18.03.2014 - 22.03.2014 25 °C
From Havelock North we decided to head to the Bay of Plenty region... so named by James Cook because he and his men found the area to be plentiful in food and resources when they first encountered the area. Conversely, there's a Poverty Bay elsewhere in NZ, named after the crew of Endeavour were met with hostility from a different Maori iwi (tribe)... and they had to make a hasty retreat to their ship empty handed!
We had four road options... which one did we take? The most life-threatening one. I shall explain!
Back at the lovely airbnb, we were discussing our route with jolly, chuckly Mark. He said... "well you could take this road"... pointing to the map. "Part of it is unsealed and it's a wiggly-woggly wiggly-woggly wiggly-woggly road. But it is good fun, and a bit of adventure." Fun... adventure? It had appeal.
Happy, enjoying the ride...
Nearly 7 hours after setting off... 2 and 3/4 of which were on unsealed twisty gravel roads... we arrived at our destination. Ant's nerves were shot!!
You could say this is the 'after' shot...
There were steep drops, hairpin bends and freshly fallen rocks everywhere. It was a pretty hazardous road! At one stage Ant pulled over as he thought we had a flat. Lordy! Thankfully we didn't but the threat was very real driving on 125km of unsealed road.
It seemed to go on forever. It wasn't all bad of course. The road hugged a beautiful lake and there were some fine views along the way although, it has to be said, not many opportunities to stop and admire them as the winding mountain road was too narrow.
As we approached the end, and our nerves were becoming less frayed, we were passed by a rally of sorts... a cross between the Cannonball Run and Wacky Races. Decorated cars, 4x4s and trucks waving at us driving the other way, ready to tackle the stretch of road for charity.
A bit of lighthearted relief after the journey!
We had a bit of an odd experience the next morning. Our b&b host, a woman in her 60's living alone, had been quite chatty but also seemed a bit on edge as we were her first guests. We'd had breakfast, teeth were brushed and we were all ready to leave when we had a call from up the stairs that she'd tasted the blueberries we'd had, and as they were horrible (they weren't), she'd done us poached eggs on toast... and they were on the table. Whaaat? Weird.
So as not to offend, rather obligingly we trudged downstairs to force-feed on breakfast number two whilst we endured further prolonged chatter. She was obviously trying too hard, but we couldn't wait to escape!
We didn't much like the town of Whakatane other than a pleasant walk around the river mouth. Depending on where you're from in NZ it can be pronounced Fokka-tar-nee, Wokka-tar-nee or Hokka-tar-nee i.e we didn't stand a chance. The first waka (canoe) landed here from Polynesia, so many consider Whakatane to be the birthplace of Aotearoa (New Zealand). It still has a strong Maori presence, who make up 40% of the population here.
Plaque marking the first waka landing
Maori culture is much more prevalent in the North Island. We've tried to get a sense of how the two co-exist - Maori and Pakeha (European settlers) - and we hear mixed stories. It's clear to us that there's much more integration between the two cultures than we saw in Australia. Maori are very adaptable people and many have embraced European introductions, but so far we know very little and have been given mixed views.
Some Maori iwi are apparently friendlier than others. Some are gracious, warm, generous and friendly, and then there's another, more troubled side, where Maori - as a warrior race - are prone to aggression, drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence. But as there's good and bad in any culture it's dangerous to generalise (you only have to look at any major UK town on a Saturday night and it ain't pretty). We are really fascinated by Maori traditions and art, and look forward to finding out more.
We drove west to Tauranga, checking out some more beaches in the Bay of Plenty.
This part of NZ is also the kiwi fruit capital of the world, here's a gert big one just to prove it
By 5pm we still hadn't sorted our accommodation in Tauranga, so we were holed up in the town's library using their free wifi. Soon after we were just about to rock up at guesthouse we'd found, when we received an airbnb approval email to a late request. So we quickly changed our plans to head over to the pad in Mt Mauganui. Wow - so glad we did!
Mandy and Wayne were truly amazing hosts, we had the warmest of welcomes - even a note by the front door as we arrived...
Their home was close to the beach and only a short drive to 'the Mount' - a prominant mountain on the end of the peninsula which we walked up...
Mount Maunganui is waaaay nicer than Tauranga. We had an extremely comfortable stay... we could barely drag ourselves out of our pit! We loved their company, home and locality. We definitely left as friends and it would be fab if our paths crossed again. Thanks a million guys!
One thing which stands out already from campervanning is the incredible friendly Kiwi hospitality and the lovely folks we're meeting along the way... well, apart from the strange double breakfast lady...
Oh, and as an aside... when we told Mandy and Wayne about driving that road, Mandy said her brother lives close to one end of it and is nervous driving it in his 4x4. Oh lordy...