Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Price of Freedom

After our relaxing stint at Kuaotunu we were ready to really begin our travels properly and head up north.  No offence Auckland but we already knew you too well and wanted to visit somewhere different, so we settled on a little town called Warkworth, on the Hibiscus Coast.  Well, it used to be a little town when I was last there, 20 years ago.  Not so any more!  It was the first, but sadly not the last time I was disappointed to see a flipping great McDonald's had sprung up on the landscape. However it is still a very nice place but as is the case with many places around the Auckland area, finding a place you can camp with a dog is not easy.  Thank goodness then for Sheepworld!

The downside (and to my mind the only downside) about Sheepworld is the price.  At $50 per night to park up our campervan this was by far the most expensive place we have stayed.  But you can't put a price on happiness, or indeed memories and it was definitely one of my favourite places because despite the price tag, I felt completely free here.  As I have learned pretty quickly, BEING free and FEELING free are two very different things.

When I first began researching living on the road, I thought that we would be freedom camping all the way.  As we progress I still aim for this to be the case but the truth is I need to be at a powered campsite at least half the time in order to be able to work.  My birthday is in four days and I'm picking my present to myself will be an inverter and a spare car battery so that we can run our own power and charge our appliances more independently.  This will enable us to park up where we like and really take advantage of our self contained status, which is the requirement for freedom camping. There's no question it will pay for itself in a matter of days, I'm just too stingy.  And as it turns out, my idea of freedom is not everyone else's idea of freedom.  Take Whangamata's freedom camping spots for example.  Now I'm sorry but most of them are bloody awful!  I know this for a fact because Minnie and I investigated the possibilities extensively for almost three weeks while Gareth was at work. Call me picky, no doubt I am but I have no inkling to camp outside the rugby club on the side of the busy road, or in the supermarket or RSA carpark. Even at the beach reserve there is only room for three vehicles, you can never get a look in and you have to park so close together you can literally tap on each others' windows from your bed.  Not only that but I'm a local.  I know the stuff that goes on at night and the people who frequent these places.  No way am I putting myself, my loved ones and my possessions in such a vulnerable position.

But this blog isn't about Whangamata, it's about Warkworth, or Sheepworld to be exact.  And I absolutely loved the place.  Even though we didn't receive the warmest welcome initially.  According to our NZMCA bible, this place offered a discount to members, so I decided to make the most of it and wield my consumer power.  Unfortunately I didn't quite get the reaction I expected.  'Don't you mention those bastards to me!' the owner suddenly reared up.  'They're responsible for me losing business, them and their lobbying for freedom camping!  You're lucky I don't kick you out!'  So much for getting a discount!  In the end it was Minnie who saved the day.  The gruff campsite owner took one look at her and was instantly reminded of his own spaniel he had lost a few years before.  From then on, he was not putty in our hands, but certainly putty in her paws.

And even though we may not have got off to the most auspicious start, I instantly fell in love with our surroundings as our host showed us around.  He told us that he used to be a boat builder and this was evident in some of the construction and furnishings.  We were literally metres off State Highway 1, the main road running through the country, yet it felt as though we were a hundred miles away.  This was real old, authentic New Zealand.  Thank goodness I had Gareth to act as my human crowbar and prise me out three days later because I just did not want to leave!  Every spare inch of ground was utilised for growing food and every campervan site had its own ensuite.  I cannot emphasise enough how much you appreciate having your own toilet and a hot, FREE shower when you live on the road!

Cooking by moonlight - our adorable rustic kitchen 

Our 'restaurant' by day.  This also proved a most delightful place to work!

But what I loved most was the peace, the wildlife and the kitchen.  The latter was rustic to say the least.  There were actually two kitchens and both of them were equipped with everything you could possibly need; the surroundings were just really basic and you'd want to wash everything first. Saying that, I loved the little touches such as all the little vases of wild flowers and herbs dotted around which were replenished every day.  Being in the kitchen really was like living in a bygone era and one of my favourite memories of our trip I think will always be here.  When we arrived the first night it was fairly late.  We didn't have a huge amount of food but together we cobbled up a stirfry in the tiny kitchen and dined al fresco under the outdoor pergola.  Just the two of us, eating by lamplight, listening to the Inkspots over a plate of jazzed up two-minute noodles.  In all my years of expensive cafes and flashy restaurants, I have to say this was without a doubt the most romantic meal of my life. For this alone the camping fee was worth it.

Another of my favourite memories was waking up to hear jazz music and soft crooning coming from one of the nearby caravans.  This came from the groundsman who lived on the site.  He was the one responsible for planting and tending all the many gardens, from the large bank planted with various varieties of pumpkin to the myriad of potted colour outside his van.  He was also an avid fisherman, although he never ate it himself.  This I discovered to my delight when we got talking and he presented me with a freshly smoked snapper.  He's not the only one who doesn't eat fish, Gareth doesn't either so I had it all to myself!  Over the next few days we enjoyed talking to him many times and he revealed his secret of growing such wonderful produce - fish fertiliser of course!

All good things come to an end and eventually it was time to move on, but this adorable quirky step back in time will always have a special place in my heart.  Was it worth $50 a night?  To many, probably not but to me, for the peace, the surroundings, the characters and the memories, then yes, it was worth every cent.

PS: If you want to see more photos of this adorable place as well as many others, follow us on Instagram @parsleymonious

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