9 Days In The North

Rain, Rainbows and Golden Fried Milk.

We fly out of Christchurch with extreme weather warnings for Coromandel which is where we are going. The bad weather is due to hit about the time we land. On the flight we hit some turbulence where we get thrown around pretty violently then we free-fall enough to make us all feel both terrified and air sick. Then we get thrown around some more. The young woman next to me is obviously terrified and about to cry when I engage her in conversation. She knows what I am doing and she gratefully goes along with it. It gets her through to Auckland and avoids me having to face the smell of vomit at close quarters.

Instead of the howling wind and rain we are expecting it is sunny and bright and warm. The car hire people come and pick us up and tell us that we just missed the rain. In no time at all we are driving to Coromandel under a blue sky with fluffy cotton wool clouds.

There is one road that loops all the way round the peninsula which means that you can get to any town on the road from either direction. On the way I get the radio working and we hear that the road that runs around the Coromandel Peninsula is both flooded and blocked with slips. We check into the motel and the owner tells us that the road is blocked whichever way you go in multiple places.

By the next day all the slips have been cleared and the floods have all but abated so off we go for a tiki tour around the peninsula. I last came up this way years ago. On the west coast nothing had changed at all but on the opposite coast it had expanded. We take little diversions to stunning remote beaches only to find new housing developments.

Bare land sections selling for $430,000. Houses for anything from $850,000 to $1,300,000 of the few that were for sale. No gypsies or hippies hereabouts now.

We go around to much the same thing but yet more expensive in some areas along the coast. The in-between places though seem pretty run-down and seedy and down at heel.

The next day we go south to Paeroa (world famous in New Zealand as the “P” in Lemon & Paeroa) and take some photos of Alison in front of the famous giant L&P Bottle.

Interesting place as it is really run down and yet we see no graffiti or vandalism. We buy a cup of coffee but it is so bad that we leave it undrunk. Ali finds a boot sale where she buys a big bag of feijoas for $2 then goes back and finds more at 50 cents a bag. People are friendly.

Driving towards the coast we come upon Waihi which has military tanks rattling up the main street along with half-tracks, Bren carriers and various old army trucks and landrovers. It was a gathering of enthusiasts that preserve these old vehicles and it was almost Anzac Day.

We stop to look at at some towering concrete ruin that dominates the town.

We climb the hill on which it stands and read a plaque telling us that this was the main wheel for the old gold mine. Just behind us is a very large deep pit that is the open cast goldmine that runs right under the town we have just driven through.

I remember the controversy about this place. There has been gold mining here for a long long time, most of it completely unregulated and most of it under the town itself. Whole houses have fallen into giant sink holes here due to the undermining of the town. The mine was closed for years but eventually re-opened after a furious and protracted local debate, as you would imagine. Money won the battle as always.

I take a walk to the edge of the pit and take a few snaps. Way down the bottom of this huge pit I see some small round holes. These are the original hand dug mine shafts now open to daylight way way down there.

Meanwhile back on the surface I wonder at the bravery or foolishness of these guys here now driving 20 ton tanks over those treacherous roads that have seen whole neighbourhoods slide away.

We move on to the coast and find another enclave of the wealthy overflowing with Easter holidaymakers. We go down to the jetty and there is the timeless scene of kids jumping off the jetty while screaming, hollering and generally making huge splashes only to swim to the steps and climb up and do it all over again. I marvel at their sheer bravery and realise that only adults can see everything that can go wrong (but seldom does). Over the beach we see a bridge of rainbows.

Behind it we see incoming rain
We leave there and drive back to the motel in torrential rain that forces me to slow right down because I cannot see out the windscreen.

But once we are through it we come out into huge rainbows. Later we go to an old pub for dinner and we both have fish.

For dessert I have Golden Fried Milk! What is that? I had never heard of it before but Alison knew all about it, it’s an Asian thing. To make Golden Fried Milk you freeze milk into ice cubes. You then drop them in batter then deep fry them. Apparently the trick is all in the temperature of the oil. Too hot and they explode and not hot enough and they explode. I got a dish with 4 of them served with a small side dish of condensed milk. They were just so simply disgustingly delicious.

