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Saturday, 26 August 2017

Chapter 30 ~ Navigating Northland

I have been to Stewart Island in the far south, made my way up the We(s)t Coast of the South Island, and travelled all the way to the eastern reaches of Gisborne. After having travelled New Zealand for almost a year and visiting every single region in turn, there now is one last cardinality which I have yet to visit: The Far North.

Regular buses do not run this far north, and the thought of taking a tourist tour bus up to Cape Reina does not exactly fill me with giddy delight. Hence, since this this is the final leg of my journey, and since my budget still allows for it, I have allowed myself the luxury of a rental car to make an extended 3-day trip into the far north. Since I spent some time researching my options, I managed to find a relatively cheap offer, but even so - and as a result of certain unforeseen events - this trip should end up costing me more than the last three months combined.

Tourist tours usually make the trip in a single day, which I imagine must be a rather hectic experience. I, however, have planned out a more relaxed and scenic route which should lead me up the east coast on the first day, then up to the tip of the Aupouri Peninsula, and back again on the second, and finally down the west coast and back to Whangarei on the third. In hindsight, this should turn out to have been excellent planning on my side, since I ended up driving for most of the day on each of the three legs, but still had time for plenty of stops - and Geocaching - along the way.

But before my trip starts, I still have some time to kill. Since Delphine is on a schedule, she drops me off in town about an hour early, and my car is not yet ready. But that's just plasmic. After all, I still need to purchase supplies for my trip, and as I walk around Whangarei, shopping for provisions, I come across a number of curious companies and signs.

Upon my return to the garage, I quickly take care of the formalities, and promptly receive the car which shall hopefully take me through all of Northland: A Mazda Axela, and without a doubt the most modern car I've driven in New Zealand. Now if only I could have gotten one in a more appealing colour... but oh well. I guess it'll do.

With my wheels secured, it's now time to embark on the first part of my jaunt through Northland:

Day 1: The Canine Conservation

Naturally, I could have taken the direct route, but that have been boring.

Instead, I now choose to embark on a much more scenic journey, which should take me along the fjords of the east coast, and to a number of beautiful bays far off the beaten path. I'd still cover quite some distance using the state highways, but time-wise, the majority of this leg should be on the considerably less heavily trafficked back roads. This first leg of my journey should cover a total of 220km, and take a total of 7,75 hours to complete - breaks and unexpected circumstances included.

My first objective is to get off the main highway - which is not as easy as it sounds. Since this is New Zealand, there are not a great many alternatives to the main traffic routes. However, one such option offers itself up in the town of Hikurangi, which is located only a short drive north of Whangarei.

From there, I take to the back roads. The good news is that from here on out, I practically have the road to myself. The bad news, however, is, that when I say "back roads" I do mean back roads.

Fortunately - as I already noted in the last chapter - New Zealand back roads tend to be refreshingly well-maintained, and are certainly much more of a pleasure to drive on than some poorly maintained paved roads back in Germany. However, the best part about the road I have taken is that instead of zooming past uninteresting scenery, I get to cruise through miles and miles of Boring Flat Farmland™ (see Chapter 29 ~ Mangapai Mania).

I mean, sure, at times the road runs awfully close to precipitous ledges that spell certain doom to anyone who goes over them...

...but in compensation, it also offers plenty of lookouts on the amazing scenery below.

After barely any tribulations, I eventually arrive at Helena Bay - which is located just next to Mimiwhangata Bay - and with it the sprawling Pacific Ocean.

A short time later, I arrive in a town by the name of Oakura – which by some strange twist of fate has the exact same name as the town in Taranaki, where I began my career as a WWOOFer many months ago (see Chapter 3 ~ The Oakura Factor).

Regrettably, I have to find out that the café in which I planned to stop for lunch is closed for no apparent reason, and so I am forced to contend myself with my emergency rations, while enjoying the refreshing panorama of Oakura Bay.

