bungy Jump. I love doing stuff like that but these will have to wait till my next trip to Auckland ;)

Did I mention that Auckland is also NZ's most populous city with approximately 1.3 million residents, which is over a quarter of the country's population? Oh yeah, and when it's the year end holiday period, expect huge delays in traffic when travelling. We were driving at speeds of 20 kmph or less, literally crawling bumper-to-bumper for 2 hours just north of the city centre heading towards Whangarei. INSANE!

The weather was rather hot and humid, and Helbert had the air-conditioning turned on at full blast to keep us cool as we patiently followed the slow traffic. He even managed to squeeze in a nap! Don't worry, I was still the driver.

With the traffic moving oh-so-slowly, we had time to enjoy the beautiful view of the NZ countryside...until we noticed a bull trying to 'hump' a cow as the herd was being ushered somewhere by the farmer! It was a really funny sight that came out of the blue. Sadly, the bull wasn't successful in his hump as it lost its balance standing on 2 legs and the cow was still walking not knowing what was happening or happened. We were kind of disappointed that the bull didn't try again though...hehe....would have been a good laugh!

We continued our drive to Whangarei, the northernmost city in NZ and the regional capital of Northland Region. Had a brief stop at the information centre for more coffee and picked up some brochures of places to visit in the area. We decided to head to Tutukaka Coast located about half an hour's drive north-east from Whangarei to see if we were able to find accommodation there. Just a little offshore of the coast lies the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve and Riko Riko cave – the world’s largest sea cave. This is a dive mecca and world-class fishing region, and if we could stay there, that would save us some travelling time. Well, worse case scenario, we would just drive back to Whangarei and put up here for the night.
Tutukaka, a little town that has 1 dairy (in NZ context, a dairy means small grocery or corner shop) and 1 petrol station, was packed! Lots of cars, pedestrians in beachwear, boats being towed in and out of the marina etc. I could feel the buzz and excitement!!

Stopped by at the local dive shop to get some brochures and information about diving at the Poor Knights Islands and also find out if there was a holiday park nearby. By the way, I was prepared to sleep in Helbert's car pretty much throughout the whole of this trip - that was one of the reasons he bought the stationwagon, as a makeshift bedroom/camp (or 'presidential suite' as he calls it) during his travels. And in the last couple of trips together around NZ, we had been sleeping in the 'presidential suite' so it was normal to me. Holiday parks allow us to park (and sleep in) our car in a secure site for a small fee and to make use of the facilities there e.g. kitchen, shower etc.

The lovely lady behind the counter recommended us to try Tutukaka Holiday Park, just 2 blocks away from the dive shop. Apparently it is the peak holiday season in Tutukaka thus the sudden influx of visitors here (and also the best time for local businesses to make lots of money). In other words, we might not get a place to stay??

Tutukaka Holiday Park is a new facility situated in a scenic valley 25km from Whangarei on the east coast. It is only meters away from all facilities Tutukaka has to offer (just walking distance). There are cabins, self-contained cabins, powered sites, backpacker dorms and tent sites in this park, and it was already quite full and busy by the time we got there. Hmm...I guess we were kind of lucky in the sense we already had a mobile bedroom so it was easy for the host, Grant, to place us in the park. We were placed on a non-powered site next near the dive gear cleaning and storage space. Yay, we're sorted!
Time to wind down after a long days' drive, we parked the car, took out Helbert's camping chairs (his gift from Andrew for Christmas), and had a few bottles of cold beer (hey, I have to say we were pretty smart to bring a chilly bin with ice - the beers were kept chilled) and chips.

Helbert was snacking on our bag of chips and idly feeding a few seagulls who were lurking nearby, entertaining himself watching the seagulls fight over chips (by the way, seagulls are scavenge opportunists so even chips were not spared). He probably missed feeding one of the seagulls (I wasn't keeping tabs - they looked all the same to me) and that one fellow decided to take decided to crap on Helbert! Hahahahaha!!! Told you not to feed the seagulls but you wouldn't listen so I'm not going to feel sorry for you now! I saw that bird flying our way, as if heading straight for us but it flew past just low enough to poop onto Helbert's shoe. Man, you should have been there - it was hilarious!

The holiday park has an interesting way of saving power by using a timer on its hot water supply and lights in the communal showers and toilets. I guess it's practical especially in a place that houses so many campers and nobody wants to take a cold shower or have someone hog the shower for hours. Costs 50 cents for 7 minutes of hot water which was sufficient for me.

The rest of the evening was spent in the communal TV room where we met a local fisherman, Rob. Rob is a true Kiwi, obnoxiously funny and a fisherman at birth. Helbert and I were planning to go fishing during our stay in Tutukaka and Rob suggested we talk to his friend Dylan at the Tutukaka information centre tomorrow - thanks for the tip! It was very interesting to listen to his fishing stories especially those of game fishing for marlin in the area. Did you know that it could take up to 8 hours to reel the huge fish in AND only 1 person is responsible for the reeling during the whole time? Hmm, I don't think game fishing is for me...The marlin would probably drag me into the water rather than me dragging it out!
Time to catch some sleep in the 'presidential suite' - the other campers probably think we were nuts but who cares? We have everything we needed to set up the 'room' including foams as a mattress, sheets, duvets and pillows. Cosy! Oh, and I could see heaps of stars in the clear sky - I really like it here. It's nice :) Looking forward to tomorrow, our first official day in Tutukaka!


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