And it’s where the heart is, to be sure. I was ready to leave the city. I woke up the first morning there, in our apartment in central Auckland, to the sound of a burglar alarm going off. I jumped up and thought, “Omigod, someone’s breaking into the barn!”
So I packed the wagon, hitched the horses, and rumbled out of town on Wednesday morning. Radio news had informed us that a 100-kilometre-long oil slick was making State Highway One dangerous – several cars had slipped off the road and a truck had jack-knifed – so we elected to go through the Paraparas and then through Wanganui. This was no big deal, as I had ordered about $500 worth of plants from a great nursery near Marton, called Nikau Hill Nursery, and we could call by and collect them. This would entail stuffing them in the back, along with my sewing machine, a saddle, our suitcases, a kleensak full of clothes, riding boots, raincoats and other detritus. Cheaper, however, than having them trucked over to Martinborough.
We stopped at Bosco’s Cafe in Te Kuiti, which Rosie had not visited before and was suitably impressed. It has lovely food (including a gluten-free courgette and bacon slice which I greatly enjoyed), is spacious and modern, with great service and a nice outdoor eating area. It just shows you, build it and they will come. Previously I have never had reason to stop in Te Kuiti and break the journey, but now it is a must stop.
After this, our journey started to take a peculiar turn – literally. We thought we were on the road to Taumarunui and were alternately chatting away, or singing away to the CDs we’d brought with us.
(As an aside, I always think there is particular music suited to long road trips, and for me it’s music I can sing along to. I’m far too old to care what people think either of my taste in music, or the sight of me in a car seemingly talking to myself. My favourites are CDs from singers like John Denver – “Country Road” is a fave, Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”, “Coward of the County”, “Lucille”, and anything from Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Emmylou Harris & Mark Knopfler, and Rosie had brought along her own compilation CD with great singalongs.)
Suddenly we reached a one-way road tunnel. That wasn’t there last time I drove from Te Kuiti to Taumarunui. “Where are we?” asked Rosie. Yes, we were almost over Mt Messenger, heading for the north Taranaki Coast. Well, we couldn’t stop laughing. “Shall we turn back?” Rosie suggested.
“No,” I said. “At least we’re heading in the right direction, not going backwards. Let’s keep going. I’ve never been this way before.”
And it was a lovely – if long – drive. We came out at Mokau, on the coast, a wild isolated settlement where they obviously do lots of whitebaiting. (That reminds me, before we reached the mysterious tunnel, I remember seeing a sign saying “Welcome to Whitebaiting Country” and I was puzzled that people could catch whitebait in Taumarunui.)
We stopped off at a little shop to buy whitebait. It was a butcher shop, but had no stock apart from a pile of miserable looking kidneys. The man delved into a freezer and got us a packet of frozen whitebait each. Rosie asked if she could have hers wrapped in ice, as we had a wee while to go. “I don’t do ice,” he said. When he heard we’d missed the “Eight Mile Turnoff” he said he’d had some “silly girls in here last week looking for the mountain to go skiing, so I sent them back and it would have been dark before they reached the skifield.” Actually, I thought he said “silly”, because I realised he would tell the next customers he’d just had two “silly middle-aged women” in the shop, but Rosie said he really said “city girls”.
That’s what happens when you get two blondes in a 4WD. So what should have taken us about seven hours, took ten, but what a spectacular scenic route. Winding down that Taranaki Coast is a treat, with little settlements sheltering in the isthmi, tiny baches hunkered down out of the westerly winds which have pushed the trees sideways. Beautiful country, but it must be tough farming there.
I collected my plants, which will keep me occupied all this weekend, as I plant them in what looks to be perfect planting weather – not too hot, with some rain. And on Sunday, my baby will be 23 years old. Where did the time go?