Not long after I take to the (unsealed) road again, I finally reach the first milestone of my journey to the northernmost reaches of New Zealand: Just shortly after entering the Brett Peninsula, I finally cross over into the Far North District, and thus the third and final district of Northland. This marks the first time I have officially visited all districts of a region – single district regions excluded.

Interestingly, there sometimes are short stretches of paved roads along the track - most notably in villages or around bridges.

On a whim, I decide to take the extra-scenic route, and go around the full length of the Brett Peninsula, almost all the way out to Cape Brett. From there, I have two options: I could either pass through Frenchman's Swamp and drive to Okiato, from where I would then take a ferry across the Veronica Channel to Opua, or I could drive the long way around the Waikare Inlet, and through the Russel Forest of the Northland Forest Park. In the spirit of independence provided by my rental car, I choose to drive around the inlet and through the untamed lush forest as opposed to subjecting myself to the schedules (and fees) of a ferry - a fateful decision, as I was soon to find out.

Imagine my surprise when I encounter a beautiful dog all alone squat in the middle of the Russel Forest, just standing there on the road. At first, I only slow down such as not to accidentally hit the pooch, but as the animal struggles to keep up with my car as I drive past, I realize that something must be wrong. And so, I eventually pull over, and the dog makes no attempt to conceal his enthusiasm as I take pity on him – and let’s just say its good thing that at this point in my journey, it’s not a terrible shame that my pants get significantly muddier as a direct result.

I quickly take note of the fact that the big boy doesn’t have a collar, and a quick investigation of the surroundings brings up the remains of a shopping bag and the empty wrappings of a generous portion of dog food on the road side. This evidence suggests a logical conclusion.

So, what am I to do now? I can’t just leave the pooch here at the roadside all alone, now can I? As I deliberate my options, another car drives by and just keeps going. I could probably just leave him here and let someone else deal with the problem…

…or, I could take matters into my own hands. Way back at the beginning of my journey in Auckland, I was approached by a fundraiser of the SPCA, and later, during my stay in Waipaoa, I made the acquaintance of Maple the dog, who had just recently been adopted by Karen from the local SPCA shelter (see Chapter 25 ~ Wonderful Waipaoa), so I know that an institution which takes care of lost and abandoned animals such as this dog exists – and since I wisely downloaded offline-maps of all of Northland in preparation of my trip, I quickly figure out the location of the nearest SPCA-shelter along my route, and resolve to give the abandoned pooch a lift there.

I manage to get him to jump into the back seat without any major trouble, although I flinch as I realize what his muddy paws do the squeaky-clean interior of the car. But either way, my resolve prevails, and so I continue my journey with a canine passenger on board, stopping only briefly to take a picture of Motumaire Island as we pass through highly historically significant village of Waitangi, where the pivotal Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840. This historical document established a British Governor of New Zealand, recognised Māori ownership of their lands, forests and other properties, and gave the Māori the rights of British subjects, effectively annexing New Zealand to the British Empire.

Unfortunately, the big boy is quite excited about the journey we’re taking, and at times does not content himself with sitting in the back seat. Once, he quite literally gets in my face at a particularly inopportune moment, and I just barely avoid rear-ending a parked trailer. As I result, I am quite glad when I arrive at the SPCA unscathed about an hour later.

It’s already a few minutes past their usual business hours, but being Kiwis, these people are not quite so strict about that fact. Within less than half an hour, I have told them what transpired, and how I took the apparently abandoned dog in. They soon find out that the big boy doesn’t have a tracking chip either, and after a minimal amount of paperwork take him into their care, commending my compassion and initiative, as well as my documentation of both the evidence, as well as the GPS coordinates, which I wisely recorded at the precise location where I picked up the lost dog.

Especially the latter should turn out to be especially helpful: Only a few days later, I get an e-Mail from the SPCA informing me that the dog’s owner has been found thanks to the accurate coordinates which I was able to provide (thanks to my Geocaching App c:geo). Apparently, the big boy belongs to a local farmer, and has by chance managed to get loose – or so goes the official story. But then, what was that about the package of dog food by the road side? Or the fact that the dog neither had a chip (which is required by law in New Zealand) or a collar? I remain sceptical, but for now, there is nothing I can do about it.

