Monica and her husband, Tim, had travelled to India the previous year. They had been to Kerala, Delhi and Agra. They told me that they had thoroughly enjoyed their vacation because of the diversity they experienced there. Tim proudly mentioned how he put a cobra around his body and Monica said that that is his favourite story of his visit to India. Tim told me how he found the most fabulous mansions co-existing with what looked like bombed out shelters in Delhi. Most interestingly, they did not, at any time, feel threatened or challenged. They found the people helpful and ready with a helping hand. Tim and Monica manage the Continental Motel most efficiently and it is a comfortable place to stay overnight.
Even though dark clouds overhung in the morning the day panned out with glorious weather throughout. We had to bypass Auckland city on our way to Whitianga, which was the destination for the day. The route up to Auckland was almost a retrace of the drive to Te Kao on the first day, except for a small stretch. Petrol in New Zealand is very expensive; it is almost INR 110 per liter. However, that’s a small price to pay for clean air and a healthy life. Almost immediately after Whangarei is the small town of Waipu, which has Scottish heritage. I had to fight off the urge to take a detour from the highway to visit the famed Glow Worm caves.
Brynderwyn is a small town between Whangarei and Wellsford. The Brynderwyn Range has to be negotiated cautiously because of narrow, winding roads. Signboards restrict speed in the area due to possibility of accidents. Wellsford is halfway between Whangarei and Auckland. It is claimed that the name of the town is an acronym of the surnames of the first families that settled in the town! Despite the town’s low population commerce is brisk, being located strategically on the cusp between two important highways. We passed through the historic town of Warkworth, the founding of which dates back to the middle of the 19th century. Traffic became dense as we neared Auckland but did not cause delays. The impressive skyline of the CBD glowed in bright sunshine as we bypassed the lovely city.
The small fishing town of Thames lies about 120 km south east of Auckland. Closer to the town we started getting beautiful views of the coast lapped by the waters of the Firth of Thames. I stopped at what looked like a fishing harbor entry in the town and decided to break for lunch. We took seats at a ‘Fish & Chips’ restaurant that was located near a wharf built in the 1880s. While I ordered a portion of snapper (recommended by the girl at the counter because the catch was an hour or so back) the rest had sandwiches, fruits and orange juice. When the order was delivered I realized that I had not asked for a portion of chips; I presumed that all orders of fish would come with a portion of chips. Why call it a fish and chips restaurant if it didn’t? The preparation was oily and hot, but the fish was very fresh. The fish was covered in yards of paper, which all of us considered unnecessary. Maybe, it obviated the need to clean plates and was a better alternative to paper plates.
From Thames to Whitianga via the Coromandel Peninsula and Kuaotunu was a drive that transported us to experience trailers of Paradise. The name Coromandel has an interesting connection to the city I live in India. Coromandel is a Portuguese version of Cholamandalam, the Tamil word that signified the realm of the ancient Cholas. A British Naval ship by that name, HMS Coromandel, had stopped at the Coromandel Harbor for supplies in 1820 and the place derived its name from that. We crawled as slow as we could to absorb the bounteous sights of the islands, bays and beaches from lookout points and, sometimes, even stopping where we should not have; the beauty of Nature tempted us to break rules and traditions. At some points it was cold and windy. Even people accustomed to such weather conditions stayed not too long to take pictures and sink in the sights.
We reached Whitianga and Turtle Cove Accommodation at 5 pm. Whitianga is itself a beautiful place. Once we had lodged our luggage in the rooms we left on a walking tour of the town nearest our place of stay. That took us to the Whitianga Harbor, the ferry point, Mercury Bay and the Buffalo Beach. Restaurants and Cafes doting the waterfront looked busy, it being a Friday evening. Numerous private yachts were moored in the harbor.
We sat on a log of an old fallen tree on the Buffalo Beach, engaged in easy banter. I had fetched a 6 pack of VB Beer from a store nearby and was almost through the first pint when the first drops of rain made its fall. We didn’t wait long to take the cue and walk back to the backpacker accommodation. Once we reached the hostel rain became heavy. I overheard conversation among some of the youngsters, discussing plan for the next day, that the weather would be bad for the morrow. Anyway, we had enjoyed three glorious days of sunshine despite the worst fears when we set out from Auckland on the 11th.