Clean, Tidy and Cheap

We drive away from Coromandel thru Auckland in torrential rain
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Whangarei is an interesting place. We arrive late afternoon after driving thru more pouring rain so thick it all but stopped everyone on the road. It is warm and humid here and everything is verdant and lush. The locals tell us that this is one of the worse droughts they have seen.

The motel is on the main road just inside the edge of town. I tell the proprietors that we are here looking at property and they immediately bring out a tourist map of the town and mark out two suburbs that are to be avoided because “the scum of the earth live there”. In spite of that they are nice people, no really, old school, good at heart people and I take the advice in the spirit in which it was offered.

We move into the room then go off for a drive round the town in the rain and failing light. Whangarei sits at the end of a long deep harbour. Next day we are up and out driving out to the head of the harbour. We pass through suburb after suburb but getting more and more rural as we progress along the harbour.

We end up at a beautiful surfing beach then drive slower on the way back to drive round each area and look at the houses, pausing to check on the auction and reals estate sites when we can get a signal strong enough. We see million dollar houses and lesser domiciles. At one point we are driving down road that is obviously less flush than others that we have driven down. But then Alison points out that even though it is a run-down area the gardens are well kept, the grass verges are all cut and the street is clean and I realise that it is different up here

It is around this time that we realise that we have not seen any graffiti nor any obvious signs of vandalism. We drive and drive and eventually end up back at the town centre and find some food before going home and relaxing.

Next day we are up and on the road to the coast via a roundabout way to see the northern suburbs. We divert off State Highway 1 to buy some figs then back onwards.

We turn off the main drag to go over to the coast, we drive through a small town. There is not a lot of work in these parts and it kinda shows. Once again we see no signs of graffiti and no vandalism and whilst none of the houses are very flash they are all tidy and clean and painted, The gardens are tidy and the verges all neatly trimmed. Later we get to the coast and stop at yet another surfing beach (there are indeed lots of them). At this one there is a surfing school in progress and the beach is relatively crowded. I go into the public toilet by the car park and it is clean, unmarked and fully functional, no damage and no graffiti. One of the buildings has been painted with very decorative “graffiti” but it is obviously sponsored and not random.

We talked about this lack of apparent damage unlike what we see in Christchurch but cannot work out why Christchurch is the way it is.

We work our way down the coast looking at bays and settlements.

It is all so beautiful and some of it very pricey. We come across one bay with red seaweed all over the beach.

It is sloshing in on the tide.

We get back to town and I have a short diversion where I channel my Mum by going into shops that sell cheap shiny rubbish for 3 dollars. We commune like this for about 30 minutes and then the connection is broken and she is gone and I am left with a bag of bright shiny rubbish.

We meet up with Ted, a man who I used to work with until he retired about a year back. He and his wife moved up here 5 months ago and are having a house built. Interestingly, they are renting in one of the suburbs black marked by the motel people. We asked him about life up here in Whangarei. He said that parts of it can be rough but not all of it, more of a street by street basis like everywhere else. We are sitting drinking coffee together down by the waterside in an open-air cafe by the marina and it is warm and peaceful and quite lovely.

He describes Whangarei as having a very positive attitude and a pro-active council who are initiating lots of things to offset the economic depression over the area. Ted looks both very well and relaxed and I must admit that it does feel good up here.

House prices seem on average to be around two thirds of the price of similar in Christchurch and some are about half the Christchurch price!

After we part Alison and I walk back to the centre to get something to eat. One thing that stands out is the number of rubbish bins, there are lots of them and this may have something to do with the streets being clean and tidy.