For now, I’m back on the road again. It’s already past 4PM, and since it is winter over here, that means I don’t have a whole lot of daylight left, and on top of that, the weather is gradually turning nasty.

Nonetheless, I still decide to make one last sidetrip to Mahinepua Bay, which rewards me with yet another breathtaking view (although I do end up getting a little bit wet).

It’s not far now, but nonetheless night falls before I finally reach my destination for the day: The Kahoe Farms Hostel.

Curiously, Lyndsey and Stefano – the folks running this hostel – are old acquaintances of Delphine and Ben: Back in the day when my last hosts needed a place to store their stuff, Lyndsey and Stefano allowed them to park the red cargo container with all their belongings on their farm for quite some time, and their bonds hold strong until this day.

Another pleasant surprise is that although I booked a dorm bed for economic reasons…

…I am actually the only guest tonight, which means that I not only have the entire hostel to myself, but Lyndsey and Stefano also offer me to stay in one of the other rooms instead, at no additional cost. Long live the Kiwi hospitality!

And so, I make myself comfortable in the common room, catching up on my Japanese studies and working on my blog for the evening, while waiting for Stefano to prepare dinner.

In addition to accommodation, Lyndsey and Stefano also offer the option for home-made dinner and breakfast, and although it’s a bit pricey, I decide it’s worth the cost, since it means I won’t have to worry about buying provisions for two of the meals in advance. And sure enough, the dinner which Stefano whips up for me that night is a savoury plate of Pasta Piemontese, which easily tops any and all dishes that my last hosts prepared, and I enjoy every single last bite of it.

After that, I go to bed rather early. After all, tomorrow is the day I’ve been looking forward to all along, and I am eagerly anticipating what should turn out to be…

Day 2: A Symphony of Spirits

The second day should take me to the northernmost pinnacle of New Zealand, the very north of the 100km-long Aupouri Peninsula.

With over 120,000 visitors a year and around 1,300 cars arriving per day during peak season, Cape Reinga is one of the big tourist attractions of New Zealand, together with Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier, and the Coromandel Peninsula. Dozens of tourist busses arrive there every day, and the sheer selection of Cape Reinga souvenirs is stifling.

Naturally, that overrun place is not where I am headed.

Instead, my destination is the slightly secluded Spirits Bay, which is located about 20km west, and a teeny-tiny bit north of Cape Reinga. This second leg of my journey should cover a total of 280km, and take me 10 hours to complete, again including breaks and everything.

But before I set out for the day, I enjoy a hearty “Farmer’s Breakfast”, which is every bit as delightful as the pasta from last night. If only the actual farmer’s breakfasts along my journey had been equally hearty…

As I prepare to disembark, I pray that the spirits will be merciful today, for the weather is everything but perfect sightseeing weather. However, it should still be a couple of hours until I reach Spirits Bay, so I keep on hoping that the skies will clear up by then, or that at the very least the rain will stop.

The first point of interest en-route is Paewhenua Island, which is a small island at the mouth of Kohumahu Stream, and inside the little Mangonui Harbour. The curious thing here is that the Island is so conveniently located in the middle of the harbour, that the state highway leads straight across the island by means of two bridges, not quite unlike the Museumsinsel back in Munich. Now we only need to build a museum on top of Paewhenua Island…

After that, I soon arrive at the second cameo place of my Northland trip: Cable Bay! However, despite the roaring wind and raging ocean making every effort to impress, I can’t help but feel that this place falls significantly short of its namesake north of Nelson – which, by the way, I still acknowledge as the most beautiful place on earth (see Chapter 21 ~ A Slice of Heaven).

