North of Auckland State Highway 1 travels through suburbs and beachside towns before it turns into rolling farmland with occasional small rural centers. Traffic on the 3-day Auckland Day weekend was heavy and slow for a few miles, mostly through Orewa. This was the longest trip we had taken in our new campervan and it did okaynot exactly high-performance by any stretch but it got up the hills and down the dirt roads. A gas station along Route 1 advertised “Fresh Fossil Fuel … while supply lasts.” We also detoured along the coast through Paihia, where my handbag and passport were stolen in 1996, but decided not to stop. Paihia is a very busy and touristy little town right on the water. It’s very much like Nantasket Beach in the summer. We took Route 10 from this point and it went through more farmland and coastal inlets before rejoining Route 1 at Awanui. Route 1 is the main road along the length of the Aupori Peninsula. Except for a short stretch right near Auckland, Route 1 is a two-lane road, one lane in each direction, with the occasional slow-vehicle bay. We pulled into the Pukenui Holiday Park about 4:00 p.m., after driving most of the day. Distances in New Zealand are deceptive. It can take much longer than you think it should, mostly because the roads are narrow, twisting and sometimes not paved.
Pukenui is a small town on the Aupori Peninsula or “tail of the fish” as it is called by the Maoris. The town has a dock on one side, a small group of stores and the campgrounds on the other side. There’s a tiny grocery store, a bakery, a liquor store, a pub and a pizza takeaway window. After checking in at the camp, we walked Sam down to the dock and checked out the shops. Back at the campgrounds, we unfurled the awning on the side of the van and set out our camp chairs. Sam had her dinner and Steve and I puttered around. For dinner, I’d provisioned the campervan with stuff that could be cooked in the campground microwave. A bad mistake. Saturday night we had pasta (glue-like) with squash sauce (yuck) and homemade cookies (hooray). Sunday night was a little better, basmati rice with chickpeas and potatoes in creamy coconut sauce. Okay, I’ll admit it; we haven’t got meals down quite yet.
On Sunday we drove to the very end of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. The road passed through rolling countryside and, once inside the boundaries of the reserve, a recent forest fire area. In fact, helicopters were still searching out hot spots, but the dirt road was open. The cape itself is a dramatic headland, several hundred meters above the sea. It has great views, especially of the wild waters of the Columbia Bank where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet. Cape Reinga is a sacred and mystical site for the Maoris. It is thought to be the spot where the souls of the dead leave for the next world. Because of its spiritual nature, visitors are asked not to eat and drink there.
Cape Reinga is beautiful; therefore, it is also a popular stop for tour buses. We didn’t really know this (though we probably should have guessed). When we arrived, the parking lot was nearly empty. Steve and I walked around the lighthouse and the hills for probably an hour or so. Just as we were ready to leave, five buses pulled in and the site became overrun by tour groups. We were lucky this time; next time maybe we should plan better.
Driving back towards Pukenui, we took a side road to the coast. At the end of the road was a small camping area. You needed to collect the key back at the main road so we didn’t get to see it up close, but it looked spectacular. There seem to be many similar areas and I think we may like to try camping in some of them. Normally for “freedom” camping, you need to be totally self-sufficient, i.e., you need a porta pottie (or porta loo as they say). There are also some other requirements, but we need to figure this one out as we don’t have room for a toilet. I think it’s time to visit campmoor.com and see what’s available. Of course, DOC (Department of Conservation) was showcasing a new product a while ago. It was essentially a doggie pick-up back for people for use along the more popular (and messy) trails. Time to do some research into this issue.
We left for Auckland on Monday morning, leaving behind Big Flat Road and other wonderful places. We passed through Kaitaia, often the warmest spot in the country on the evening weather reports, and took the slow road home through the backcountry.