Saturday, 9 January 2010

New Year, Kiwi Style

A group of my friends extended an open invite to join them in getting out of town over New Year’s. I jumped at the prospect, since the weather was fantastic and the city offered only humidity and an enormous fireworks display. It would be cooler down country. So we piled in and zipped off. First of all we crossed the harbour on the ancient bridge (50 years is ancient for us young folk!) then passed through the buzzing central city area to make another pickup. Then it was back to the motorway and south to the hills.

Just after we left city limits, we switched from State Highway 1 to State Highway 2 and took a more easterly direction. Rolling hills accompanied the road for some way, until we reached the flatland of the Hauraki Plain. We then passed through several small towns and stopped to eat at Paeroa, in a retro-style diner that’s retro because it never got updated, but the food is good and cheap and bounteous. Leaving Paeroa, the road changes almost immediately as it enters into the spectacular Karangahake Gorge. Gold was mined here once, and it’s here that my Irish great-great grandfather met my German great-great grandmother. But the gold ran out, leaving a ghost town and bits of machinery amidst today’s verdant bush.

We reached Waihi and pushed on to Katikati. Our goal was almost in sight: Tauranga. It’s the fifth largest city in New Zealand, but still gives an impression of countrified quiet to us Aucklanders. It sits at the south end of a long, shallow harbour fronted by the long, forested Matakana Island. Bit by bit our convoy arrived at the designated park, where someone had already cranked up the free public barbecues to receive what we would bring.


The moon rose above the Mount, full and huge and reflected in the harbour with the twinkling lights of the motel strip. A stiff west wind definitely cooled us down, so that we soon decided to go back to the house where we would spend the night. As midnight approached we set off on foot to the nearest beach, only to discover it was a tidal flat...and the tide was out. So we slopped out to the edge of the waves, and when it was determined we had one minute to go, they started a countdown from sixty and ran out into the depths. Soon they vanished in the dark, so it's just as well they were yelling out the seconds. I don't know how deep it was, but they managed to get wet anyway. The icy water kept me from going any further in, so I saw in the new year with my toes in the ocean.

Tauranga’s “pièce de résistance” is the harbour’s head volcano named Mount Maunganui. Here tourists and locals alike swarm the long beach in summer. It was here that we headed first on New Year’s day to dip into the waves. The water, however, was not any warmer than it had been at midnight - but the sun was as hot as I’ve ever felt it. So after a dip in the waves, we moved on again, snacking on cold cheese sausages left over from the barbie. They tasted so good, I can hardly describe it!

About a quarter hour along the road that would lead back to Auckland, we pulled aside for another swim: this time at a river waterhole deep in the bush in the lower Kaimai hills. Reaching the swimming hole involved climbing down steep banks, crossing the creek, and slogging through foot-wide paths between blackberry patches and mudholes and bare rock expanses, all in the space of five minutes. Barefoot, mind you.


Well! There had to be about a hundred people at least enjoying the wild location - including heaps of kids and dogs. Jumping off rocks, surfing the rapids, or just floating in the coolness. The sun continued to beat down, and the water wasn’t any colder than the sea had been.

Guess this was a pretty typical way to celebrate the new year around here. I can certainly recommend it!
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