Not far from there, I cross the bridge north over the Awanui River, and consequently officially set foot (well, wheel) on the Aupouri Peninsula. The first place I pass through on my way north there is Waipapakauri, and the three-foiled structure at the village entrance is not a windmill, but rather – and how could it be any different – yet another war memorial, this time for the RNZAF, or Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Now, if you’ve met me, then you probably know that I don’t like taking the same path back and forth. However, the Aupouri Peninsula does not offer me a great many options regarding my route: The one major traffic route here is the northernmost extension of State Highway 1, and regrettably, my economy-class rental car is not fit to brave 90 Mile Beach. That is all the more reason why I embrace alternative routes as long as they are still a viable option, and take to the back roads again right after passing through Waipapakauri.

So far, the rains show no sign of letting up, and at times, the road resembles a regular causeway.

More curious, however, are the unusual works which I observe at the farms by the roadside. I honestly wonder what they are trying to achieve with this intricate network of mesh. Maybe build a labyrinth for possums?

Much too soon for my taste, the layout of the infrastructure forces me back onto the state highway. On a bright note, however, I realize that the rain seems to be letting off ever-so-slightly.

Eventually, I reach my scheduled rest stop, the town Pukenui – which is located between the villages with amusing names of Houhora and Waiharara – ahead of schedule, and since the rains have thankfully dispersed almost completely by now, I take the time to go for a walk and scale a nearby hill, from where I get a great view of the Tohoraha Mountain, as well as Houhora Bay.

Subsequently, I sit down in the Pukenui Pacific Takeaways and have a tasty cheese & mince pie for lunch. This should be the final typical New Zealand meat pie I’d eat on my journey, and oh am I ever going to miss what I have learned is a typical New Zealand and Australian dish!

From here on out, the road is mostly straight and flat, apart from a negligible number of relatively harmless hills. More notably, however, is the fact that there are almost no other cars nor tourist busses on the road. This is most likely due to the fact that I’ve started significantly further north than most of the tour busses, which would have set out from all the way back in Whangarei, and the weather is probably not very appealing for spontaneous visitors who are on a less tight schedule than myself.

One place that catches my eye on the way north is Parengarenga Harbour, which cuts into the headland of the Aupouri Peninsula like a giant, primordial paw print, transforming valleys into estuaries, and littering the inlet with myriads of shallows and sandbanks.

And then, shortly after a lovely 180° switchback curve, which I’m lovingly going to refer to as the “☣✊☠ FUCK!”-curve, it’s finally time to for me to leave the state highway behind, and embark on the more rural road to Spirits Bay.

A short time later, I finally arrive in Spirits Bay, or Kapowairua, as the Māori call it. The bay is considered a sacred place in Māori culture as according to their mythology, it is the location where spirits of the dead gather to depart from this world to travel to their ancestral home.

The sun has yet to make its appearance, but at the very least, the rains have ceased by now, and so I make my way up one of the nearby hills, where I find that the government has already positioned a piece of artillery to defend New Zealand against invasions from the north.

Even though I’m sure the bay must look even more beautiful in direct sunlight, I am already impressed with it as it is. In fact, the moody, cloudy atmosphere adds a certain mystical flair to it. It’s almost as if I could hear the songs of the spirits that have traversed this place over the course of centuries, resounding from the mountains in the east, an ingrained into the very sand.

And the sand! Walking down onto the beach – which, incidentally, is named Te Horo Beach, and thus makes for the third cameo of my Northland trip (see Chapter 7 ~ Honouring Te Horo) – I realize that this is a beach unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Scintillating in a display of rainbow colours, this peerless beach is composed of millions and millions tiny sea shells, fragmented into little pieces, and dulled and polished by years of exposure to the sea. Once again, mere pictures do not do the sight justice.

So here I stand, at long last at the terminus of my journey. With my visit here in Spirits Bay, I have achieved my final goal, and I am suddenly filled with a sense of deep accomplishment, realizing that now I truly can leave this land behind without any regrets. It has been almost one year since I first arrived, and now, I have visited all the places I’ve been wanting to visit, and done all the things I’ve been wanting to do. From here on out, all that’s left is the way back home, and I stand at the shore of Spirits Bay on Te Horo Beach for a while, as I let the realization sink in.

