Up, Up and Opononi

Trip Start Nov 14, 2006
Trip End Jan 25, 2007

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Having departed the glorious Bay of Islands after something of a relaxing yet equally exciting day, we headed straight for Opononi on the west coast of New Zealand. Now to say that it was a small place would be something of an understatement, but rush hour in Opononi is probably when the tide comes in and carries a few new tree logs onto the beach. The "town" of Opononi had A campsite, A restaurant, A pub, A small shop and A road running through it with little sign of permanent residential dwellings. My nearest guess would be that the locals were in fact sand people who lived in the massive dune that sat on the opposite bank of the Hokianga River on which Opononi is situated. Anywho, having rolled up at a campsite around mid afternoon and found the now customary trampoline slap bang in the middle of the campsite, as well as the worlds most condescending man who helped Sam back the van into its bay, we headed off up the road in search of food. Having sat down for a pleasant drink on the watefront, admiring the view across the river mouth, we spent a good half hour perusing the menu before deciding on what to have for dinner. A short while later, having been informed that we in fact needed to go next door for dinner and that the bar only served takeaway pizza (come on, you knew it was going to happen really), we sat down for an extremely enjoyable meal, although somehow 4 of us managed to order exactly the same chicken dish (no prizes for guessing who didnt) which resulted in a few odd looks and a disappointed sigh from our waitress. The evening ended with the now obligitory game of cards in the campervan before everyone retired for the night unaware of the events that the following day were to bring.

We set off  in search of the famous giant Kauri tree the following morning, having successfully scared the hell out of ourselves when Sam and I got into the van and proceeded to discover why the man had been so condescending the previous evening. It turns out that simply reversing the van straight back results in you pushing the wheels over the edge of a drop of at least a foot onto the pathway, resulting in the entire van tilting precariously to the side as it leant on the verge of disaster. Thankfully, the girls had acquired so much rubbish between them that the weight of the luggage had been distributed properly as a matter of necessity rather than by luck and the campervan soon righted itself again. Unperturbed by this near death experience we headed off towards Waipoua Forest. Tane Mahuta (pictured)   is the largest Kauri tree in existence and stands an impressive 169 feet (51 metres) tall. However, the most impressive fact about this tree is that it is estimated to be at least 1250 years old, and is probably in fact nearer 2000 years old. Just to overload you with Kauri tree facts, the largest recorded Kauri required 25 people to stand hand in hand around its base in order to form a circle, so to say it was large would be an understatement.

Our next stop off for the day was the Four Sisters, a group of 4 distinctly separate Kauri trees seemingly growing from one central trunk. Again, the tree was extremely impressive and as now expected, absolutely massive. Following this, our plan was to make it through Auckland and get as close to the Waitomo Caves as possible that day. Having left the Four Sisters, we headed up into the winding roads, running through the hills on towards Auckland and beyond. We had been travelling for less than ten minutes when I realised at almost the same time as Sam did in the car behind (cue horn bashing and frantic waving), that I had neglected to lock the door on the van leading to the gas canister, which sure enough was slowly making its way to the exit and attempting to jump ship whilst still attached to the campervan. We pulled over to resolve the problem and promptly found that the van would not restart. After a few tries including an audacious attempt to jump start the van by four of us pushing it event hough it was already on an upslope, Sam and I hopped into the car and set off at a ridiculous pace to try and get a signal on our phones and hopefully some help whilst the girls went into hardcore mode and toughed it out by the side of the road. Now generally I feel safe in a car with Sam, but his blatent disregard for his own lane of the road and the national speed limits resulted in me picking the vehicle Kate was driving for much of the remainder of the journey. We covered approximately 15km in just under 10 minutes and bearing mind we are on winding hilly roads at this point, it was quite an impressive effort. Having been unable to get a signal, we suddenly realised that when the van had stopped it had in fact stalled to a stop and may simply have needed a little time to recover before being started again. Following this brainwave we turned around and shot back towards the girls almost as fast as we had sped away from them only to see a campervan go flying past us approximately halfway back along the route - clearly the girls had gotten going again and decided to try and lose me and Sam in the process (why not kill two birds with one stone eh??). Having driven all the way back to the point at which we had left the girls just to be sure it was them who had passed us earlier, we turned back again and began to make up the 40 minute head start we had given the girls in the worlds slowest road vehicle. We eventually caught them just after emerging from the forest about half an hour later and having laughed off the previous event headed for Auckland.

Upon arrival in Auckland we encountered our first ever New Zealand traffic jam, which surprisingly consisted of more than 3 cars and a duck. After spending what seemed like an hour travelling approximately 45 yards (it was more like 20 minutes and we covered about 6km) we emerged the other side of Auckland and headed for our next campsite at Kiri, or so we had planned. At this point I decided to have another "sprecial moment" as Kate Clarke likes to call them and completely missed the turning. Quickly attempting to cover my tracks I refocused on getting us to the hilariously named Ramarama. Having been more successful the second time round, we arrived at Ramarama with time to throw in a barbecue and a spot of domestic argument watching which seemed to involve a lot of door slamming and driving a battered old car around the block, coming back and slamming a few more caravan doors. Eventually we settled down for the night having decided upon a plan of action for the following day and consumed more wine.
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