Posted by: scribe9 | December 10, 2009

The Far North

We just spent a few days in the Far North. Not the very tip—we were at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach, which goes almost to Cape Reinga, the northernmost easily accessible extremity of New Zealand.

We drove up Highway 1. With all its twists and turns, and occasional one-lane bridges, it’s not a road to be rushed. And it’s summer, so of course there was road work. We saw some new road signs: “Cement splashes—wash car today,” and a similar one where they’d applied lime.

As  we entered most small towns, there’d be a sign, “Heavy vehicles: Please no engine braking next ___ km.” On the other side of town, “Braking restriction ends—Thank you.” And some towns would welcome you and then farewell you—yes, here farewell is a verb.

Here’s a view of Ahipara Bay from our room (across the road and up the hill, but not far, from the beach): The unit we stayed in was only a year or so old, so it still had its full complement of egg cups and other china. We really didn’t do the kitchen justice; we not only didn’t use the egg cups, we didn’t use the stand mixer, the hand mixer, the three sizes of casseroles, or all the kitchen tools. The dishwasher was the smallest I’ve seen, with just a dimple in the door for the soap.

 When we went to the store for supplies, we knew we didn’t need a whole dozen of eggs. No problem; we just bought the few we needed from the crate on the shelf near the produce, and put them in a paper bag. I’m not sure one year is going to be long enough for me to feel truly comfortable about buying eggs that haven’t been refrigerated yet.

As usual, there was a large range of candy. Given the New Zealand penchant (at least in many circles) for being politically correct, I’m astonished that they seem to have no qualms about eating marshmallow Eskimos. They eat lots more marshmallows per capita than Americans, I’m sure, mainly as candy; the marshmallows here come in many shapes and colors, in generally wretched flavors, and are usually either chewier or crunchier than American marshmallows.[Squeamishness alert—you may wish to skip the next sentence.] Corned beef must be a favorite; there were seven different brands, right there on the shelf next to the canned lambs’ tongues.

Our room faced west, but since the sun sets so far south this time of year we didn’t get to see an ocean sunset. The water was even warmer than at our usual beach (not bath water, but not numbing), so Rick and Em did a lot of body-surfing. The basalt rocks, with tide pools, looked like those in Oregon—but there wasn’t much in the pools.

New Zealand is beach-rich. It’s two-thirds the size of California, but the length of its coastline is three-quarters that of the entire United States. The roads may be challenging or frustrating, but one is never a very long crow’s flight from a beach. (Perhaps blackbird’s flight—there aren’t crows here.) Driving is allowed on all except a handful of beaches. All the tours of the topmost peninsula seem to start at Ahipara and drive up Ninety Mile Beach, and back on Highway 1. Drunk driving on beaches is a big problem, as it is on the road; one sign cautioned: “Alcohol + Speed, Dead Ahead.”

We went north because Rick was working in the clinic in Kaitaia, the largest town on the west side, for a couple of days. I joined him for lunch at the hospital cafeteria, which is not supposed to sell regular Coke because of the calorie count—obesity is a growing problem here, too. Never mind that artificially sweetened soft drinks have been tied to weight gain (under the calorie-substitution theory or the always-something-sweet theory), and there was the usual display of yummy, gooey, high-calorie desserts.

I doubt that the elderly building named the Kaitaia Dalmatian Club has anything to do with dogs. Around the turn of the 20th century, hundreds of immigrants came from Dalmatia, most of which is now in Croatia, to the northern part of the north island to dig the resin deposited by local trees over the centuires. The resin was used in varnishes. That market is long gone, but the Dalmatians stuck around, intermarried with Maori, and were founding viticulturalists and avid horticulturalists. There are plenty of businesses around with Dalmatian names. So far I’ve just seen one Dalmatian dog.

Part of our drive back was along the east coast, which, being on the lee side, is less windy and more popular. My favorite name along the way was Doubtless Bay. Captain Cook was prevented by wind conditions from sailing into it, but he was sure it was a bay. The name reminds me of Point No Point, Deception Pass, and Cape Flattery. (Not altogether logical, but then a totally rational mind is defective or only partly used.)

 We passed lots of clearcuts and many dairy farms, which tended to have a mixture of breeds—Holsteins, Jerseys, Guernseys, and Ayrshires. I looked in vain for attractive barns. The climate is mild enough that they don’t need many, and those that exist are almost always corrugated iron sheds or Quonset huts, both regular and a variant—the bottoms of the walls turned in slightly, as if a shirt were tucked in. The meadow marshmallows (cylindrical bales of hay, wrapped in plastic for fermentation) were mostly green, rather than the white common in the Willamette Valley.

In one of the towns, signs proudly point to the Hundertwasser Toilets. I suppose if you’re an architect and that’s your last name, a public restroom is a fitting swan song.



  1. Amy, You all should go back and visit the Hundertwasser Toilets. If you haven’t already done so view the images of said toilets on Google Images. This is some fun art work.


    • Susan– Oh, we will. We’ve driven by the front, and there’s no missing them! Amy

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