Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Bay of Stuff

After our leisurely few days in 'the village' we thought we had better start making some serious headway if we were going to reach the top of the North Island before Christmas!  So we hightailed it up to the Bay of Islands.  Gareth had never seen most of this part of the country before and I hadn't been there in over 20 years but we both remembered it as being a beautiful and charming part of the country and were keen to go back.  Hopefully it hadn't changed too much.  'Maybe Kerikeri has a bloody great McDonald's now, like Warkworth!' I said jokingly.  Like that would ever happen. As we both remembered it, Kerikeri was a gorgeous, quaint little town with only one main street which was peppered with delightful and quaint local shops.  No chain stores and fast food franchises here, no way!

The best way to travel between Russell and Paihia - ferry!

We arrived at Opua to catch the ferry across to Russell and I was delighted to see it was just as I remembered.  Even the price of crossing the channel hadn't changed too much!  The hardest thing we found throughout the Bay of Islands and indeed a large part of Northland was that the huge majority of places were not dog friendly due to the fact that this was Kiwi territory and those shy little beaky fellas are very much protected.  Fair enough, we totally understood that but it did make finding a place to stay very hard and the places we were able to stay were like military camps.  Whilst I really liked and respected the staunch conservation angle of these places, the facilities and customer service (or should I say lack of on both counts) were not worth the money at all, despite being some of the most expensive places we had stayed in.  I'm not going to 'out' the place we stayed at in Russell as their campground is beautiful and I feel they really do try their best but it really wasn't a warm or comfortable atmosphere here and we were gutted that we had got conned into taking advantage of a discount for staying two nights (which turned out not to be a discount at all as they were the only campground which charged us extra for having a dog - another thing not mentioned in the travel guide!)  Still, we made the best of it and we did stumble across a really beautiful bushwalk at the back of the campsite, which we all enjoyed and wouldn't have missed for the world.  We were just lucky to find it as nobody at the campground told us about it!

Real Kiwi country here!

Russell as a town also hadn't really changed.  It was still pretty and olde world-ey.  But what had changed in the past 20 years beyond belief was me.  No longer did I have any desire to spend hours lounging about in roadside cafes or mindlessly browsing shops full of hideously expensive 'stuff'. Sure, a lot of it was beautiful, but it was just stuff.  Nobody needed it - nobody!  Least of all a pair of nomads in a camper van who had just got rid of most of theirs.  Russell was best suited to wealthy retirees and DINKY's (Dual Income No Kids Yet) and we were neither.  Even the most mundane and everyday things were more expensive.  Our visits to the local Four Square showed that on average items cost around $4 more in Russell than they did everywhere else, which resulted in us eating both little and vegetarian during our time there.

A choppy morning sea at Russell

Another trip back on the ferry and we continued through the Bay of Islands to Paihia and then Waitangi.  They hadn't changed that much either, just more shops, more places to spend money.  Even the beautiful road past Waitangi consisted of a flipping great golf course with the main road running straight through the middle of it! Call us cynical but we found it just a little ironic and more than a bit sad that this place of historical national importance, where the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed between the British and the native Maori of NZ was entirely surrounded by extravagant displays of white man's wealth.  Just goes to show how much my values have changed that I never noticed it before.

Fortunately there was still Kerikeri to go and we both looked forward in anticipation to revisiting this lovely wee town.  Until we realised how much sooner than before it took to get there; this being because it had grown so much it was now coming out to meet us.  And there was the bloody McDonald's I had been joking about!  Along with pretty much every other major chain store you could think of.  The one main road we had fondly remembered was now such a maze of retailers that I actually lost my way a couple of times.  We had planned to stay in Kerikeri overnight but we were both too disheartened and disillusioned to stick around.  Come back Russell, all was forgiven!

There were a couple of good things to come out of our Bay of Islands experience however.  For one thing, it made me realise how far I've come as a person and how my values and perceptions have altered over the years.  I'm not saying any of these places are bad or not beautiful and I apologise if it comes across that way, I'm sure many people love them just the way they are.  They're just not for me and I guess that's because I'm completely comfortable with having no stuff and no longer see or feel the need for it.  Each to their own and now it was time for the other good thing - with the Bay of Islands now done and dusted it was time to venture into uncharted territory for both of us.  The heart of the Far North!

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