Because we skipped a night at Opotiki on Wednesday we are now a full day ahead of schedule. That will require some rethinking of plans for our remaining days but we are nothing if not flexible.
It rained steadily through last night. We were at least partly under a tree and heard a steady dripping sound on the van but no heavy downpours. Perhaps we slept through one or more or the tree was very protective. When we woke this morning it was still raining steadily but gently and the puddles round about were substantially larger than they had been last evening. We were glad to have two wheels on firm ground.
We packed up, ate breakfast, and were on the road just before 8:30 am. There was no sign of action at the camp office and I had had no response to the message I left last night to say that we were staying and would await further contact about payment. We had tried but our night of camping in the wet was free.
It was my day to drive and we headed west along the coast. The road mostly wound through hills and along cliff sides with occasional straight stretches but it was mostly slow going in the wet. At one stage Majella mused about whether it was better being further from the cliff edge (going anti-clockwise) but closer to possible falling rocks from the cuttings above. We passed a few road crews working on repairs, including on some washouts at cliff edges.
On a fine day we would probably have stopped more than once for photographs but we were not keen to stop on a grey wet day. There were some long stretches of surf beaches and wooded headlands that would have been crisp blue, white and green on another day but were uniformly grey today. There were some stretches of road lined and sometimes covered in by massive pohutukawa trees (New Zealand Christmas tree) that would have been amazing when in bloom. It might be tempting to come back at another time of year to see their splendour.
It was around 10:00 am when we pulled up at a beachside reserve just short of Opotiki to make our morning coffee. Somehow the water in our tank had acquired an odd taste, probably from the water we took on at Tatapouri. We had not enjoyed that ‘plasticy’ addition to our coffee yesterday so we had used local, Waihau Bay, water this morning and Majella had kept some in the kettle. When we stopped we discovered that the winding roads and a few bumps had caused some water to exit the kettle in the cupboard and wet where it should not. Majella cleaned up and we had our coffees with a view of White Island, New Zealand’s active marine volcano.
After coffee we drove on through Opotiki with our erratic TomTom set to Awakeri Hot Springs as its destination. It would have bypassed Whakatane (check the pronunciation, Wh = F) but we wanted to see it and needed to fill some time before arriving at our site for the night – most have a 2:00 pm check in time. I found an easy parking space near the river shore and close to the information site. Majella asked there about what we might see in a short visit and we were pointed to a river side walk with some historic sites including a replica of the waka (large canoe) in which the first Maori arrived circa 1350 and a statue on a rock in the river mouth commemorating a Maori woman who “acted as a man” when she bravely saved the canoe from drifting away.
On the way back we passed a cave in which a wise woman from the original Maori arrivals had lived and paused for a photo. Majella had searched for restaurants for lunch as we drove into town. She found several, many with Indian or other Asian offerings. We were walking toward town to investigate those when she decided upon Gibbo’s on the Wharf where the fresh seafood offerings were too tempting to resist. We had crumbed snapper with chips. The fish was in generous portions and fresh and tasty. We continued walking into town and had coffees at L’Epicerie where the staff were as French as the name suggests and there was a sign on the wall commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower.
We walked up the length of the main street and back before heading back to the car. By then it was raining again (it hadn’t (much) while we we walked by the river) and we needed the umbrellas we were carrying. The street had a large number of shops and was bustling with activity. The population is only about 20 000 but the shopping street activity would put Toowoomba to shame. Probably they don’t have a Grand Central equivalent to draw away the action. We noticed that many of the retail names are the same as in Australia – all the more reason to federate and have Jacinda Ardern as our PM. Many people would not notice the difference but we could hold our heads a little higher.
On the way out of town to Awakeri Hot Springs we stopped at Countdown supermarket to pick up some refreshments for this evening. It was a bit after 2:15 pm when we arrived at Awakeri Hot Springs and checked in. The woman in the office suggested a set of powered campsites that she thought might be still firm after the rain. The one we picked looked OK but was not and we were stuck getting in.
Our efforts at extraction were in vain so we walked back to the office and were told to try again in 30 minutes when the man who could help would be back. We went swimming in the hot pool to relax. As we came back from that he arrived and with minimal assistance from us pulled us out. I stayed near the site with our power cable to check distance from the box while Majella set off to drive around and try to park near our selected spot with wheels on bitumen and close enough for power. I was still in my swimmers (and nothing else) and it took a long time before Majella appeared, on foot, having got into the dump bay but not able to back out because of a tight corner. I followed, barefoot and in swimmers, to drive out of that spot and around to our campsite where the power cable just reached while we had wheels on terra firma. We went back for another swim in the hot pool to relax.
We have now retired for the night, relaxing with the refreshments we picked up in Whakatane. My original plan was to drive from here to Auckland on Sunday morning. With a day to spare we will drive closer to Auckland. Majella has identified Miranda Hot Springs as a suitable destination just an hour out of Auckland for an easy Sunday departure. We hope they have firmer camp sites.