Saturday was the last day of the Kauri north island tour. We set off from Rotorua after breakfast, heading north to the bustling port city of Tauranga. As we neared the coast, the ubiquitous redwood forests gave way to mile after mile of well-kept orchards. Back home, the emergence of roadside fruit trucks (peaches, cherries, etc.) signals the arrival of summer. Not far from Tauranga, I saw one enterprising fellow selling avocados out of the back of his VW van for $2 a bag. That might just be the best deal I saw during my month-long tour of New Zealand. Everywhere you go it’s $4 for a Pepsi and $15 for a continental breakfast, but at Tauranga you can buy a week’s supply of guacamole for two bucks.
After a brief tour of town, we continued up the coast to Waihi Beach. The morning’s activity was a nature walk along the Pacific Ocean coastline. We didn’t have a lot of time, and the weather was pretty variable, but I wanted to finish the 6.6 km out-and-back hike to the beach at Orokawa Bay. So I walked briskly through the pohutukawa forest, stopping occasionally to enjoy the expansive ocean views.
There’s a lovely Blue Rodeo song from the mid-1990s called “5 Days In May”. Principal tunesmith Jim Cuddy has explained that the song is an amalgam of two romantic stories. In one of the stories, Blue Rodeo was on a tour of New Zealand, enjoying a day off at the beach. Cuddy noticed the band’s sound engineer writing a name in the sand, and asked him why. The sound engineer said that he wrote his wife’s name in the sand wherever he went as a way of paying tribute to her while he was away on tour. In a world of overpriced flowers and chocolates and ribbon-wrapped Lexus SUVs, the simple gestures are still the most beautiful.
After scribing someone special’s name in the Orokawa sands, I stood back and watched the surf wash my scrawls away.
After lunch, we moved on to the Karangahake Gorge. We toured the ruins of a gold and silver mining operation, and learned a little bit about late 19th century extraction technology and railway engineering. Interpretive signs explained the McArthur-Forrest cyanide process, and some of the foundations for the massive ore crushing machines were still visible on the hillside.
We then climbed back into our mini-bus, recently christened ‘Billy T. James’, for the last leg of our tour. The five of us bid each other goodbye at Auckland airport, but we suspected it wasn’t for the last time. Our tour company was being slightly vague about details, but we were reasonably sure that we would cross paths again in Christchurch on Monday morning for the start of the Rimu (south island) tour.
I stayed at the airport hotel on Saturday night in order to catch a Sunday morning flight. The Novotel Auckland Airport is very modern and tastefully furnished. I had a nice view of the tarmac and the harbour, and whatever they did to soundproof the windows works like a charm. 747s and 777s came and went all night, but I didn’t hear a thing. The hotel restaurant looked a little posh for someone travelling in polyester slacks, so I indulged a curiosity and opted for a takeaway ‘Serious Lamb Burger’ from McDonald’s instead. It’s like the Kiwi version of the McRib – despite your better judgment you’re still compelled to try one. The burger was okay, but the Angus beef producers of the world won’t be laying awake at night worrying about losing market share to Mary’s little lambs.
Somewhat miraculously, my dinner from the Scottish fellow’s place paired well with a Mills Reef cabernet merlot that I picked up in Tauranga. With a little serenedipity, my north island tour ended on a high note.
Song of the Day: “On The Ocean” by Guster