Another wonderful thing is that there is not a single human being within miles of me, allowing me to take in the serene tranquillity of this place without any disturbances whatsoever, and enjoying the company of cute little birds scavenging on the shrublands, horses grazing on the slopes of the eastern mountains, and herons and seagulls occupying the beach.

For a moment I consider trying to reach Pananehe Island, which is reachable on foot at low tide, but unfortunately the recent rainfalls have let the nearby Kapowairua Stream swell to considerable size, and without a bridge to cross it, I’m afraid that this is about as far north as I’m going to get on my journey. But that’s alright. At 34.42°S, I am now at about the same latitude as Beirut, Lebanon is on the northern hemisphere, which is pretty much as far north as one can go in New Zealand.

With that, it is time to bid this mystical place farewell, and depart by means of the same humble roads which first carried me to this remote sanctuary.

It is only after I reach State Highway 1 again that the orbital photon blaster deigns to make a timid appearance for the first time today. But oh well, at the very least it didn’t rain during my visit to Spirits Bay.

For the most part, the state highway is as empty on my way back south as it was during my trip up north. However, there is one notable congestion, which forces me to temporarily interrupt my trip and wait for the contraflow to pass me by.

Further down the road, I stop by the Houhora Post Office and Information Centre, which apparently have seen better times…

…and pass by a selection of roads that makes it really difficult to decide which name is the more hilarious one.

Now, is it just me, or does the Catholic Church of Waiharara remind anyone else of a certain pizza franchise?

Finally, I reach the place where diversified routes become possible once again, and so I promptly embark on the nearest school bus route…

…which should take me to the shores of the idyllic, yet only slightly remote Lake Ngatu. It is a natural treasure encompassing 154.8 hectares of freshwater wetlands, as well as a dune lake, with the main foliage in the surrounding area consisting of manuka, kanuka and native shrub land.

From here on out, the way is pretty straightforward, be it on unsealed or sealed roads.

Not much later, I arrive in Kaitaia, the northernmost town of New Zealand with a population over 1,000. Translated from Māori, its name means “ample food”, so I figure this is the right place to get some dinner after a long journey, and allow myself a meal in New Zealand’s northernmost McDonald’s – after all, it has indeed already been over eight months since I last ate at one of these!

Afterwards, its time do another thing which I have never done before, but which has become an unignorable necessity by now: Refuelling the car. Since I’ve only made my driver’s licence in 2016, and have since only driven either my father’s or hosts’ cars, refuelling has not been something which I needed to do up until now. Fortunately, the process turns out to be something which I can handle – apart from the slight challenge of figuring out the mechanism for opening the fuel tank cap, which requires me to pick up the car’s manual in order to locate a tiny button cleverly hidden well beneath the dashboard.

Before I leave Kaitaia and head for my final destination of Ahipara for the day, I climb a nearby hill to get a view of the town in the wonderful light of the setting sun…

However, the most spectacular sight only awaits me as I head down the hill back to my car, and for the space of not even a minute, the threefold magnified sun peeks through the narrow gap between clouds and horizon in a truly breathtaking spectacle.

Naturally, the direct consequence of my witnessing this sunset is the fact that I’ll have to drive the rest of the way through civil, and eventually nautical dusk, arriving at Ahipara Bay about half an hour later.

My accommodation tonight is the Endless Summer Lodge hostel…

…where I once again sleep in a dorm bed.

This hostel is a good deal livelier than the Kahoe Farms Hostel, connecting humans and felines for relaxed togetherness.

They technically also have a bathtub here, but somehow, I feel that it’s not really meant to be used as such.

Once again, I don’t stay up for very long. Knowing that I have one last long day full of excitement and adventure ahead of myself, I resolve to get as much sleep as I possibly can, and am in fact the first one to turn in for the night in my dorm room.

Day 3: The Forested Finale

The next day, I wake up at the crack of dawn, and prepare myself for the day with a rather humble breakfast.

Just as I had planned, I leave the hostel at first light, way before any of the other guests wake up…

…and even before the almost-full moon sets on the western horizon.

