. We start off on pretty nice roads, with well marked signage and start to breathe a little easier. This lasts for only a short while. Soon we are on twisty roads, so narrow that two cars can hardly pass (maybe we should have taken that Honda). There are no shoulders on the roads here, sometimes they have curbs but most of the time it is a white line painted on the left of the road to show you were the pavement ends. The roads drop down about 8 inches if you go off the pavement, and then of course it could be an even longer drop (way down). Sometimes the white lines have little rumble strips coming off them which tell you that you are drifting to the edge. I really start to look forward to seeing those rumble strips, Al starts to look forward to construction zones so that we get to slow down. On these narrow twisty roads the speed limit is usually 100 k. There are lots of passing lanes, but they usually only last about 200 meters so when a car passes you it really cuts you off to get back into your lane before the passing lane runs out. We are amazed at how close they come to our bumper. It is not too long before we see our first accident - a large truck carrying vegetables has been in an accident and it looked pretty serious. It really slows traffic down and we proceed slowly. It is intimidating in the drivers seat as you feel as though you are sitting on the centre line and when cars approach you it appears as though they are coming right at you. When this happens the tendency for the driver is to move further left, except that there is no further left. The first time Al drifted left he hit the curb and I gave a yelp (the curb is on my side) before we both started to laugh, now we know why those hubcaps are tied on!
With lots of luck we make it to our first stop at Whangarei, New Zealand's warmest city . The most photographed waterfall in New Zealand is located here, so of course I must go there to take some shots of the falls
. It really is a beautiful settling and we have a short walk to reach the falls, which makes it all the more enjoyable. I manage to re program the GPS and we head for Paihia a popular beach community. We arrive there to see miles of sun worshipers enjoying the beach. It is the Penticton of this northern region. It is also an agriculture area, lots of dairy farming and wineries.
Our next stop is Waitangi an important location in NZ history as this is where the treaty between Maori and the British was signed and they consider it to be the birthplace of their nation. It is in a beautiful setting with lovely bay views, lots of trees and green space. We set off to see the Maori War Canoes (waka) made from the famous kauri trees. These waka are immense (35 meters long) , able to hold 150 warriors, and they have fierce carvings along the outer shell of the canoes.
Next we set off to see the Treaty House which was the original British Residency erected in 1833. It has been beautifully restored and contains artifacts from the original occupants. The highlight of the house for me was the many English style country gardens located on the grounds. The Crown Jewel at this location is without a doubt the Te Whare Runanga, or Maori Meeting House
. I spent a lot of time outside photographing the rather modest exterior. In front of the meeting house is a large pole with an immense carving of the explorer Kupe at the apex of the gable. On either side of the building is large carved figures (similar in concept to our totem poles), but these represent welcoming arms. When we enter the building we will be entering the belly of their ancestors. I had seen pictures of the interior of this building but nothing prepared me for what I saw as I entered the meeting hall. As I took off my shoes and stepped inside I was immediately awestruck by the beauty of this room. I felt as if I could hardly breath as I looked about. Before me a large, long gleaming wood floor so polished that each grain of wood seemed to stand out. Carved reed panels alternate with larger then life carvings of Maori ancestors, and these cover all the walls from floor to ceiling. The ceiling is gabled and each section of the rafters is painted with intricate designs . These sections represent the ancestors ribs. The ceiling beam represents the backbone of the ancestors. In the centre of the room are 2 Maori figures, a post on their heads goes to the ceiling to provide ceiling support. The lighting is set to show off these 2 figures and the effect is breathtaking. A large wooden carved throne is in one corner of the room. Spirituality is everywhere in this room and I sit on the floor and struggle with my emotions as I am overcome by the beauty of the room.
All to soon we must leave to reach our destination before dark. It is not a long way away but on these winding roads travel is slow. We are heading to Kerikeri, an artisan community a little off the beaten track. Approaching Kerikeri we encounter our first traffic circle. We enter it the wrong way, causing confusion for the locals, but they are forgiving of us nongs and wait for us to find our way out of the circle. From now on traffic circles cause me to pray. We have made good time on this last stretch to Kerikeri and with two missteps we find our motel. It is in a picturesque setting, with interesting gardens, a pool, hot tub, and communal BBQ. Our bungalow is in the back, nice and secluded and we have our own little patio. Best of all it has a mini fridge to keep our beer cold. We have reached our home for the next few days.
"On the Road Again, going places where I've never been". We are on the road again. With a little bit of trepidation we pick up our rental car and prepare to drive north to the area called the Bay of Islands. Just like at home we have a Ford Focus, but this is one is a brand new 2008 and the steering wheel is on the wrong side. Being brand new we will not be able to blame any nicks or dents on someone else. Al and I are amused to see that they tie the hubcaps on their cars, all to soon we will soon find out why. Taking everyone's advice we decide to rent a GPS, advice that I will be eternally grateful for. My task is to program the GPS while Al figures out all the bells and whistles on the car. Where are those turn signals, why on the opposite side of the steering wheel of course. The GPS comes with NO instructions but I manage to get our first destination programmed and off we go. Imagine my surprise when I hear a very New Zealand accent coming from the GPS - what on earth is she saying! Our biggest challenge is to get across the Harbour Bridge, after that everything should be easy, or so we think