We’d kept an eye on the weather forecasts, and Sunday looked like the day for a drive north. The boys were reasonably keen on getting to the top, and we were happy to go back again to see it in the sun. It was an auspicious day in several ways. It was one year to the day since Andrew’s accident returning from a visit to the southernmost point in New Zealand (Slope Point). And it was Father’s Day and Father’s Day last year wasn’t the best one ever. We could have stayed off the roads and been 100% sure nothing bad would happen. Or we could drive for 400kms and have good things happen. All of us – Andrew, Michael, Wyn and me (and many others) – were all conscious of the occasion. Going for it seemed the right thing to do.
It was a gorgeous morning on Sunday. We were all up early. At 6.30am it was clear and calm and cold – 4 degrees outside. The previous morning there had been a bit of ice on the car. This time the windows were frozen. I had to go out with warm water to de-ice them. In Kerikeri. In September! The sun was up before we were away at 8am. Driving north with the early sun was lovely. We made a detour to the pa lookout between Mangonui and Coopers Beach – the views were fabulous. Wyn and Michael were hanging out for coffee by then; so began a search for an expresso. The coffee place in Coopers Beach had a bus load of people. The cafe in Taipa didn’t have expresso. Wyn remembered the resort on the beachfront and sure enough their cafe was open for business and soon enough all was well. We were soon in Awanui, just north of Kaitai and made a quick stop at the Kauri shop to show the boys the staircase in the kauri tree. Michael took over the driving here for the long haul up the top bit – there’s not a lot to see for much of it although the Hauhora Harbour was looking particularly nice and calm and sunny.
We stopped at a place advertising sand boards for sliding on the sand dunes but couldn’t find anything but the dog. Maybe we’d have to make do with the sleeping mat again. But at the landing place which really does have the last fuel they had a couple of battered boogie boards. Their EFTPOS machine was broken or something so we had to have a whip-round for the deposit. With our boards on board we tackled the last bit of the road. There is still a sizeable chunk unsealed, but they’d sealed a big section since Wyn and I were here about 6 weeks ago with Laura. Finally we arrived in the carpark; we’d managed to get there before the buses. The day was still clear and cloudless. It wasn’t windless – calm days must be rare here. But it was relatively calm and reasonably warm. This time we could see the maelstrom where the Pacific and Tasman Seas and their tides meet. It was quite a sight. After the usual round of photos we headed back to the car and down the road to Taputaputa Beach. There were car and bus loads of people enjoying lunch here, and so did we. Followed by a walk with the soccer ball along the beach.
Then it was onwards – to the Te Paki sand dunes. This was also a busier place than previously. Heaven knows what happens in the middle of summer. While we were sorting ourselves out a bus drove down the road and without slowing much at all charged on into and down the stream. A motorbike rider had just come up and I hate to think what would have happened if they’d met on a corner in the stream. Armed with our two boards and one sleeping mat we headed across and up the sand dunes. Michael and Andrew had first runs with the boards; Andrew a bit unsure for a start. I had another go with the sleeping mat; and then with one of the boards as they started to tire of the slog back up the sand hill. The boards were definitely easier and faster; and lying on them hurtling down with your face just above the sand certainly felt fast. Wyn had several runs as well and by the last one was hurtling down like a pro. Eventually we were all sandhilled out and we dragged our weary selves back to the car – facing a long trip back to Kerikeri. It was about 3.30pm by this stage and almost 200kms to go. We stopped for ice creams at Te Kao and took a side road out to 90 Mile Beach at Waipapakauri for a quick walk on the beach. We could see that we were not far north of Ahipara and the bottom end of the beach.
Not far back along the main road we came across a bad car accident – perhaps the worst I’d ever encountered. It looked like a car and a van had collided, both were in a ditch. There were quite a few cars stopped and people helping and people obviously injured; it had happened perhaps 5 minutes before we got there. It was a weird coincidence, coming within an hour and a year of Andrew’s accident – something we were all instantly aware of. First instincts were to stop and help but there were enough people already doing that so we picked our way through the debris and drove on. It was the right thing to do for us; dealing with an accident scene was not going to be helpful for the three of us who weren’t at Andrew’s one or for Andrew who was but has no memory of it but lives with the effects. We drove on in a state of shock a few kms and stopped for petrol at Awanui. While there a fleet of emergency vehicles zoomed up the road towards the accident. We headed on towards Doubtless Bay as the sun set behind us.
We stopped at the Mangonui fish and chip shop over the water. The boys shouted tea for Father’s Day and what a lovely way to end a great day. The harbour was calm and the evening clear. We drove on the last 50 minutes to Kerikeri, getting back a little under 12 hours after leaving. Chocolate pudding and a few beers concluded a day to remember for lots of good reasons.