Looking northeast, I get a hazy view of the Aupouri Peninsula arcing off into the distance, and although I naturally can’t make out any details at this distance, I know that I’m looking at the famous, yet incorrectly-named 90 Mile Beach.

And with that, I’m off for the day. The third and final leg of my round-trip through Northland should take me around the fjords of Hokianga Harbour, through the great Waipoua Forest, and all the way south to Dargaville at the northernmost arm of the Kaipara Harbour, another arm of which I last visited during the Plucky Paparoa Pilgrimage (see Chapter 29 ~ Mangapai Mania). From there, I should turn east and head for Whangarei. This final stretch of my Northland Navigation should cover 275km of ground, and take a total of 9.75 hours to complete.

Thanks to my early departure, I have plenty of time on my hands, and thus I start of the day by exploring the Herekino Forest, which is yet another Kauri Forest covering most of the up to 1,381m high mountains south of Ahipara and Kaitaia.

By the time the sun finally clears the eastern hilltops, I’m already well underway…

…and although the roads are still wet from the incessant rainfalls of the last two days, today should bring at least a few hours of sunshine to dry them up.

Naturally, this part of Northland, too, has plenty of Boring Flat Farmland™ to offer.

Now, just like on the first day, I am once again faced with a choice: I could take the ferry from Kohukohu to Rawene, cutting straight across the Hokianga Harbour, or I could take to the back roads once again, driving the long way around the fjord. I think by now you know me well enough to guess which option I chose in the end.

Not much later, I arrive at the easternmost outskirts of the Hokianga Harbour, driving through the little village of Horeke at the estuary of the Waihou River…

…and subsequently, I find a massive, mossy glacial erratic just lying in the bed of the little Okarari Stream, which the road follows further inland through a forested valley.

Much to my surprise, the humble unsealed road surface is replaced by brand-new pavement much sooner than anticipated, and with only trace amounts of houses to be seen in the vicinity, I sincerely wonder who financed this obviously recent modernization in the middle of nowhere, and whether I could convince them to invest in some indigent German roads.

It’s not until Pakanae that the road leads me back to Hokianga Harbour again, and this close to the ocean, the waters of the fjord are a distinctly different colour from the estuary areas.

However, I should not see the most impressive sight until my arrival in Opononi, where I witness the Hokianga Heads, a humongous sand dune at the entrance of Hokianga Harbour. Amassed over thousands of years by tidal forces, this impressive landform is over 200m high at its highest point, and covers an area of almost 10km²!

And it’s not just the sand dunes. The entire bay has a certain majestic flair to it.

Opononi became famous in the summer of 1955/56, when a friendly female dolphin named Opo moved to the bay, and started entertaining the locals with her antics, swimming against swimmers, playing with beach balls, and escorted boats. Her sudden death in March 1956 saddened the entire community, and a stone statue was fashioned in her memory.

By now, it’s already about noon, and the sunlight reflects brightly of the turquoise waters of the bay.

Out of sheer curiosity, I purchase an Indian pie from a local store, and sit down just across the bay as I devour the spicy meal...

…although I have to be careful, for there are all manner of eager contenders around, hoping to get a piece of the pie.

Afterwards, the road leads me up Pakia Hill, from where I get one, last good look onto Hokianga Harbour…

…before departing south towards the mighty Waipoua Forest.

The Waipoua Forest is one of the last few existing Kauri forests, covering an area of about 80km². Together with the smaller Warawara and Puketi Forests, this forest contains about three quarters of the remaining mature Kauri trees in New Zealand.

As such, the safety measures to keep out Kauri Collar Rot are even more severe than those in Paparoa (see Chapter 29 ~ Mangapai Mania).

And it’s not just the risk of disease. Since New Zealand was originally mostly populated by birds, the roots of these trees never needed to bear great weight, and as such are delicate and vulnerable. As a consequence, raised walkways have been built for visitors such as myself, traversing the lush jungle while still respecting every single tree, no matter where it chooses to grow.

