Day Six - starting our safari.
The night seemed long, punctuated by heavy showers, giving easy to a gentle but persistent rain by dawn. Many New Zealand houses - including Cat's, which is nearly a century old - are wooden and poorly insulated, so we were glad to pile into her car for our trip up to the 'top' of North Island.
Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, so it took some time to leave the sprawl behind. Yet, suddenly we were driving through forest: all kinds of conifers interspersed with tropical trees.
I fell in love. Words cannot describe the beauty of the shapes that form the forest canopy, the different palms peeking out among dense foliage or, later, the intricate tracery of winter sleeping deciduous trees.
Our first stop was Whangarei, two hours' drive north and halfway to our destination. Sue and Lorne Campbell, parents of Cat's colleague Amy, had kindly invited us to lunch. GPS led us to easily to their welcoming home and the next couple of hours flew by. Lorne had been born in the same nursing home as I was, just a couple of months before me - an odd connection. Then there was the shared Africa link, as he had grown up in pre-independent Zimbabwe. Most importantly, it was so encouraging to hear about how God had brought them to Whangarei and what was happening in church. Our departure felt like leaving old friends...and they waved us off in true African style as we disappeared from sight.
Rolling hills, volcanic outcrops, the sea creeping up to the road every now and then as we wound our way past Paihia and the pretty Bay of Islands. Rivers and creeks kissed the road as we approached Mangonui, a historic whaling port and our destination for the night.
We had stumbled upon The Old Oak - reputedly the oldest original hotel in the country - by a lucky 'accident', when another booking had not worked out. Our suite upstairs - 2 bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchenette and sitting room opened onto a wooden balcony which overlooked the bay. Stunningly polished wooden floor, made from hand-sawn logs, and just seven rooms in the building, completed its delightful impression.
We wandered through the village, finding that every person we came across and even the village cat - had a few friendly words. Supper at the 'world famous' fish and chip shop was a vast improvement on the normal greasy offerings we were used to. As we finished a meal of blue nose fish and frites, a television team began to broadcast an episode of Campbell Live, a half hour news programme. As the cafe was almost empty, we were asked sit behind the presenter,
John Campbell, to help provide a little background interest.
An eager text to Cat's housemates alerted them to watch the programme, with the resultant photo evidence...