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Conner's Big Adventure 2017

New Zealand - Getting to the North Island

NEW ZEALAND | Saturday, 22 April 2017 | Views [605]

Home sweet home - View from the porch of Tokerau Beach

Home sweet home - View from the porch of Tokerau Beach


I was really looking forward to some down time on the beach and not having to drive anywhere after our fairly fast paced month on the South Island. Our next Airbnb spot was a small bach in a nice, mellow cove, away from the city, no hosts to share space with, directly across the road from the beach and playground. Exactly what we all needed! Nowhere in my plans did the words “tropical storm” come into play. Apparently I had very unimaginative expectations. But let’s start at the beginning shall we?

After a short and uneventful flight we arrive in Auckland in the early afternoon. Since the place we would be staying was quite remote we had decided beforehand to try for some play equipment at op shops (thrift stores) in Auckland before we headed out of the big city. After all, coming in so early we would have plenty of time (See what I did there? Yeah, just wait for it). We wait around at the airport for a bit until we are picked up by the shuttle to take us to our rental car pickup spot. Our on-board entertainment for the shuttle ride consisted of a very cute, very curly haired, French boy about age 2 :-). We get to the rental car agency and while everyone is very friendly (Remember, this is NZ. Everyone is friendly here.), they are also not in any hurry. Nevertheless, after a few “computer issues” and repeated assurances that yes, we could handle driving a manual, we had our car for the month. Calling this thing a “jalopy” would have been overly kind, but the inside was clean and odor free, and hey, with as much damage as was done to it already they could hardly tell us we had done any more when we returned it, so we’ll call it a wash shall we? Off we head to find our pre-selected op shops only to realize that the rental hoopla took so long we now have a total of 20 minutes before 5:00. Now, if we were in a smaller town that wouldn’t have mattered since everyone rolls up the doors at 3:30, but in Auckland we figured they would have more regular business hours, so we just say we will hit the three that are close and see if anything is open late. Apparently Apple’s map software can’t tell the difference between a thrift store and a used clothing rack on a sidewalk, so that was a great waste of time. At least it was only 20 minutes though right? I’m an optimist :-).

Things were looking better after some gluten free fish and chips for dinner, and now we were headed out of Auckland. An hour and a half later we were still headed out of Auckland…. Guess they have rush hour in New Zealand too. Yep, good ‘ol foresight strikes again. On the bright side, we got to know five blocks of Auckland very well. Let’s skip to the motorway. Driving on the South Island we only saw one very short stretch of 4 lane road on the whole island. The rest was 2 lanes and blissfully uncrowded. Auckland is more like an American city with lots of merging and expanding lanes, on/off ramps every few kilometers, and 1.5 million people all trying to go the same direction at the same time. Driving on the left was pretty familiar by this point, and even the manual transmission didn’t make much difference, but the motorway was in no way boring. In my brain exits are not supposed to go to the left (and yes, I know there are left exits in the USA, but I’ve only actually ever seen like two), so we were constantly switching lanes as we realized that the lane we were in was about to dump onto a different road. Also a given in my mind was that hubcaps are supposed to be on the wheels of the car, not careening down the motorway behind the car. I suppose I should be thankful it wasn’t a mechanically essential piece of our car that decided to eject itself, but I did feel bad for the surprised people behind us. Although, come to think of it, they didn’t really seem all that surprised. Between that and the fact that the hubcaps had all been zip tied onto the wheels, I’m fairly comfortable in assuming that this sort of thing happens often. Well, as I said it wasn’t mechanically necessary and I’ll be damned if we were going back through traffic jam hell just to get a new hubcap from the rental car company. Onward!

Shortly after the traffic broke loose we reached the toll road portion of our drive to the North. I knew we were going to be driving on a toll road so I was looking for some sort of toll booths, but I saw nothing aside from a small sign informing us that we were now on a toll road. New Zealand does their toll roads differently. Each car is registered with the toll authority just like with the DMV. When you drive on a toll road your license plate number is captured and you have 5 days to pay your toll online (or via phone) before incurring a massive penalty. Pretty cool system actually. The only nonsensical part was that it was a seriously short stretch of road through a bunch of fields that probably took us 15 minutes to drive. Guess that’s why it’s only a $2.30 toll.

Onward we drive and the landscape is just as spectacular as what we saw on the South Island. Lush green hills turning into mountain passes. Waterfalls, ferns, strange palm trees. New Zealand’s natural beauty doesn’t seem capable of disappointment. It’s been raining on and off for about an hour now and the wind is picking up, but nothing too bad. We get to a detour just about the time the sun dips below the horizon. Gregg had seen a heads up for the detour earlier, so we were expecting it, and we were making good time now anyway. What we weren’t expecting was for the detour to take us AN HOUR out of our way before getting back on the motorway! Between the sun going down and the increasing clouds it was definitely dark by this point. So much for getting to the bach in the daytime so we don’t get lost. We pass the half way mark and the wind starts picking up more. Then it really picks up and the rain joins in so that by the time we reach the turn off onto the smaller Highway 10 toward the Karikari Peninsula we are driving about 25mph and I am sure we are going to get impaled by a tree or pushed off into the ocean by a flying cow or a sheep. Gregg is driving and since roads in NZ are rarely lit my eyes are flickering between the road ahead and my phone’s map and I’m saying stupid things like “I know you can’t tell, but the ocean is literally ten feet to your right. Don’t swerve”. It’s pretty obvious at this point that we are in some sort of serious storm, but having no cell service we had no idea of how bad the storm was going to get. Watching the news the next few days we saw just how bad the storm really was and it was impressive. Massive flooding, power outages, and mud slides or "slips" all over the northern part of the island. People were evacuated due to flooding and slips in a few of the harder hit areas. Seriously, it was intense. Thankfully we arrived safely at our bach an hour and a half later. Also thankfully, our host left the keys for us in a lock box on the back wall. Now this was a traditional Kiwi bach, meaning Gregg got to stand out in the wind and rain and sort through keys so he could go in and find the main power switch while Conner and I cowered in the car, and then go about getting everything turned on and opened up. Safely inside the bach we tucked a sleeping Conner into bed, sighed a big sigh of relief, and familiarized ourselves with what would be our new home for the month.

Tags: driving, karikari peninsula, new zealand, northland, storm

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