There, I am allowed an audience with Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest. The greatest and most ancient of Kauri trees in New Zealand, Tane Mahuta is regarded as the son of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku the Earth Mother, in Māori Mythology. In an act of rebellion, Tane tore his parents apart, breaking their tight embrace, in order to bring light, space and air to the world, allowing life to flourish. This truly majestic tree is now over 2,000 years old, and measures a total of 51.5m in height, with a trunk girth of 13,8m.

By the way, just like the walkways, the road through the forest was also built with respect for the trees, squeezing through narrow gaps between the endangered trees when necessary, even though it officially is a state highway.

After leaving the forest, I spontaneously partake in a restoration documentation project. Baiting Geocachers such as myself with the promise of a cache, the cache owners are encouraging Geocachers to take pictures of the area when they find the cache, thus documenting the reforestation effort over the course of the years. A clever idea, if I’ve ever seen one!

Unfortunately, this is about as long as the sunny weather should hold, and on the rest of the way down to Dargaville, I am pelted by not only one, but quite a number of vicious rain showers, and once again I’m quite glad that for a change I am safely sheltered in the comfort of a car.

Upon reaching Dargaville, I take the risk of walking down to the estuary of the Wairoa River, as it flows into the northernmost reaches of the dendritic Kaipara Harbour. A mistake, for on the way back to my car, I run into yet another fierce downpour, and by the time I manage to make it back to the relative comfort of my dry vehicle, I am looking like a regular drowned rat.

But fickle as the weather is here in New Zealand, the skies clear up shortly after having achieved their goal of dousing a fox, which in turn allows me to inspect a really old-school turntable along the railway line from Dragaville to Whangarei.

The rest of the way is pretty straightforward, and apart from annoying scores of locals behind me – who are happy to drive the wet and winding roads at significantly higher speeds than I personally feel comfortable with – I don’t do anything much on the way back to Whangarei, where I arrive just as the sun starts to disappear behind the western hills.

Prior to dropping off my car, I fill the tank a second time. Altogether, I consumed about 46.5 litres of petrol on this trip, which came to a grand total of $86.75 for the entire 775km of my trip. However, there should yet be one more expense which I had not initially anticipated, but mentally steeled myself for ever since I picked up the lost dog on the first day: The fee for cleaning the car. I did not expect them to overlook the considerable mess which the pooch made in the back seat, but the surcharge of a whopping $100 (plus credit card fee) takes me aback nonetheless. At that price, I could have rented the car for another day and cleaned it myself, while simultaneously also being able to afford food and accommodation.

With my bank account a good deal lighter now, I make my way to the final hostel in which I should sleep during my stay here in New Zealand: The Bunkdown Backpackers, which is located in a spacious mansion not far from the city centre.

After settling in, I quickly go out again in search of food, just in time to see the sinister shadow sun rise on the southeastern horizon.

Since I’ve travelled a whole day with nothing more than three müsli bars and a small Indian pie to eat, I figure it’s now time to give my body some proper nourishment. Fortunately, I soon come upon an option that is both tasty and filling, while also being quite affordable.

Afterwards, I return to the hostel, which only has a handful of other guests – most of them from Germany. Since I am not particularly interested about their spirited discussions about the problems which they believe the recent immigrants to cause, as well as other topics which quickly mentally file as nationalist propaganda, I find myself a secluded spot in the big mansion and set up my trusty laptop Liete to work a bit on my blog, and study a bit of Japanese.

Tomorrow morning, I leave on the bus to Auckland, and only two days after that, my flight to Germany departs. My great adventure is almost at its end, and now I’ve even been to the very north, all of my own. It was an expensive trip, and certainly not without dangers, but I’ve managed to pull through. Not only that, but I’ve also been able to help a fellow creature, and visited places which many people probably don’t even know exist. Realizing that, I go to bed with a deep sense of accomplishment tonight.

Now, all that is left is the way back home. A final journey halfway around the globe. So brace yourselves, for the next chapter shall be the Final Chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.