Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Company of Strangers

I think most people would describe me as a friendly person.  However as outgoing as I seem, I'm actually quite an introvert.  I can quite happily go without seeing people for days on end; in fact I prefer it.  So one of the things I was most concerned about was meeting new people on the road and having to interact and make conversation with fellow travellers.  The funny thing is, as I was soon to discover, it's actually one of the best things about living on the road.  Everyone has a story to tell and some of the people we have met are already dear to us.  When you live on the road there are no barriers to race, age, nationality, social status; anything.  We're just all out there doing it, appreciating everything we have and every new adventure.  We're all just living.

The chap who gave us the smoked fish has turned out to be one of our favourite people for many reasons, you'll hear more about him in due course but as we were about to move on from Warkworth he told us about a little known place near to where we were thinking of going - but was free, peaceful and had good fishing.  Like many of the best places we have come across since, most people don't even know of its existence, you won't find it in the camping apps or NZMCA guides.  It's word of mouth and local knowledge which leads to the most unforgettable places.

Seeing as we had nothing to lose and no other particular place to go, we thought we might as well check it out.  The scenery along the winding road was beautiful enough but was leading us so far out of the way we were just about to give up and turn around when we reached the end and the view that greeted us was absolutely beautiful.  The water was crystal clear as far as the eye could see, there wasn't a breath of wind (unlike the place we had been thinking of going) and the gorgeous stretch of beach which ran along one side had no one on it.  That smoked fish guy knew what he was talking about!  There were just two other vehicles there, a 1970's Bedford camper van and a 7 metre house bus.  We parked up next to the water's edge and before long were sitting out on the bank enjoying the sunshine, just like they were.

The best things in life are free - like this place!

The couple in the Bedford were fishing and before long Minnie waddled up to see what they were doing.  'What's your dog's name?' the woman asked.  'Minnie!  Like Minnie Mouse!' she beamed when I told her.  To the right of her another woman - the owner of the bus appeared with two tiny dogs.  As happens, we got talking and were amazed to hear she and her husband had been living on the road for almost 40 years, raising a family in the process.  We were treated to a tour of their bus and it was easy to see why they had no need to live any other way.  It was beautiful, comfortable, spacious and cosy and had everything they could possibly need.  Colin and Mara, the other couple had an equally interesting background.  Mara was originally from the Phillipines and whilst they had a house in Manila, they just didn't like living in a house, preferring instead to travel the world and working as needed to support their lifestyle.  They had been living on the road in NZ for five years and had no intention of changing.

The sun goes down on another perfect day

The next morning we had planned to move on but the others (who had already been there for two days) talked us in to staying another night and indeed who was really in a rush to leave such a glorious spot and such enjoyable company?  We would definitely leave the next day.  And we were - until Margaret and Larry from the bus tapped on the window and said 'Morning tea at our place, 10.30!'  We arrived to find Margaret had baked the most amazing scones, which were sitting on the table, still warm, topped with jam and cream.  Who says you have to go without when you live on the road?  Morning tea turned into after lunch and before we knew it three hours had passed and we were all merrily sampling Margaret's prized port.  'We're not going anywhere are we!' Gareth and I looked at each other, laughing.  But it didn't matter, we couldn't have been any happier than we already were, among these wonderful, warm people.

Our little 'village' at sunrise.  Us on the left, Colin and Mara next to us,
Larry and Margaret in the bus and the red wagon on the right belongs
to a group of fishermen who live permanently on their boat.

We agreed that we all really would move on the next morning and we did.  It was sad to leave, as in just three days we had gone from being strangers to being like family but we all had places we needed to be.  Gareth and I needed to continue our mission to reach the top of the country, Larry and Margaret were going to the South Island to visit their son and Colin and Mara were about to embark on six weeks picking cherries and apricots even further south, heavily interspersed with some leisurely salmon fishing.  We all swapped details and have kept in touch ever since - with a bit of luck we hope to catch up with Colin and Mara over the coming weeks and get some salmon fishing lessons!

Our merry band of nomads

We have met so many interesting people in such a short time, from an American refusing to set foot back in his home country until Donald Trump is no longer in power, to a young Japanese medical student called Kaz who has just walked the entire country solo from Bluff to Cape Reinga raising money for arthritis.  We ran into him several times throughout his mission and it was amazing how his journey was mirroring ours exactly, yet we were in a camper and he was on foot!  You can read more about him here if you like.  As you can imagine, a huge number of people we come across are from overseas, just travelling around and passing through our beautiful country for a short time.  It's always interesting hearing where they are from, what they're up to and where they are headed but my favourites by far are the Kiwis who are living just like us.  As Margaret says, when you live on the road you never, ever stop learning - even after 40 years - and we all imparted valuable information to one another to make life a little easier and cheaper and helped each other out in some way.  We will always be grateful to the fisherman who told us about this special, secret place but as it turned out, it wasn't to be the last time we saw him either, not at all!

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