We are considering moving up here, not a done deal, just an idea we are checking out. We worked out that we could both sell our houses and buy a big house up here between us and free up some capital in the process. On one of the real estate websites we saw a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house for about the same price I could sell my house for. Not the best area, but look where I live now 🙂 It doesn’t get cold up here, (by South Island standards) the lowest temperature is around 12 degrees, but it is humid and wet. There are real fish in that huge harbour. The first night up here we had dinner with another friend of mine and his wife and they cooked a Snapper that he caught a few days before we arrived. Catching fish on a regular basis is normal up here and not the fantasy that it is where I live now. Whilst driving around I noticed that most houses seem to have a tinny (or bigger) in the yard.

Family and A Circus

We leave Whangarei early and drive to Auckland. We are staying in a hotel by the waterfront. The plan is to spend the next two days with Ali’s son Vincent and his wife Tiffany and the two grandkids, Katie and Marcus
There is another grandchild in this picture but we wont see that until August!

We plan on taking the kids to Waiheke Island for the day, it is a short ferry trip away. When we go and ask at the ferry booking office and we say that we want to take the car and two kids across the woman says not to bother as it is expensive and there’s not much for kids to do and the forecast is for rain. So we cancel that plan and after consultations with Tiffany we decide to take them to a circus.

So the next day we get up and drive the Vincent and Tiffany’s house to see them all. The kids are their usual lively selves. I see this on the fridge.

We drive the kids from South Auckland to the North Shore to choruses of “how much farther?” and “are we there yet?” and also of them correcting my English pronunciation. We get there early so I get some breakfast in the mall and they play in the kids area. Eventually it is time for the circus. I have misgivings but don’t air them. The website said that the circus consisted of all NZ circus school acts. Anyway the kids are excited. We buy the tickets and make our way to the big top. I chat to the guy on the door and he says that he has spent his life in the circus and this tent belonged to the last animal based circus in NZ. It has a ring and looks like the real thing.

We buy popcorn and then go in and sit down. The kids have never been to a circus before and they are overawed.

Like an idiot I bought ring-side seats and in no time at all I am grabbed by the “clown” to assist him.

The acts consisted of jugglers, a hula hoop act, people doing things on ropes, one clown and people jumping around and over each other and a magician who was also yet another juggler and still more jugglers. The clown didn’t look like a clown, he looked like a psychopath with face paint and in the best clown tradition he was fucking terrifying. He tried to get the kid with the family sitting next to me to go into the ring to assist him. The kid clung to his chair and with tears in his eyes and a quivering lip he begged his parents to not make him go out there.

His parents looked embarrassed but in reality the father should have been standing up swinging his chair yelling, “Get the fuck away from my family you freak”.

Not to happen though, instead young Katie put her hand right up and in no time was leaping into the ring. His act was more one of mediated cruelty rather than humour and it was only the innocence of the children that let it pass as an act. The kids loved it though.

My misgivings all panned out. Overall I was less than impressed. Every juggler dropped the things they were juggling, every juggler did that. The people on the ropes just kinda hung there and swanned around. No-one did anything remotely daring and there was no trapeze at all. The whole show gave the appearance that it was rehearsed for the first time that morning, it was really as bad as that. The next day we were out on a bush walk and someone who was passing us said to me, “What did you think of the circus?”. I didn’t know who they were but they recognised me from being in the ring. Their impression pretty much matched my own. We both remarked on the lack of animals, no dogs, no doves let alone horses and tigers and elephants. Shame but.

Later we drive back to South Auckland and go to a Chinese restaurant. I’ve been to these before, South Auckland is Chinatown, it is Chinese for the Chinese and eveything is Chinese. We eat the most amazingly tasty food. When we get there I am the only non-Chinese in the room. Then a white woman comes in she is older and is looking for someone like she is supposed to meet them there but she is early. She is walking around and has eyes like a panicked horse. I’ve seen that reaction down here before. But more people come in and before long there are more white faces here. The thing is that the food is just out of this world but the whole place is just so ordinary. And within a short radius there must be another half dozen places as good as this. Why can’t we do our cuisine like this?

The next day Ali and I go home. After nine consecutive nights in hotels and motels I can hear my bed calling me long before we land.