It's been exactly six weeks since I moved back to New Zealand, and with the exception of a couple of quasi-clear days, with enormous cumulus gathering by mid-day, and rain threatening by 4 pm, there hasn't been a single day worthy of a spring excursion. Yesterday, on when we awoke at 7 am, surprised to see not a cloud in the sky, I decided to strike while the iron was hot. On consulting the weather forecast, which confirmed a dry 24 hours, albeit followed by rain today, which hasn't disappointed, I was determined to get out and take some photos to convince everyone reading this, that I am in fact down under, and not still mired in the onset of British winter, as my recent photos may well have indicated!
Rick, My Landlord suggested a drive up the coast to the Northern Beaches, and as he has a car, I jumped at the chance, as I decided not to buy one yet - I'm still sorting out my drivers licence, but that's another story! We headed off a little after 12 noon, with no clear plan, but I'd had in the back of my head that as a child we used to go and stay with my God Mother in Mangawhai, which 40 years ago was a good two hours drive from Auckland central, so was keen to re-visit it, time permitting.
Out onto the Motorway and we were soon flying over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and once on the north shore, a sleek new multi-laned highway lay stretched before us.
"Do we want to take the Toll road or the free road?" asked Rick from behind the steering wheel. "I think the free road is longer."
Toll Road? What toll road? I seemed to recall the 'in the old days' once you hitBirkenheadthe road narrowed to one lane in each direction, and the next two hours were an arduous battle, up hill and down dale, through village after township, often stuck behind a lorry, with little chance of passing and hazard signs everywhere, warning of a high risk of a crash! Somewhere after Wellsfordthere was a sign off to the right, and then about 40 km of gravel goat track followed at speeds of about 40 km/h maximum, all the way to Mangawhai and the coast. Not anymore!
After stopping at Birkenhead to pick up Rick's friend Frank, a recent Chinese foreign student graduate in Pharmacy, we were once again eating up miles along the new Toll highway, which now bypasses many of the little villages I remembered from my childhood, partly because they have now merged into a great sprawling mass of Housing, Industrial parks and shopping malls for some 50 km north of the C.B.D., as apparently Auckland in particular has almost doubled in size since I was last here 15 years ago. I seem to remember that Urbanised Auckland ended well before Albany, and we would wind along the coast from Silverdale to Orewa, Waiwera and Puhoi, then Warkworthand ontoWellsford. nowadays its almost completely built up right through to Orewa and a streamlined route now heads strait for Wellsford, by-passing most of the smaller towns and barely slowing to catch a breath in the larger ones.
On this excursion we decided to check out Omaha Beach, and I was reminded for the first time since my return of just how beautiful parts of New Zealandcan be. restricted by the wishes of those travelling with me, I now wish, on consulting the map after our trip, that we had explored a few of the other small villages and beaches in this area, as I'm sure they would have been just as picturesque as those shown here. One of the disadvantages of a beautiful new Motorway of course is that it bypasses sights which in years gone by would not have been missed, but I have to admit, from an infrastructure point of view, the journey is far less traumatic, and the travelling time is literally halved from what I remember as a child!
From there it was back to the highway, through a mixture of the farmland I remembered, together with the relatively new addition of numerous vineyards and wineries that seem to have popped up in the past 20 years. My Chinese friends were keen to take photos along the way of both, and I was struck by how beautiful they find the normal New Zealandcountryside which we as natives, particularly having grown up in a rural environment, find common place and uninteresting, And I think too, having lived in London and other large cities in Europe for the past 15 years or so, I'm beginning to see the rural landscape in a new light.
The Road too, from Wellsfordto Mangawhai has improved dramatically over the last two decades, and in no time at all we were in the township, where so many childhood memories came flooding back. I first remember going there when I was 10 years old and there was just one general store which sold everything from petrol to fishing tackle, beach towels and grocery items. Nowadays its a bustling seaside township with a raft of stores and businesses, and houses in abundance. A short drive through to Mangawhai Heads, stopping at the golf course where we've spotted a sign which says 'Lookout'. After driving down a short track to a car park, with a path leading up a hill, we come across a rather elaborate timber structure with a spiral staircase leading to a viewing platform, from where we caught an uninterrupted 360 degree view across the landscape to the ocean and the islands beyond.
From there, back in the car, we continued on a kilometre or so to the village, again with a collection of shops including the Ubiquitous Real Estate office, No doubt responsible for the population explosion here in recent years, before driving down to the Heads, past the sheltered estuary where in my youth I remembered rowing across to the open sea, where we were able to prize fresh oysters off the rocks. Thankfully, despite the urban sprawl, it's still just as idyllic as I remembered, and the beach itself is pristine, and surprisingly empty, with only two or three eager sun-lovers lying on the white sand which stretches for miles in both directions, despite the explosion in housing of late, and I couldn't help thinking that if this were Europe, the entire beach for miles in both directions would be covered in sun-lounges, and umbrellas, with bars and cafés dotted at intervals, and hawkers peddling their wares whilst fat English tourists lazed around drinking cocktails, their immense skin burning in the mid-day sun! Perhaps there are advantages to New Zealand being so far way from everywhere after all!