We awake this morning in a warm and toasty Camper van Beethoven as “Peter, the Heater” has worked much better than the one in the hotel. It was a bit of a challenge turning the dining table into a bed, but quite cozy in the end. After a coffee for me and a tea for him (he’s English), we head over to take the fifteen-minute ferry-ride to Russell Island.
Ferries run approximately every thirty minutes and you can get a return-trip (round-trip for us Americans) for $12. Russell was the original capital of New Zealand, if only by name. You see, back in the day, the current area of Okiato used to be called Russell. It was only the capital for a short time before the honor went to Auckland and old Russell changed its name back to its original Okiato and the current Russell was named later. (Got that? There will be a quiz later.)
It’s sunny outside and during the short crossing we enjoy a great view from the ferry boat. We stop off at a little waterside café for some breakfast before Friday takes Rod, the fishing rod down the beach to try to catch us some dinner, and I wander around town to see what I see.
It’s currently winter and there are few tourists around (but many locals out and about), I can easily see that, during the summer, this place is like the Hamptons without the pretentiousness. As I’ve spent my life working in the travel and tourism industry, and am currently on the hunt for a job which will allow me to write the memoir of these couple of years of adventures (trust me, there’s more than what’s been said here in the website and, it seems, more happening daily), I pop in to a couple of local hotels and cottages to see about their staffing needs. Matthew, the gentleman at the front desk of the Russell Cottages is kind enough to speak with me about their upcoming summer needs as well as taking me on a tour of their beautiful cottages. I nearly hop on the bed and tell him I’ll be staying a week. Instead, I snag his E-mail address and we agree that I’ll forward my CV (that’s a resume for us Americans.)
Following the quick job-hunt, I wander on over to a local fair being held by the school today. There are really old-fashioned kiddie rides, face-painters, gumboot throws (seriously, you pick up a tacky, rubber-boot and see who can throw it the furthest), music and an inflatable slide. It’s fun and I kind of wish Friday were here sharing it with me.
After some time at the fair, I walk through town stopping at Christ Church, the oldest existing church in New Zealand. This area was the central location of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. The beginnings of this church go back to the first contact between the Māori and the Europeans when the European missionaries came across the harbor to bring church services into local homes. At that time, Russell was officially called Kororareka, but was known as “the Hellhole of the Pacific” (now, Stockton, California.) The missionaries purchased land from the Kororareka chiefs (very different than the Kansas City Chiefs) and they agreed the Europeans and the Māori should have equal rights to burial. We could maybe learn a lesson from these people who decided to simply get along.
I wander through the cemetery – always great to explore the history of a place – before walking through town and checking out a few shops. I walk back to the pier to meet Friday and the huge fish which he’s caught (or, perhaps, just him and Rod, the empty fishing rod) before we hop on the ferry back to Paihia. where I stop in the ferry office on the other side to inquire about a job and then go looking for Friday as he has disappeared (he does this a lot, but feels quite distant today).
We climb back into Camper van Beethoven, make a quick stop at the grocery store, and head north where we spend the night.
In the morning, we head up to Cape Reinga where we take a short walk to the lighthouse. Built in 1941 to replace the nearby Motuopao Island lighthouse, it had little use during its first few years due to wartime blackout restrictions. Besides this lighthouse, this area, with amazing views, is special as Māori legend has it that it’s the departing place for spirits making their final journey home. One last tidbit which makes this a special place is that it’s where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide. (Here’s some good bar-bet information: A sea and an Ocean are different. Seas are generally smaller and are usually located where land and ocean meet. Usually seas are partially enclosed by land. Still, you can get seasick on the sea or the ocean – and now you can win a free beer).
We climb back into Ludwig and drive along road paralleling Ninety Mile Beach (though it’s a registered highway, we don’t drive on the actual Ninety Mile Beach as we don’t want Ludwig to be a literal stick in the mud) over to the giant sand dunes at Te Paki Stream where we rent a sandboard and climb the mountain of sand to belly-surf down. It’s a ten-minute hard climb up (two steps up, one step back sliding down the shifting sand) and a ten-second ride down (totally not worth it as you speed down faster on snow and a sled and it’s much easier to climb up). I do it once and Friday does it a few times. We depart much sandier than we arrived and find a place to for Ludwig to stay for the night.
Friday is now being a bit of a jerk and, when I ask for a kiss (yes, this is also that kind of adventure), I’m told, “You have to feel a kiss.” Alrighty then. I have no idea what’s up except that, when we were renting Ludwig, he suddenly told the woman that we’d be keeping it a day less, and explained to me that he’d made a new friend in a hostel and, while he would be leaving New Zealand later than planned, he would be cutting our trip short by a day in order to spend some time with the friend. (When I ask, I’m told it’s a “bloke” which I now don’t believe for a second.) I found this funny as there was something I’d wanted to do further south which I’d E-mailed him about a week prior. He responded by saying that it would be a shame to lose a day up north to head down there. On this night, I bring this to his attention making the point that I had no say in shortening the trip by a day. He responds that he’d just figured it out last week (when I proposed the side trip to him) and, “as you’d already booked your ticket, it was too late for you to change it.” What? I was coming to Auckland anyway. Once it all sinks in, I realize that he means it was too late to change my ticket to come meet him. I’m hurt, insulted, rejected and, on top of it, he’s being an ass.
I tell him it might be best to head back to Auckland and he’s disappointed (are you kidding me?). “Well, maybe the day after would be better if it won’t be uncomfortable,” he says. “I’d like to see the west coast.” I’m upset and we decide to discuss it in the morning. We sleep as far away from one another as possible in a two-person camper van. Peter is my only heater.
Tomorrow – Sleeping with the enemy