We arrive safely in Snells Beach after a pain free journey – if a four a.m start from our Fiji hotel can really be considered pain free . But all transfers and the flight go smoothly. I have to declare the tent we are carrying into New Zealand and it is immediately taken from me and put through whatever machine they have that kills all foreign bugs and seeds. ‘Border Patrol’ is being filmed. This is a t.v program that shows sundry unfortunates being stopped and variously castigated or incarcerated by customs and is a program that I am unduly fond of watching. I did therefore expect some close attention from ‘Bio Security’. After a quarter of an hour the tent is returned in an untidy pile but pretty clean. Seeing the disapproval in my face at having to re-pack the tent, the young official says ,‘ Hey mate that was pretty dirty you know. Had all sorts of grass and stuff on it”.
“Yes,” I reply. “It’s a tent that has been used in a field.”
“Well we worry about that kind of stuff,” he continues.
“I’m sure you have to,” I reply and take my newly cleaned tent and pack it away wishing I had said that all my dirty underwear had been in the tent too so that could have got the cleaning machine treatment as well.
We pick up the keys to the Beach House that has been lent to us by Claire, a kind friend and ex-colleague of Marilyn and by early afternoon we are looking out at yet another stunning beach. We are literally fifty yards from the sea and our home for the next week is absolutely delightful. It has been a family holiday home for many years and is very homely and comfortable and has a feel of being well loved with lots of happy, shared family experiences. It will be great to be able to shop and eat in and have a spot to call our own for a week while we explore North of Auckland.
This time we are facing East and so the sunset – our fourteenth consequetive red evening sky – comes from behind the hill at the back of the house but it still spills it’s magic over the bay and the remnants of cloud do their colourful transformations for us as we take a stroll along the beach.
There are some amazing houses lining this bit of beach. Each one is individual. Some have pools despite being able to drop ones toe into the sea from the terrace. There is lots of glass and wood and space in the more modern constructions and I prefer the older clapper board style but I could be accused of becoming like Prince Charles in my pronouncements on modern building so I will stop there. Needless to say these newer, large homes go for millions.
After a comfortable night’s sleep we are woken by a sunrise over the Bay to Kauwau Island and it looks like we are lucky that the recent wet weather that has plagued the summer seems to have broken. We are up early to explore the local area and to check out the best coffee and the free wi-fi that is supplied by the helpful library. Then it’s a stroll around the ever expanding residential area to visit Claire’s father who lives just down the beach and to invite him over for supper.
We drive to Sandspit for a lunch on the quay and to check out the mail boat times to the island that we can see on the horizon. We are already struck by how similar this area is to Cornwall with the inlets and creeks and miles of cliff and as we drive further north towards Leigh and Omaha Beach the names are a reminder of the colonial past. The scenery too is pastoral and peaceful and again reminds me of the countryside around Liskeard and the low moors of Cornwall and we are reminded how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place ourselves.
On the way to Leigh I have noticed a small independent brewery – The Sawmill Brewery – and I have to call in for a brief tasting and a chat to the young brewer. His five beers are excellent and he brews an especially delicious dark beer that I share later with Gordon at dinner. I will look forward to sipping my small purchase over the next week on the balcony as the sun goes down.
We drive as far as Leigh wharf, a tiny inlet in which fishing boats take shelter and moor as well as a few private boats. Skirting around the volcanic rocks at low tide we feel at ease with the world.
On the way back we decide to detour via Omaha Beach and conclude that this is a strange place. It has an air of ‘Stepford Wives’ about it. New build is cramming the seafront. Every house is individual and seems to try to outdo its neighbour in terms of modernity. Some are like bunkers and are quite frankly horrific. There seems to be no community centre here except a golf and bowls club and it’s a place I would hate to live. Gordon tells us later that he used to take his kids there to play many years ago when it was a wilderness of marsh, scrub and dunes. Progress has come very quickly to some of these pretty peninsulas.
We pass a very pleasant evening with Gordon who is happy to fill us in on his family history in New Zealand and to pass on some suggestions for places to explore. He is proud to detail the work he and the family have put into this pretty beach house and to share some of its history too. He couldn’t have been more welcoming.
We feel settled in and ready to set off on our exploration of the North Land from our comfy base.