In our last three days on the North Island, we drove north of Auckland and into Wenderholm Regional Park, home of Couldrey House and Gardens. This is an historic Victorian-Edwardian era home, beautifully renovated and set in amazing parkland. As luck would have it, we couldn't actually look around the house itself as the opening times are very restrictive (it is only open for 3 hours on weekends), but the weather was fantastic, if chilly, so we were able to take a walk around the grounds.
There are fantails everywhere in the area. I had two or three following me as we were walking around, and I thought that they had been semi-tamed by visitors feeding them, but when I tried to give them some bread they completely ignored it and still insisted on flying close to me. It was then that I realised that they were actually behaving territorially and were trying to get me off their patch. I had to give them credit - these things are tiny, and they were trying to shoo off a giant.
There are walking trails all around the grounds; we chose the Maungatauhoro Te Hikoi track which took us on a steep walk up through the surrounding forest and gave us views out over the area and the grounds.
Apparently, you can often spot rare birds along this trail, but neither of us saw a single feathered friend/aggressive avian attacker. We are not cut out to be twitchers, but that's probably a good thing. I don't think being a geek AND a bird spotter would do much for my reputation. Having said that, on leaving the grounds we were escorted back to the van by some pukeko in the car park.
We found an excellent place to stay for the evening - Beachside Holiday Park in Paihia. Primarily designed for the summer (the dining areas are all outside), it was nevertheless a hospitable place with a good location, and had that NZ rarity: free wi-fi.
It was a great spot to camp ahead of our activity the next day. We decided against a trip to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds; we'd seen and heard plenty about it, and didn't fancy being fleeced to stand in a spot where a document was signed. For me, the document itself was the important part, not the location it was signed - and we'd already seen the original in Wellington.
Haruru Falls is not far from Paihia, and is worth a stop on the way up through to the Bay of Islands. It would be interesting to look back on the completion of our journey and see how many waterfalls we actually visited over the 12 month period. I suspect it would be well into double figures.
We made our way up the coast to Kerikeri, which Sharon had recommended we visit. It's the biggest town in the Northland region of New Zealand, and is host to many of the country's most historic buildings. Two of the highlights are the Stone Store, which is the oldest stone building in the country, and the Mission House, which is the oldest wooden building still standing in the country as well as the oldest building overall.
The Stone Store was built from sandstone and was originally intended to be a trading post for the missionary based in the town, and it used to have a belfry which disappeared long ago. After it became less profitable, it became a barracks, a school, a store once again, a library and ultimately a tourist attraction.
Mission House was the home of the Kemp family for almost 150 years, as they established a mission in the town. It was ultimately donated to an historic trust for preservation and restoration.
We were blessed with wonderful, if chilly, weather for our time in Kerikeri, and took a leisurely walk around the area after lunch, encountering the flora and fauna - including a chicken that bore than a passing resemblance to Lady Cluck from Robin Hood.
The day wasn't over; just opposite the Stone Store and over the water is a recreation of an unfortified village or kainga, called Rewa's Village. This is a faithful construction which includes many of the features you would have found in such a place: a weapons store, fishing canoe, chief's house, cooking shelter, and "natural toilet pit" which is essentially a place by the river which washed away waste twice a day.
The doorways of the huts were deliberately created low, so any attackers would have to stoop to enter which would make it easier for defenders to clobber them around the head.
As light was fading, we made our way back to the Beachside Holiday Park and took a look around the eponymous beach.
More beaches awaited us on our last day. Driving back down from the Bay of Islands, we took the scenic route along the coast, which allowed us to stop off at various bays, parks and beaches including Bream Bay and Whangarei Heads. Waipu Cove in particular stood out. Waipu? Well, when you have to go....
It had almost perfectly still water, and wonderful murals on the outside of the public toilet walls:
Our last trek in the country was up to the lookout on the Dome Forest Walkway. I was a little too enthusiastic and managed to twist my ankle running up these steps:
It's lucky I was at the peak of physical fitness with the pain threshold of a rhino, as I could easily saunter on as if nothing had happened. (This may not strictly be true, but after some grumbling I managed to limp up to the top).
We hit the road, found another campsite within easy driving distance of the airport, and settled in for a final night. Our travels around New Zealand were at an end. It is a marvellously scenic country, with something to appeal to anyone with even the vaguest interest in straying outdoors. It also has the benefit of looking as stunning in the winter time as I'm sure it would be in the summer. Whilst it's possibly a little too chilly for me to consider living there, and the remoteness of the country would probably get to me after a while, as a place to visit you simply can't run short of things to do or see. It also has potentially the greatest wine I have ever tasted, beating even Australia's formidable selection. On our return to the UK, Marlborough would definitely be my wine region of choice.
I can't say I wasn't looking forward to our flight the next day, though. After spending the previous two months wrapped up and shivering, we couldn't wait to get back into the warm sun and take a dip in the water. Fiji was our 11th country on the trip, and was going to be our "holiday" from travelling. We intended to spend the next three and a half weeks doing as little as possible.